The Rev. Peter Rood had never savored the flavor of dates.
The Episcopalian priest had never tasted the sweet, pitted fruit until eight years ago when he broke his first fast during Ramadan, the Islamic calendar's holiest month.
Many Muslims break a day of fasting with dates, and Rood, 49, now in his eighth year of abstaining from food during Ramadan, has grown to appreciate the fruit.
But an enjoyment for new foods is not all the rector of the Holy Nativity Parish in Westchester has gained from the experience of fasting from sunrise to sunset for a month, which he intends to repeat this weekend as another observance of Ramadan begins.
He's made new friends, gained a better understanding of other religions and feels closer than ever to God, he says.
After 9-11, Rood wanted his parish to learn more about other faiths.
"If there's any possibility for folks to get along, it begins with one-on-one interaction, a one-on-one relationship, one-on-one respect and mutual affection," he said.
It all started like a bad joke: a priest, a rabbi and a Muslim.
A local rabbi Rood knew introduced him to Mohammed Abdul Aleem, chief executive officer of http://www.islamicity.com/, a Muslim community Web site.
"I don't want to trivialize it, but we were like the Three Stooges of interfaith relations," Rood recalls.
Aleem spoke to Rood's parish about Islam and some of its similarities to Christianity in October 2002, and a friendship developed, they said.
"He came with his mother," Rood said. "He also came with his children. That changed the dynamic of the presenter. It wasn't just a Muslim coming anymore. Here was a man with his mother and family. (The parish) has become quite fond of the family."
Eight years ago before his first Ramadan, Rood expressed to Aleem a desire to fast. Aleem served as Rood's mentor, often calling and checking in.
"Given my respect for Aleem and Islam, I wanted to honor his faith by participating in solidarity and experiencing something that's held as a principle and practice," Rood said.
Rev. Peter tends to the garden at the Church of the Holy Nativity.
Though it might cause some members of his own faith to cringe to see a priest praying with Muslims and even on at least one occasion bowing toward Mecca, Rood doesn't see it in any way compromising his Christianity.
"I'm praying to my god," he said. "I'm engaging in the spirit in the way my own ideology gives me the freedom to pray."
Rood said he's approaching the experience as a student, "perhaps taking some risks." He says he's exploring an area that up until now has been unexplored. Whether the Muslim "Allah" refers to the same God as that of Christians and Jews, he doesn't presume to say.
"I figure in the long run God will sort out all those things in the end," he said. "I'm not going to claim to know the mind of God in the meantime."
Immersing himself in another religion drew Rood closer to his own. During the fast, Rood took the money he'd normally spend on meals and mid-afternoon lattes and gave it to charity.
"Physically, I did not suffer," said Rood, already an experienced faster, especially during the 40-day period of Lent. "I grew more aware of myself and how God made me. I'm more focused on the goodness of God."
The enlightenment that Ramadan brought Rood last year can be extended to people worldwide, he said.
"The decision (to fast) has enriched my own life and faith," Rood said. "Any open-minded Christian would be moved."
Rood and Aleem began fasting Saturday for Ramadan. This time around, Rood has committed himself to praying five times daily as Muslims traditionally do.
"I'm going to work hard at keeping that," he said. "During this time, I'm going to study more. I use the time for my own reflection. I will reflect upon my own sacred text and I'll read the Quran as well."
Source: The Daily Breeze - Andrea Sudano