Religious Leaders Fast in Protest of Iraq War

WASHINGTON – A number of religious leaders are participating in an interfaith fast Monday to call for the end of the Iraq war.

From dawn until dusk, leaders and adherents of Christianity, Judaism and Islam across the country will join in the anti-war fasting, which takes place as Muslims celebrate the "Night of Power" – the holiest night in Ramadan.

"When you are fasting for Ramadan, you are enhancing your sense of compassion," explained Dr. Sayeed Syeed from the Islamic Society of North America during a press conference last month ahead of the fasting.

The leaders hope the spiritual fasting will lead to social transformation such as the withdrawal of troops, according to the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), which has coordinated the event. NCC has opposed the Iraq war since the beginning of the U.S.-led offensive four years ago.

"May our prayer and fasting bring us to live our responsibility for the precarious world which we have shaped," urged Sister Marge Clark, a member of Pax Christi USA, during the news conference last month.

Not all religious leaders, however, support the anti-war fasting event.

A conservative Washington-based group criticized the event for not proposing a withdrawal plan and for misusing the Christian practice of fasting.

"Left-wing Mainline and Protestants are joining Muslims in a political fast aimed at getting the United States to 'end the war' in Iraq, an objective that no U.S. action could quickly accomplish," criticized Mark Tooley, a director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a statement.

"Organizers cite the biblical prophet Isaiah as a model for fasting, but Isaiah called upon the people of Israel to fast as an appeal to God's mercy, not to make a political statement," said he added. "This protest fast is not about spiritual transformation but about exploiting an ancient religious practice for a political purpose."

Furthermore, many Christian leaders have voiced support for the Iraq war despite increasing disapproval of U.S. involvement from American citizens.

"I agree we need to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I think the war was right … I'm delighted he (U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus) is there and he is doing an incredible job," said the Rev. Canon Andrew White to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in July. White is the vicar of the 1,300-membered St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad

Religious leaders in the Washington area taking part in Monday's fasting will break from the fast together at dusk at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Virginia.

Other Christians, meanwhile, have been encouraged to use the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as a time to pray for Muslims so that God would draw them to Him.

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