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When The Moon Unites Muslims, Jews And Christians — Lessons For Abraham's Children

Christian Easter, Muslim Ramadan and Jewish Passover are coinciding this year on the lunar calendar — and it won't happen again for three decades. It is a singular opportunity for the descendants of the prophet Abraham to come together in generosity and humility.

An image of three religious signs (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) on a wall in a street outside.

The three religious signs of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Mario Eduardo Cohen


BUENOS AIRES - These days you may find some of your neighbors savoring an Easter egg or a Matzah flatbread, or others eating nothing at all until past sunset. Customs you may have heard of, but where did they come from?

Yes, three important festivities are coinciding right now for the first time in recent memory, and they involve the major monotheistic faiths that account for half of humanity.

For the Catholics and Protestants it is Easter, which will culminate on Easter Sunday on April 9. The same date will be April 16 for the Orthodox who follow the Julian calendar. This is the most important feast of Christianity. For Jews like myself, Wednesday was the beginning of Passover, commemorating our liberation from slavery in Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation that gave form to monotheism. It is the oldest festivity of the Western world.

According to tradition, as there was no time to make leavened bread on leaving Egypt, the events are commemorated by eating unleavened bread and food without yeast.

The Muslims are two weeks into Ramadan, the sacred month in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is a month of prayers, of rectification of conduct, reflection and self-analysis, all complemented with a full fast during daylight hours.

Though it is the second year in a row, it is generally very rare for the three faiths to see their holy dates coincide this way. As the Muslim calendar is lunar (having 10 or 11 days less than the solar calendar), Ramadan advances every year by several days, falling in March this year, a little earlier next year and so on. We will have to wait some three decades for this coincidence to recur.

\u200bAn image of a colorful mosque in Duba\u00ef during prayer.

A mosque in Dubaï during prayer.

Rumman Amin

Older brothers in faith

We should recall that for centuries until the Vatican II Council of the Roman Church, Easter was used to incite the faithful against the Jews as "Christ killers," or for a crime of lèse divinité if I may use such a term. Thankfully the Church has banished this discourse and the popes now refer to us as their "older brothers in faith."

A moon is bringing us together.

These feasts may seem to have little in common, but are imbued with centuries of mutual influence. Easter (the paschal feast) is etymologically related to the Jewish Passover, which Jesus celebrated in his last days on earth. The Ramadan fast is in turn related to the Jewish Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement and Christian Lent, when there is also fasting.

Another element unites them: this year, they are guided by the same lunar phases. Jews and Christians follow the full moon of April 6 (14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan), and Muslims, the new moon on March 21. This moon is seemingly bringing us together.

Be humble

Certainly, there are differences in their respective meanings and rituals, yet these festivals all invite us to meet up with relatives and friends, and to reflect, be humble and generous with those in need, and value this life. They urge us to return to the conduct of an ethical life.

This would be a very good time for authorities of the three Abrahamic traditions to boldly call for an end to war and the destruction of nature, and for a fairer distribution of wealth and action against the hunger that ails millions of people.

We may take this opportunity, in an entirely fraternal spirit, to congratulate and wish each other a happy Easter, Passover and Ramadan.

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Zambia Questions Its Harrowing Puberty Rites Of Passage For Girls

Zambia’s traditional counselors are rethinking the country’s puberty rites, which some argue are detrimental to girls’ well-being.

Photograph of young girls in Zambia standing behind a vegetable stand.

October 5, 2018, Lusaka, Zambia: Children standing behind a vegatable stand.

Lou Jones/ZUMA
Prudence Phiri

LUSAKA — On a sunny afternoon in Chipungu, a clean-swept hamlet in Rufunsa, a rural district east of Lusaka, three girls who have recently reached puberty sit on the floor of a thatched roof hut in the center of the village. The girls, wearing only their underpants, are seated on a reed mat, their legs stretched out and heads bowed. Around them, women take turns performing sexually suggestive dances, aimed at teaching the teenagers how to engage in sexual acts.

This is an essential part of the traditional female initiation ceremony into adulthood, known as Chinamwali in Zambia’s Eastern province and Chisungu in the country’s Northern province. Here, for the next few weeks, the girls will learn how to serve and sexually please their future husbands.

Margaret Banda, a 54-year-old woman who serves as the community’s apungu — a local term that refers to the ritual’s mistress of ceremony — raises the girls’ heads, forcing them to watch the women and demonstrate what they’ve learned. It is then the teenagers’ turn to repeat the dances.

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