ROWLETT — Outsiders may see differences between Imam Yaseen Shaikh and Rev. Dr. Wes Magruder, but they don't.
"I have no doubt that Muslims and Christians worship the same God," Magruder said. "We have some of the same core foundations."
Magruder is senior associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Rowlett. Shaikh is the leader of the Islamic Association of Collin County in Plano.
The two are friends, and Magruder is doing something rarely done outside the Islamic faith: observing the holiest Muslim month of Ramadan.
That means fasting from dawn to sunset. No food, no drink — not even water.
"My initial thought was that he's crazy, because it's pretty intense," Shaikh said. "However, when I understood his intentions of solidarity — wanting to walk in the shoes of a Muslim for a month — then it was very encouraging and inspiring."
Magruder said he just wanted to see what it was like to test his self-discipline and his spirituality. He is finding it a difficult, yet exciting, pursuit.
"I feel it," he said. "I feel it all the time — this constant awareness that I could use a drink, or I'm really hungry. But every time that becomes a conscious thought, I turn it into a prayer. That's the purpose of fasting; It forces me to be conscious of God and God's presence all the time."
"Frankly, all we Methodists do is give up soda or chocolate for 30 or 40 days in Lent," Magruder continued. "It's wimpy compared to Ramadan, and I'd like to see a return to a more strenuous and rigorous practice of fasting. I think it'd be good for us."
Shaikh is very impressed.
"It's a complete fast, where you deprive your body completely of the basic needs you have," he said. "It allows your spirituality to surface and for you to connect with your spiritual side."
He added that not only are Muslims abstaining from food and drink, they also abstain from speaking ill of others, using profanity, or smoking.
"I've never heard of someone willing to observe fast," Shaikh said of Magruder.
And it appears many other people hadn't heard of it either — until Magruder started blogging about it. On a big day, he said he would usually get 250 hits.
"This week I started getting 5,000 hits a day, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka," he said. "And the Muslims who are responding have all been extremely supportive. They've offered tips on how to make it through the fast."
He said many Christians have begun asking questions to discover exactly what Ramadan is.
"I'm trying to become a bridge," Magruder said.
Shaikh appreciates the effort.
"I think it sends a message of unity of mankind," he said. "We may have differences, but our differences are there to be celebrated."