Using the hashtag #Muslims4Lent, thousands of Muslims across the world are fasting alongside Christians during the Holy season in a show of solidarity and respect.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that the now-viral movement started with Muslim American Bassel Riche who for years hosted fast-athons at the University of Houston, during which students of other faiths joined him for one day of the traditional Muslim Ramadan fast.
However, Riche, who is the cofounder of the interfaith initiative EidPrayLove, recently decided to return the favor and join his Christian friends during Lent, a forty-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes with the Easter holiday. The practice, which is based on Mark 1:13 where Jesus fasted and prayed in the days following His baptism, presents Christians with the opportunity to reflect on the sin in the world and the perfect atonement of Jesus Christ.
"Sacrificing something for Lent has been a personal gesture of solidarity on my part for the past three to four years," Riche said. "Towards the end of last year I began to brainstorm ideas of how to ... have more of an impact. Especially with all the misconceptions that are being spread about Islam and our beliefs, it is an important step to combat this negativity with positive action."
The Facebook page for the #Muslims4lent event, which takes place this year from February 18-April 2, states, "We believe in the power of interfaith dialogue and solidarity. Instead of dwelling on the negative dialogue against Islam, we are choosing to focus on the many people of other faiths that have extended their hands towards the Muslim community to build a friendship and understanding."
Before long, the movement spread across the world, with Muslims across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia sharing photos via Twitter of what they're planning to give up for Lent.
"What a great way to show our love for our Christian brothers and sisters," wrote one Twitter user, who gave up sugar for lent. "We must stand together as one. #Muslims4lent."
"Christians and Muslims can live side by side in harmony...so exciting to see this movement takeoff #Muslims4lent," added another, who gave up baklava for his Lenten fast.
"Thus far, the reaction from Muslims and Christians alike has been wonderful and overwhelmingly positive," Riche said to The Huffington Post. "Many of my Christian friends have responded showing their support and appreciation for these interfaith efforts. I hope this is just the beginning."