#Muslims4Lent: Solidarity or syncretism?

Muslims are joining in Lent as a sign of solidarity with Christians.Reuters

The Muslims4Lent Twitter hashtag is getting quite a bit of traction.

It was started last year by two Muslims, Bassel Riche and Salmaa Elshanshory of Eid.Pray.Love, wanting to reach out to Christians and show solidarity with us by giving up things they liked doing or eating during Lent, just as we do.

That initiative inspired the #Christians4Ramadan movement, promoted among others by Julian Bond of the Christian Muslim Forum. And let's be honest: Ramadan is a good deal tougher than Lent. In the spiritual disciplines league, for nothing at all to pass your lips between sunrise and sunset is hardcore. Comparing that to giving up sugar, or chocolate, is like comparing a gentle park run to an Ironman challenge.

So respect to Christians4Ramadan, but respect to Muslims4Lent, too. Giving up something you like is never easy, even if you know the good times are coming back. After Lent comes Easter. After Ramadan comes Eid.

But there's more to it than that, of course, as anyone who has followed the excruciating saga of Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College will realise. She was the professor who said she was going to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims during Advent and that, after all, we worship the same God. The firestorm that followed resulted in her losing her job.

In the evangelical world, expressions of solidarity and mutual good will across the Christian-Muslim divide are transgressive. They seem to imply that there's no difference between us, that every way to God is equally valid. They raise the spectre of syncretism, in which odd bits and pieces of two different religions are cobbled together to form something that isn't really either. If a Muslim can observe Lent or a Christian Ramadan, isn't the fundamental distinction between them being eroded?

Full disclosure: I think the whole Muslims4Lent thing is admirable, though I'm unlikely to reciprocate in Ramadan as I am just not spiritually tough enough. At its best, this is not about one religion trying to colonise another, or denying its own uniqueness; it's a statement of our shared humanity and an acknowledgment that we are children of one God.