This year Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, takes places from May 27 to June 25. For Muslims it brings thirty days of rigorous fasting, along with prayer, reading of the Qur’an and giving to the poor. Christians disagree strongly with Muslims about their understanding of God. However, Ramadan can provide a unique opportunity for Christians to show love and compassion to Muslims.
Prayer, fasting, the reading of Scripture, care for one another and the poor — these are all practices with which faithful Christians are familiar. But we practice these within the wonderful freedom that we have in Christ. The word “Islam” actually means “submission.” But a saving “submission” to God requires believing that the crucified and resurrected Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11). He sets us free from sin, Satan and death. As a result of the Christian confession we, too, are to be people of prayer. We are “to pray without ceasing” — this is “God’s will” for us (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). We are also to love God’s Word. While Muslims are reading the Qur’an, which is not the true Word of God, Christians should respond by faithfully reading and studying the Bible that is “able to make [all people] wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Along with faithfulness in our walk with Christ, a basic understanding of the Islamic practice of Ramadan can help us interact kindly with Muslims who are fasting. It may also lead to wise, winsome, and respectful ways to share Christ. The month of fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam (the others are the confession of monotheism, the five daily prayers, the paying of tithes, and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca).
There are important reasons why Muslims perform the fast. In their minds it demonstrates obedience or submission to Allah. Muslims also think of Ramadan as a special time for spiritual and moral improvement. The fast is seen as a way to improve society as individuals learn self-discipline. For Muslims who have never known hunger or thirst, the fast is offered as a way to learn empathy for the less fortunate. While such values are noble, it overlooks the fact that sin mars our attempts at self-improvement. All people need the new birth that only Christ can bring, as well as the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
A focus on rules
Islam is a religion of rules and regulations that places a heavy burden on all adherents.
Consider the more important rules that govern the Muslim fast. Eating and drinking are prohibited from dawn to sunset, along with sexual activity and practices like smoking. If one intentionally breaks the fast or engages in sex, the fast is invalidated. Every faithful adult is required to fast, except for the very elderly, the seriously sick, women who are nearing childbirth, the mentally handicapped, and those who are on a difficult journey or in active military service. However, these must make restitution for missing the fast, either by fasting at a later time or by sufficient charitable giving (Qur’an 2:184).
Prayers and the reading of the Qur’an are also intensified during Ramadan. Along with the usual daily prayers, Muslims are encouraged to add others. The reading of the Qur’an has special merit during Ramadan. Many Muslims will read the entire Qur’an during the days of fasting or listen to its recitation in the mosque.
While Muslims are experiencing hunger during the day, several food celebrations surround the fasting. There is a special meal before dawn when each day’s fast begins. In the evening, often after dates and a sweet drink are served, the evening meal, or Iftar, is served. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate a feast known as Eid al-Fitr or “the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.” On this day Muslims often attend special congregational prayers in the morning and greet each other with Eid Mubarak or “Holiday Blessings.”
Compassion in Christ
As Christians we can appreciate the religious zeal behind these practices, but because Muslims are without the gospel, it is “a zeal for God but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). We are free in Christ from the requirements of religious rituals. But it is not a freedom to live in sin but rather to live a life of self-discipline and love. As Muslims are fasting this Ramadan, let us bear witness to the glorious liberty of God’s children by living lives that are pleasing to God and filled with compassion for others.
Daniel J. Ebert IV, PhD, is Director of Graduate Programs and Affiliate Professor of NT at Trinity International University (Kendall) he can be reached at [email protected]