As you’ve likely seen, Israel suffered three terrorist attacks in recent days. ISIS is claiming responsibility, and Israel is understandably increasing security efforts.
Despicable attacks such as these sometimes increase in the run-up to Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Last year, similarly timed violence led to an eleven-day war between Israel and Gaza.
Ramadan begins this Friday evening. In addition to Jihadists’ efforts to amp up violent sentiment toward infidels, both Muslims who don’t measure up and non-Muslims, here’s why we should care:
- Upwards of 2 billion people will be participating!
- You and your kids may have classmates and coworkers who are fasting (or feeling guilty when they don’t).
- Ramadan tends to be a time of heightened spiritual sensitivity. If we want Muslims to honestly wrestle with the claims of Jesus, let’s pay attention to Ramadan.
Finally, it’s possible God might have something for us to learn from the devotion, sacrifice, and celebration that characterize Ramadan.
Here are four things I think every Christian should understand about Ramadan:
1. Where does Ramadan come from?
The word Ramadan is the name for the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and derives from an Arabic word meaning “blazing hot.” The month was designated for fasting early in Islamic history to commemorate the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.
2. Why do Muslims fast?
I’ve long thought of Ramadan as a self-righteous tour de force, a time when Muslims work hard to gain favor from God. “The less I eat, the more God will like me,” and, “See me fast? I am holier than most.”
God knows I want to look good before him, you, and others, so I suppose it’s likely some percentage of Muslims do fast out of self-righteousness.
But before we consign the entire community to such tainted motives, can I tell you what my smart and devoted Muslim friend Umar says about why Muslims fast?
Here are some of the reasons:
- “Fulfillment of our obligation to God. First and foremost we fast because God commands us to do so.”
- “We fast to connect with our community and Prophet by fasting in unison as a community. The month of Ramadan is unique among all the world’s religions and we take great pride in this.”
- “We fast to exercise our mind over matter. Fasting trains us as hungry human animals to gain mastery over our appetites, whereas in the modern world most people demonstrate the opposite: Our appetites rule over us. Fasting is a yearly spiritual boot camp that trains our minds and intellect to rein in our bellies.”
- “We fast to feel in our bellies what the poorest and most hungry feel. There are people in the world for whom hunger is an everyday reality. Fasting gives the more fortunate a connection with those who have no choice but to not eat!”
- “Fasting in Ramadan connects us as families and as a community. I cannot speak about this enough. Indeed, Ramadan is the annual glue of our community. It gives us a strong sense of real connectedness, a real sense of spiritual and religious renewal as a community and as individuals before God.”
3. What happens during Ramadan?
Because the Islamic calendar is based on the moon rather than the sun, Ramadan takes place eleven days earlier each year relative to the Gregorian calendar. As a result, Ramadan is observed in all seasons. This also means two Ramadans in 2030!
Ramadan begins this year with the new moon on Friday evening, April 1, 2022. From sunrise to sunset for the next thirty days, observant Muslims will refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex. If you fast correctly, you will not even swallow your own saliva!
The fast is broken each evening with a meal called iftar. Although it begins with a couple of dates and a cup of tea, this meal can be quite a celebration. Families gather and special foods are prepared and enjoyed together.
At first thought, it might seem like cheating to say, “I’m fasting for thirty days, but I eat at night and have a nice breakfast before the sun rises.” Not being the best example of a godly faster, I’m hesitant to judge. And though I’ve so far dodged the vice of smoking, I’ve got to assume it’s pretty tough to quit for twelve hours a day only to resume for the next day and then quit again!
Special corporate prayers are also part of Ramadan, especially on Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power. On this night, which happens late in the month and commemorates the beginning of the revelation of the Quran, many Muslims believe prayers are answered, sins are forgiven, and your destiny for the next year established.
4. How can Christians respond?
At this point, you might be saying, “Well, this is moderately interesting, but is there any action I should take?”
Of course, what you do with what you know is primarily between you and God, but here’s what I think we all might consider:
Yep, what if you decided to show empathy for Muslims by not eating during the day for the month of April? That would raise some eyebrows, wouldn’t it? I suspect it would result in frequent reminders to pray for Muslims.
What if we fasted on Fridays during Ramadan, or maybe one meal once a week?
Do you cross paths with Muslims in the course of your life? What might happen if you took the risk to have a conversation that included a considerate inquiry about Ramadan? I’m thinking questions like:
- “What does Ramadan mean to you?”
- “What makes Ramadan special?”
- “What do you look forward to during Ramadan?”
- “What do you find challenging about observing Ramadan?”
Ramadan is such a spiritually alive time. As Muslims do their best to find God, can I invite you to pray like Solomon did at the dedication of the temple?
“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you” (1 Kings 8:41–43).
I want to personally pray and I want to enlist my friends, my kids, and my church to pray. Here’s some of what I’ll be asking God:
Father, may many Muslims wrestle with the claims of Jesus this Ramadan. May Jesus show up for them in dreams and visions. May they find the abundant life he came to bring.
Lord of Heaven, hold back the forces of violence and evil that sometimes rise up during Ramadan.
Father, may your kingdom come and your will be done among Muslims as it is in Heaven.
If you’d like more resources for personal prayer or to share with your church, feel free to reach out to me.
People speculate that more food is consumed in the Muslim world during Ramadan than at any other time! Evenings are filled with celebration, laughter, and community meals. I’ve both enjoyed iftar meals from Sicily east to Indonesia. My friend Jeannie Marie suggests asking a Muslim friend if you can join them for such a meal, then fast the day ahead. You’ll get insight, bonding, and some really yummy food.
If inviting yourself over for a meal is too much, please join me in a little Ramadan challenge: My family plans to make and enjoy a special meal once a week during April. Each meal will represent a significant Muslim population and we’ll remember them in prayer.
You’ve got Google, right? You could come up with some meals. But if it would make your life a little easier, download this ready-made, four-meal menu for the Muslim world. You’ll experiment with cuisine from my former hometown of Bradford, England (More Muslim than you might imagine!), from Turkey, Gambia in West Africa, and Malaysia.
God is going to do some amazing things for his kingdom among Muslims this Ramadan.
Let’s join him in praying forth his purposes.