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Ramadan: what you need to know

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Lieutenant Asif I. Balbale, the chaplain for Assault Amphibian School Battalion at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton, California, prays by himself at the Afghan Cultural Center aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, August 17, 2011, Afghanistan (Credit: United States Marines/Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Chandler)

Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, began this past Wednesday evening and will continue until July 17th. It’s considered the holiest month because Muslim tradition teaches that the Qur’an was revealed around this time of the year to the prophet Muhammad in 610 CE.

So for the next 28 days, most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims will be fasting from dawn to dusk. Each day will end with an evening meal called the Iftar, which traditionally begins by eating a date or something else sweet. The meal is often shared with neighbors and friends or taken at the local mosque with the rest of the community.

The basic goal of the fast is the purification of one’s mind and body while also increasing one’s patience and generosity towards others. The Arabic word for fasting (sawm) literally means “to refrain.” As such, it refers not only to food and drink but also to things like smoking, gossip, and foul language. It is a far more holistic understanding of fasting than we are perhaps accustomed to.

During the fast, Muslims are encouraged to go about their lives as normal but with an increased awareness of the needs around them as well as a greater focus on prayer and reading the Qur’an. That focus will only intensify as the month progresses. One of the primary goals of Ramadan is to search for the “Night of Power” (Laylat al-Qadr) which is typically thought to fall in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. According to Islamic tradition, that night marks the time when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed and is considered the holiest day of the year for Muslims. They believe that God is especially receptive to one’s prayers on this night and are encouraged to stay awake in order to pray for blessings and forgiveness.

Ramadan ends with the world-wide celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a festival for breaking the fast. It is believed that those who fasted will be rewarded by God on this day and all Muslims are forbidden from fasting in order to join the celebration. Many Muslims will give gifts, wear new clothes, and visit with family and friends as part of the festival.  

So how should Christians respond to Ramadan? Two thoughts:

First, we must show respect for Muslims and their observance of this fast. While we do not share their beliefs, their devotion and commitment are worthy of our respect. Moreover, Christ teaches that we are to love all people regardless of their beliefs (Luke 10:27) and his word tells us to “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17). That is what Jesus would do and it is vital that we do the same if we want to earn the right to share the truth of the gospel with them.

Second, pray that God speaks in powerful and supernatural ways over the next several weeks. There have been countless stories in recent years of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions in order to lead them to salvation. This month, more Muslims will be earnestly seeking such guidance and open to the possibility of God speaking than at any other time during the year. As Christians, we must join together in praying that he does. Ministries like 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World can offer a helpful guide to that end but the best way to begin is by simply asking the Lord how to pray. No one wants to see awakening in the Muslim world more than God so trust that he has a plan and be open to whatever role he calls you to play.

So let us treat those Muslims that God has placed in our lives with respect, honoring their religious devotion while also praying that the Lord would speak to them in powerful and supernatural ways in order to lead them to Christ. And then pray with equal devotion that God would bring a similar awakening in the life of every lost person you know.

Ramadan can and should be a call to prayer and intercession for more than just the Muslim world. Well over a billion Muslims will be spending the next month seeking God’s will and instruction on how to live a better life. Can you imagine what the Lord could do if the 2.17 billion people who identify themselves as Christians were to show a similar desire to improve their relationship with him? God can and is calling us to do just that today. What are you waiting for?