A Christian’s Guide to RAMADAN

ramadan-dos-donts

I used to dread Ramadan as a Muslim… I knew I was supposed to look forward to it each year, but it was so much better to simply ignore it was coming and that I would be judged by how many fasts (“Roza” in Urdu) I would keep.  On the occasions I would fast, I would sleep all day, get headaches, try to brush my teeth because I couldn’t have water and even passed out from dizziness (I used to pass out all the time growing up).  I wrote another blog about fasting here last year.

All of that was worth the night time activities. Being one who enjoys having people over to our home, the evenings would be a time of celebration (we made it!) and we would feast, play board games and cards and eat full meals again until the wee hours of the morning before sunrise… only to do it all over again.

There was even a joke in our family-if you weren’t fasting and if someone asked you if you were keeping your fast, you should always say “yes, I keep it in my closet.” The bottom line is that for Muslims, keeping a fast is a matter of honor and shame for your family. Muslims will ask you straight up if you are fasting or not to see how pious you are (or not, in my case). There is definitely a sense of pressure from the community. This is not felt so greatly in Pakistan or in the Middle East because everyone there assumes you are fasting – it’s just what you do. During the day, restaurants are open only to foreigners (and even that is limited).  In some Muslim countries, it is a punishable crime to eat and drink in the public during Ramadan and the religious police look for people! Everything shuts down, so the only thing to do for women, especially is to watch long movies and sleep.

For many Christians, Ramadan is a mystery. I hope today to untangle some of those confusing ideas.

  1. Ramadan starts upon the sighting of the crescent moon by Saudi Arabia’s High Judicial Court. The dates always vary of when Ramadan starts due to Islam’s use of a lunar calendar (hence the shape of the moon on all things Muslim).  Fasting is for 30 days.
  2. TODAY, May 27 is the first day of Ramadan for 2017
  3. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the FIVE Pillars of Faith (requisite checklist for all Muslims)
  4. It’s not truly fasting as in the Christian sense of the word (completely abstaining from food and water like Jesus did in the desert (see Matthew 4) for 40 days and nights. Fasting for Ramadan is a flip of night and day. You can eat all you want from sunset to sunrise – you don’t touch food or water (not even a sip, otherwise you break your fast) from sunrise to sunset. It’s embarrassing for a Muslim to gain weight during this time!
  5. Ramadan is a time for prayer. Muslims try to get closer to God. WE CAN HELP!!!
  6. Join a Christian movement called “30 days of Prayer”  http://www.30daysprayer.com/ to pray for the Muslim world to come to the LORD. The website also has a devotional book you can order, as well as e-mail reminders to pray for the Muslims around you.
  7. Women who are pregnant or nursing (or menstruating) cannot fast. They will have to make up their fasts at a later time in order to do their duty as a Muslim. Children and the very elderly do not have to fast. There are also some exemptions made for athletes and those who are traveling.
  8. Some Christians I know want to fast in solidarity with their Muslim friends – you can most definitely do that (=freedom in Christ!), however please note that fasting during Ramadan is complete with religious obligations and rules set forth by Islam. Don’t follow those rules or do something contrary to the beliefs you have in Christ Jesus. These two religions are very, very different! Make it clear why you are fasting so that they don’t get the wrong idea or so that you are not misleading them into believing something else. Be clear about who you follow, that’s all.
  9. We can enter joyfully into a fast and even share the breaking of the fast party with our Muslim friends and neighbors. Let them know that Jesus allowed Christians to fast in Matthew 6:16-17 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”
  10. At the end of Ramadan, all Muslims celebrate Eid — many of my fond memories as a child revolve around us celebrating Eid with so much joy! Eid is scheduled for June 25 this year.

69859_artworks-000076178737-9xpof4-originalMuslims are our neighbors, and Jesus instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mat 22:39) Pray For Muslims in Love. Invite them to your home! 

The Bible says: 15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. ~James 5:15-17

Fasting

A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City

Saudi Declares Monday as first day of Ramadan – A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 4, 2016. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

I was a horrible Muslim. I grew up in countries where everyone fasted, yet I never kept a fast until I was a teenager in high school. I take that back – I tired fasting around 5th grade because we had moved to the US and our neighbors were very good at fasting. Not wanting to be shown up by a boy my age, I thought I would also fast. I had such a horrible attitude about it all, I had to end the fast in a shameful way. I ate lunch. I couldn’t even make it past the afternoon.

In High School, at least I was doing it for better reasons. I knew that fasting was supposed to get you closer to submitting to God’s will for you (now why you had to not eat or drink to do this, I still didn’t understand). This was a much better approach than jealous competition with our sweet and kind neighbor family.

I still didn’t do very well as a teenager in fasting. I would try to stay up all night to eat and then would conk out close to sunrise. I would even miss the early morning prayer (which is a no-no) because I stayed up too late and now no one could wake me up, including my alarm. My mom was kind to me during this time and allowed me to stay asleep as I always rationalized that I could make up the missed prayer time in the morning or do extra credit prayers later on. Again, not a great way to embark on any religious philosophy.

As an adult after 9/11, I tried to become a better Muslim than I had ever been. I was reading the Quran, trying to pray five times a day around my work schedule and also trying to fast. I did better – I was able to fast for about a week before the horrible migraines took me down. There is a special dispensation for medical disabilities and I reasoned with Allah that since He was merciful to me, that He would exempt me from this one pillar of faith.

Islam has FIVE pillars of faith. One must do each one of them (only Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca is done once in a lifetime. Others must be done every day or every season!). 5-five-pillars-of-islamThese are absolutes, so missing one of these is kind of an issue because you are not fulfilling requirements of being a practicing Muslim. Ramadan is sacred because Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed during that month. It varies in date year to year because the lunar calendar is used to mark the ninth month – Ramadan.

I believed all the other items in the checklist. I said the Shahadah, I tried my best to pray (not all my life, mind you! I don’t want you to think I was an awesome Muslim – hence the first line of this blog!), we gave Zakat, or charity and my parents were kind enough to take us to Mecca when we were little for Hajj. The problem is that even missing one requirement does not get you to Heaven! If you are missing a pillar or two, it is sinful and you will be punished by Allah, for you are then like a building without a foundation or a roof without a supporting pillar.

The Season of Ramadan starts tomorrow morning June 6, 2016 at Sunrise. This means that over 1.5 billion (good) Muslims will be eating and drinking tonight, but fasting tomorrow and for the next 30 days.

When I became a follower of Christ Jesus, I wanted to know my requirements or obligations. I was shocked that there wasn’t a checklist to complete or clear-cut directions on what to do. I had to repent of my sins and acknowledge the fact that I needed a Savior (because I could not pay for my sins by myself), I had to confess with my mouth that Jesus was Lord and Savior and I had to believe in my heart that he died on the cross and was raised from the dead. Romans 10:9 says “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

As I began to study the Bible, I found that there was no list that needed to be checked off.  Religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, but not as a requirement or obligation.  Fasting is the humbling of the soul, Ps 35:13; that is the inside of the duty; let that, therefore, be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. God sees in secret, and will reward openly. In contrast to what I witnessed in the Muslim countries as people trying to fast in competition or worse, shaming others who were not fasting (because they had “medically exempted” headaches, for example, not that I was embarrassed about this or anything!), Matthew 6:18 says “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Psalm 35:12-14 takes it a step further with David who fasts for his enemies’ health! What is that about? I was shocked to see that fasting took on a different meaning and that had everything to do with the condition of the heart and also the desire to commune with God.

“They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul. 13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting,And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. 14I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.…” ~Psalm 35:12-14

As Christians, we do not have to fast but we should pray to seek God’s will if there is something going on in our lives that needs change. Fasting will not change the other person or their circumstances – instead, fasting is to help us draw closer to God and to hear His will for our lives. I also want to point out a stark contrast here. Fasting for the Muslim world means exchanging DAYS for NIGHTS. It is not a complete abstaining from food or drink for 30 days. Some people are shocked that humans are able to completely give up food or drink – not the case. In addition to not eating or drinking during the daylight hours, Muslims are to try to keep from thinking bad thoughts, smoking, cursing, or having marital relations.

Fasting for the Christian is to humble yourself before the Lord, to reveal things in your life that are broken, need healing or spiritual transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring. It can help one to recognize and repent unconfessed sin. It’s not magic, it won’t fix other people, but it can help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.

As we pray for others, may we remember to pray for the Muslim world to know the love of Christ Jesus who fulfilled all obligations for us and completed all checklists, took our judgment and paid the price of our sins for all mankind with his death on the cross. May they learn about the resurrection power over death that is found only in Jesus. Amen.