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

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Scared to Death

 

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From Camberley Mosque, UK

My first experience with death was in High School. Until then, it was not very personal. I had never attended funerals at all. I didn’t really think much about death or that life was going to have to end at one point or another. Many of you know I lived a fairly sheltered life. Our family moved around a lot when I was growing up. Several of my relatives passed away when I was very young (less than four years old) or were living in another country, so I did not get to have a relationship with them.

All of that changed when my grandmother passed away. She had heart issues but was in her late 50’s, so her death was unexpected and sudden. My grandparents had been living with us for a few years prior to moving out to a small home, so this was a relatively close relationship. Her death hit me very hard.

It wasn’t because I missed her or was upset about her death (sounds callous, I know). It was mainly because as a selfish teenager, all of a sudden it became about ME. I realized I didn’t know what to expect when I died. What did the Quran say about death? I knew there were angels on my right and left shoulder who noted my good and bad deeds to report them to Allah, but apart from that, I didn’t know.

When I was a little girl, I was told that when you sleep at night, your soul dies a little death and that God will return your soul to you in the morning if He wills it. This was also a pretty scary thing to consider as a small Muslim child. Here in the West, children are worried about the monsters hiding in their closet, but for the Muslims, you actually died at night!

From the Quran (al An’aam 6:60)

“It is He, Who takes your souls by night (when you are asleep), and has knowledge of all that you have done by day”

Interpretation – Hadith Al Bukhaari, 7474

 

It was narrated from Abu Qataadah (may Allah be pleased with him) that when they slept and missed the prayer, the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Verily Allah took your souls when He willed, and He returned them when He willed.”

When I asked my father, he replied that Muslims believed that Allah does indeed take into account the good and bad deeds and that all Muslims work towards increasing the balance of the good deeds so that the scales will tip in their favor. This led me to even more questions: how do you know how much each good and bad deed is worth? Are they all weighed the same? It can’t be! Isn’t murder worth more than a lie? What about a lie to my parents versus a lie to an unbeliever? Are they the same? Does one have a higher penalty than the other?

Muslims have no answers to those questions! There is no assurance of salvation, no pardon, nothing to rely on. You have to believe that Allah is most merciful and that He will tip the balance for you, but then again, the Quran says that Allah can change His mind — how do you know for sure?

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This is where the relief for me came in. It took another 20 years for me to come to Christ and the Holy Spirit showed me that indeed, I was a horrible Muslim. I tried to pray five times a day, but didn’t (meetings at work, luncheons, appointments, you name it). I tried to fast, but couldn’t (meetings at work, luncheons, migraine headaches, etc). I tried to give alms on a regular basis and did pretty well at that. Overall, I fell short of even meeting the checklist for the five pillars of faith (see my post on fasting). I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that these things were not going to get me to heaven. Only ONE thing could do that for me and that was Christ.

In John 14, Jesus speaks to His disciples and tells them not to worry.  He says:

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in Goda ; believe also in me. 2My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really know me, you will know b my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

What comforting words! He does not promise that we will prosper here on earth. He doesn’t tell us to do five, ten or fifteen things on a checklist. He says He is the way and we can come through Him. He says “get to know me.” He says He will come back and take us. We don’t even have to look for a way or find it on our own. We don’t have to do anything other than accept Christ for who He is: the way, the truth and the life. He is the WAY to God. He is the TRUTH that so many are searching for and He is preparing a home for us to live in… not to die in, but to live.

In Matthew 22:32, Jesus talks to the Sadducees (Jewish priests) and says “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

In Christ, we only have the shadow of death (Psalm 23). We pass from life here into eternal life with Him. Matthew 4:16 says “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 

What a joy and a relief for me on the day that I realized I did not have to sit in the shadow of death. I didn’t have to worry about what would happen to me, for the great light of Christ shined upon me! What a comfort to know – truly know that what God had planned from creation was going to be set right in Christ. He does truly love us and knows us by name. He will come and bring us back to be with Him. He promises this.

No Muslim (or anyone else) has this assurance! When I became a Christian, I asked my first Bible Study group why they weren’t shouting about this from the rooftops? What an amazing burden to be lifted off of me. I was scared to death of death and dying! I had nights where I found I couldn’t sleep. Before I had my first C-Section (my first surgery), I really thought that I might have to go and have my scales be weighed in front of God. I knew I was going to the “escalator down.” There’s no way, I would be admitted into heaven based on what I had done (or not done in my case).

Why hide this from others? Why not share what Christ has done for you? Do you have this assurance or do you still worry about where you are going when you die? If you are in Christ and you know Him, then you know the way, the truth and will have eternal life TODAY.

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.