Ramadan:It is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, and devout as well as not-so-devout Muslims observe a mandatory fast. Their fast is a bit more intensive than Lent for Christians, even though Lent is for 40 days. It is tougher because they fast from all forms of intake, including water, from sunrise to sunset. Two meals are taken daily, once just before sunrise along with the morning call to prayer, and the breaking of the fast which takes place at sunset followed by the evening call to prayer.
The world is becoming smaller through culture, and it is increasingly possible for us as Christians to see our neighbours and even our relatives be Muslim. What should a Christian know and do during the month of Ramadan, considered the holiest month by Muslims worldwide? After living all my life as a practicing Christian in Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (all either conservative, very conservative or liberal), here’s my top 5 tips for Christians:
1. Be patient
No food or water for approximately 12-15 hours in a day during summer can push anyone to their limits. Almost all devout Muslims fast to strengthen their self-control not just physically but spiritually. They fast so that their hunger than remind them of God and that they should pray and ask for his graces. If you feel that the hunger may be getting to someone – naturally – understand that it is simply the effect of the fast, and pray for them that they may achieve self-control better. It is rare that a Muslim may lash out or lose patience. Most prefer to focus on their work etc to belay the temptation of food or water.
2. Respect their fast; eat elsewhere
When we fast during Lent, the Bible says don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. In other words, don’t show that you’re fasting. Be normal, behave as everyone else. Muslims are meant to do this too, hence you may not know they are fasting and will probably eat at your desk in front of them or even invite them to eat lunch or dinner with you. They won’t mind it, but it is a nice courtesy to perhaps take your meal elsewhere where you don’t end up increasing the temptation of food around them. Allow them to focus on their faith for the moment you are having your meal.
3. Learn about Islam
As much as evangelisation is a calling of every baptized Christian, you cannot evangelise those whom you do not know. Also, Christ said ‘love one another’. Loving one another becomes more meaningful when you take the time out to know the other person, their interests, beliefs, likes and dislikes. Muslims are a diverse, creative, cultural and resourceful set of people who are as global in their outlook as Christians. They exist in every corner of the world, just like us, and hence are as varied as us. You will find Muslims in the United States who listen to rap and play poker, in Australia who like to travel to Maitland-Newcastle and sample great steaks, in Nigeria where they thrive in the business world of trade and finance, Pakistan where – apart from the negative media hype – they create some of the world’s most powerful musical feats (Coke Studio, now it its 5th year, was the world’s 11th most watched show in any category) and elsewhere.
Learning about their faith only serves to make your own faith stronger. As mentioned above, of the 3 countries I lived in, 2 are considered the most Islamic in terms of laws and practice. Yet, because we were allowed dozens of churches to practice our faith, I learnt alot about tolerance – or what the lack of it does. I’ve seen what ignorant and extremist Muslims think and say about Christianity, and while it upset me, I realised what it feels like, and hence what it must feel like to a Muslim when us Christians say the same about them.
So I took the time to learn more about Islam, and it helped me learn more about how Jesus would want me to live with them: with love, patience, sacrifice, selflessness. Jesus spent most of His time with those who were ‘the other’. We cannot hope to love like Him unless we love like Him completely.
4. Invite them over to break their fast
Nothing says ‘Love thy neighbour’ more than breaking bread with them. This Ramadan, invite a Muslim neighbour or friend to break their fast in your home. Ask them what is a typical food item they use to break their fast and prepare a nice meal. It gives you both a chance to bond, share your faith in practice and ultimately, break bread the way Jesus did. More hearts are won over a meal than over a scholarly debate.
5. Pray for them
The Holy Spirit does not belong to Christians alone. Christians and all of creation belong to the Holy Spirit. Christ on the cross gave us the greatest example when He died for all men. All men, not only Jews or Christians.
Hence, pray for the Holy Spirit to come into the lives of Muslims worldwide during this month of Ramadan, and ask Him to enrich them spiritually as well as fill them with the light of God’s love. Think not of converting them, for that is the work of the Spirit. Allow the Spirit to work in them and let Him decide.
To all Muslims reading this, I wish you ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Have a generous Ramadan’.
May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you always.