What can Christians learn from Muslims during Ramadan? Is there wisdom that can be obtained from the 30-day fast – one of Islam’s five Pillars?
Searching for articles, essays or thoughts written by Christians about Ramadan, I could not find any substantial writing from a Christian perspective on how Christians could receive a spiritual benefit from Ramadan. It seems to me, for Christians in the United States to embrace the practice of Ramadan and the rituals surrounding it perhaps may be seen as some form of heresy for acknowledging the beauty of such an observance or even attempting to do it for the same reasons Muslims do.
Nearly 2-billion Muslims around the world commenced Ramadan at sunset on August 21. At this time, the Ummah Wahida (One Community) is fasting – there will be no eating, no drinking of any liquid and no sexual relations from sunrise to sundown. During the day a Muslim is supposed to not engage in the usual secularity of life in their speech and action. They are to continue to give prayer and supplications five times per day at the Mosque, in the home or where ever a Muslim believer is facing the East towards Mecca bowing to Allah in the most prostrate position. Work days in Muslim countries are shorter and families tend to stay together throughout the day. In the evening the Iftar (dinner) is served to break the swam (fast) – all and all the focus at this time is still on Godly things.
A moment of sincere reflection for Muslims on the status of the poor and downtrodden; the sacrifice of level one of Abraham’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a reminder to followers to give to the least of these, be thankful to Allah for his blessings and to pray for all people in a most troubled world. The greatness of Ramadan is manifested by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH – Peace Be Upon Him) when he revealed the Holy Quran, it testifies: “Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Quran as a guide to mankind ...(2:185).”
In Amsterdam, Van der Kuil, Director of the Dutch Christian charity Vastenaktie began a 40-day Lent or a “Christian Ramadan” in March which there is a 40 Day fasting period likened unto Jesus Christ in the Bible who fasted for 40-days and nights in complete prayer and supplications to God.
Ramadan’s attention focused on surrender and letting go daily life sustaining habits, a Christian (in which fasting is a choice), can make a stronger connection with Allah, their community and family to know their mektub (destiny) through fasting, prayer, meditation and cheerfully giving to the poor.
Beyond respecting the time for Muslims or Christians participating in an Iftar, there are spiritual lessons a Christian can gain from learning about and observing the practice as an observer; perhaps in some instances attempting the fast for an entire day or more may enlighten us more about how to uplift humanity.
Dr. Abdelhamid Jaber, a prominent Professor of Middle East Studies and Political Science at Rutgers University and a political analyst spent a 25-year career at the United Nations on Middle East and North Africa Affairs. A leader in the tri-state Muslim community in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, he says Ramadan is a time to share with the Christian and Jewish community the importance of humanity and unity. “Ramadan is a time for humankind,” says, Jaber. “It is a time for people to live to become better human beings. It is a time to get closer to solidarity, giving, and feeling connected with others.”
Prof. Jaber furthers talk about the common messages between the three great Monotheistic religions – the notion of treating someone as you would like to be treated, the worship of one God and the one belief in helping those who can’t help themselves are all tenants of Ramadan that Christians as well as Jews can share. Prof. Jaber is holding a high level Iftar in New York City on September 10. The Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations H.E. Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz AI-Nasser will keynote to hundreds of guests. “We expect to have the Police Commissioner, presence from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office, distinguished religious, community and political leaders from all faiths will be in attendance,” says Jaber.
As a Christian who worships the Shabbat, I believe Ramadan is a wonderful way for Christians to remember their Muslim brothers and sisters in prayer for their sacrifice, but also a time to step up our efforts to think more about those who are struggling during this economic downturn. Is there an opportunity to take thirty days and find thirty ways to give something valuable to someone less fortunate than us? Can we attempt to pray more frequently throughout the day or even at the same time Muslims pray, praying to God for world peace? During my last visit to the UAE, I shared with my dear friend from the Emirates because of the Azan by the Muzzein before dawn, my faith in God as a Christian strengthened. I was constantly reminded that God is omniscient and omnipresent.
Afsheen Shamsi, Public Relations Director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations says, “Ramadan on a spiritual level is an opportunity to get back in touch with God and engage in more prayer to be at peace with oneself.” On a practical level, her organization has partnered with an organization called Muslims Against Hunger - they are feeding 3000 people in 30-days.
For Christians in the United States professing to know God and claim to hold our Christianity dear, Ramadan is a great time to think about how we treat and engage Muslims in our community. Pew Research and Zogby International Polls have shown a steady and significant level of anti-Muslim sentiment in America. Negative perception about Muslims from self proclaimed Evangelicals is quite high. Reasons for this are based in media stereo-types, unsubstantiated/hyperbolic terrorist fear and just plain ignorance for not taking the time to find out who Muslims really are and what they believe in. Ramadan is a time to check our prejudices and match our claims to love our neighbors as ourselves.
On the first day of Ramadan I fasted with my Muslim brothers and sisters during my vacation in Sicily. I understand the burden my friends will carry fasting the rest of the 29-days is greater. It was difficult for me, but I made it through appreciating sacrifice for someone who might be without food, shelter and clothing - later giving back to make sure that perhaps one less person goes hungry tonight in Sicily.
Today I came upon an old woman sitting on a dirty street corner near a prominent gelato shop in Palermo banging a plastic bowl on the sidewalk begging for money to buy something to eat. As everyone walked by her, I stopped, bent down low to her level and gave her some Euros, smiled and said, “Prego Signora.” As people looked at me a bit surprised, I felt good inside because I blessed someone I did not even know. Tonight, I will go again to the Mediterranean al mare (the sea) to pray and observe Muslim families from Pakistan and India break their fast having their Iftar on the beach; speaking rapidly and joyfully in Italian.
With the exception of two persons, when I shared about my one day fast with some of my Christian friends, there was an awkward silence. My spirituality and connection to Allah/G-d/God is beyond a dogma, but taking the good from something like Islam or Judaism and applying the learning to be a more self actualized person – even in dealing with mine enemies. It’s important for all Muslims to know there is great respect and tribute as your Christian sister remembers Ramadan with you. A Salaam Walaikum!