by Robert Scott
“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God… It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for mankind… So anyone of you who is present that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days of fasting by fasting on other days later… eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct from the black. Then fast until nightfall…” [From Abdel Haleem’s translation of the Qur’an, Surah 2:183–187]
What is Ramadan?
The Islamic month of Ramadan is due to start on 13th April and all Muslim people who are able should not eat or drink during this month’s daylight hours. This means that fasting will continue more or less 6am–8pm at the beginning of Ramadan and around 5am–9pm by its end. At its strictest, some people won’t even take medicines or swallow their saliva. For others, their fast may include a digital element, as they try to limit time online and on their phones.
In the evenings, most families will break their fast together and may visit one another’s homes (lockdown rules permitting). Men will then often go to the mosque and, near the end of the month, they may stay there the whole night. The nights of 23rd, 25th, 26th and 27th are considered particularly special, as it is thought that Muhammad received the first Qur’anic revelation (see Surah 97) on one of these nights.
But why do Muslim people want to fast? As we can see from the verses in the Qur’an quoted earlier, it is to show continuity with the past (meaning the previous scriptures and prophets, like Jesus and Moses) and to become mindful of God. Some Muslim friends have suggested that it helps to purify themselves physically and spiritually, that saying “no” to food now can help you to say “no” to sin the rest of the year. Others say that it helps you to have compassion towards people who are always hungry, and that it emphasises equality, as all Muslim people fast irrespective of their status.
How Might we Respond?
I think it’s very easy either to be over–impressed or to belittle fasting in Ramadan. It is impressive that many people go without food during daylight hours. Whilst it is not the way to salvation, this doesn’t mean that fasting is a waste of time. After all, the Bible also speaks of fasting. Rather than belittling people or being overly impressed, how can we respond to our Muslim friends this month?
Praying is always a good place to begin. We can use this prayer guide for the whole month to help us to pray for Muslim people around the world: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World (2021) (pray30days.org). Closer to home, why not pray for Muslim people in your neighbourhood who are earnestly trying to be mindful of God? Pray that they will have an encounter like Cornelius does in Acts 10, which leads him to hear the gospel from Peter and receive salvation.
If you have Muslim friends or colleagues, why not ask why they are fasting and how it is going? They are likely to appreciate your interest.
Maybe use that as an opportunity to talk about fasting in the Bible – how it is not an excuse to ignore justice (in Isaiah 58), how it is tied to being humble before God and the day of atonement (in Leviticus 16), and how Jesus fasted and was able to resist Satan, unlike Adam and all of us (in Luke 4).
Maybe ask them whether the effects of Ramadan last the rest of the year: are they able to say “no” to sin? If not, maybe ask why that is the case, and what might the solution be.
Then you could talk about Jesus, who never once sinned but offered us forgiveness of sin, not through our religious effort but through his sacrificial death.
And, in fact, if Ramadan is partly about identifying with the hungry so that you can show them compassion, why not point to Jesus’ compassion, by becoming like us, being sent by his heavenly Father, to identify with us and show us eternal compassion? The God of the Bible didn’t stay at a distance and let us get on with things, but came to us, so that we might have new hearts and new hope.
Robert Scott is the author of Sharing the Gospel with a Muslim Neighbour, recently released by 10Publishing.