“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to lose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” (Isaiah 58:6)
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month. During this time, Muslims fast for 30 days. This isn’t just any fast. This is complete fasting from dawn to dusk: No food, No water, nothing. Fasting during this period is an obligation of all Muslims, as it is one of the five pillars of Islam. Removing these comforts from one’s daily routine is intended to focus the mind on prayer, spirituality, and charity, as well as to purify the body and mind.
The fasting isn’t just about the food. Fasting also includes abstaining from things like cigarettes, gossiping, and marital relations. It is illegal to be seen eating or drinking in public, even for Non-Muslims, and one can be penalized with a fine and up to 30 days in jail. Children are expected to fast once they reach puberty (sometimes as early as age 10). Surprisingly, the fast also includes fasting from medications, but there are special allocations for the elderly, people who are sick, and pregnant women.
As you can imagine, as a worker here in the Middle East, our days are quite different during Ramadan. No restaurants are open, and people are much less energetic overall. The teachers at our language school have a difficult time teaching full days. It is difficult for them to talk all day without as much as a sip of water. Because of this, our school shortens classes during this season and closes early.
When sundown finally arrives, usually around 7:30 pm, there is a complete shift in the mood! Restaurants, businesses, and street shops open, and the place comes alive. People celebrate by eating large meals and elaborate fancy sweets. It is common to have people invite you to join them in their meals as you walk by on the street. All this lasts well into the evening.
So how do we best love our Muslim friends during this holy season? We have tried these practical approaches to loving our Muslim friends, and we have been blessed beyond measure. Live it with them. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you know how important fasting is to all believers. Why not take this time to honor Jesus in your own form of fasting? Jesus commanded us to fast and what better time than now, as your Muslim friends observe this sacred time of sacrifice. Tell a friend you want to fast alongside him/her because Jesus commanded it. They will be deeply touched. And if you want to learn more about Ramadan, read this article by Matthew Friedman.
1. Honor them.
Even if you decide not to fast, you can honor your friends in their fasting. If you spend time with them during the day while they are abstaining, then make it your mission to abstain with them. Your friend will be greatly honored to know that you didn’t drink that coke or eat that cookie in front of them because you have respect for them and what they are doing.
2. Pray for them.
This is a holy time. It is a time when Muslims seek a deeper closeness to God. Be bold in praying and tell them you are praying for them. Pray specifically that God will speak to them in visions and dreams as this is how many Muslims today are having an encounter with Jesus. If you really want to take it to the next level, and you are a man, invite yourself to the mosque to pray with your male friend. That might seem scary, but despite what you see on the news, they will welcome you to pray with them.
3. Celebrate with them.
Want to really honor your friend? Invite them to your house for a dinner to break their fast at sunset. Muslims love fellowship and meals together. If you make the effort to honor them during this sacred time you can’t begin to imagine how this elevates your friendship. If you are afraid to cook, find a Middle Eastern restaurant in your area and invite them to break their fast with you there.
4. Learn from them.
Nearly every Muslim I know would be happy to engage in conversation with you about what Ramadan means to them. This gives you a great opportunity to engage them in spiritual conversations. Ask questions, be inquisitive, be a learner. They will be honored to know you care.
5. Engage them.
There is more media coverage today about Muslims than any other time in history. Unfortunately, much the information is biased and portrays Muslims in a way that just isn’t accurate. If you have a Muslim in your office, at your gym, or as your neighbor, talk with them. Ramadan is the perfect time to begin conversations with them and hopefully develop a long-lasting friendship. Have a cup of coffee or tea together—after sunset of course.
This article was written by Mission Society missionaries serving in the Middle East. Names are not listed for security purposes.