Today is the first day of Ramadan, when devout Muslims observe a strict fast from sunrise to sunset. It is a time of heightened tension for many Muslims, as they cope with hunger and thirst—especially as, at this time of year in the Northern hemisphere, the days are very long. But what is this festival all about, and what should our attitude towards it be?
According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad received the first of his revelations during the lunar month of Ramadan. Because Muslims operate on a lunar-month system, their calendar moves by about 12 to 15 days each year. So over the course of time, Ramadan will move from winter to summer and back again. During the month of Ramadan a Muslim is expected to fast from sunrise to sunset. They fast from all food, drink, tobacco products, sexual relations, and various forms of entertainment. They will not wear makeup or use perfumes and deodorant.
They can, however, eat and do what they like after the sun sets and until the sun comes up the next morning. It is said that more food is consumed during the month of Ramadan than at any other time of the year. The breaking of the fast is celebrated by the eating of a date and then, depending on the region, an assortment of foods that are consumed until late that night. One last meal is eaten before sunrise and many Muslims will then sleep as late as their jobs permit. During the summer months, Ramadan is hardest on the workers who must rise early and perhaps toil in the sun all day without being able to drink water to renew their strength.
What’s the Point?
Some Do’s and Dont’s for Ramadan
- Don’t ask hostile questions like: “Why can’t Muslims decide when Ramadan starts”? (We do the same with Easter!) or “I didn’t know you were Arab.” (This is culturally insensitive and ignorant—only 20% of Muslims are from the Middle East.)
- Do be interested and open with them and ask questions about why they fast, and what they believe the significance to be.
- Don’t immediately dive in with the gospel to rebut their claims about the value of fasting during Ramadan. Rather, use the opportunity to share your own testimony about how you have found forgiveness and freedom in Christ.
- Do be patient with your friend during Ramadan. It is a tough thing for them to go through, and you may find they are a bit more irritable at times.
- Do take the opportunity to skip lunch yourself to talk with your friend about spiritual matters. The gesture shows there are more important things in your life than food.
- Do invite your friend over to your place for dinner when they break their fast. True Christian hospitality goes a long way with Muslims—even if they politely decline the invitation.
- Don’t forget to emphasize that Jesus is the Savior for anyone who comes to him. The gospel is good news for Muslims too.