What is Ramadan? Why should Christians care?

Tags: IMBRamadan

Muslims pray at a mosque in Abidjan's Koumassi quartier before breaking a fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
IMB photo
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Imagine not taking in food or drink during daylight hours for 28 days straight. Envision what it would be like for that practice to be directly linked to your standing in society or your stature with God.

This is the reality for Muslims during the month of Ramadan, a time when every follower of Islam is encouraged (and in some cases required) to spend the month exercising many forms of self-restraint, seeking to be aware of God and thinking about how they should best worship Him.

If you were to visit an observant Muslim country during this time, you would find restaurants closed during daylight hours. Refrigerated boxes of soft drinks found on the sidewalk on most streets are padlocked. Cigarette vendors are missing from the daily street traffic. Until sunset approaches and dinner preparations can finally be made, many normal patterns of life are completely halted.

The yearly Ramadan fast, which will run this year from May 26-June 25, is one of five orthodox practices that define Islamic culture and religion. Muslims who do not observe the fast are marked out as those who are not serious about their religion. The focus of this month is not primarily abstinence or fasting but a concentration of a Muslim's energy and mind on an awareness of God and on the life of pious worship.

Taqwa -- awareness of God -- is cultivated in several ways during Ramadan.

First, by fasting. When the thought of food, drink or cigarettes comes to mind, people are directed to think on God and to meditate on their responsibility to please Him.

A second form of taqwa is by taking the finances that would have been used during the day to buy food and giving that money to the poor. Some Muslims provide meals after the sun sets for a larger group than just their own family. Frequently in Muslim communities there will be public tables set, and at sunset passersby are invited to the fitir, which is the breaking of the daily fast.

A third way in which Muslims seek to experience heightened God-consciousness is through public readings and recitations of the Qur'an (or Koran) during the late evening hours when families are together.

A strategic time to pray

The month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims are very aware of dreams and visions. They believe dreams are a direct way that God chooses to reveal Himself to people. During this time of heightened spiritual focus, Muslims are often seeking a special message or revelation from God.

As Christians have prayed earnestly for their Muslim neighbors and friends during this season, they hear reports of dreams and visions in which Jesus appears to these friends and draws them to himself. In fact, it is rare to meet Muslim-background believers who have come to Christ without an experience of this nature.

During this time when Muslims are particularly aware of their spiritual hunger, barriers to the Gospel seem to be most effectively breached when Muslims dream of Jesus or dream of a Christian who has a life-giving message to give to them.

The reality is that every day, Muslims are dying without Jesus. Some have been presented with the truth of the Gospel and have rejected it, while others have never once had the opportunity to respond to the good news.

Christians should grasp this sobering truth and view this month of Muslims' heightened spiritual awareness as a time to earnestly entreat our heavenly Father to soften their hearts to the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Christians should also pray for an increase in Christian evangelical presence in Muslim communities across the globe.

A strategic time to engage

A Muslim's elevated sensitivity to spiritual matters during Ramadan usually creates an open atmosphere for discussions with Christian friends. During this season Christians are often invited to share an evening meal, an iftar, with their Muslim friends. In this setting, spiritual discussions are frequently welcomed and encouraged by the Muslim hosts. The month of Ramadan is also an excellent opportunity for Christians to invite their Muslim friends to an evening meal, to give return hospitality, and to have dialogues on spiritual things.

Here are a couple questions believers could use to kick-start a spiritual conversation with one of their Muslim friends during Ramadan:

-- Fasting during Ramadan seems to be both a personal and corporate experience. Can you help me understand some of the most meaningful aspects of this month for you and your community?

-- As a Muslim, what do you mean by taqwa?

Questions like these aim to move beyond the physical aspects of the fast to discover how our Muslim friends respond to God in daily life.

Listening carefully and prayerfully to their answer will often encourage them to be more open to hear how Christians seek to walk with God daily in the Word and the Spirit.

For most Muslim groups, the lunar calendar dictates that Ramadan began Friday, May 26 this year and continues until Sunday, June 25. Christians can use this time to earnestly seek God on behalf of the more than 1.6 billion followers of Islam around the world. Ask God to soften their hearts to the Gospel and that He send more laborers into the field to engage them with the truth of Christ.

For more on reaching Muslims with the Gospel, visit here and here. To explore ways to go short-term and long-term to engage Muslims, visit IMB's opportunities page.

Mike Edens is dean of graduate studies, assistant director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics, and Professor of Theology and Islamic Studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Madelyn retired after 27 years of International Mission Board service among Muslims of the Middle East.
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