by Dan McNerney, Associate Director
May 16 was the first day of fasting for the 1.6 billion Muslims observing Ramadan across the globe this year. Ramadan will end at sundown June 14 or 15, followed by a celebration called Eid al-Fitr.
Because Ramadan follows a lunar cycle, it falls each year at different times in the calendar—this year, right at the intersection of spring and summer. The sunlight is particularly bright and long right now. Muslims are spending up to 18 hours a day without drinking or eating anything. They’re focusing their minds and hearts in an effort to grow closer to God and earn as many blessings as they can. Both the fasting and lack of sleep are challenging. People eat meals late at night and sleep for a few hours before they get up at 4:00AM for one last meal prior to sunrise. Many love the challenge; they say it increases their discipline.
Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to invite their non-Muslim friends to participate with them in Iftar meals as they break the fast each night when the sun goes down. Iftar meals are celebratory and a great way for neighbors to get to know each other.
Last week, my family and I joined other members of our church to participate in an Iftar meal with our local Bosnian Muslim friends. In fact, this was the 10th year we’ve enjoyed an Iftar meal with these same friends. Every year it gets better because our friendships grow deeper and more genuine.
Most of the members of this mosque are Sufi Muslims. They often talk about their need to overcome their egos much in the same way Christians talk about their struggle against sin. Our friends have found themselves riveted by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. They’re fascinated by what He says about disciplining the inner self and having a clean heart and renewed mind.
During the meal, a young man from the mosque who’s studying to become an imam spoke openly and honestly about how Ramadan helps him with his ongoing personal battle with anger. I couldn’t help but think that such a talk would never have taken place in front of us 10 or even five years ago; our communities just didn’t know each other well enough back then. But as our love for one another has deepened, vulnerability has begun to characterize our relationships.
Many Muslims have misunderstandings of and prejudices toward Christians, as we do of them. The primary way a Muslim can confront these misunderstandings is by having a genuine Christian friend who can help explain and model the life and teachings of Jesus. What better way to begin a friendship than sitting down together to share a meal? Many Muslims are longing to have a Christian friend, especially someone who takes their faith seriously.
Ramadan is often the most natural and significant time of year for Christians to begin building relationships with their Muslim neighbors. I encourage you to visit a mosque in your city and ask if you can attend an Iftar meal. Such an event might be what God will use to help you forge strong and lasting friendships.
Yes, please pray for Muslims during Ramadan’s long days, that their eyes and hearts will be open to the divine nature of Jesus. But better yet, knock on the door of your local mosque and ask if you can break the fast with its community when the sun goes down. Your walk with Jesus will become that much richer.