The Fast of Ramadan: for Christians and others
One of the founders of Ramadan Fasters of Christ, I began keeping the fast of Ramadan a few years ago, when I witnessed my country preparing to take military action in a Muslim country, Afghanistan, during what was to be Islam’s holy month of fasting. The news reported what military and political strategists were thinking about the possible public-relations consequences of waging war during Ramadan. I thought their statements betokened a thorough disrespect for other people’s relations with God, and I was filled with shame and disgust. As a citizen, I felt responsible for my country’s actions. Yet I felt no hope of influencing my country’s leadership through letters to elected representatives or public witnesses of any kind. In my despair I turned to God. God is ever the true Ruler of the world, as we remind ourselves whenever we pray “thy kingdom come.”
As a Friend, or Quaker, I believe in a God who not only hears prayer but directs the mind and steps of anyone prepared to follow faithfully. What gave me most peace of mind when I turned to God was the thought that I might participate in the fast of Ramadan myself. And that encouraged me to feel that I was following God’s will for me.
What came to me as I prepared for Ramadan was that offering this fast to God was a way to pray “thy kingdom come” in greater depth. The ongoing frustration of not being free to eat or drink when I liked would, I hoped, remind me repeatedly that my primary citizenship was not in the United States but in the Kingdom of God, whose Government hears not only my every request but my every thought. The fasting experience would also be a kind of spiritual warfare, such as the Apostle Paul preached to the Churches at Corinth and Ephesus. As God’s warrior, I need not be concerned with stopping the bombs and bullets over the current field of battle, or correcting wicked and ignorant combatants on either side. Rather, I was to entrust such things to God, and focus on subduing the seeds of carnal war in myself. And of these I saw plenty: fear, untruthfulness, unruly desires, vengefulness, satisfaction in the unhappiness of others. Finally, as God’s warrior, I was to shrink from no challenge put before me.
That fast, like the Ramadan fasts of subsequent years, proved fruitful. The next year I wrote a public statement, encouraging other Christians to join me. From that statement I adapt the introduction to Ramadan fasting that follows:
“In undertaking this fast, I don’t intend to endorse any articles of Islamic faith that differ from the teachings of the Gospel of Christ; and in general I would never encourage any practice that did not win the approval of the divine witness in one’s own heart. But for non-Muslims interested in knowing the customs of the Ramadan fast, these are the essentials as best I know them:
1. The fast involves refraining from food, drink and sexual activity from the first light of dawn until sunset over the lunar month expected to extend (this year) from sunset, 9/13/2007 to sunset, 10/12/2007, depending on the sighting of the new moon (see, for example, http://www.moonsighting.com.) During this month one is encouraged to nourish oneself well during the night hours, for the fast is not meant to be a time of hardship (Qur’an 2:185) but rather one of purification, “that [ye] may learn self-restraint” (Qur’an 2:187, Yusuf Ali tr.). Calendars are available showing the times for fasting and breaking the fast each day in a given locality. (See, for example, Islamic City.)
2. It involves abstinence from all immoral behavior. In words attributed (according to Al-Bukhari) to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, “If one does not abandon falsehood in words and deeds, Allah has no need for his abandoning of his food and drink.” Cursing and speaking hurtfully in anger are likewise forbidden. Muslims expect that sexual activity will be confined to the marriage bond.
3. It is obligatory for adult Muslims not exempted. However, children, the elderly, the ill, the insane, travelers, and women menstruating, pregnant, or nursing– in general, all those for whom fasting might be a hardship– are, or may be, exempted from fasting.
4. Brushing the teeth, swallowing things that are unavoidable (like saliva, or airborne dust and smoke), and unintentional vomiting do not constitute fast-breaking. However, the smoke of tobacco or incense, or the scent of perfume, is not to be sought out or voluntarily partaken of.
“Whenever we Christians fast, the Gospel advises us to fast in secret (Matthew 6:16-18); and so I have tried to publicize my intentions here, as I have done, without making known my identity. I share my intention to observe Ramadan in hope that Muslims may take comfort from having the company of a non-Muslim friend in their annual fast, and that other non-Muslim people of faith may consider whether they are called to join me in this witness.”