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.”

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6 Responses to “The Fast of Ramadan: for Christians and others”

  1. peaceseeker Says:

    Hello I am a christain, and I am dong Ramadan for the frist time. Yes I too am doing it too for all the blessing reason Muslins and Christains fast. I seek wisdom, knowledge, and most of all understanding of the word of God. I will pray and meditate on his words. This will be an trying experience for me, but through prayer and humbleness I will see it through. Please pray for me. Thank you

  2. John Edminster Says:

    Dear friend Paula,

    May the Lord strengthen you to keep the fast, and bring you many blessings! Please forgive me for taking so long to get back to you. As Ramadan began this year I was just returning from England, thinking that perhaps I’d start fasting once I got over jet-lag; I did fast one day this year, in fact — but I soon realized that I was ill with an infection, and should not be fasting until I was well again. By the time I’d seen my urologist and been put on a twenty-day course of antibiotics, it was clear to me that this is a year I’m not meant to fast, but to take care of my health, do my job, and do the Lord’s work as I find myself called to it. And as it turns out, I’m being given plenty to do.

    But that’s about me and I intended to talk about you. I will pray for you. The Qur’an says of the fast of Ramadan that it’s not meant to be torment to those who keep it, but rather a means of learning self-restraint. I think when I start a day’s fast thinking “it won’t be so hard,” it’s not hard. My body seems to know that I don’t want it whining at me that it’s hungry and thirsty, and it cooperates by not whining. My stomach doesn’t growl, and I don’t envy people whom I see eating. I can get very tired; my energy gets low. I try to make things easy for myself. I know I’m doing something holy, for the Lord: a form of prayer. It helps to think of God often. I get to feeling very quiet. Since my mouth isn’t taking in food or drink, it doesn’t seem to want to talk much, either. Ordinary conversation does not appeal to me much when I’m fasting, although it always feels good to tell my wife (who does not fast) that I love her. Of course if I’m not talking, I’m less tempted to lie about anything, or have outbursts of anger in which I might speak hurtfully. Lies and hurtful speech invalidate the day’s fast.

    Since, not being a Muslim, I don’t have companions that I’m fasting with, there’s no one I can really talk to about the experience of fasting, or the pleasure of breaking the fast at sundown, other than the Lord. But that feels good, to draw closer to our Best Friend and feel that other friends are… a little more distant, “not going through what I’m going through.” But our Best Friend knows everything: He/She sees whatever we see, hears whatever we hear, touches with our fingers, feels our every pain and pleasure, experiences our every thought along with us. May you feel the closeness of your Best Friend often as you spend this month of Ramadan in fasting.

    My best,

    Your friend John

  3. Lyna Amc Says:

    i’m impressed by your gestures my friend.. i’m a muslim and i’m fasting as it is one of the pillars of our religion, but u do it on your own will and as respect for my fellow muslims.. it’s true that god always there for us, no matter what our religion are and respecting others are a very noble thing to do.. i would like others to take example from what u have done and hoping that peace will someday be a reality for all of us.. i’m thankful on behalf of my muslims brothers and sisters for having a friend like you.. may god bless you..

  4. John Edminster Says:

    Thank you, friend. Please forgive and correct, if need be, my poor understanding of Arabic, but my sense of the meaning of the key word tattaqūna at the end of ayah 2:183 is that Allah (s.w.t.) gives us the fast to teach us vigilance and persistence in saying “no” to temptation, hopefully with the result that we will develop more perfect discernment between good and evil, and then be grateful for the training we’ve been given (ayah 2:185). It takes constant effort to learn faithfulness, but how sweet it becomes when the self-restraint starts to become effortless, and we come to realize that Allah’s teaching (s.w.t.) of self-restraint is not to frustrate us but to make us fit for the highest happiness. How Allah loves us!

  5. Janet Says:

    I work and live in Qatar and am an American born Citizen and Christian married to and Arabic Mulism. I have been doing the Ramadan Fast for five years of my own free will as use this time to read both the Bible and the Quran. I find peace and closeness with God doing this time.

    I am often asked by family members if I have converted to Isalm and I always answer no but that I believe that the Quran was sent by God as was the Bible. I hope that one day all the people of the books, the Torah, the Bible and the Quran will join together in thier worship of God, in the end this is all that matters,

  6. Thy Friend John Says:

    Amen! In the end all that matters is that those who love God, or wish to love God, or wish to be loved and forgiven by God, worship God in Spirit and in Truth. And God will show them how. May you and your husband feel God’s love for you now and always, and may you radiate it like the sun so that others around you will feel it and rejoice in God’s goodness!

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