5 Pillars – 30 Days of Fasting During Ramadan
Ramadan Fasting (sawm)
The month of Ramadan commemorates the time when the Qur’an was handed down to Muhammad, and the Qur’an directs all healthy adults to participate. During the ninth month of the lunar calendar, Muslims attempt to show their submission to Allah by thirty days of fasting. No food, drink, or even cigarette smoke is allowed to pass through their lips during daylight hours. Muslims are also required to abstain from sexual relations during the same time period.
A key point of Islamic fasting is to remember that it is an expression of submission — not of worship. Muslims fast in efforts to seek acceptance from Allah. These thirty days are a time to refocus their spiritual life toward hearing from him. For instance, “May Allah accept your fast” is a traditional greeting during the final week of Ramadan. Many nominal Muslims view the month of Ramadan as a time to re-orient their lives with renewed submission to Islam and the Qur’an. The Islamic community joins together, often closing restaurants and businesses during daylight hours to help their Muslim brothers and sisters keep the fast.
“Of the five pillars, the Ramadan fast is one of the most widely practiced—even more than the daily prayers. Though Muslim fasting is not limited to Ramadan, it is said to be multiple times more effective during Ramadan, as are the daily prayers. Many Muslims who are otherwise lax in religious practice the remainder of the year are stirred to renewed fervor during Ramadan. Consequently, the fast becomes an intensely communal act, transforming the entire social order. Work schedules are often inverted, cities come to life after dark, and families, friends, and relatives gather each evening to break the fast and spend time together long into the night. Incidentally, this dynamic makes Ramadan one of the most challenging seasons faced by Christians from a Muslim background as they negotiate the tensions between communal pressure and their newfound faith in the Messiah.” – Ben Harrison
In the Middle East, and other communities where Islam is the prevalent religion, Ramadan becomes a major community event. Nightlife comes alive and feasts are had in homes and in public. Families join together for the evening meal, iftar, to break the fast.
What Does the Bible Teach?
The Bible teaches us that there is a special uniqueness to Christian fasting. Muslim fasting is an expression of faith and submission (for salvation). The fasting of the Pharisees in the New Testament was for the purpose of piety and pride (Matthew 6:16-17). Jewish fasting in the Old Testament was an expression of repentance, sorrow, and remembrance of Yahweh (our Lord). But now, in the times after Christ’s life and resurrection, the Bible teaches us that the purpose and joy of fasting is knowing Christ Himself! As children of God, there is no way that we can get “more” of God or become more righteous through fasting (or any other spiritual discipline). However, we must remember our utter need for the righteous of Christ — and that He is the Bread of Life that provides our righteousness. John 6 points out that Jesus Christ is the very Bread of Life.
“It’s pretty mind-boggling to think that God would condescend to satisfy our beggarly, human hearts, but it’s true! He delights in doing it. Psalm 107:9 says this: ‘He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.’ We believe that the very best thing that God can fill our hungry souls with is himself. So we fast, and in the process, we end up becoming less confident in ourselves.” – Ben Keegan
So, what is the difference between Muslim and Christian fasting? As Ben Harrison points out in the quote below, Christian fasting doesn’t earn anything. In fact, we are not able to earn any type of standing before God on our own—regardless of actions. Our sinful, depraved hearts are the core issue of our separation from God. Our wills, since the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, have been bent towards ourselves. Rather than trusting God and submitting to His will, our hearts naturally lean to our own selfishness and pride. There is no amount of fasting that can reverse the curse of Genesis 3 or our personal sin against God. But for those of us who are saved by the blood of Jesus, there is also nothing that we can add to the righteousness of Christ imputed to us (given freely). When God declares us holy by the righteous sacrifice of Jesus, we are born again to a new life in Christ. There is no greater standing or level of righteousness that could be obtained.
“Christian fasting is rooted in the completed work of Christ, to which our fasting can add nothing. Whereas Muslim fasting represents a longing for acceptance through the demonstration of submission, Christian fasting represents a longing for the One who purchased our acceptance by submitting himself even unto death (Phil. 2:8).” – Ben Harrison
But, we are promised throughout both the Old and New Testaments that God will be found by those who seek Him. Salvation (relationship with God Himself) is offered as a free gift to all those repent and believe in Jesus, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:1-10). The Qur’an teaches Muslims to seek acceptance from Allah through submission by obedience. The Bible teaches Christians to seek and receive Jesus Himself through faith. This faith produces obedience by the power of the Holy Spirit. We fast because of the joy of focusing our hearts, minds, and bodies, towards the worship of God. We’re driven by overwhelming thanks, gratitude, and trust in Jesus our Lord.
We don’t fast to please Jesus, we fast to know Jesus and remember our immense need for Him.
What should Christians be doing during the month of Ramadan? If you’ve considered the idea of publicly fasting along with Muslims during the month of Ramadan, don’t jump in too quickly (Matthew 6:16-17). The risk of being misunderstood through cultural barriers is too great. Muslims are fasting, praying, giving, and reciting the shahadah to a demon god while on their way to hell. Sincerity and commitment are not enough to earn favor with the one true God. Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). However, consider how you might undergird and refocus your prayer life through private, intentional fasting during a certain time.
“Jesus did not waffle as to whether his church would fast. “When you fast,” he said — not ‘if’ (Matthew 6:16–17). ‘They will fast,’ he promised (Matthew 9:15). And so the early church fasted (Acts 9:9; 13:2; 14:23), and for two millennia Christians have fasted. And when we have done so in truly a Christian way, the end result has not been loss but gain.” – David Mathis
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You!” (Psalm 67:4-5)
Lord Jesus, show Muslims the futility of their fasting. Help them to see the deep sin of their hearts, and realize the grave offense that our lives are in the face of a holy God. By your Holy Spirit, draw to repentance those who are honestly searching to know God. Use your Word, and friendships with Christians, to show them the eternal hope and joy found in Jesus. Use me as your child and messenger to be a bridge to people from cultures that don’t yet have the light of the Gospel. Use me in whatever way you wish to fulfill your mission of rescuing the lost from all peoples across this globe!
Go & Do:
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison, but apple pie.” – John Piper
Do not simply read this article and fast today. Rather, prayerfully submit your heart and mind to Christ, and thank Him that your sin debt was paid in full at Calvary. Read Ephesians 1 & 2 this morning and remember the vast treasure we have in knowing God as our Father. Then, choose an intentional time to pray and fast privately for Muslims to repent and worship the one true God.
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How is Muslim Fasting Different from Christian Fasting? – Ben Harrison (IMB)
Thirty Days Further From God: Why Ramadan Fasting Leaves Muslims Wanting – Ben Keegan (Desiring God)
What is Ramadan, and Why Should Christians Care? – Mike Edens (IMB)
How is Muslim Fasting Different from Christian Fasting? – Ben Harrison (IMB)
Sharpen Your Affections with Fasting – David Mathis (Desiring God)
The Secret Benefit of Fasting – David Mathis (Desiring God)
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – Donald S. Whitney (book)