(ABP) -- I lived in Malaysia during the summer of 1979. When Ramadan began that year, everything changed. Muslims ate nothing from sunrise to sundown; most would not even swallow the moisture in their mouths (public places posted signs warning, "No Spitting"). When the sun set, feasting and festivities began and continued late into the evening. Then the next sunrise would begin the solemnities again.
The month reminded me in a strange way of Christmas in the States -- every part of the culture was affected and everyone participated. I had no idea what Ramadan meant or why it mattered, but my ignorance placed me clearly in the minority.
Unfortunately, I represented the vast majority of Americans. Ask most people in our culture why 1.5 billion Muslims are observing Ramadan right now, and they'll have no idea. Tell most Christians that Ramadan began this year on the sunset of August 10 and they'll shrug their shoulders. Let's take a moment to learn what all believers need to know about this crucial subject.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Laylat al-Qadr is the night during the month when Muslims believe Muhammad received the first revelation of what became the Quran.
Fasting during this month is required by the Quran: "Whoever witnesses the month of Ramadan should fast through it" (2:185). Muhammad taught that those who fast during Ramadan will have their past sins forgiven. As a result, fasting during Ramadan is seen as central and critical to the five pillars of Islam:
- The witness (Shahadah): "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet."
- Praying five times a day facing Mecca (Salah).
- Fasting during Ramadan (Siyam).
- Alms-giving to the poor (Zakat).
- The pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), to be made at least once by every able-bodied Muslim.
The most recent edition of Foreign Policy magazine describes the financial significance of Ramadan in the Muslim world. The amount of money spent celebrating the month is second only to Christmas among holidays. Malls in Istanbul are thronged; it's one of the busiest seasons of the year for luxury car dealers in Riyadh. Egyptians purchase twice as much food as normal, while fast food restaurants offer nighttime "meal deals." TV programmers unveil some of their biggest shows during this month.
Ramadan is also a critical time for those of us who pray for Muslims to know Christ as their Savior and Lord. Muslims recognize Jesus as one of their six most important prophets, along with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad. They believe that he was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, ascended to heaven and will appear at the end of history.
Now more Muslims are becoming Christians than at any time in Islamic history, many after seeing visions of Jesus (see here and here for examples). Isa (Jesus’ Arabic name) is appearing to Muslims all over the world, and multiplied thousands are turning to him as their Lord. This miraculous phenomenon especially occurs each year during Ramadan. As Muslims purify themselves and pray fervently to God, our Father answers their prayers by revealing his Son to many.
Missionaries around the Muslim world tell of coming to villages where no Christian has ever visited, only to find churches meeting to worship Isa as their Lord. While they desperately need Bibles and discipleship resources, these churches are multiplying across the Islamic culture at unprecedented rates.
What would Jesus say about this phenomenon? I believe he would tell us, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matt. 9:37-38). Let me urge you to pray every day for more believers to share Christ with the Muslim world and for millions of Muslims to turn to Christ as their Lord. Excellent resources for ministry to Muslims are available at Gospel for Muslims and 30 Days Prayer Network. As you pray, ask the Lord how you can show the Muslim world his love in yours.
In one of his songs my friend Ken Medema says, "Don't tell me I've got a friend in Jesus without showing me first I've got a friend in you." What will you do to take his advice this week?
Jim Denison is president of the Center for Informed Faith and theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He has served as pastor of several prominent Baptist congregations, including Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.
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