Ramadan is over, and I really only caught the tail end of this little debate online, but I think it’s quite interesting and so I wanted to add my two cents.
Basically, a bunch of Christians (for the most part from the emergent church camp) this year fasted alongside Muslims during Ramadan. The main reasoning behind this seems to be to understand the Muslims around them better, as he states in his blog:
“We, as Christians, humbly seek to join Muslims in this observance of Ramadan as a God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.”
The response to this has been understandably varied, from people jumping on the idea immediately as wonderful and starting their own Ramadan fasts, to others tearing the idea down as “insane at best … Sad, tragic, horrific, misguided, dangerous, wrong.”
I have to say that I’m not sure I would really sit in either camp. I’m not about to leap on it as a fantastic idea, because to join with Muslims in fasting during Ramadan would need a great deal of care to ensure that what you were doing was not contrary to the gospel. However I don’t think that it is necessarily wrong to do so either, and certainly not insane.
If your fasting during Ramadan is in fact observance of the Muslim faith, then that is clearly contrary to the Christian faith and wrong. However I don’t think that fasting during Ramadan has to be that. What if instead you were to fast alongside your Muslim friends for the sake of understanding them better, for the sake of learning about the observances of their faith. What if that observance of something which for many Muslims is simply a cultural imperative rather than a spiritual act was in fact completely acceptable. What if all you were doing was being a Muslim to the Muslims, just like Paul became a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles. Not that you were really becoming Muslim, any more than Paul actually became a Gentile, but in the observance of their culture and lifestyle you were seeking to understand them better.
I’m sure that not every Christian who fasted during Ramadan this year did a good job of it. I’m sure that some of them were honouring a religious ritual aimed at a false God. However I’m also pretty sure that some of them were just fasting so that they could hang out with Muslims, and the Bible certainly doesn’t tell us to avoid hanging out with unbelievers.
I’m also pretty disturbed by the suggestion that the only thing we can constructively do for Muslims during Ramadan is pray for them. Of course praying for them is great, but isn’t it also a good idea to get to know and understand them and their beliefs? Shouldn’t we also be seeking openings for the gospel? How about we try to put into practice what Paul exemplified for us in 1 Corinthians 9:
19For though I am free from all,I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.