We create an enormous barrier to communication if our starting point is, “You Muslims are worshipping a different god from the God we worship. We worship the true God; you are therefore worshipping an idol or something that doesn’t exist.” Even if we don’t state it quite as bluntly as this, if we assume it and communicate it, there is a huge barrier to overcome. How much better to start with…
Most Americans would be unaware that Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, begins June 18 this year. Many would only be casually aware that this is one of the five pillars of Islam; the date changes each year due to the lunar calendar, but faithful adherents fast from dawn to dusk until the month concludes with the Feast of Eid.
In the more fanatical countries fasting is compulsory though allowances are made for foreigners and non-Muslims. All do without food, but the more devout don’t drink water and some don’t even swallow their saliva. Not much gets done during Ramadan as offices are open for only a few hours, no one has the strength for much physical labor, and it is easier to endure the personal denial of food by sleeping through the afternoon.
While most Muslims observe the fast because they are commanded to, and believe there is merit to be gained, many do it as a perfunctory obligation. However, for the devout the Muslim month of fasting is actually for the same purpose we, as Christians may occasionally fast–the desire to know God in a deeper more intimate relationship.
Testimonies are abundant of those who have dreams and visions of Jesus appearing to them and saying, “Follow Me.” Others will be impressed to find someone with “the book” that tells the way to eternal life. None of these revelations are sufficient for salvation, but they break down the barriers in their heart, they lead to an inquisitiveness to find out who Jesus is or to know what the Bible says.
What does this have to do with us? What if Christians fervently prayed during the month of Ramadan that God would reveal Himself to Muslims in this time of seeking? What if we covered millions of fasting Muslims with 30 days of intense intercession that something would happen in their spiritual search? Believing in the power of prayer, could we not expect God to respond to our heart-felt burden for the lost millions of the world?
When we first arrived in Indonesia we were irritated at the dissonant sound of the call to prayer from the mosque five times a day, especially when it awakened us at 4:30 am! But it became a call to us and a reminder to pray for Muslims as they were praying to Allah. Join me this month in fervently praying for Muslims in our own communities as well as those around the world. After all, Christ died for them, too. God’s loves them; shouldn’t we?
Last night my church held a Seder (a special meal during Pesach—Passover). Over 280 people showed up to have a rabbi lead us through the Haggadah (a booklet containing the prayers and actions comprising the Seder) and explain the symbolism in the celebration. The attendees were Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The conversation at our table was very interesting. We agreed that we would all share a typical prayer that we offer up before a meal began. The rabbi mentioned how hand washing was an important part of the initial ceremonies and the Muslims were able to tie this to the ritual ablution Muslims perform before their daily prayers. All of us were able to relate to the Passover theme of God rescuing people from oppressions of all sorts as well as His faithfulness in the presence of our repeated disobedience.
An interesting thing happened when the conversation came to the relationship between God’s grace and God’s justice in the world. The Jews and the Muslims were on the same page with this issue, but they listened very carefully when the Christians spoke about how they see God’s grace is larger than His justice. One of the Muslims jumped in and said that a hadith qudsi (a saying of Muhammad where the words were believed to have come from Allah but voiced by Muhammad) said that God’s mercy prevails over his wrath. The rabbi said that this is exactly how Judaism saw it. It didn’t need to be spoken how close we were on this issue but how we voiced it in very different terms that often get confused.
We had covered some sticky points that are often exploited in the media, and there are many more difficult questions of faith to be touched upon, but we had developed the beginnings of important relationships. I didn’t have a word for what had happened, but then I remembered one of the parts of the Seder in which the Jews chant “Da-yenu” which means “and that would have been enough.” One of the phrases in the chant is, “and He fed us with manna in the wilderness’ everyone then responding “Da-yenu.” I remembered that the word “manna” means “what is it?” It is a question that is the recognition of a miracle while also recognizing that there are things we still don’t know about it. I like it. This Seder was manna. *
*The word “manna” also appears within the Qur’an at least three times. One time in a phrase that means “food from heaven.”
Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.
Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”