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?
Every language has its word for “God” which is used in translation of Scripture and within any particular culture and language. Allah is the Arabic word for the English “God” just as “Dios” is in Spanish. It is the word that has been used for centuries by Jews and Christians in the Middle East and actually pre-dates the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Bibles translated in predominantly Muslim countries into local languages such as Indonesian, Malay and Bengali use Allah as the biblical reference to the sovereign creator God.
To not use “Allah” for God would require the use of a foreign word that would not be understood in the local language. Ironically, the word “Allah” comes from the same root word of “Elohim” of the Old Testament, while our English word “God” has no etymological relationship to the biblical YHWH or Jehovah. In fact, it comes from the German “Gott” and was derived from the name of a pagan viking deity!
Use of Allah in Muslim literature refers to the God who created the world. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Ishmael), and other prophets known in the Old Testament. To introduce another identity than the monotheistic sovereign creator deity of the Bible and known as Allah by Muslims would create a formidable barrier to communicating biblical truth.
The concern is understandable that if “Allah” is used in Christian witness that the theological distortions of Muslim understanding will be carried over, resulting in syncretism or heretical concepts of God shaped by ones Islamic background. Certainly, this requires adequate teaching and discipling just as it does in our own culture. And we should be confident that when one comes in genuine repentance and faith to Jesus Christ that God is able to reveal Himself in spirit and truth to a new believer.
Is there more than one God? No, there is only one God, and He can be known only through Jesus Christ. We must not confuse cultural and linguistic bridges of communication in seeking to transcend diverse worldviews.
Muslims Celebrate how God Ransomed Abraham’s Son with a Sacrifice
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?”
Can you trust your Muslim neighbor during this month of Ramadan (and beyond), when they show kindness to you? How should you respond if they invite you to an iftar (the breaking of the fast at the end of each day) this month?
The argument goes that we cannot trust in the good faith of any Muslim among us, since Islam permits them to dissimulate their real intentions at their leisure. This belief is held particularly by those nonMuslims convinced that Islam has the intention eventually to conquer the world. But is the fear factor triggered by such understandings justified?