Thursday, June 9, 2016

Should Christians fast with Muslims during Ramadan and if so, why?

I'm not the only Christian to fast during Ramadan. Since 9/11, so many Christians have adopted this practice there is even a Twitter called  #Christians4ramadan. Most do it in order to express solidarity with the Muslim community and to understand better the Muslim faith. They do not see their fast as diminishing or compromising their Christian faith; rather they see it as an expression of Jesus' commandment to "love your neighbor" and (given the Islamophobia current in the US) "love your enemies." Sarah Ager, a Muslim who leads the Interfaith Muslim project, explains:
 "Each participant brings their own unique touch – some fasting for the whole month, others for a day, and some not at all. Others are using the opportunity to raise money for charity, including persecuted Christians and Muslims abroad."
         It is not enough to simply read about Islam, Ager says, but we need to engage with one another on a personal level. Fasting alongside each other "provides an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to support one another through a shared physical experience, one which has the core aim of bringing about spiritual change for the better," she adds, noting that abstaining from food for prayer is a tradition shared by both Christians and Muslims.       
                                 Interfaith activist and former director of the Christian Muslim Forum, Julian Bond, was one of the early adopters of the Christians for Ramadan movement. He has chosen to fast on three separate days over Ramadan on behalf of a Muslim friend who is unable to do so due to health problems. He is also reading the Quran, and tweeting a verse from it each day. He wants to "engage as deeply as possible" with those of other faiths, he says, to combat stereotypes –  particularly of Muslims – which have been growing since 9/11.                                      "It's about being able to speak from an informed position to encourage others, that they don't have to go as far as me, but if they want to – it's safe," he adds. "It's about building relationships with other people".
         My practice is similar to Julian's. I rise before dawn, read the Quran as well as the Bible, and I recite the Fatihah (the opening prayer of the Quran) as well as the Lord's prayer. These two prayers are foundational for both faiths and are surprisingly compatible. The Fatihah contains nothing that a Christian couldn't agree with, and the Lord's prayer contains nothing that a Muslim couldn't agree with. When I was in Kenya, I met a Muslim iman who was asked to give a prayer at an interfaith gathering and recited the Lord's Prayer. Incidentally, his name was Issa, the Arabic word for Jesus. When I asked Issa how he felt about Jesus, he replied enthusiastically, "As a Mulsim, I love Jesus. He is one of God's messengers, like the Prophet Mohammad." As a Christian, I feel that Jesus is more than a prophet, but I am glad my Muslim brother honors and loves Jesus. I try to reciprocate by showing respect for Mohammad and his followers.
            I honor the Muslim faith by reading the Quran not to refute but to understand and appreciate it. I don't agree with everything I read, especially parts relating to war. I also question certain passages in the Bible that seemingly promote violence. In both Scriptures, I find wisdom and truth about the nature of a loving God who calls us to live together in peace..
            As a Christian, I see Jesus as the ultimate embodiment of God's love and the guide for my life. As a Quaker,  I also see "that of God" in other people and faiths and feel called to a ministry of reconciliation--reconciling people in conflict, and reconciling God and God's children. 
           I was pleased to see the Christianity Today, an Evangelical Christian publication, ran a series of reflections by Christians addressing the question I posed as the title for this blog. Most seem to feel that fasting with Muslims is a good thing, if we do it for the right reasons and don't equate Christianity with Islam. We are all created by, and worship, the same God, and share many ethical values, but we have theological differences that shouldn't be minimized or discounted. But whatever our theological perspective, it is worth taking to heart what Rick Warren said when he was the keynote speaker at the Muslim Public Affairs Counsel:

"I love Muslims, I love Jews, I love gays, I love straights, I love Republicans and I love Democrats because Jesus Christ commanded me to love."

That summarizes for me in a nutshell what it means to be a Christian. I would add only that we are not only commanded to love, we are also created to love since we are made in God's image and God is love.

"I would say it's absolutely appropriate, particularly if one does it for spiritual reasons, combining it with prayer and strengthening your discipline and submission to God. If there are side benefits, like showing some solidarity with your Muslim friends, that's fine too. It's best not to be bragging about it. (But) it has to be a personal decision."
Donald Wagner, co-founder, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding
"The idea of Ramadan and the feast of Eid is Muslims are asking that they would encounter God more. What that means to them varies from place to place and person to person, I'm sure, and Islam has so many different manifestations, that varies dramatically across the globe. But still—that's something we can agree with, that we pray and get to know God more."
Lynn Green, international chairman, Youth With a Mission
"In order to bridge the gap between the East and West Muslim and Christian cultures, rather than condemning and criticizing, here's something very easy that we could do as followers of Jesus that's consistent with the teachings of Christ and the scriptures. Not that we're supporting every viewpoint and doctrine, no—we're supporting them as neighbors in the spiritual journey. We're all on a spiritual journey."
Mark Siljander, author, A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide
"There's such fragmentation between the Christian community and the Muslim community that it makes sense to me that we participate in something that is both inherently Christian and, for Muslims, inherently Islamic, to build bridges of peace."
Ben Ries, pastor, Sterling Drive Church of Christ, Bellingham, Wash.
"Muslims believe that fasting is an essential component during the month of Ramadan, essential to their obedience to God. So they assume anyone who is seeking to be serious about God will show that dedication by fasting as well. Muslims have a hard time understanding how Christians can be serious about wanting to follow God without also fasting during Ramadan. If Muslims see a Christian fasting, they tend to respond with a development of very positive rapport. They say, "Here's someone who is serious about obeying God as much as we are." It builds ties with Muslim friends and acquaintances."
Mateen Elass, Christian from a Muslim family background and senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Okla.
"If we are using traditional Christian disciplines just as a matter of solidarity then we are missing the point. The whole thing rides on motive. If one is doing it just to be a nice person and identify with a Muslim neighbor, then I don't think it's appropriate, because you're using a spiritual discipline not as a spiritual exercise but as a social connection. If one is saying, 'During Ramadan, I'm going to fast too because that's part of our history and I want to be drawn closer to Christ and be more like Christ,' then it's totally appropriate."
Joel Hunter, senior pastor, Northland Church, and member, President's Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
"It depends on the attitude and the biblical understanding of prayer and fasting. We are not praying and fasting in the name of Allah. Yes, we will pray and fast with Muslims, to a certain extent; but we will pray and fast in Jesus' name, and do it for their salvation."
Ron Kernahan, joint coordinator, 30-Days Prayer Network
 "Christians may fast alongside Muslim friends, either as a gesture of friendship or in order to open dialogue, but not as part of Ramadan itself. Christian fasting is fundamentally different from Muslim fasting. Christians must make clear that their view of God, God's approach to us, and therefore fasting as part of our relationship to God, are each different from Muslim views."
Gerald McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College

No comments:

Post a Comment