You can listen to this article by clicking on the ‘play’ button below.
It is 8pm and a small crowd has gathered by the masjid (mosque) in this city on a plateau in Asia.
There is a buzz of excitement, as the time for breaking the daily Ramadan fast is close. Boys are wandering round the crowd offering dates and watermelon, and everyone takes a handful of both, but holds onto them, waiting, waiting… ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar [God is great]’ begins the adhan, the call to prayer. Munching dates, licking the syrup from their hands, the men troop into the mosque for maghrib (sunset) prayer; within ten minutes, prayer over, there is a mad rush out of the mosque to eat the main iftar fast-breaking meal. Another day of Ramadan is over.
When we lived in a Muslim community in East Asia, Ramadan was eagerly anticipated. Ramadan is a special season for reflection, devotion and for Muslims to re-set their submission to Allah. For the devout there is a heightened sense of expectation, as various traditions promise forgiveness for those who fast.
Despite the real and inconvenient privations of total fasting in daylight hours (especially when Ramadan falls in the long days of summer, as this year when it runs from 5 May to 4 June in the UK),* there is a real spiritual sensitivity for many male Muslims during this period. For women it is also an intense period of extra work, shopping while hungry, cooking for extended family, friends and strangers, but the added sense of community cohesion and extended family meals likewise are much anticipated. We found many opportunities to engage with our Muslim neighbours during this season, and hope to do similarly now we live in a town in the North of England home to many Muslims.
there is a real spiritual sensitivity during this period
Islam in Britain
3.4 million Muslims live in the UK, with 70 per cent of South Asian origin. Large numbers live in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester and Glasgow.(1)
How should we engage with our Muslim neighbours during this period?
First it is good for Christians to understand how the rhythm of everyday life changes for Muslims in Ramadan. Practically, fasting means rising to eat a meal (Suhur) before the dawn prayer begins (which is about 3 am in the UK in May). This meal needs to sustain the family through the next 18 hours of fasting. Fasting ceases after evening prayer (about 9 pm) with the Iftar meal, which is followed by the final night prayer around 11 pm.
During Ramadan many Muslims will try to read the whole Qu’ran. The greatly anticipated Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr) occurs during one of the odd numbered evenings in the final ten days of Ramadan. This night is considered one of the holiest in Islam, when sins are forgiven and Muslims feel closest to Allah. On that night adult males stay in the mosque after night prayer for hours, sometimes all night. Ramadan ends with the great feast of Eid al-Fitr.
But no matter what we know (or think we know) about Islam, there is significant variety in the experience of Muslims from different ethno-cultural backgrounds, as well as different traditions across the various schools of thought in Islam. I think the best thing is to be ready.
Be ready to learn
Ask good respectful questions of your Muslim neighbours. Be genuinely interested in your Muslim friends’ faith. Be ready to engage in conversations about why they fast and what the benefits of fasting are, and what they learn and experience about Allah during this time. Be prepared to be invited to an Iftar meal as Muslims are very hospitable. This is a real honour, and not an invitation to be refused. We need not fear being involved in something that compromises our faith – we will not be asked to pray to Allah, or to join in Islamic worship. Generally Muslims have positive attitudes to Christians, especially those they know are faithful, friendly and respectful.
Be ready to answer
Muslims are often very inquisitive about Christianity. There is much in the Qur’an about Jesus, and about Christians, and often Muslims never have the opportunity to ask Christians about these things. We should not be fearful of answering these questions – we do not need degrees in theology to be able to explain the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), or to speak about what the Lord means to us in our everyday lives, or what we are learning about him.
Be ready to pray
We should be diligent in praying for God’s blessing for Muslims, especially during Ramadan. Why not fast for some meals in Ramadan, devoting that time to praying for Muslims in your locality to know more about Jesus and his love for them?
There are great prayer resources available from a number of organisations. Be prepared to offer to pray for Muslims who open up about illnesses, anxieties or family concerns – do this simply, immediately and out loud, and be unafraid to pray in the name of Jesus the Messiah. Be ready for God to answer!
1) Office for National Statistics, Annual Population Survey April 2017 to March 2018.
Resources for prayer
- On this site: Pray through Ramadan 30 days of prayer points to help you pray for East Asia’s Muslims.
- 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World 30daysprayer.org.uk
- How to Pray for Muslims – A People Loved howtoprayformuslims.org