“My first memory is of light -- the brightness of light -- light all around.”
The other day, I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and there was an article from the Jordan Times about how restaurants in Amman are allowed to serve food during the day in Ramadan.
“We are committed to respecting the sanctity of Ramadan and trying to satisfy the needs of all parties, such as tourists and our Christian brothers,” he told The Jordan Times, adding that customers are also not allowed to eat in their cars in the restaurants’ parking lots.
Now, I know from teaching about my Muslim friends over the years, most Americans do not know much about Muslims or how they live out their faith. Either there is a mysterious, foreign intrigue over Islam or more commoningly, a fear. Both are mired in a certain degree of ignorance and not really based on how Muslims actually live out their faith. As I have witnessed, first hand, this everyday living out of faith has nothing to do with extremism.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims. They believe it was when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad. Ramadan started this year on June 18th and will end on July 17th. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset; during this time they abstain from eating or drinking anything. But, it goes further than that; they also refrain from smoking, lying, talking behind someone’s back, sexual relations with one’s spouse and from using foul language. “Sawm” is the Arabic word for fasting; it means, “to refrain.” Sawm is also one of the five pillars of Islam and is required for all healthy Muslims. There are exceptions for the elderly, pregnant women, the sick, those who are traveling, and menstruating women.
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain Taqwa [God-consciousness]. “– The Qur’an, Al-Baqarah:183
Most Muslims I know view Ramadan not just as a discipline of fasting, but also as a deeply spiritual time of reflection and renewal. It is a holy time when they seek God and examine their own hearts. In many ways, the month of Ramadan reminds me of the Christmas season. Let me explain before anyone freaks out.
The Ramadans I have experienced in the Middle East always come with a certain sense of excitement. You can feel it in the air, so to speak, Ramadan is coming! It was the same feeling for me as a child with the anticipation of Christmas. There are decorations everywhere, mainly lights and lanterns and crescent moons. I will always associate Ramadan with lights.
The Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast as sunset. It is a pretty extravagant meal depending on what people can afford. I have helped cook Iftar meals before and it takes most of the day. Women are spending the entire day shopping and cooking for this daily meal while fasting. The meal starts with water (but my friends usually would take a swig of Pepsi first) followed by Jallab (a date, grape molasses, and rose water drink) and soup, usually lentil. Followed up with fattoush, hummus, and assorted appetizers. The main dish usually consists of meat and rice although I have seen hamburgers served. The meal ends with an array of wonderful Arab sweets; some are only made during Ramadan.
What is most meaningful is the community aspect, communal Iftars, where large gatherings of people break the fast together. It is also a time to serve the poor and I have participated in many Iftars for those less fortunate. But, my favorite is watching families come together every night to break the fast together. In Beirut, when I wasn’t invited to an Iftar and didn’t have work, my absolute favorite thing was to sit out on my balcony and watch the families gather and eat together in the apartment buildings around me. I smile as I write this thinking about those images engraved upon my mind.
I have learned from Muslims about the value of family and community. Children are not shooed away but included in all the gatherings. They are inclusive of others. They have been incredibly inclusive of me, even as a Christian, always inviting me to their evening meals, both Sunni and Shi’a families. And happily explaining their traditions and how important it is for them to live out their faith.
My ultimate take away about Ramadan is how community-focused it is; a corporate fast that reflects the core values of their community: empathy for the poor, charity, worship, steadfastness, and patience.
Eid al-Fitr is the holiday that ends the 30 days of corporate fasting. It is a 3-day holiday. Families dress up in new clothes, kids sometimes get presents and money from relatives. (And let me tell you, traffic in the days leading up to Eid when everyone is shopping outdoes holiday traffic in America during December.) In Beirut, it is a tradition for families to go for walks in their new clothes. And during the Eid I was always busier than I was when I was working. It is a cultural imperative that you visit your friends and spend quality time with them while they offer you copious amounts of sweet tea, coffee, juice, and holiday sweets.
So back to the article in the Jordan Times, do you know why it caught my eye? It was the wording of “our Christian brothers.” How they want to honor their holy month, keep it sacred but help meet the needs of their Christian brothers. It blew me away. And I asked myself, how could we, as Christians, honor our Muslim brothers and sisters during their holy month?
Did you know that my Muslim friends in Amman are fasting for 16 hours a day right now? How could we bless them? Part of why I wrote this blog post on Ramadan was to bless them, to help educate others and encourage blessing. We should be praying for our Muslim friends and the Muslim world. We should ask our Muslim friends what Ramadan means to them and how they are experiencing God. We should graciously accept offers to join them for an Iftar and learn about corporate fasting. We should share how we fast and when we fast with them. Ramadan continues until July 18th, there is still time to see the light in them.
But, mostly we should listen and we should love and we should bless our Muslim neighbors. The picture and caption below were taken from a Facebook post, a powerful lesson from our Christian Palestinian brothers and sisters.
My Ramadan blessing to my Muslim friends:
May God be present. May God grant your heart’s desire. May God be gracious as you honor Him. May God show you His light, the light that is all around you. May that light lead you to further knowledge of God. May it light your darkness. May it lead to the ways of God. May the love of God permeate your very being as he finds pleasure in you, his perfect creation.
“[The] insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective of almost all of Jesus' teaching.
What is indiscriminate compassion? 'Take a look at a rose. Is it possible for the rose to say, "I'll offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people"? Or can you imagine a lamp that withholds its rays from a wicked person who seeks to walk in its light? It could do that only be ceasing to be a lamp. And observe how helplessly and indiscriminately a tree gives its shade to everyone, good and bad, young and old, high and low; to animals and humans and every living creature -- even to the one who seeks to cut it down. This is the first quality of compassion -- its indiscriminate character.' (Anthony DeMello, The Way to Love)...
What makes the Kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no labels, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions.” ~ Brennan Manning, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging