"What should our attitude be as Christians toward the Muslim Fast?"

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim calendar, when all adult Muslims are under obligation to fast during daylight for thirty days. Although Muslims often compare it to Lent, it actually has no religious counterpart anywhere in the world. To one Western Christian living in North Africa, it is a "unique month when 'night turns to day.'" This is because during the day life is lethargic. But after dusk, when the fast has ended and people have had something to eat, the streets and cafes come to life, shops reopen, and a party-like atmosphere reigns much of the night.

In Muslim countries, there is tremendous pressure to fast; a Muslim may be fined or imprisoned for failing to do so. Even in the West, where Islamic law is not in effect, many Muslims still keep the fast, although they may be lax about other obligations. Going through the ordeal of fasting together draws Muslims together in a way that we who have never experienced it would never imagine. So it is that during Ramadan, Christians living or ministering among Muslims are often asked "Are you fasting?" This is why it is important to do some thinking on our attitude to the Fast.

When I first went to North Africa thirty years ago, the general attitude of missionaries was that Christians do not keep the Muslim fast--period. To the question "Are you fasting?" I even heard of one who would reply, "Sure--every night!" Today, however, one often hears of Christians keeping the fast with the idea that they are thereby expressing identification with Muslims. One writes: "My Muslim friends are amazed and gratified when I tell them I have kept the total Ramadan fast two different years." Some have encouraged converts to continue observing the fast to show that when they became Christians they were not renouncing God, but teach them that according to the Bible fasting is neither obligatory or meritorious.

Identification with Muslims is certainly laudable. But we cannot assume that Muslims will interpret our actions as we intend, especially in another culture. If my Muslim friends are gratified that I keep the fast, it may well be that they understand my actions to mean that I am on the way to becoming a Muslim! On the other hand, we must not forget that the Bible does have something to say about fasting. How many of us fast as a spiritual discipline? Both Moses and Jesus once fasted forty long days and nights. The Bible connects fasting with praying. Maybe, then, our response as Christians should be to set apart special times when we devote ourselves to fasting and praying (possibly in a prayer triad) for the salvation of specific Muslim people groups, and especially friends and acquaintances.

Arab World Ministries