It’s a typical hot and humid day on our island. I perpetually wipe my forehead with the folded up paper towel I keep in my pocket. We load the girls up into the car and head out to one of the six malls on our little island. The road is jam packed with cars and motorcycles zipping in and out of traffic. The mall is adorned with green and yellow decorations and there is Arabic sounding music playing in the background. The nearly empty restaurants have curtains draped over their open areas so that people cannot see in. There are big sales and promotions in nearly every store and there is a holiday feeling in the air…. this is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast for an entire month. Their fast begins each day just before sunrise and ends right at sunset. This month of fasting is one of the five pillars, or most important aspects of Islam. Throughout this month there is a kind of hyper-spirituality that consumes the entire community. On the streets and in the stores you see people walking around in Muslim garb, vendors selling special snacks for breaking fast in the late afternoon, and Mosques blaring prayers, sermons, and chanting from their loudspeakers. Our house is sandwiched between a couple of very loud mosques that continually bombard us with their loudspeakers from about 6 - 10 p.m. every night during Ramadan. Surprisingly, our kids are able to sleep through it, and it doesn’t affect their bed times much, which we are very thankful for.
Throughout Ramadan, Muslims wake up very early, often around 3 a.m., in order to cook and share large meals with their families before fasting for the day begins. At sunset there are often large events and get-togethers for people to break the fast together. The fast is usually broken by eating a date, which is how their prophet Mohamed traditionally broke his fast. This season presents good opportunities to get together with our Muslim friends in the evenings and join them for “breaking fast” meals. We can’t help but notice the Christmas-like feeling that this season has on our community here, characterized by family gatherings, feasting, and holiday decorations with music. The end of the fasting month culminates in a day of feasting and celebration called Idul Fitri, where Muslims and their friends enjoy special meals together and visit one another in their homes. Idul Fitri is a great day for us to show honor to our friends here and have meaningful visits with them and their families.
Over the last number of years, we have asked many of our Muslim friends why they fast and what the overall meaning of the fasting month is. We have heard a great variety of answers, such as: trying to make up for sins they have committed in the past, earning points with God for eternity, refraining form sin, showing devotion, and empathizing with people who don’t have enough to eat and drink. It is one thing to Google the fasting month and then assume all Muslims believe the same thing and practice it in the same way, however, in reality, Muslims are complicated individuals who have their own differing thoughts and opinions on the subject. Our job as ambassadors for Christ here is to meet people where they are, address the issues that they are dealing with as individuals, share truth, and welcome them into God’s Kingdom through Jesus. Please pray for us and for our relationships as we seek to be light and share truth here during this hyper-spiritualized fasting month, when the issues of sin, righteousness, and eternity are closer to the forefront of peoples’ minds.