Ruth Moon at Christianity Today has started a discussion on whether Christians should show affinity with Muslims and fast during Ramadan. (“Should Christians Fast During Ramadan With Muslims? ” – CT 26 Oct 09) 

Beyond the responses from the 10 church leaders contacted for their opinion, there is discussion on the topic in the blogosphere, as there is every year during this annual fast.  What should the proper response be?

The answer seems to be:  “It depends.”

Proponents of religious tolerance say we should make accomodation, especially for Eid, the celebration that ends Ramadan.  Some even offer an ecumenical solution, that we join with them as a sign of solidarity and frinedship, out of respect for their religion.

At the other end of the ideological spectrum, responses include:

  • Not in a western country. On the contrary, they should pretend to eat so as not to offend me.
  • Let’s fast when the Saudi’s do, which is 10pm – 6am our time.
  • No. This would indicate solidarity and some sort of compatibility with Christianity.
  • No. Christians should only observe Biblical fasts, such as Yom Kippur.

I come down somewhere in the middle, and always with a motivation qualifier.  What is the purpose of the fast, and are you strategic about it?

The Muslims I knew fasted out of duty, abstaining from food and tobacco and caffeine during the day, but partying hard at night.  Then they’d go to bed late and have an even harder time functioning at work the next morning, with no coffee or breakfast to ease the headache, and no cigarette to calm the nerves.  Fasting that way, as a ritual, is not effective.

But if you observe fasting the way the moderate Imams suggest, spending time reading the Scriptures, doing acts of kindness, etc, then it is appropriate to match them, so long as you either engage them in spiritual discussions on the meaning of the Quran, especially the person of Issa (Jesus), assurance of Paradise, and the need for personal peace.

If you are not near any Muslims, then take the time during Ramadan to fast and pray for missionaries that are, and that the work of the gospel not be hindered. 

Fasting for the sake of fasting is empty religion.  Fasting for the purpose of strengthening your prayers for the salvation of the Muslims is however a commendable goal.


NPR reported this morning on Camille Shoieb, who married an Egyptian this past spring and adopted his Muslim faith the same day.  This week is her first Ramadan, a month-long fast.

Camille says she has “always had a problem with some of the teachings of the Christians, so Islam … just totally made sense.” She’s learning Arabic to be able to read the Quran, and wear a Burkah. And she’s trying be faithful to Ramadan.

Camille’s three daughters are also working on meeting Ramadan’s challenges. They get up early to have breakfast before sunrise, but then they’re ready for a snack before school starts.  Lunch is worse.  Camille had to write a note to the teacher to explain why the girls don’t want lunch.  (Michaela admitted at the end of the day she stopped at the water fountain.  “I was at the water fountain for five minutes.”)

Making supper is also hard.  After eating nothing all day, the cook in Camille wants to taste the sauce, lick the honey that dripped on her finger.  But not until after sunset prayers are over does supper begin, at 7.40 p.m.

What I don’t get about Ramadan is that it claims to be a 30-day fast.  The Islam legalists have reinterpreted the fast to be a “day” fast and a nighttime feast.  in some areas, they deprive themselves as long as the sun is up, and then gorge at night.  Even to the extent that some party too late at night and are in serious need of the forbidden coffee in the morning.  (When I visited Saudi Arabia, we were cautioned to be out of the country by Ramadan, because that little caffeine makes the local mean, and the religious fervor of the season makes things even worse for Americans there.)

What we in the church need to worry over is to not forget why we do what we do.  When we stand, sit or kneel, why we do what we’ve always done.  Mormons, Catholics and Jews have great traditions for fasting, to focus on their task as God’s people, to deny themselves for a greater cause.  But fasting the minimum just to be fasting based on some works mentality is a “vanity.”