Christians and the Muslim Fast of Ramadan

There are some interesting posts floating around the blog-o-sphere related to the recent Christianity Today article on whether Christians should celebrate the Muslim Fast of Ramadan. People seem clearly divided on the issue, however, I am most aligned with McDermott’s response. He says,

“Christians may fast alongside Muslim friends, either as a gesture of friendship or in order to open dialogue, but not as part of Ramadan itself. Christian fasting is fundamentally different from Muslim fasting. Christians must make clear that their view of God, God’s approach to us, and therefore fasting as part of our relationship to God, are each different from Muslim views.” – Gerald McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College

Unlike Wilson who believes it is an expression of serving a false god or engaging in false worship, I would argue it is a point of connection, however like Joel Hunter, a point of connection is not a spiritual discipline, rather it is a social contact. If engaging in the fast opens up social contact that allows the truth of the gospel to be shared, then by all means do it. That said, I have some reservations that I am still working out in my own mind, based on my time as a missionary in Africa.

Many of the Mbunda people we worked with rose early each morning and prayed circling a tree, dropping flour as they walked. Over time I came to learn that this act was a ritual which left an offering for the spirits and the ancestor to whom they were praying. Would it then be appropriate to engage in this act from a desire to make social connection? Would I truly be able to share the gospel truth with my Mbunda brothers and sisters, or would I be setting the stage for a severe form of syncretism? These are the deeper questions that must be wrestled with and each individual believer must seek God’s leading in the Word and in the Spirit.

I personally do not see a problem with engaging in the Fast, as part of making the connections, Jesus calls us to fast, but he doesn’t call us to walk around trees and sprinkle meal offerings for spirits. Others may disagree, and I respect their conviction. Yet all must be sure that the gospel which is preached is the pure Gospel of God’s complete forgiveness of sin and acceptance as his children apart from any spiritual discipline we engage or fail to engage. I think what is being hinted at in all the answers and posts is the deeper question of “What will Christianity look like in a Muslim culture?” of maybe better “Is arabic culture different from islamic religion?” These two questions are huge and there is alot of scholarly work out there on these problems. We would do well to wrestle with a corollary in our context “How much has american culture become associated with christian religion?”

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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