My initial experiences with Ramadan years ago in West Africa were at times confusing to say the least. I will never forget getting caught in an awful traffic jam in the main thoroughfare of one of the most congested neighborhood markets. People were scurrying, buses and cars were honking, and voices were raised as everyone wanted to hurry and make it home to break the fast. Unfortunately, the sun began to set and the jam was at a standstill. Out from the market flowed vendors with dates, juice, water, bits of bread etc to serve the stranded motorists and break the fast.
Or the time we without thinking planned an outing with some of our friends during Ramadan. We were going to be back in time to break the fast, but we had been active all day long. He became very hungry and broke his fast early. Only afterwards did I realize what he would do to make up for that day. I do hope I have learned to be a bit more sensitive to my Muslim friends over the years!
Perhaps my favorite memory is when a friend with his brothers took us out into the ocean in a pirogue to check their nets. Trust me! I was never so happy to be back on land as after that ocean voyage! Back at their home, the family had prepared for us delicious grilled fish and bread. It was the middle of the day. They were fasting, but they knew we were not. Nevertheless, they prepared a feast for us that ended with a fun time dancing and celebrating. Not sure what we celebrated….new friendship or making it back alive!
My own spiritual journey had introduced me to the spiritual discipline of fasting, but nothing as regimented as Ramadan is and certainly not in community with millions of others. When I fast, I do so according to how I sense God’s leading i.e. usually private, usually just me, and usually for a specific reason. Yet, every year when Ramadan comes around, I stop and reflect on this extremely important month for my Muslim friends and neighbors and I lift my prayers along with theirs to God. Why?
- I love my Muslim friends and neighbors. I want God’s best for them.
- I learn from my Muslim friends and neighbors. I learn the value of community, the value of fasting, the value of regularly coming aside in the middle of a crazy world to pray, and so much more.
- During this time of Ramadan my Muslim friends are seeking God and desire for God to meet them as they pray. It is a joy to pray that with them.
- It connects me to the realities of much turmoil and strife that is occurring in many countries, but during the month of Ramadan I am able to focus my prayers particularly for those Muslim countries that are suffering in one way or another.
- I sense a stronger connection to my Muslim friends and neighbors and God changes me as I pray for them.
- I am more sensitive to the people who are around me, particularly when I see someone who appears to a follower of Islam. I am able to offer a prayer on their behalf.
- As I read, study, and use various guides for my prayers, I learn more about the many different peoples God has placed upon this earth. God nudges my heart to pray for them with insight and sincerity.
- I become more sensitive to ways that I might be stereotyping people of other faiths and ways that they are perhaps marginalized in our society.
- I am drawn to a closer walk with God because of my heightened awareness.
- God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I know of no better way to love someone than to pray. And then if possible be the one who expresses God’s love by word and deed.
May this month of Ramadan be a month that all of us come to know God in deeper more profound ways.