Ramadan: Fasting or Feasting?

Ramadan Mubarak! is the greeting heard across the lands where FMI church planters serve. The greeting is the same, whether one’s mother-tongue is Urdu, Bengali, Pashto, or Bahasa. It is an Arabic phrase meaning Blessed Ramadan! and is spoken by Muslims throughout their month-long period of fasting during daylight hours. Like much of Islam, its observance is based on lunar activity and thus floats through the calendar from year to year. (It takes about 33 Islamic years for Ramadan to return to the same place on the Gregorian calendar.) For 2019, here in the US, Ramadan begins the after sundown on Sunday, May 5, and is observed through the evening of Tuesday, June 4.

Ironically, even though the stated focus is on fasting, more food is purchased and consumed by Muslims during this month than any other month of the year! Many Muslims simply switch their daily routines to skirt around the burden of fasting: they sleep during the day and binge on iftar feasts after sunset, staying up to party throughout the night. A YouGov survey conducted during Ramadan 2015 found that about two-thirds of Muslim households spend more money during Ramadan than at other times, and nearly three-quarters of them report the additional amount is for food purchases.

Many shops close during the day, and business and government work comes to a virtual standstill. Worker productivity declines by as much as 50% as a result of shorter working hours and the change in behavior during this month, explains Samer Sunnuqrot, an economist based in the Jordanian capital Amman. The change in behavior creates other problems, too. Hospitals across the Persian Gulf see an increase in patients with digestive-related complaints. “It’s a combination of overeating or binge eating, and reduced immunity due to dehydration and bad sleeping habits,” explains Dr. Rabee Harb of Kuwait’s Royale Hayat Hospital. There is also an increase in injuries from traffic accidents, Harb says, which are probably due to fasting-related drowsiness.

The phenomenon now touted as Ramadan Rage increases the volatility of the situation in many places, especially when the holiday falls during hot months, as it does this year. A weather station in the city of Nawabshah, Pakistan, already registered temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the weeks just prior to Ramadan (April 2019); the weeks ahead may get worse. Dehydration is also a serious threat. In other countries, Ramadan Rage is measured by police reports. Incidents of petty theft in Algeria spiked 220% during recent a Ramadan season, and assaults jumped by 320%. Child traffickers in Yemen, taking advantage of the plight of poor families who want to spend more on food during Ramadan, offer to buy children outright from their parents. It’s one less mouth to feed, they tell the parents, and provides added income.

Some of the extra burdens minority Christians face in countries where the majority observe Ramadan are their encounters with business gridlock as they try to continue with normal life during Ramadan, and the threat of physical attacks against them if they are seen eating or drinking during the day. Please pray that Christians in these places will experience God’s protection and provision during this time.

Despite the potential for social turmoil during Ramadan, God continues to draw Muslims to Himself through faith in Jesus Christ (John 12:32). Toward the end of Ramadan, Muslims observe what they call The Night of Power, commemorating Mohammed’s reception of verses comprising the Qur’an. On this night, instead of merely saying rote prayers, Muslims pour out their hearts with personal yearning. This 2019 Ramadan season, in the US, the Night of Power falls on May 31 and is considered the most appropriate time of the entire year to plead for salvation and blessings. For caring Christians, this is also a fantastic time to pour out intercession for these souls: Ask God to remove the scales from the eyes of their hearts, and that they would be drawn to faith in Jesus Christ. Pray that the Lord of the Harvest will give courage to mature indigenous Christians, like FMI-supported church planters and evangelists, to intersect with seekers at this time to share the truth of the gospel with them.