Shared values at Ramadan

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

This is the time of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam. It is observed during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, based on the lunar cycle, and therefore occurs at a different date in the Gregorian, or Western, calendar each year.

For the Muslim, it is a time of fasting during the day, an exercise designed to protect one from sin, to refrain from belligerent behavior and replace it with patience, and to cherish the family and community.

So important is this month of fasting that it is regarded as the single act of behavior most holy to God, because it is impossible, Muslims believe, to fake or to do "just for show." This is what Muslims the world over and down the street will be doing. The breaking of the fast at sunset, called iftar, is a time of happy socializing and contemplation of God's oneness.

My wife and I were invited to an iftar some years ago when living in Jordan. It was a time in which we, as Christians, felt truly cherished by our Muslim friends. We felt as though we were part of the family. It also helped us understand and respect our friends' customs and deeply held religious beliefs.

Here is one of the important shared values between Christian and Muslim, something often overlooked or overpowered by the strident political events of the day. We both recognize that, first of all, God is worshiped when we turn away from the daily pleasures and cares, when we exercise patience, when we express love to our fellowman. Although we don't fast in the same way our Muslim friends do, we can fast in another way, through expressing more devotion to God, refraining from attributing to Him or to ourselves any un-Godlike quality.

I believe this was the kind of fasting that Jesus spoke about when he healed an epileptic child. While the boy was in the middle of a seizure, Jesus "rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him" (Mark 9:25). The boy appeared dead after the convulsions, but Jesus lifted him up, and the child was healed.

Then, when Jesus' disciples asked him why they had been unsuccessful in healing the boy, Jesus replied, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29).

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, commented on this incident several times, and in a short article in a collection called "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," she wrote, "The animus of his saying was: Silence appetites, passion, and all that wars against Spirit and spiritual power" (pg. 339).

I believe that this kind of action resulted in a healing that I had many years ago. I was a Boy Scout on a camping trip and burned myself on a kerosene lantern. I remember that it was painful and that there was an ugly mark on my skin. I went back to my sleeping bag, and as I prayed, I tried to fast – to turn away from the fear that evil had power to cause me pain.

That night, I gained the conviction that God was not only right there with me, but that also He was all-presence. There couldn't be anything outside God – no pain, nothing to cause an accident or clumsiness on my part. I remember being in awe of the oneness of God.

I fell asleep without pain, and the next morning, there was no mark on my skin. This was the first time I'd ever experienced a healing as a result of my own prayer and fasting, and it's still an important experience to me.

Where I live now the population is half Christian and half Muslim. I don't know yet whether I'll be invited to an iftar or host one myself, but I like to think about the purpose behind the month of fasting. I can unite with my friends in the "Ramadan" of my thinking. We all can follow God's demand to turn away from the temptation that there is another power, or god, beside Him, and reject it. We see that there is nothing outside His love, His care, His allness.

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