Ramadan 2014- What Growing up in a Muslim Country Taught us About Christianity

This post is a re-post from two years ago but is just as accurate. Thank you for joining us.

Today begins the Holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is marked by fasting daily from sun up to sun down. As Christians raised in Pakistan our memories of Ramadan days are as strong as our memories of the Call to Prayer waking us at dawn.

As we think about Ramadan our minds and hearts remember what we have learned about our own faith from our Muslim friends.

1. At an early age we learned that God is not North American. He spans nation and ocean, culture and ethnicity. To bind him to one nation is idolatry. To attach Him to one country elevates our own perceptions of that country. Secretly believing that God is North American justifies our private beliefs that we are superior. It’s not true.

2. We learned that Christians are not the only ones with deep faith. Indeed the Muslims that we were surrounded by were zealous of keeping to the tenants of their faith. They were sincere. They were devoted.

3.We learned that worship has little to do with pews or worship bands; versions of scripture or language. Worship has everything to do with the heart.

4. We learned that as women with white skin we had arrogant tendencies, as though we had birthrights. When our behavior reflected that it was ugly.

5. We learned that caring for women and children, the poor and the broken was never to be separated from the love of God and his call to holiness. We learned that the invitation of the Father that extends to the those in the “highways and byways” included the beggar woman, the street children, the dismembered, the leper.

6. We learned that the mud huts and dusty streets of Pakistan were far closer to the streets walked by Jesus than the clean suburbs and white steeples that we encountered every four years in the United States. Our Jesus was brown and slightly sweaty with dusty calloused feet; he wasn’t pink and pressed and clean. Blue eyes he did not have.

7. We learned that Christian community comes in all denominations and many interpretations, that sprinkling and dunking could be argued with equal passion but would ultimately not change our need for a Saviour. We learned that the strong cultural value of individualism in the west could make it harder to selflessly love. When Jesus reiterated that the greatest commandment was loving God and the second greatest was loving each other he meant it. Love is the language of the community. Any other dialect is suspect.

8. We learned that the word “Allah” is the Arabic word for God and, while one can argue character qualities of God, to be afraid of that word was not wise. Fear rarely motivates faith and holy conversation.

9. We learned that people are not the enemy. And costumes, like book covers, are not to be judged.

10. We learned that bridge-building often means drinking 25 cups of tea and serving 100. Hospitality fleshes out acceptance and leads to friendship and deep loyalty. Those are strong bridges built of steel and concrete.

11. We learned that Muslims make the best of friends; that to share our hearts with them grew our understanding and faith. We were shown kindness, generosity and acceptance. We grew to understand their love for a good joke;their loyalty, their devotion. We learned that once you have a Muslim friend, you always have a friend. They will grieve your losses as if they were their own. They will enter your celebrations with abandon!

12. We learned that being invited to break the fast was a gift, not something to refuse because of difference in belief, but something to enter with joy and prayer – prayer for our friends and prayer for their land. A land we called home.

And as we close this post we offer you a taste through words of breaking the fast. It is going from the simplicity of daily life and the discipline of fasting to the joyous contrast of colour, noise and taste of celebrations! It is deep-fried sweet sticky gulab jamin. It is colour infused sweet rice with chunks of fresh coconut and plump raisins; plain rice suddenly dressed up with fatty morsels of meat and sticks of cinnamon. Bread normally made on a flat dry pan-fried in oil and served with sweet oily cream of wheat cereal. Muslims knew how to celebrate. Christians in Pakistan learned that from their neighbors.

And we learned by heart through the richness of our lives, watching all unfold at weddings, at Eid celebrations, and at the breaking of the fast.

Related articles
Ramadan 2012: History, Dates, Greeting And Rules Of The Muslim Fast (huffingtonpost.com)
A Look at Ramadan from an Outsider

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17 thoughts on “Ramadan 2014- What Growing up in a Muslim Country Taught us About Christianity

  1. In this day and time of islamaphobia spreading wide, also with the ISIS scandal and what not, this post is a welcome change. I feel proud to be a muslim and hope and pray all of us on this world can live in harmony respecting each other’s religion and ways of life.

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  2. Just able to get in to this post . . . It is wonderful!! I love every word, every single word. It reflects all that I have believed in my soul, ever since I was a child and when I couldn’t yet express what I felt so deeply. Thanks to to you and Robynn for drafting it together and to you for posting!!

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  3. I wish all Christians would read this. Having lived in Saudi and having Muslim friends, I appreciate the beauty of this post. I’m not religious, but for those who are, you cannot claim superiority over other religions and be a true believer in anything.

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  4. Working at a hospital during “Ramadan”, called Ramzan in Pakistan was also another whole different set of learning experiences. Thank you Marilyn for the many things you mentioned that I could relate to. Bless you.

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    1. Barb – I’d love to hear more about this. The only experience I had in a hospital in Pakistan during Ramazan was delivering a baby at Ali Medical Center in Islamabad – it was Eid weekend and the fast broke about 2 hours after I got to the hospital. i was in major labor and Dr. Azima still hadn’t come. She showed up about an hour and a half before I delivered! More stories from you please!

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      1. Memories of Ramadan at a mission hospital.

        Ramadan (or Ramzan in Pakistan) was always one of the harder times at our hospital, especially during the summer heat. We would encourage our Muslim staff to take their vacation during the month of fasting, just to make it easier for all concerned.
        The loudspeaker from both local mosques would go off an hour or so before the fast was scheduled to begin, as a reminder to get up and eat. The fast moves about 10 days earlier each year following the Muslim calendar and was especially long and difficult during the summer hours. From sunrise to sunset could easily be 15 hours during that time. I just checked that time on line and found that for July 11,2014 the fast in our area of Pakistan would be 3:21AM to 7:11PM. So at @2AM the lights came on, fires were lit and the smell of curry, chipattes and chai spread throughout the grounds. Sleep for patient and caregivers ended until the fast started. Then it was often sleepy time on and off for everyone keeping the fast until it ended as the sunset.

        Even though pregnant women and the sick are exempt from keeping the fast they are expected to keep it at another time and many refuse to do this as it is much harder to fast alone. Therefore, we ran into some challenging problems. An increase in urinary tract infections in the pregnant woman, but a reluctance to drink water or even take the medication necessary.

        Bowel obstructions were more common. The intestine isn’t designed to withhold food and water fro 15 hours and then gorge for 9 hours. Even the swallowing of saliva is forbidden and this leads to lots of spitting. In a world where TB and other infections are common, the environment can easily become very unhealthy.

        One of my most memorable times was a very hairy trip back to my hospital in the mountains on public transport just before the fast ended. I was very used to public transport around curves without guard rails and steep cliffs close to the edge of the road. But this time was different. We made a 30” trip from Abbottabad in about 15” I think! Our driver was obviously tired and very hungry. He knew that food awaited him at the village in front of our hospital and he was bound to get there in time to join the other men at the breaking of the fast! I really thought I might meet my maker that evening, but we made it and as he jumped off the bus to sit with the men in the outside café to eat dates and drink water I went shakily through the gate to my house, thanking God that I was home alive.

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      2. Barb – thank you so much for these memories! How I’d love to sit down with you with a pen and notebook and get more!. I’ve often thought how difficult it would be to work in healthcare in Pakistan during Ramadan. The only thing I experienced where there was a conflict was in the U.S. with an Afghan patient who was pregnant and had gestational diabetes and was determined to fast so that she would deliver a baby boy. That was a tough one. Thanks so much for coming back and adding this!

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