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Can a Christian Practice Ramadan?

July 31, 2012

Paul Jenkins

 

In Islam, Ramadan is a special month which is devoted to fasting, prayers, self-examination, scripture recital and reading, and deeds of charity. It is really interesting to read about this holiday which is certainly more religious for the average Muslim than Christmas is for the average professed ‘Christian’. The mandatory nature of this holiday is due to it being part of the fourth pillar of Islam.

What is even more interesting about Ramadan is that many of the main practices of this occasion are compliant with Christian beliefs and practices. The Bible specifically teaches on, and in some cases, commands Christians to do many of these things. Prayer, acts of charity and generosity, fasting, and reading/memorization/recital of Scripture are clearly laid out as acts that give glory to God. The Bible even references occasionally abstaining from marital relations for a time (1 Corinthians 7:5), which is part of Ramadan.

There are things that I admire about orthodox Muslims who practice Ramadan. They demonstrate a lot of discipline, self-control, devotion, and dedicate themselves to their scriptures. Conservative Muslims also demonstrate a lot of concern to follow orthodox, historical doctrines of their faith. Sadly, many Christians are devoid of these qualities.

On the surface, Ramadan seems like a holiday that even a Christian could practice. But the Bible says this:

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

(1 Samuel 16:7b)

A Muslim would probably agree with this principle. But beyond the outward rituals, what is Ramadan really about?

In my reading, which did include more than just Twitter (searching #Ramadan is really interesting – try it), much of the spirit of Ramadan is to ‘earn your Paradise’ (http://www.haqislam.org/the-purpose-of-ramadan/), and to receive forgiveness for your sins by demonstrating your devotion to the Qur’an and cleansing yourself from your sin. Everything is on a scale – ensuring that your level of commitment and self-denial can outweigh the negative effects of your sins. In a sense, the obedience to Allah is done to show that you are a good Muslim, and want to do everything possible to ensure you reach Paradise.

Ramadan is a perfect example of the radical difference between biblical Christianity and Islam. Islam, along with many other religions seeks to earn the favor and forgiveness of God by obeying his commands. The good deeds must outweigh the bad deeds on God’s cosmic scale. Whether this is 5 pillars, 10 commandments, attaining Nirvana, increasing Karma, or any of the countless rules and regulations found within each religion, the foundation is always that I must do _ for God to love and forgive me.

Whenever I ask someone if they know what happens when they die, the following response is fairly typical: ‘I’m a good person, and so I think God will forgive me and reward my good deeds’. Muslims obviously have a developed theology, and specific commands to follow in order to please God, but the same hope in our own works remains. If you have been a good enough Muslim – your good deeds outweigh the bad, and then perhaps you have earned Allah’s forgiveness.

Now contrast this with the Christian message:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

(Acts 17:24-25)

God is righteous, holy, loving, and merciful. He has created us in His image to worship and enjoy Him forever, yet we have willfully turned away and committed sin against him. We have lied, stolen, lusted, coveted, cursed, and more – all of which heap God’s just punishment upon us. Even though there are varying degrees of sin and subsequent consequences, all of our sins are against a good and holy God.

“Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4a)

As a result, even the good works that we all do are often tainted by poor underlying motivations – not the least of which is trying to please God with good works – rather than the biblical response which is repentance and faith.

As a result, even ‘..our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment’ (Isaiah 64:6).

By nature, we are completely incapable of pleasing this perfect and holy God in our own strength. We need intercession; a substitute. This substitute is Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for the sake of men. He accomplished what we couldn’t accomplish. By His sacrifice, unclean people (us) can have our guilt removed, and our sins atoned for (Romans 5:8). Even more than that, we could be adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15). Taking hold of this gift can be likened to taking hold of and putting on a parachute. We must turn from our sins, and trust Christ for his forgiveness in a similar way.

The God of Islam offers no such promise of salvation. You must work, strain, and beg.

In my view, Allah’s justice and mercy are constantly conflicting. If he is truly good, how can he dismiss sin with no payment? In a court, can a judge let a justly condemned murderer or thief go free and still be just? Can the future good works of the convict remove the sentence for his crime?

The answer is no. But the God of the Bible extends his mercy to this criminal not arbitrarily, but because the judge Himself steps down from the platform and pays his fine in full with His life. So God is just, but he is also merciful and forgiving. This is the key difference.

Does Ramadan seem like a pious thing to observe? From the outside, yes. But God looks to the heart. Our souls need to be cleansed from the stain of sin, which no amount of good works can achieve.

When the object and source of our salvation is the Lord and not ourselves, we can experience the joy of grace not dependent upon human will or exertion. 

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)

 

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8 Comments
  1. Welcome back! I thought you’d disappeared! :-D

    The closest analogy to Ramadan in Christianity, and I’m surprised you don’t make it, is to the observance of Lent among Catholics and other liturgical Christians. This would be a fine time to pull out charges of “works’ righteousness,” etc. — though you’ve been fair and I wouldn’t expect you to do that. :) Unlike Muslim views toward Ramadan, Catholics don’t believe that our fasting and penitence — which are, indeed, works — obtain forgiveness for our sins. But nonetheless we are sinners, and it’s a time to remember that and reflect on that, to remember the cross we are to bear, and the Cross that Christ bore for us. Lent is a time of cleansing — but it’s not us, or our works, that do the cleansing by ourselves, but God who works in us.

    In short, if Christians think Ramadan would be neat to observe, they ought to check out Lent, which is godly and biblical and traditional and time-honored. ;-)

    • Mormons jehovah wiensests and other cults dont understand salvation is not through works but only through the Spirit which is IN Christ Jesus Our Lord who can save them. If you talk to a mormon they well say they have no sin they believe baptism freed them from all sin there fore they have no longer sin there fore no reason to repent.

  2. as long as we don’t treat it as good works unto salvation. as long as we maintain that Justification is by Faith alone.
    :)

  3. Thanks for reading and for your comments,

    I agree, there are definite similarities between Ramadan and Lent, and I don’t necessarily have a principial objection to Lent… depends on one’s attitude I think. I don’t personally observe it, though there is definite value to fasting from certain things. Although, if these things we ‘give up’ during Lent are idols for the rest of the year – we shouldn’t do them at all!

    Since there are such a wide variety of Catholics… some well thought out, and some just emotionally attached to the rituals and church traditions, I try not to make blanket statements about all of them. I suppose if you agree with what is written on this site about justification and salvation, then that’s the main thing. That said, maybe a post on ‘why I’m not a Catholic’ would be useful.

    Paul

    • I try not to dwell on “why I’m not a Protestant anymore,” but the main idea of my blog is supposed to be “why I’m now a Catholic.” I don’t agree entirely with Reformed ideas about justification — my most recent post actually deals with that, and anything tagged sola fide. Though many Reformed people have disagreed and told me that I’m not a Christian, I think it’s far more important that Catholics and Protestants agree on the author of justification — that justification is sola gratia, by grace alone — than that they disagree about the mechanics of justification.

      • Edin permalink

        Well, to say, quote: “it’s far more important that Catholics and Protestants agree on the author of justification — that justification is sola gratia, by grace alone — than that they disagree about the mechanics of justification” is really not being intellectually honest. Different ‘mechanics of justification’ imply different deities. While it is important that Christians should have unity, that unity should not be at expense of the truth of who God really is. Also, maybe you should agree with Reformed ideas about justification as this is the only real one that exist. If you are to take time and examine context in which passages of Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:14-17 are written by their authors, you would notice that Ephesians explains how people are justified in the eyes of God (faith only by grace), while James passage explains how people are justified in the eyes of other people (faith plus works). See, people can’t really see hearts (as God can) and the only way for other people to know if Christians are really true to their faith is to see their good works. That’s what the book of James is really about..

  4. Pat permalink

    I gave up Roman superstitious traditions for Lent.

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  1. Can Christians Practice Ramadan? | Blogging Theologically | Jesus, Books, Culture, & Theology

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