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September 7, 2010

On the meaning of Ramadan

Rev. Graham Morbey

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A few days into Ramadan, I returned a keyboard and mouse I was having difficulty with to the store where I bought it. The pleasant young man who served me and did the paper work for the return looked to me like he might be Muslim. I put him to the test as I was leaving the store by asking him if it would be okay if I wished him a happy Ramadan.

Certainly, he replied, a smile breaking out on his lips and a sparkle in his eyes.

He went on to tell me that he was very religious and said his prayers five times a day and was certainly keeping the fast of Ramadan.

I teased him gently about being able to feast all night. Slightly startled, he promptly echoed the Apostle Paul: for a Muslim, it’s moderation in all things.

Good answer, I thought.

Thus began one of those memorable little conversations total strangers sometimes achieve at a doorstep; this one all about each other’s faith and religious practices.

My encounter with this store clerk made me consider that perhaps Ramadan could serve as an opportune moment for Christians and Muslims to get to know each other better.

Let me explain why I think so.

In the first place, I think that because Jews and Christians have known fasting from their beginnings, to learn that it is also a feature of the Islamic faith is not so novel and that therefore Ramadan doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

They stop at the bare bones of Ramadan’s mode of practice and neglect the deeper meanings and intentions that shape and mold their Muslim neighbour’s person and character.

So doing, Christians shut themselves off from expressing to Muslims their own deep shapings  by Christianity.

There is also among many Christians lingering doubts about whether Allah can be considered the same God who is revealed in the Old and New Testaments.

This despite the fact that Allah is spoken of within the Qur’an in the same way as in the Old and New Testaments and is in every way intended to be historically the same God.

This too, can be a hindrance to a more serious reflection on the meaning of Ramadan.

Secondly, Ramadan establishes a new framework for a fast that ends with joyful celebration.

While much of its ideas and practices and rules are derived from the ancient Abrahamic traditions of Jews and Christians and are easy to trace historically, Ramadan bundles  these elements and presents them in a distinct manner.

In so doing, the entire Muslim community shares in unity a deep and ongoing spirituality: a methodological, intentional , pious ” habits of the hearts” aiming at developing and maintaining an ongoing God-consciousness in which forgiveness from past sins, joy and celebration in God’s presence and personal well-being are experienced.

In conclusion, we discover in Ramadan a world-wide witness and powerful reminder of humanity’s struggle to believe, trust , and find happiness and joy in the One, True God who created all things and asks for our undivided devotion and worship.

That of course is what Jews, Christians and Muslims are all about. It is where our being together starts.

Happy Ramadan and Happy Eid!

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