Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, started June 18. This means Muslims don’t eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. In Djibouti, and many other places, this is incredibly difficult. I’ve fasted several times during Ramadan, though only once for the entire month, and my respect for those who maintain the fast is high. I’ve also fasted at other times of the year and in different ways. My personal faith conviction is that yes, I should fast, but also that Jesus didn’t lay down an exact methodology or time frame for it.
So, this week I wanted to look at some books that talk about fasting and also about Ramadan.
The first is one that has been significant for me. I read it in college, slowly and thoughtfully, and it left a massive impact on my beliefs and my actions. Though many authors tout the physical and mental benefits of fasting, I love food too much to relinquish it without this deeper, spiritual call to fast. In a world of gluttony and abundance and over abundance, of needing to be satisfied, needing things easy, going without food is absolutely contradicting this tidal wave of cultural pressure to be comfortable. People tell me they can’t fast because when they do, they feel dizzy and weak. Yup. You’re supposed to feel dizzy and weak, you’re designed to need food so going without it is hard. That’s partly the point, at least one of the points. To remind us of our weaknesses. Anyway, this is a great book.
7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting & Prayer by Bill Bright
This is a really short booklet, just 24-pages, but it is a great resource for Christians wanting to grow in their discipline of fasting and who have questions on how to go about it. Practical and obviously a quick read.
Here is a link to a series of articles and videos about Ramadan. I have not had the chance to look through them, found them through Twitter.
I am assuming that not all Djibouti Jones readers have a background in Islam or knowledge about the month of Ramadan or other tenets of the faith. Karen Armstrong provides an accessible and interesting read on Islam, including Ramadan in Islam: A Short History.
And now I guess I have to confess that I haven’t read much more about fasting. Oh, chapters here and there in books about Islam or about Christianity. I could reference those books but instead I’ll send you to links from In Culture Parent. This post includes six books geared toward children about Ramadan. Here are a couple:
What I’m Reading This Week
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. What can I say? Fascinating. Fascinating. Creepy. Really well written, an excellent read.
Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller (she also wrote Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood which I loved). I read her first memoir in one day. I had a little stomach bug, very minor, but took it as an excuse and spent the entire day in bed, reading. The kids were still little and it felt luxurious. I’m really enjoying this one so far as well, she seems to be writing from a more mature place, more reflective. So good for Third Culture Kids, expats, people from quirky families. Love it.
The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love by Jaimal Yogis. Not the best book I’ve read in my life, but really interesting, entertaining, and insightful about how to conquer our fears. Also – why it might be perfectly safe to swim with great white sharks without a shark cage…
What are you reading?
For the next five weeks I plan on writing once per week about some of the things I have learned from Islam. I’m not saying the Muslims around me do these things perfectly. I’ll leave perfection to God. But I am saying there are things I’ve learned, that my Muslims friends have taught me, things that have begun to soak into me and the outworking of my faith. I’m also not saying I don’t see any of these things in Christianity or the Christians around me but it is important (to me at least) to acknowledge and honor some things Islam emphasizes and that Muslims do well.
Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward, Surah 33:35 Sahih International
Islam teaches humility before God and before humankind. Christianity also teaches humility before God and before humankind. Here, I want to discuss humility before God because honestly, I don’t see a lot of humility between humans. I see (in people of both religions and in my own heart) pride and fighting and greed and stealing (twice in one week) and I don’t want to delve into that.
So. Humility before God.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you 1 Peter 5:6
I have learned this before, the Bible is rife with references to the need to be humble before God. The idea that we are but dust and desperately sinful is woven all throughout the scriptures. That Christians express utter dependence on the saving work of Jesus is ultimate humility. The refusal to perform, the acknowledgement that all one’s good deeds will not save, this is deep, internal, faith-based humility.
But I haven’t seen a lot of physical humility before God. Perhaps this is because I grew up in the evangelical world, far outside liturgical structure, far outside the kneeling benches in Catholic churches. But the longer I am in Africa and the older I get, the more I understand how interconnected everything is. Our souls and bodies and minds and relationships. When my spirit is heavy, my runs slow down. When my body is weak, my relationship with friends suffer. When I raise my hands in church, my soul rises. When I bow my head low, my soul bows down.
This is what I see, vividly and every single day, in Islam. The physicality of humility through the five-times-daily prayer and then during Ramadan, through fasting.
I hear a lot of people say fasting is too hard, they have low blood sugar. They don’t fast because it makes them feel weak and tired.
As it well should.
This is what humility feels like and it is (partly) why fasting is a valuable practice for people of faith (reminder to self). The powerful, gurgling and grumbling, reminder that we are dependent on food is a picture of our dependency on God. The weakness fasting imposes reminds us that God is not weak, he does not rely on food for nourishment.
Even more clearly, the bowing of the salat, is a picture of humility. Putting the forehead to the ground, refusing to stand erect and firm.
I read The Shack, years ago, and one scene that always bothered me is when the man first meets the God character. She is African American, carrying a tray of chocolate chip cookies. His reaction is one of surprise, but he feels welcomed and loved.
It is a nice picture.
But ‘nice’ or safe and homey are not what I see when Muslims meet God in prayer and not what I think will happen the first time I meet God, no matter how many chocolate chip cookies he might be carrying.
I think we will fall on our faces, trembling, forehead to the ground, arms outstretched in the ultimate, “I am not worthy,” pose. We might feel welcomed and loved but we will also be completely, totally, humbled before God’s power, perfection, and awesome glory.
When I see Muslims praying the salat in front of the grocery store and outside houses, beside construction sites and inside my living room, it is a moving visual of the necessity of the soul’s humility before God.
If you are a Muslim, do prayer and fasting affect your heart attitude toward God? If you are not a Muslim, what do you do in your spiritual life to grow in humility?
*image via Flickr
*image via wikimedia
Today I am writing about bravery and Ramadan and dependency and fasting at A Life Overseas. Here’s a clip and then head on over, I’d love to hear from you.
*Part of this post is taken from my post Desperate, Breathless, Dependent Parenting on the Desiring God blog. Below, it is revised to include thoughts on Ramadan. Click the link to read the original and complete post.
Some people tell me it is brave to raise my kids in Africa. They could get malaria or be bitten by a poisonous snake. They don’t have a Sunday School class. They can’t eat gluten-free foods. Their friends are Muslims. They live far away from cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.
My initial reaction is to be tempted to say, “Well, I think it is brave to raise kids in America.” I know my heart, my soul-shriveling tendency to love the world. I know my kids, how quickly they could be sucked into the idolatry of a nation whose church is the shopping mall and whose God is the latest iPhone.
But this kneejerk reaction is wrong because it assumes brave is the right word to use to describe parenting, on any continent.
Brave is the wrong word…
Last week the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began. Fasting from food and water is hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth is dang hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth in the hottest month of the year is dang stinking hard…
And the strain will begin to show because fasting (Muslim, Christian, or otherwise) emphasizes our weaknesses, reveals the longings of our taste buds and stomachs and exposes the very real, carnal needs of our bodies…
I like that these people come home tonight. All of them.
I don’t like that their luggage is…somewhere else. Chicago? Paris? Nairobi? It is only booked through Kenya (notorious for delivering luggage that has been rifled through) and so we aren’t sure how it will find its way to Djibouti. We know that it is just stuff and are not putting our hope in it. On the other hand, there are two sets of birthday presents for our soon-to-be teenage(!) twins in those bags.
I like these words about Ramadan as well on Communicating Across Boundaries, words from another outsider like me: Ramadan – Engagement or Rejection?
I don’t like that it is too hot to run (113 at 6 p.m. with the sun already setting) and that I have resorted to Insanity with my air conditioner and ice water.
I like what this (Christian) dad and (Muslim) daughter talked about in how to connect during Ramadan.
I don’t like that another journalist was killed in Somalia.
I like this quote by Karen Armstrong in The Case for God, herself quoting Yaqud ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (died in 870): “We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate it from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples.”
What did you like or not like this week?