A Muslim/MethoFesto: Why I’m Observing Ramadan

I woke up at 4:20 am this morning, ate four hard-boiled eggs and a blueberry bagel, swallowed down a cup of coffee, and sat down to pray.

And I haven’t eaten or had a drink since.

The clock reads 6:26 pm, and I still have over two hours to go.

This is the first day of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims around the world. For thirty days, Muslims fast from all food and drink from dawn to sunset.

Oh, and me, too.

I decided to observe Ramadan this year, for a number of reasons which I will explain over the next thirty days. I plan to blog about the experience, too.

I have tried my hand at fasting in many different ways over my lifetime, most recently with a regular Friday fast from sunrise to 3 pm. Fasting has never come easy for me – that may be the point!? – but I have certainly come to value the spiritual rigor and discipline of abstaining from food for extended periods of time.

We American Christians aren’t really all that good at fasting; it’s never been high on our list of spiritual disciplines. Even in the one season of the church calendar in which we are supposed to fast, Lent, we manage to find ways to minimize and downplay the sacrificial aspect of the fast. We give up chocolate or soft drinks for an entire forty days – woohoo, that should bring us closer to Christ!

That’s why I’ve always been fascinated by the extreme fasting that most Muslims practice during Ramadan – no food or drink during daylight for thirty whole days!

Recently, I’ve felt a little stale, dry even, in my own spiritual life. I do the normal, daily things; I go through my regular routine of prayer and Bible reading. But it doesn’t seem as rich and as profound. I’ve found myself deeply distracted by things happening in the world, including the great hubbub in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, concerning the status of the denomination and the fate of our particular bishop.

I took a meeting with my good friend, Shaikh Yaseen, the imam (religious leader) of a mosque in Plano, part of the Islamic Association of Collin County. We have been friends for several years, and recently I attended the dedication of the new wing of the mosque.

When I told him that I was considering observing Ramadan, he grinned and said, “Brilliant!” in his British accent. “It’s intense, you know.”

I informed him that I was well aware of what such a commitment meant, but asked him to give me a deeper understanding of what it meant.

“Ramadan is a fast of the body, of course,” he said. “But even more importantly, it’s a fast of the hands and feet and eyes, and finally, of the mind. It’s a time to become very aware of God and to be completely obedient.”

I am intrigued by the fact that “Islam” means “submission,” and that, fundamentally, the Islamic faith is an attempt to practice submission to God’s will on a daily basis. This is not a foreign idea to Christians – this was Jesus’ stated approach, as well. He famously said, in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He also once said that whoever did the will of his Father in heaven, were his brother and sister and mother.

The core of both Islamic and Christian faith is the quest to know, and to live within, the will of the one God.

Yaseen went on to explain that, during Ramadan, Muslims read through the Quran, make special financial gifts for the needy, and attend prayer time at the mosque daily. It is, in fact, a month of searching, of devotion, of love of God and neighbor. It is a living symbol of one’s hunger and thirst for the true God.

That’s what appeals to me in my current spiritual tepidity. I feel as if I need a jolt to my senses. And I know that observing Ramadan will deliver a burst of hungering and thirsting for God – a God whom Muslims call “Allah,” and whom Christians call “Father.”

But there’s another reason that I have chosen to “act like a Muslim” over the next thirty days. I truly want to stand in solidarity with my friend, Yaseen, and his congregation in Plano. I want them to know that I do not resent their presence in my community and country. In fact, I am very glad that they are here.

Not only do I stand with the Plano Muslims, but I have also begun to make friends with Muslim refugees from Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. I’ve previously blogged about Mohammed, a young Sudanese Muslim who often attends New Day. The last time I served him Communion, he asked if he could pray “for the food” first. After he prayed in Arabic, I happily offered him the bread and cup, symbol of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

I get to return the favor now. By turning down food and drink during Ramadan, I begin to wear Mohammed’s shoes, live a small part of his life, and catch a glimpse of his own religious commitments and devotion.

I don’t know if I can truly love Mohammed until I do this. I don’t believe that I can truly be Yaseen’s friend until, and unless, I attempt to enter into his story, into his life narrative. I must know what it is like to worship God as a Muslim.

Perhaps then I will learn how to worship God … as a Christian.

If I can just make it until 8:37 …

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56 comments

  1. hollyboardman

    May the Lord bless you in this endeavor. Some years ago, I undertook what I thought was a fairly rigorous routine of fasting. I fasted completely on Friday’s until 3pm and abstained from meat throughout one Lent. It was really quite challenging. About two weeks into this routine, I found great joy and relief when I realized that according to Christian tradition, fish is not meat, and Sunday’s do not count–they are a feast day.

    I often find that fasting seems to initiate some kind of move of God in the church…Not always, but sometimes. Sometimes God does something wonderful and unexpected–obviously supernatural. I long for God to stir things up in my life and community—to change us to be what God wants us to be.

    I do have one question and caution. Jesus cautions us against bragging about fasting. As United Methodist elders we both took a vow to “recommend fasting or abstinence both by precept and example” which seems to test Jesus’ caution. I choose to get around it by recommending fasting, and by talking about my experience of fasting–but only when I am not actually doing it.

    Do you have any thoughts on this? As you blog DURING this fast, it may be tempting to brag a bit…

    Anyway, I have now subscribed to receive your blog by email. I look forward to reading more about your experiences and how God works through this holy season of Ramadan.

    (By the way, I am a retired United Methodist pastor…and I believe that one reason for the current state of our church is the neglect of this spiritual discipline by our clergy.) Perhaps there is still some hope as a few of us take this ordination vow seriously.)

    • wesmagruder

      Good words, Holly. I’m certainly not trying to brag about fasting. If anything, I’m humbled by the faithfulness of a vast number of Muslims who undertake such a serious fast every year!
      The purpose of blogging about it is to, one, yes, recommend the practice, and two, to also share what I learn through it. I’m hoping that I learn something through this process, and want to commend it to others, if possible.
      But your concerns are valid! Thanks for the reality check!

      • Muhammed B.

        We as muslims have also been cautioned about bragging about any forms of worship be that prayer, fasting, or being righteous to ones parents and thus have been recommended not to publicise our worship . However, the Islamic law makes an exception to some situations where there is a greater benefit to the general masses. I just thought to share that with you! cheers..

  2. Adnan

    Ramadan Mubarak. Could you please put the picture of the holy Quran with the idol down? It’s your post. And you have the right to do whatever you want with it. I’m just requesting since it’s certainly offending to my fellow Muslims. I did it also to the methoblog authority and they’ve already put that picture down. Thanks for your understanding, brother.

    • wesmagruder

      I have taken the picture down. Thank you for alerting me to the fact that it was offensive. I did not realize that it was offensive, so please don’t forgive my ignorance!

      • Adnan

        thanks a lot. you didn’t do any wrong coz you didn’t know it was wrong. Allah doesn’t punish us if we do wrong due to our ignorance. He is The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful.

  3. Saima Azad

    I just want to say: I wish there were MORE people like you! Honestly, it is extremely admirable and sweet of you to fast. Especially, when you stated you’re not resenting the presence of Muslims in your city. Thank you so much! Like, honestly, from the bottom of my heart! I wish you all the best in your endeavor to fast the whole month & may God bless you! You’re awesome 🙂

  4. Javed "HijabMan"

    I’m an American Muslim in Blacksburg, VA, and within the past few months I’ve started attending the Bible study @ the United Methodist Church in Radford. It was pretty funny when I caught this link on my facebook newsfeed. Looking forward to reading your insights during your fast. Ps. The best pre-dawn meals are definitely full of fiber. A big bowl of oatmeal + bananas & blueberries does it for me!

    Would love to keep in touch as well.
    Peace,
    Javed

  5. Zahraa

    May God bless you. I would like to thank you on behalf of all Muslims around the world. It is amazing to see that humanity and open minded people still exist in this world. May all your dreams come true and wish you nothing but the best. May God reward you for every second of your fast 🙂

  6. aseeamahmood

    Beautiful and inspirational to Muslims and non Muslims alike. I have also written a very short blog about Ramadan and what it taught me on day 1 of 30.
    God bless you and thank you for sharing.

  7. Svend

    Enjoy the fast! It is indeed “intense,” but there are also many benefits, alhamdulillah.
    I don’t know what “idol” Adnan objected to being juxtaposed with the Quran in the original post, but I’m guessing a Christian who is friends with an imam and who’s fasting Ramadan in solidarity with Muslims is highly unlikely to do do something offensive with a Quran, so perhaps Adnan should relax a little and refrain from speaking on all Muslims’ behalf (which includes me).

    We revere it highly, but but we don’t worship the Quran. And it exists in physical in the world and is highly prominent in Muslims lives. One would fully expect it to appear in visual reflections on Islam, Muslims and religion.

    In a free, pluralistic society, Muslims don’t (and shouldn’t) have a veto over ever artistic experiment that happen to refer to Islam in some way. Some of us Muslims don’t have much experience with the give and take of such diverse, fluid cultural environments and can be a bit too quick to take offense or assert some kind of right to censor. The criterion for objecting ought not to be, “Do I as a Muslim completely like and/or agree with this bit of artistic expression?” but rather, “Is this so sacrilegious or hostile that it is self-evidently designed to offend me and/or stir up prejudices against me as a Muslim?” In the latter case, you have every right to speak up; in the former, your reaction isn’t the other guy’s problem, frankly, and by complaining about it you might be doing more harm than good.

  8. myopic vision

    Oh dear@Svend, if only your comment was as gracious as westmagruders! I commend you for trying to reach a greater depth of spiritual awareness. This being day 7 of the fast, you may have realised that fasting from food and drink really is easier than it may seem. I hope that God guides you to whatever is pleasing to Him.

    • Svend

      Well, while I certainly salute the grace and humility of Rev. Magruder’s response, it seems to be that as a fellow Muslim I have a different role to play. Somehow has to point out how silly and counterproductive it is for a Muslim to pester a guy who’s trying to reach out to Muslims with a respectful and touching statement of mutual respect and solidarity about clip art. This is a small matter, but I think such complaints leave the incorrect impression that a Muslim can’t understand and respect the rules of coexistence in free, pluralistic society. But thank you for the feedback. I hope so, too.

      • Ahsan Ali

        Thank you for speaking up Svend. I too, as a muslim agree with what you said. Many muslims tend to be hypersensitive about Islamic imagery and they do more harm than good with this attitude.

      • shadz

        Well you got to understand that pictorial representation is a big thing in Islam from my point of view. Some accept and some reject bodily form figures. That is why mosques are decorated with floral and flowing lines with also calligraphy. I also don’t think that the brother did not state it in such a way that you would find it offensive he was just trying to make the Christian brother aware that it may not be acceptable. The Christian brother also replied back from which you can read that he did not find it offensive but was greatful that it was brought to his attention and he learnt something. Well coexisting does not mean that you need to water down the religion and it’s teachings so that it is compatible with others. If you actually look really closely most things are similar in nearly all the religions and the menial things that we differentiate on we should just (depending)

        Hope you were not offended, all I want was to get my openion in and I sometimes blabber on so sorry for that.

  9. Sana Javed

    And God never overlooks the righteous deeds of his believers and fasting has been prescribed for the people of the book.

  10. growingwoman

    This is nice of you. Did you know it is also encouraged to fast 6 days of the month following Ramadan and 3 days of every month? Did you know, not that you would anyway, that lying negates your fast. So its 8 oclock in the evening and a faster’s inlaws call and ask about when the faster will get back to going to university. Faster has no intention of going to university anytime soon but says “soon, soon inshallah” (If God Wills). Faster just waisted his entire day.
    There is no need for one to abstain from food and drink if one doesn’t abstain from bad actions such as back biting (true or not saying about someone what they don’t want said about themselves when they are not there), lying and cursing.
    I am sure you already know this, and you probably don’t do those things anyway but it gives you a little back ground info.
    Oh little fasting tip, stand in the night in prayer and drink TONS of water and your fast will be easier the next day inshallah.

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  12. Yumna

    It’s a shame there are not more people like you in the world, may God truly bless you in every single way.

  13. Rq

    Thank you for sharing your experience! It’s such a breathe of fresh air to know that there are people like you out there. As a Muslim it’s a relief to have a friend in the Christian community after being bombarded by all the negativity in the media. God Bless!

  14. akeesays

    Salaams from the little island of Sri Lanka. My dear pastor, did you even guess that you will bring a tear to the eyes of a young mother living miles and seas away by your humble act? I wish you all the luck and may you attain rewards for every minute of your fasting. you renewed my faith in humanity. God bless you!

  15. jahra

    Awesome, truly brave to be fasting like a Muslim. May Allah steadfast yr niat n go thru it smoothly, ameen.

  16. ishmoose

    Very thoughtful and we as believers need to come together now more than ever. May the Almighty help you during the fast of ramadahn. It is said that the first 10 days are of mercy and may WE all reflect on the MANY mercies from Allah

  17. Lisa Raymer

    Salaam! I am a revert from Christianity now on 11 years. Ramadan is a time to see where I stand in my faith, my yearly ‘check up’ so to speak. Some years i get physically challenged, other years it’s more of a mental challenge. This year it’s mental. Maybe it’s the fasting, but whatever it is, my sense is heightened when presented with opportunities to gossip, think badly of someone, etc… and by having this awareness, can do my best, inshaallah, Allah willing, to avoid such sins. I finish Ramadan knowing what I need to work on spiritually, humbling, sometimes disappointed in myself, challenged to improve, but always a blessing!

  18. NuNu

    MashAllah what an inspiration you are! Your dedication and determination to fast these 30 days with us makes me want to better myself during this month of Ramadan. You are awesome my friend! Jazak Allah Khair — May God reward you good.

  19. Qaas

    Just found out about you, your intentions as you’ve written about them on this blog here and other sites out there. I truly appreciate the way you have approached this undertaking. We all have to highlight what’s common in the 3 main religions or I would say in all religions – peace and love for all & so many other countless beliefs that bind and bring us together, rather talk about few differences that divide us. I hope to see everyone else here in US & all around the world start doing this. We have so many things in common that can help us and our communities come closer in many ways. Thanks for caring for us, for your congregation and making efforts to bring Americans closer, irrespective of our faith & religions. Alhumdulillah!

    • Raheela Shaikh

      What an inspiration you are, update me and the rest of the fellows on your journey to fasting in this holy month- pretty amazing i would say, MashaAllah.

  20. Ukti Berrii

    Peace Be unto You,
    As a Muslim, one sometimes forgets what fasting is about – regardless of the plethora of knowledge one may have. However -seeing someone start new and try it out and bring in a new perspective of how the faith and the practice of fasting can be a challenge and an experience is quite interesting. For me, your journey is sort of also my journey in remembering the years when I was younger and I began fasting at the age of eight. I recall I fasted for one hour, then a year later I fasted until lunch time, then gradually an entire day, week and finally an entire month. Seeing the growth of a neighbor in their struggle, definitely can motivate others around them. I have a lot I know I can learn from your journey. I am quite intrigued, and definitely excited to hear about your experience- being from the “people of the book”. I most certainly would love to see you reflect about the cultures, food, especially the literature of the Islamic Holy book as well. =) You have all ears from me brother.

    Peace,
    Your sister from the people of the book,
    Israt

  21. Pingback: UM Pastor Observing Fast in Ramadan – For Neighborly Love | The Muslim Voice
  22. Saara

    “O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you…” (Qur’an 2:183-185 Surah Al-Baqarah)

    Just goes to show how many of us (of different religions) fast. Just merely in different ways. What a wonderful article and interesting article! As a Muslim, it’s rewarding to read how others as yourself, and a few friends of mine of different faiths are also observing . A close Hindu friend of mine wanted to fast with me upon hearing what Ramadan entails. Presently, he hasn’t missed a day and intends to continue holding fast for the duration of this holy month! Just goes to show how it’s truly a mental state one must have to uphold fast.

  23. Janinne

    I am a new convert to Islam and like yourself, I too am documenting my first Ramadan experience through a blog. I understand everything you’re going through. I know how difficult it is but just know that you are a true gem in the eyes of God. You are not only observing this Holy month, but you are doing so publicly in a society that shuns Islam and every aspect of it. Please don’t think you are doing this alone, brother. You have 2 billion muslims behind you. Oh and of course you have God with you every step of the way. Thank you for shining a positive light on this Holy month. You have brought tears to my eyes. May God continue to Bless you and your family.

  24. Maria

    What a beautiful gesture to embrace what others believe. It is the first step to wisdom towards better understanding and thus becoming a more tolerant individual. You will make a difference in your community. May Allah bless you. Ramadan Mubarak!

  25. Hyder Ali

    I am not only touched by your act of fasting but also by the comments of so many people to your fasting. Many times, I am tempted to give up hope. You actions and the thoughts of so many people in this blog gives a lot of hope for America and the world.

  26. Zinjibari

    Salaam/Peace.

    What a wonderful human being you are! May this Ramadan be a blessed one for you. With prayers from Canada.

    Zinjibari

  27. Umm Abdullah

    Best of luck to you on your fast. When I first came to live in Kuwait, I also fasted Ramadan just because I was amazed at the idea of maybe one billion people around the world fasting together from dawn to sunset for a month. (It’s much easier here, though, because the whole society goes into a different mode; the Muslims are fasting, office hours are shortened, eating and drinking in public is not permitted, restaurants are closed during the day, etc.) After a few years, I ended up learning more about Islam and becoming Muslim myself.

    Just one point: You wrote, ‘a God whom Muslims call “Allah,” and whom Christians call “Father.”’ Actually, Arab Christians (and there are many of them) also call God ‘Allah’, and that’s the name used in their Bibles. (As a speaker of Aramaic, Jesus – peace be upon him – would have called God ‘Allaha’.)

  28. Rebeka

    @ Umm Abdullah: Actually in Armaic ‘God’ is ‘Elah’:) but I underdstand what you meant to say – in Arabic ‘God’ is ‘Allah’ so in the Bible written in Arabic ‘Allah’ would be used for every mention of ‘God’. ‘Elah’ and ‘Allah’ have the same roots in language that is why they sound a little similar.
    @ wesmagruder: Just a note – fasting begins at dawn and not sunrise as many people believe. It would be good if you changed that in the post above if possible.
    If you want to fast just like the Muslims it would be good to have a calendar from the nearest mosques so you know when the time for the morning prayer begins – Fajr. Your fast should begin just before that. Also there is a special prayer we say when we start and break fast. Perhaps you would like to use it in English? To start: “I intend to fast on this day of Ramadhan.” To break the fast: “O God! I have fasted for You. I believe and depend on You. And I open the fast with what You have provided.” This way you are more aware of the intention as that is what we will all be judged upon in the end:)
    I am a Muslim convert and I also blog about Ramadan – every day for the whole Ramadhan I mention one fact about this month, so if you are interested please check it – perhaps it will be of use: http://trendymodesty.blogspot.com/search/label/Islam%20-%20FAQ
    God bless you and may your intention be accepted!

    • Umm Abdullah

      Rebekah, the Aramaic language websites I’ve seen show the word for God as something like ‘Allaha’. There used to be one where you could hear it, too, but I can’t find it now. I did find this Aramaic lexicon; this is what it says for the word ‘God’: http://www.atour.com/cgi-bin/dictionary.cgi?string=god&B1=Search&Search_Field=Meaning&VTI-GROUP=0

      We could get very technical and say that in Arabic also, depending on the word that comes before ‘Allah’, it may be pronounced Allah, Illah or Ullah. And the end of the word, depending on the role of the word in grammar, might be ha, he, or hu. but basically, the point is that Jesus would have spoken of God with pretty much the same name that Muslims (and other Arabs) use.

    • wesmagruder

      Rebeka, thank you for your correction — I have made the edit in the original post from “sunrise” to “dawn.” May God bless you throughout the rest of Ramadan!

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  30. Nic

    God doesn’t exist, why don’t people just be nice to each other without needing some selfish excuse to do so. Non of us are going to heaven, whether you donate all your money to charity, or kill thousands of people. Live in peace, explore this magnificent planet, learn and much as you can, but do it because you want to, because you have a good heart. Don’t waste your time on nonsense, all religion is nonsense. Just be free and respect the scientific magnificence that is life.

    • Muhammed B.

      It was once said to a bedouin: How do you come to know of your Lord? He replied: The traveller is known by the traces of his tracks, the camel by its droppings, and thus the amazing sky, nourishing ground, bountiful ocean all indcate the All Hearing / All Seeing.

  31. Tammy CORPORAN

    This is a very honorable message that you are sending concerning peace and love for humanity.thank you so much for seeing the beauty of Islam and the inner peace that we Muslims share and desire.

  32. Kitty

    This has been such an informative read to me. Finally, a like-minded person! I have been a questioning quasi-atheist my whole life but have practiced ritualistic fasting and yoga for its properties of cleansing the mind and spirit, so I can relate with how it makes you feel. I’m now looking into religion and it sounds like methodists are no longer into the offensive (to me) Jesus is god stand but are combining with other more logical religions that focus on healthy human development. Thanks for the education; would like to visit your church soon on next business trip down there.

  33. Pingback: American Pastor partakes in the holy month of Ramadan - Page 4
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  35. Jake Lorfing

    Bravo! If you’re in Austin, please come and meditate with me and my Buddhist friends at Austin Shambhala Center! And keep up this Christian outreach – you are much appreciated!

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