On Behalf of the World’s Poor: Day 13 of Ramadan

A series of posts reflecting on my first Ramadan. Here’s why I decided to do it.

A common refrain I hear from my new Muslim friends about Ramadan is the idea that fasting helps one to become aware of the plight of the world’s poor.

For example, Shawna commented on one of my blog posts, “Some people in the world do not have access to food any time they’re hungry, and ditto for water. Fasting also reminds us to think more of those less fortunate, and to know what it is like to go without.” Rayhan agrees, saying that fasting “reminds me what people in Somalia and east Africa are going through on daily basis having nothing to eat or drink. A friend of mine (from) Ethiopia shared once that they had to walk eight miles to get some water every day. Imagine how blessed we are and we don’t even think about it!”

Fasting does indeed put all of us in solidarity with those who struggle with basic survival resources.

First, it is a lesson in empathy. Those of us who live in developed countries generally (though not all) have access to clean drinking water and food on a regular basis. However, there are great numbers of people in the world who do not. When we choose not to drink or eat for a whole day, we get a glimpse of what it is like to have to travel eight miles (or more) for a drink. We learn what it is like to move around throughout the day with a gnawing hunger in the pit of our stomach. This seed of empathy then has a chance to grow, and become “compassion.” The word “compassion” in English comes from two words, “com-“ meaning “with”, and “-passion,” meaning “to suffer.” Thus, when you suffer with someone, you naturally will develop compassion for that person.

Having compassion for the poor and needy of the world is a first, vital step in our faith journey, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

Next, we must become generous givers, sharing with those in need out of our own God-given bounty. I have learned that this concept is the basis of one of the pillars of Islam, almsgiving, or the Zakah. It is a duty of every Muslim prosperous enough to have accumulated and retained wealth in the form of savings over the course of the year to give 2.5% of his wealth to the poor. The giving of Zakah often occurs during the month of Ramadan.

Christians also believe that charitable giving is an important part of living out our faith. The writer of James in the New Testament said, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

It is clear that people of faith have an obligation, laid out by God, to give to those in need.

But if we stop there, if we only concern ourselves with feeling empathy and compassion, and with giving a few dollars to the poor, we have failed to be the people God calls us to be. There is another level of engagement with the poor which God demands.

That third level is the pursuit of justice on behalf of the poor. Eventually, we must ask ourselves, “Why are there people who still do not have access to clean drinking water? Why are some nations still mired in poverty? Why is most of the world’s wealth concentrated in the hands of just a few individuals and corporations?”

These are questions of justice, and they are increasingly a matter which people of faith must address. If we do not address the root causes of poverty, then we may likely find ourselves feeding the same poor people over and over again, never actually reaching out to bring them up to the level of dignity and self-sustenance which they so desperately desire. To remain in a constant state of dependence upon the charitable acts of others for one’s basic needs would be a debilitating, degrading existence.

In my experience as a Christian pastor, justice is the hardest kind of work to do. People are easily moved to feel compassion, and they can also be very generous when it comes to giving to charitable causes.

When you ask someone to change the way they do business, however, then you begin to step on toes. When you begin to point out the injustices and inequities in laws, then you begin to step on toes. When you expose the selfishness and greed that lies at the heart of Wall Street, then you begin to step on toes.

When I fast, I try to move through all three stages of concern for the poor – from compassion to giving to justice. This year, Ramadan has forced me into deeper levels of each stage.

And so I’m learning how to step on toes … even harder!

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13 comments

  1. nadiaswriting

    I think this is an important thing to say especially in the current economic climate. Unfortunately, there is a small and powerful group of people who have a sense of entitlement and lack compassion for those who are suffering in the economic downturn. Others are content to simply throw money at problems and count themselves among the do-gooders. This is something that must change.

  2. Zainab

    My dear brother in humanity….. Please allow me to begin by saying thatYou have completely touched my heart soul and spirit with your words and actions in this holy month of ramadhan. I must say it is people like YOU who truely deserve rewards from god because even though ramadhan is not an obligation on you as you are not a muslim, you have willingly given you heart and soul to it in order to reach the same god we both belive in in your very own unique way. I wish to be able to have a spiritually and physically uplifting ramadhan in the future ….your journey has taught me to believe in my faith more than ever because it was YOUR journey which gave me a taste of what fasting should truely feel like. I am quite ashamed to say that for me, in the past few years that i have been fasting, ramadhan had been nothing more than an obligation. Your story changed my thought, shook me in a way that has not even been possible by even your average everyday muslim.
    God bless you, may Allah shower you, your family and your community with infinite amount of blessing in this world and the hereafter .
    Keep us in your prayers

    your sister in humanity:

    Zainab Ht
    Sydney, Australia

  3. hollyboardman

    I have always been deeply moved by the personal witness of John Wesley with regard to caring for the poor. As a student at Oxford he resolved to live simply. He decided that he really only needed 28 pounds to live on each year. He might have been a wealthy man because he earned a considerable amount of money from his writing. However, he gave everything he earned above 28 pounds to the poor. He did this his entire life!

    Jesus calls us to follow him, and to seek God’s kingdom as our first priority. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount promises that God will supply our needs as we seek him first. John Wesley lived that scripture.

    Christian pastors often urge their church members to give 10% of their income to the church. But this is an Old Testament standard–not the teaching of Jesus. Jesus taught that ALL we have should be used for God.

    As United Methodist pastors in the United States, we are generally very well-paid. Whereas United Methodist pastors in the Congo, Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere sometimes receive NO compensation for their work in the church.

    Instead of asking how can I give 2% or 10% to the poor, perhaps we should be asking how much do I need to live on; and how much can I give to the poor. Some people can certainly afford to give 50% or 70% of their income to the poor without making themselves uncomfortable.

    I’d like to encourage you to meditate on the Sermon on the Mount if you want to become less “wimpy” in your faith.

    Here is a link to a simple little article “What Wesley Practiced and Preached About Money”

    http://bit.ly/QyzaNs

    Blessings and peace to you and your readers. May God give us grace to live simply so others may simply live.

  4. Ali

    Hello Dear Brother,
    I am from Turkey and it is very nice to read your experiences in Ramadan.
    I just want to share a point with all. Last day my friend told me that;
    He was very thirsty in daytime as fasting. He said, just one glass of water is world to me! Like, you may have cars, houses and money and many of the world but you should be aware that how much you depend on the things that Allah gives us.
    Water may seem very simple to us in our daiy lives( out of Ramadan) but it is priceless in real.

    Best wishes

  5. The Rev. Keith Owen

    Way to go Wes. I made my first Ramadan observance last year while on sabbatical in Nablus, Palestine. Most amazing spiritual experience of my life. I am doing it again this year. Much, much harder because of the absence of wider community support. Ramadan in a Muslim context is unlike anything we have here. I help people understand it by asking them to imagine fasting all day, every day, for 30 days, and ending each day’s fast with a Thanksgiving dinner. That combination of fasting and feasting, and especially the heightened prayer, generosity, and most especially, gratitude, was and is just amazing.
    Ramadan mubarak!

    • wesmagruder

      It’s good to hear from another pastor who is experiencing Ramadan! I do especially like the “feasting” part of this experience, and have had the pleasure of breaking fast with several different Muslim communities.

  6. Halal Gourmet

    Asalam alaikum brother!

    I must say that I really am enjoying all of your posts and appreciate your daily comments and reflections. Also I admire the fact that you decided to fast during the hottest month of the year! May Allah help you! Please take the time to read the following Ramadan Health Guide:

    http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_078408.pdf

    Since you are on the topic of people suffering in this world I cant help but want to share this lecture by Professor Jeffery Lang with you as he talks about the purpose of life (Islamic perspective)

    Please be patient with him as the lecture is rather long and he brings all of his points together towards the end and really does a nice job explaining it.
    I wish you all the best and I pray that you acomplish your goal and get closer to God…

    Have a blessed day!

    Your sister,

  7. Majed

    Brother in Humanity, Your touching experience of bowing down to the God Almighty reminds me of Jesus’s (peace be upon him) experience when he also bowed down to God in the many instances in Bible….

    Mathew 26:39
    Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
    Further, in Quran, God or Allah stresses the importance of prostration:
    Quran 22: 77
    “O ye who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, and adore your Lord; and do good; that ye may prosper.”

    As a student of comparative religion, I am always surprised to see the many similar teachings in both the religions. Your experiences as a fasting Christian are giving a valuable experience to both the Muslims and Christians. Thanks again for sharing your experiences on the blog!

  8. Umm Abdullah

    Just wanted to mention that the 2.5% Muslims pay as zakat (obligatory charity) is the bare minimum that’s required. Most Muslims give more than that – sometimes much more, and voluntary charity is very much recommended at all times.

  9. jason hammer

    What an insightful and reflective post and your description of the different levels of engagement reminds me of a hadith which states: “If you see an injustice you should change it with your hand, if not then speak out against it, if you cannot do that then at least you should hate it in your heart, but understand that is the weakest level of faith.” May God (High and Exalted is He) reward your efforts and make you successful in this life and the next– ameen.

  10. simplyme

    It is amazing what a man can achieve and it is wonderful to hear of you trying our way of life as a show of support.

    I just wanted to clarify that there are two forms of obligatory charity/ zakat for Muslims. One is of wealth given once a year and second is given during Ramadan. More info here can be found at

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