What does the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (this year May 15 through June 14) mean for Christ followers? Below, we answer three questions you may have had about Ramadan, and how it affects persecuted Christians around the globe–as well as how it should impact your personal prayer life.
WHAT IS RAMADAN?
Considered one of Islam’s “five pillars,” Ramadan is a religious celebration of the first revelation of the Quran to the Muslim prophet Mohammed, according to Islamic belief. During the 30 days of Ramadan, all Muslims are expected to refrain from food or drink (including water) from dawn until dusk every day of the Islamic calendar’s ninth month. Because the calendar is based on lunar cycles, the exact dates of Ramadan fluctuate.
Similar to some Jewish rituals, Ramadan is a time that separates the faithful from the unfaithful, reminding both segments of their distinctive place in the world. Islam teaches that good deeds and prayers during Ramadan are especially effective and that during the month, the gates of heaven are opened while hell is locked up. Muslims are expected to give to charity during the month of Ramadan, as well. The month ends with a day of feasting called Eid al-Fitr.
WHY DOES VIOLENCE INCREASE DURING RAMADAN?
While some claim violence doesn’t substantially increase during Ramadan, there’s no getting around the intentional connection between several terrorist attacks and Ramadan. Two years ago n 2016, attacks during Ramadan resulted in deaths of more than 200 people in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Lebanon and the United States. And last year during the first three weeks, Islamic State claimed responsibility for 300 attacks on Christians.
A day before the official start of Ramadan last year, ISIS militants ambushed a busload of Members of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. More Christians traveling to a monastery and a Christian family (a dad and his two sons) in a truck also headed to the monastery in the Minya region. That day, May 26, 2017, 29 Christians died for their faith when ISIS militants told each person they encountered to, “either recite the Islamic shahada creed, live as practicing Muslims or be killed.”
And 2017’s Orlando nightclub massacre occurred during Ramadan’s first week (the attacker, Omar Mateen, told a 911 operator that he was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State). The New York Times reported last year that in an annual speech the month before Ramadan, the spokesman for Islamic State, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, incited its supporters to carry out killings abroad during the holy month of Ramadan.
Around the world, Christians living in Muslim-majority countries report an increase in hostility during the Muslim holiday. So why does an event supposedly about peace trigger increased violence?
The answer has everything to do with whether or not you believe the Quran teaches violence. For those who believe a jihadist mindset is fundamentally rooted in Islam, an increase in violence during a month of religious piety makes sense to them. However, most Islamic experts would say Ramadan highlights the behavior tendencies of the Muslim sect where they live. For example, Muslims in places like Egypt or the Philippines—where Muslims have rallied to the aid of their Christian neighbors—truly do see Ramadan as a time of peace and reflection; however, followers of militant Islamic sects see it as an opportunity to call their followers to violence.
A core concept of Ramadan is that good deeds done during the month receive a special blessing. Islamic belief also says that those who die during Ramadan are more likely to make it to heaven than hell. So an Allah-fearing Muslim who has been taught the strict institution of Sharia law, or in jihad, or that the infidels in the West are a blight on the earth, will believe he or she will be more rewarded for acting on this radical belief.
WHAT DOES RAMADAN MEAN FOR CHRISTIANS?
For persecuted Christians already living under the threat of violence from Muslim extremists, Ramadan can be a terrifying month where hostility increases. However, for most Christians the “squeeze” they feel living in a Muslim culture becomes more intense during Ramadan because, throughout the month, the faith of believers becomes visibly noticeable. Because they may not observe the cultural rituals, such as daytime fasting, Christians tend to “stick out.” That’s why we as the Body of Christ need to stand with our brothers and sisters around the globe as they endure these added threats and pressures.
Do Muslims Find Christ During Ramadan?
There are numerous accounts of Muslims finding Christ as they were seeking God during Ramadan. Roman* is one example. Roman was a Muslim who decided to visit a church during Ramadan to confront and taunt “betrayers of the real faith” during Ramadan.
“By ‘betrayers,’ I meant ‘Christians with a Muslim background,’” he explains. “I decided to go to the church service during Ramadan because I considered myself to be a devout Muslim. I wanted to prove my faith to Allah.”
The church service started, but Roman couldn’t force himself to stand up and cause a scene. The words he heard touched him too much. “For the first time, I heard about a God who loved me,” he remembers. “I never knew that the Almighty God loved me even though I was not perfect. That thought seriously never entered my mind. I always felt guilty. I felt that I had to earn His attention.”
And then something happened: prayers to Jesus, repentance and joy! We can pray for Roman this Ramadan and that God would bring many other Muslims to church and that they will also be touched by the gospel.
So our prayers aren’t just that God would keep His children safe, but that God would take this Muslim observance and use it for His purposes and for His Kingdom. Perhaps in His grace, through the prayers of His people, He will make Ramadan into one of the very tools He uses to bring His creation to His heart.
30 Days of Prayer During Ramadan
To help you pray for both Christians and Muslims during Ramadan, Open Doors has created a 30-day prayer devotional and journal. Each day features a specific scripture verse and takes a look at a different country or region throughout the Muslim world–such as Pakistan, the Middle East, Malaysia, Brunei, even China–where Ramadan and its rituals become a central fixture of society. Plus, you’ll find inspiring stories of Muslims like Roman seeking God and finding Jesus during Ramadan.
Our hope is that this resource will help us:
- Educate ourselves about what over 1.8 billion of the world’s people are engaging in this month.
- Pray that God apprehends hearts during this season of prayer and fasting.
- Pray that God builds up Jesus followers in Muslim regions.
- Pray that God teaches us something new about His inexhaustible love for ALL of his children.
- Remind us how we can go to God about even life’s most complex and polarizing issues.
Open Doors is on the ground in more than 60 countries to meet the rising tide of Christian persecution. Join us and stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ.