As I consider the importance of Ramadan for Muslims all over the world, I am compelled to think about the meaning of this holy time. It is impressed upon me that this month is not merely about fasting and praying. Ramadan, instead, is a time of remembrance—a time in which God’s people are drawn to reflect upon the meaning of the religion to which they are called. This is a time in which people consider their posture in the face of the injustices faced by their neighbors, their commitments to their moral standards, and their contributions to easing the plight of the poor.
It is easy to view Ramadan’s call to reflection as something that is solely for Muslims, but this is not true. I hear echoes of a similar call to practitioners of Judaism and Christianity in Isaiah 58:6-9, which says:
Isn’t this the fast that I choose?
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
Here, we find the voice of God calling us beyond belief into the actions of freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless. We find that these actions are directly tied to our own potential for freedom. We cannot have light in our lives until we have emerged from hiding to bless our kin. We cannot be vindicated until we have delivered our brethren from oppression. Our cry to God cannot be heard until we have opened our own hearts to the cries of the poor, naked and homeless.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Jesus when he said to the most pious people of his day, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law--justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” (Matthew 23:23, NLT) The gospels record a contentious relationship between Jesus and his religious leaders, primarily because those leaders had become masters at religious observances such as fasting and praying, but they neglected the most crucial elements of spirituality: Love. Peace. Compassion.
As Christians, it can be easy to believe that we are wholly different from our Muslim friends and neighbors—however many of the core tenets of our faith are indeed the same. During Ramadan, I experience vivid reminders of our similarities as I consider the importance of coupling acts of justice and compassion with rituals such as fasting and prayer. It is my sincere hope that we will learn from one another as we all seek to maintain the historic rituals of our traditions, along with the vital practices of advocating for justice and providing for those in need.
★ ★ ★
Crystal Lewis is a co-ministry leader at Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington, DC. She earned her Master of Theological Studies Degree with a concentration in World Religions at Wesley Theological Seminary, and a Graduate Certificate in Muslim and Christian Dialogue through the Washington Theological Consortium. She blogs at Window on Religion (www.crystalstmarielewis.com). Follow Crystal on Twitter (@CrystalLewis).
Previous: Interfaith Engagement is a Lifestyle | Captain Nick Coke
Next: Believing Is Seeing