BLOG: What does Ramadan look like in the Middle East?

By Stuart* and Kate*, cross-cultural workers in the Middle East

Happy Ramadan! the radio intones cheerfully. It is exactly 4 hours and 32 minutes until Iftar… The taxi driver punches his horn in frustration as the city-centre traffic grinds to a halt.

The month of contrasts

Ramadan is a month of contrasts. Abstinence and self-denial during daylight hours; indulgence and feasting after sunset. Slow, sleepy days and loud, vibrant nights. This is meant to be a time to “be your best self,” where your religious acts will bring you extra credit – and yet daily abstinence from food, water, and especially cigarettes results in anger and impatience. The daily driving scene is a clear example of that.

The words of the apostle Paul come to mind: Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:23 NIV)

Why do Muslims fast?

Why do people observe Ramadan here? There are different reasons, but here are some of the most common:

  • Keeping Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. This is an essential part of the Muslim faith. People are encouraged to put extra effort into their religious practices, because it is taught that prayers, almsgiving, and other acts of piety have greater weight and worth this month.
  • For those seeking personal growth and self-development, Ramadan can be a time to learn patience, self-control, and restraint.
  • A desire not to get arrested. This is an Islamic country, and it is illegal for anyone to eat or drink in public during Ramadan.
  • “It’s just what we do.” Ultimately, many people fast because that’s just the done thing. Their family has always done it. They fast because everyone around them is fasting, and the social power to hold people to account is tremendous. And there is a lot of fun to be had in the communal experiences: breaking fast together (called Iftar), enjoying Ramadan TV together (the best shows come out this month, when there isn’t much else to do during the daytime!), late-night visits together, and so on.

Remembering our Muslim friends in prayer

For those of us not observing Ramadan, life still slows down. Work and school hours are shorter. Restaurants and cafés stay closed during daylight hours. You can either learn to sleep through the 3am drummer reminding people to get up and eat something before the next day of fasting begins, or you catch up on your sleep during the daytime along with everyone else.

Yet as daylight programmes and visits are put on hiatus, Ramadan can give us more time to devote ourselves to prayer for our Muslim friends. Join us in praying that many in the country, especially those earnestly seeking God, would come to know Him in Christ. May they receive the true righteousness that does not come through works but is by faith in Him from first to last.

Want to keep praying for the Arab world? Why not sign up to receive fortnightly prayer updates straight to your email through Prayerline? Sign up here. 

*Names changed to protect identities.

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