It was a joy and honor to enjoy an Iftar dinner with the Turkish Islamic community last night. I was invited by a friend who wanted to share a piece of the hospitality of Islam with me. The food was amazing and the conversation was powerful. I decided to fast for a part of the day because I knew the others would also be fasting since sunrise for Ramadan. It was challenging to say the least even though I still had breakfast. I felt like I couldn’t respectfully attend without joining my Muslim brothers and sisters in fasting . It turned out to be a powerful experience.
After the call to prayer everyone was invited to eat. Following dinner, a man spoke about the benefits of fasting for Ramadan. It helps Muslims to be in solidarity with the poor and be more focused and intentional in their prayer. There are many spiritual benefits to fasting the man shared. Last night was the holiest of the nights of Ramadan. Many men stay up all night praying and reading the Quran.
The speaker shared about his sorrow due to all of the attacks happening around the world and in his native Turkey just last week. He asked everyone to pray that God will change the world and bring peace, but he also shared that we must all live peacefully so that our prayers will be answered. He shared the desire that their kids need to know true Islam, not the false religion that is claimed by terrorists. This is yet another Muslim that I have heard and met who has denounced terrorism and violence.
Following the speaker, we enjoyed Turkish tea and conversation. I met a man who shared much about his Islamic faith as I shared about my Christian faith within the Methodist tradition. Then he asked the question that convicted me as a pastor. He asked, “Does your tradition fast?”. My response was, well, we sort of emphasize that during Lent every year before Easter.
Personally, I have tried to fast at different points throughout the year, but not in any regular way. I have found that when I do fast, I do have more focused prayer and my reading and reflecting on Scripture is changed. As a pastor, I have tried to call the congregation to fast, but I tend to water down the Lenten observance of fasting. I think I’m doing my congregations a disservice.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, “When you pray,” as an expectation to pray. Jesus also said in Matthew 6, “When you fast,” as an expectation that his faithful followers would fast. We are called to fast not to be seen as pious or righteous, but because we desire to be faithful. That’s why Muslims fast during Ramadan.
It was a great experience to enjoy the Iftar dinner with my Muslim brothers and sisters. I’m thankful for the amazing meal, but I’m also thankful for the reminder that there is a great benefit to fasting for one’s spiritual life. Remember, Jesus said, “When you fast….”.