By Scott Franklin
Abdul and Harish’s eyes danced between my dialogue and their phone as they eagerly anticipated the time to read 8:55 p.m., the official sunset that day. Sharing their appetence, I covertly rotated my wrist to expose the face of my digital watch, revealing 8:50 p.m. Although I was not bound to the official time of sunset as they were, this was the premise of an Iftar dinner, a meal that broke the daylong fast we had all endured.
I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian. I read the Bible on a weekly basis, pray on a daily basis, and allow the convictions of Christ’s teachings to guide nearly every aspect of my life. I have a handful of Muslim friends and one in particular, with whom I have developed a very close friendship. Over the years, we have had innumerable discussions dissecting the similarities and discrepancies between our respective faiths, Christianity and Islam. Respectfully diverging on certain precepts and jovially trading philosophical jabs on others, we both recognize the inseparable underpinnings that unite our views and further cohere our strong friendship.
Before Ramadan began, I informed Abderrahmane Kadiri (Abdul) that I would accept his longstanding offer to partake in a day of fasting, followed by an Iftar dinner that he and his roommate would generously host for me. Although we had discussed the issue of fasting in Christianity before, Abdul was incredulous of my commitment.
“You guys fast like that?” Abdul questioned.
“Yes, of course. Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. Moses did the same, ate and drank for one day, and then fasted another forty days and forty nights! I bet you don’t feel so tough now, huh?” I joked as we both broke into laughter.
I reminded Abdul that Christians are not mandated to fast on specific days as Muslims are in the month of Ramadan, but that we are encouraged to fast for numerous reasons; we feel ourselves drifting away from, or placing less emphasis on our spiritual life and walk with God; we desire to seek God’s guidance for a major decision in our lives; we are stricken and despaired from tragedy; or, to give thanks for all of the blessings we have been bestowed.
I etched last Thursday into my calendar and arose early in the morning to eat. I proceeded about my day, reminded of my fast as hunger pangs pierced my stomach throughout the day. Cognizant of the discomfort, I thanked God that this was such a rare occurrence, all too mindful that for so many in other parts of the world, it was called life. Reflecting on scripture, I recalled instances of men in the Bible who endured prolonged fasts to enhance their relationship with God and its application in their life. I returned home from work in the afternoon to pray and read the Bible before dropping into Whole Foods to buy pita bread and hummus on my way to Abdul’s.
Much to my delight, I arrived to a dazzling array of food, fastening my eyes on the setup strewn among every inch of the sprawling table. Dates, Afghan bread, Moroccan biscuits, hummus, Moroccan cheese, several side dishes, a main dish consisting of rice, beef, carrots and raisins. To drink, a refreshing blend of milk, avocado and sugar. Abdul’s roommate, Mohd Harish, emerged from the background as he arose off the couch to greet me and thank me for coming. We sat down at the table twenty-five minutes prior to the sun’s descent beneath the horizon that grants Muslims permission to break their fast. We began to discuss our day of fasting and I highlighted my thoughts and ideas of the significance of fasting. I noted my appreciation for their commitment, as well as the discipline they showed in fulfilling their religious duties.
“Ok, we can begin eating now buddy,” Abdul stated as he waved his hand, inviting me to be the first to serve my plate with food.
“Are you sure Abdul? I think you set your phone ahead because you are getting hungry,” Harish jokingly interjected.
We served our plates and before breaking our fast, prayed. As I do before every meal, I bowed my head and thanked the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for providing me with the food that lay before me. I asked for His blessing upon it and prayed for those less fortunate who did not have as nutritious and abundant of a meal, or any meal at all. I again thanked Abdul and Harish for their invitation and hospitality, to which they harmoniously replied each time, “thank you for coming.” Progressing through dinner, we discussed topics that anyone our age would converse in the presence of friends: earning a living, careers, marriage, etc.
Several hours later, long after finishing his meal, Harish excused himself to begin trekking two blocks down the street to the mosque. Local Muslims all convened at the mosque at 10:45 for Isha’, or the daily night-time prayer and the last of five required throughout the day. I again thanked Harish for his hospitality and kindness and added that I was already looking forward to our next discourse on faith, family and life.
“I’ll be down by 10:45, I’m going to hang back with Scott till then” Abdul responded, as if answering Harish’s inquisitive pause before exiting.
“I’ll drop you off at the mosque on my way out” I replied to Abdul.
Around 10:40, I suggested that we get going and we each filed into my car and began meandering out of the large apartment complex and towards the mosque. Droves of Muslims poured out of their buildings in quest to arrive by 10:45.
“This community is entirely Muslim. All different countries too.” Abdul stated in a matter of fact manner.
“Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, all over really. We all know each other too. For example, I know him right there!” Abdul exclaimed as he pointed to a young, slender, dark-haired man walking alongside his friend.
“Man that is Rasheed from the transportation business next to work. I know him too. See, I know everyone around here too!” I joked, playfully nudging Abdul on the shoulder as we shared another laugh. I again thanked Abdul for the wonderful meal and evening we were able to share, recognizing what a personal honor I had received in being a Christian invited to an Iftar dinner.
“I’ll see you tomorrow buddy.”
“Yes buddy, see you then.”
I drove back to my apartment and reflected upon the commitment that Abdul, Harish and I had made to our respective faiths that day. Looking ahead to the following day, I considered Abdul and Harish’s repetition to faithfully fulfill their duties of Islam.
Indeed, we as Christians have many religious duties we must fulfill as well. We are implored to study the Bible regularly, pray frequently (especially for the sick), commit ourselves to a church, tithe to the church, lead others to Christ, disciple others, live an upright moral life, and forsake all other plans in favor of God’s will for our life. Obeying the greatest commandment administered by Jesus of “loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” should procreate, nearly subconsciously, the fulfillment of duties within the Christian faith. Yet, a substantial amount of Christians lack execution or achievement of one or more of these fundamental tasks. Whether these shortcomings stem from a failure to carry out the greatest commandment that propagates an inbred execution of religious duties or whether they originate from apathy of their importance is a matter of Christian philosophy.
Personally speaking, I know that when I see and experience pious Muslims dutifully meeting their responsibilities, it encourages me to be a stronger ambassador of my Christian faith. Certainly, I do not assume that all Muslims are this reverent and behave in the same manner as Abdul and Harish. We are all aware of the opprobrious acts that have been committed in the name of Islam and their grievous consequences that indelibly destructed the lives of innocent victims and their loved ones. Nevertheless, the vast majority of adherents who reject this form of extremism, such as Abdul and Harish, have lent me a lesson in glossing over the commitments of my faith.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims focus on little else outside of their commitment to Islam. Some Christians I know impart this level of commitment far longer than one month per year, while others constitute a monthly Sunday morning service to be enough of an infringement. However austere or insincere we may be, we could all learn from, and apply, the unwavering devotion Muslims demonstrate in fulfilling Ramadan to our own Christian walk.