by Amy Melki
Every year, Muslim’s around the world celebrate an Islamic holiday called Ramadan. But what is Ramadan and why is it celebrated? To sum it up, Ramadan is a month-long religious holiday where individuals fast from sunrise to sunset. When Muslims break their fast at sunset they feast all through the night and halt at the break of dawn. This kind of feasting is called iftar and usually takes place with extended family members and close friends.
Another unique fact about Ramadan is that every year it lands on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar but on a different date than the year before. This is exclusively due to the fact that Islamic religious men use lunar observations of the moon to determine the exact date for the first day of every Ramadan.
Similar to the understanding of fasting in Christianity, fasting during Ramadan is a time of reflection and prayer away from earthly distractions and human needs. Unfortunately, in reality, commercialization of Ramadan has transformed the holiday into a cultural ritual where families and businesses throw the most extravagant dinners. Ramadan fasting is also supposed to be a way to relate with underprivileged individuals who are starving every day of their lives. Unfortunately, in Lebanon it is evident that most of those who have little to eat are the only ones who are truly fasting during Ramadan.
At our Heart for Lebanon non-formal educational programs, the majority of the children we serve are forced to fast every Ramadan. Already malnourished Syrian refugee boys and girls come to our Hope centers with cracked lips and dry skin caused by severe dehydration under the scorching summer sun. Forbidden from drinking and eating, these children often cannot focus on their school work as nausea and drowsiness take over.
As a result of their poor understanding of fasting, as well as their fear of the wrath of God, pregnant Syrian refugee women are also fasting and depriving their unborn children of necessary and vital nutrients. Not only are these pregnant Syrian refugee women unable to acquire prenatal vitamins that are vital for a baby’s proper development, they are also voluntarily starving their bodies because of their misinterpretation of the reasons for fasting.
Caused by their lack of education, these Syrian refugees so often believe that God will have favor on them if they, their children, and pregnant women fast. Although fasting is an important and holy ritual, it should not be used as a tool to harm our bodies. The Bible teaches us that our bodies are not our own but they are holy temples that must be cared for and unharmed. Done right, fasting and praying is a time to humbly come to God’s feet and strengthen our relationship with him.
For this reason, Heart for Lebanon uses Ramadan as another opportunity to invest in the religious knowledge of the Syrian refugees we minister to. Two of the many instances where Heart for Lebanon preaches God’s word is during our Bible study groups as well as our Sunday morning Worship Gatherings. Only through God’s will and the wisdom he bestows on our worship leaders are we able to boldly and unapologetically teach His word to Syrians of Muslim background. God has also planted the seeds of curiosity in the hearts of our fellow Syrians who very often reach out to our staff for further understanding of Christian teachings.
Throughout the month of Ramadan, the prevalent topic at our bible study meetings revolves around the true meaning of fasting. Firm in their Christian faith, our worship leaders refer to Bible passages about Christian fasting to satisfy the curiosity of these Christ-seeking hearts. At our Bible study meetings, Syrian refugees are learning that fasting is not merely about refraining from food and acquiring external reward. Rather, as it says in Isaiah chapter 58, fasting is a commitment of prayer and justice to be freed of the chains of bondage and to set the oppressed free.
After weeks of conversations and debates, many refugees who attend our Bible study groups have taken a decision to pursue Christian fasting throughout the month of Ramadan. Mohammad and his wife, who regularly attend our weekly Bible study meetings, recently made the decision to pursue Christian fasting and praying so that they may be witnesses to Christ’s transformation in their lives.
As witnesses of God’s miraculous work, we at Heart for Lebanon are humbled to be part of His ministry as we serve amongst broken and marginalized communities. We also pray that God continue His work in the lives of those who seek Him.