I write today from a nation that is 99.8% Muslim. Minarets fill the horizons. There is a mosque seemingly every few blocks. Most women wear at least a hijab, many walk the street in a black burka with only eyes showing. And always there is the call to prayer. Five times a day the local muezzin, in his wailing Arabic voice, calls the neighbourhood to the mandatory prayers. My heart feels a heaviness as his call interrupts the calm pre-dawn. And noon. And afternoon. And early evening. And late evening.
There are strange contrasts all around. A clashing of cultures. Starbucks. Lingerie ads splash across the TVs in the bazaar as women in full burkas pass underneath. In an alley off a main street two dozen men stand, kneel and bow in prayer facing Mecca. Meanwhile in another place I hear speakers blaring out raunchy Bruno Mars lyrics. For all the stereotypes and expectations, the Arab people themselves are friendly, welcoming, affectionate and relational people.
I watched a few minutes of a tv program that was on. It was a sort of telethon. Islamic dress aside, it all the same tv production, same scripting, same guilt trip as a North American telethon. Only this one was raising money to rebuild mosques in Gaza. The host reminded us of what is said in the Quran: for the man who builds a mosque, even one the size of a bird’s nest, for him Allah will build a house in the heavens. So call now, operators are standing by.
The cost for Christians in these countries is high. Christians quickly become the scapegoat when muslim groups are in conflict with each other. Even in Egypt when the military ousted President Morsi, in many places local Muslim Brotherhood groups took out their anger by attacking local churches.
Today marks the beginning of the month of Ramadan. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle and so Ramadan always starts 11 days earlier than the previous year. This year it will be from July 9 – August 7. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Confession of the Shahada (“there is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet.”), the 5 daily prayers facing Mecca, completing the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime), and charitable giving to the poor (taken as a tax in some countries).
For Muslims Ramadan is a time to fast in order to earn favour with God to outweigh their bad deeds. Muslims fast during the daylight hours during Ramadan. The evenings are spent feasting and celebrating.
Christians in predominantly Muslim countries dread Ramadan. The Muslims don’t eat during the day and then stay up late eating and partying. For a whole month 99% of the country is grumpy and hungry and tired. There is additional mistreatment and persecution of Christians during this month.
Brothers and Sisters
This is not strange. What I’m describing is the normal experience of Christians around the world. We tend to think that our experience of Christian faith in Canada is normal. We attend church, carry bibles, listen to Christian media, buy Cristian books and can attend seminary. The government even gives us a tax receipt when we give to the church. This is far from normal. Our brothers and sisters around the world daily pay the price for following Jesus. We have a responsibility to stand with them in prayer.
Will you commit in this month of Ramadan to praying for our brothers and sisters who have been called to follow Jesus under the dark shadow of Islam?
- Pray for Muslims to come to Jesus, that God would draw his own from every tribe, tongue and nation.
- Pray for Muslim background believers. For courage, faithfulness, wisdom and strength.
- Pray for sound doctrine and a biblical rootedness that will provide a theological foundation to withstand difficulty. The most popular teachers in the Middle East are Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer. The few places of Biblical training won’t accept former Muslims as that would be illegal and they would be shut down.
- Pray for kings and presidents and those in high places, that God would sovereignly bring about the best climate for the advance of the gospel and the fame of Jesus.