Nor have I paid much attention before to the religious practices of Muslims. But this year is different. Like many other Christians--and Jews and people of other faiths or of no faith at all--Islam has been much on my mind since Sept. 11. And like many others, I have also thought more intensely about my spiritual life during the past two months. So this year, while Muslims fast during Ramadan, I, too, will experiment with a time of fasting and prayer.
I hope other Christians will join me. And I hope they will do so precisely because of Ramadan. We don't have to sink into a lowest-common-denominator relativism to take seriously the fact that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are all religions that are descended--each in its own unique way, to be sure--from the faith of Abraham.
As a Christian, I take very seriously God's promise of blessing upon all of Abraham's descendents, the offspring of Ishmael as well as those of Isaac (see Genesis 17: 18-21). There has never been a more important time for all of us to be praying fervently that this ancient promise of blessing on all of Abraham's spiritual descendants will be fulfilled with a season of sustained peace in our own troubled day.
I should make it clear that I don't see this as "joining" Muslims in their observance. I don't do well at participating in spiritual practices with people with whom I disagree on religious matters. To tell the truth, I am a bit of a crank when it comes to theology. As an evangelical Christian, I even have a hard time getting in the mood for many of the "ecumenical" events sponsored by inclusive Christian groups. The idea of sharing in a spiritual practice with people whose beliefs are as far from mine as Islam is--that is simply not on the charts for me.
But still, I am motivated in this largely by the example of Muslims I know. I have been pretty lax when it comes to the more rigorous practices of my own Christian tradition. So, as the practitioners of Islam begin a time of self-denial and self-discipline, I have decided that it is time for me to engage in a similar exercise as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We evangelicals have long ignored fasting, and other spiritual practices that we have long considered too "Catholic"--silent retreats, contemplative prayer, and the like. But the mood has begun to change recently. Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline" has been a bestseller in evangelical circles, and Campus Crusade for Christ's founder, Bill Bright, has regularly urged evangelicals to observe periods of fasting.