As Muslims worldwide gathered Sunday to mark the start of a three-day holiday concluding Ramadan, Christians observed the end the Islamic month of fasting in their own way – as they had done throughout the month.
For some Christians, Ramadan ended with a sigh of relief as the month of fasting tends to increase tensions between Muslims and Christians in some countries.
"It is a time when often Muslims who are moderate become much more aggressive about their faith, and they [see it] as a time to be aggressive as they deal with Christians," explained Rody Rodeheaver, president of I.N. Network USA, according to Mission Network News.
As a result, there tends to be a rise in persecution against Christians and other non-Muslims who refuse to participate in Ramadan – especially those in areas where radical and fanatic Islamic sects are. Christians and non-Muslims have even been arrested in some places for their refusal to participate in Ramadan.
"It has psychological and emotional effects just from not eating, and people get grumpy," Rodeheaver added.
In the United States, meanwhile, some Christians marked the conclusion of Ramadan with "a God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship and neighborliness," as emergent leader Brian McLaren described it.
To help bridge a divide between two faith traditions that are often at odds, McLaren and others like him observed the month of Ramadan as their Muslim neighbors did – refraining from food and drink from sunrise to sundown in an act of self-restraint.
In announcing his plan last month to join Muslim friends in the fast, McLaren wrote, "We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians. But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them."
Like his “emergent” church movement, however, McLaren’s latest activity has drawn criticism, with some calling it a violation of Scripture.
“However lovely the sentiment, God has clearly told us not to do what McLaren and the ‘Christians’ committing this violation of Scripture with him are about to do because those in the false religion of Islam 'sacrifice to demons and not to God,'” commented pastor Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries, citing a verse from 2 Corinthians 6. “[T]hese men are developing a whole other quasi-Christian religion based on their synthetic reality skewed by their Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism.”
But that’s not to say all Christians who fasted and prayed during Ramadan have been rebuked for doing so.
In fact, many were encouraged to do so – for Muslims, though not necessarily with them.
Because Muslims – especially young ones – are searching for truth and seeking God during Ramadan, organizations such as MNN encouraged Christians to pray that Muslims will come to know Jesus Christ as their savior.
“It’s kind of a time of seeking in a certain sense, when they’re fasting and they’re more geared toward spiritual things,” explained Sammy Tippit, an evangelist who focuses on reaching Muslims. “And it’s out of a sense for God – a thirst for God and a hunger for God. And during these times of Ramadan, many will have dreams about Jesus.”
For the past four years, MNN has worked with Youth with a Mission to promote a 30-day prayer campaign for Muslims coinciding with Ramadan.
"I believe whole-heartedly that the only way to reach the Muslim world is through a concerted prayer effort,” said MNN's executive director Greg Yoder. “That's why we're getting behind this effort.”
He added, “So many Christians won't witness to Muslims because they don't know anything about them. This could be the first step in gaining that understanding."
According to estimates, there are more than 1.3 billion Muslim around the world.
Starting Sunday, Muslims worldwide will be celebrating the successful completion of Ramadan with the three-day Eid al-Fitr. In most Muslim countries, the entire three-day period is an official holiday.