Today is the first day of Ramadan, which has always meant nothing to me because I understand very little of the Muslim religion and its customs.
However, this year I find myself thinking of Fatima, a beautiful woman from Pakistan who watched my youngest child for more than five years, and I’m picturing her in prayer during this time.
Fatima had a quiet spirit, laughing eyes, and an accent that made everything sound exotic. We loved the way she pronounced our son’s name—not “Charles,” but “Shar-less.” Fatima and her family moved away when my son entered the first grade, but the peace and grace about her stays with us to this day.
We knew she was Muslim, but we were indifferent about it. She dressed in the conservative shalwar kamez (pants with an ankle-length, stylish shirt), and a scarf that I believe is called a hijab. If I’d taken a moment to ask, she would have happily told me what it was, but I showed no interest in her customs. When she asked for certain days off during Ramadan, I found alternative care, but did not inquire about that either. I guess I didn’t want to pry, or have to “defend” my own religion. I wish now that I had asked.
Fatima loved America. She studied for weeks before her citizenship test, and I can still recall how her face lit up the day she told me she was now a U.S. citizen. She celebrated Independence Day, Flag Day, and Memorial Day. She asked me questions about my uniform, and loved the idea that I was a Marine. On September 11, 2001, she grieved with the rest of America when our nation was attacked.
That was the first time I asked her anything about her religion, and I’m ashamed to say it was more accusatory than curious. I rushed home early from work that day and went straight to my son, practically snatching him from her hands.
I looked into her eyes, which were not laughing that day, and I demanded to know, “What kind of God do you have that he would endorse something like this?”
She practically sobbed her response.
“That is not our God. Our religion doesn’t teach this.”
It was somewhat of an epiphany to consider that perhaps those who profess to follow Allah are as varied in character as those who profess to follow Jesus. Some are good, some are evil.
I also knew Fatima loved my son. She practically raised him, while I went off to work, alongside her own two children. She read to them all together, bought his favorite foods, taught him the Arabic alphabet, and gave him gifts at every occasion. Even Christmas. She loved Christmas, and I never thought to ask why.
So that brings me back to Ramadan, and why it matters to me now. I’ve learned a little bit about Muslims since those days. I worked for a while in a place where terrorist group activities were tracked and analyzed. There I read, almost daily, stories about Boko Haram spreading its anti-Christian violence across Nigeria, and the fear and hatred being spewed throughout Indonesia by Jemaah Islamiah, and now the atrocities spilling out of Syria and across Iraq with mind-numbing speed, all in the name of “Allah.”
I believe more Muslims are like Fatima than Saddam Hussein, and because I believe that, I’d say they’re a lot like me. They want to please God, and follow His will for their lives. So for the next month, as the world’s Muslims enter a time of prayer and fasting, I will be praying as well. I suspect we’ll be praying for the same things:
1. They will be praying to become spiritually stronger. I will pray that as they seek to know God, He will reveal Himself to them, during prayer time and as they dream at night, as a loving God and a God of mercy.
2. They will be praying in appreciation for God’s gifts. I will pray that as they search for the Truth, they will learn it. While they study their most precious gift, the Koran, let them find and take to heart its command to read the Injeel (the New Testament), and realize that if God is, indeed, all powerful, He can surely maintain the integrity of a little ol’ book over a mere 2,000 years.
3. They will be praying to become more obedient. I will pray that their obedience opens doors to understanding.
Near the end of July (around the 24th), Muslims will enter an even more intense period of prayer, known as Lailat al Qadr, or the Night of Power (also Night of Destiny). During this time, they will pray through the night, believing that this night marks their fate for the following year. The doors between them and God will be open wider than ever. They will be praying for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, not knowing for sure whether He would do so. I will pray for the same, knowing that He does.
Is anyone with me?
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16