Question: "What is Ramadan?"

Answer: Ramadan is a holy month in the religion of Islam and is marked by a time of required fasting. Observance of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. By fasting during this month, Muslims believe they earn spiritual rewards and draw closer to Allah.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is lunar-based. Based on the region, either astronomical calculations or moon sightings mark the beginning of this month of fasting, which ends at the next new moon. Ramadan officially commences when a Muslim imam announces it. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims seek the mercy and attention of Allah by fasting from dawn to sunset. Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, and sex during the daylight hours. It is said that good works done during the month of Ramadan will result in a multiplication of the normal reward for the same works performed in other months. For this reason, generosity and charity increase during Ramadan. Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Qur’an during Ramadan and to recite special prayers. Ramadan ends with the feast of Eid al-Fitr / the Festival of Breaking the Fast.

The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic word ramida, which means “intense, scorching heat or dryness.” It is believed among adherents of Islam that Ramadan burns away a person’s sins with good deeds. Muslims seek to suppress everything sinful in themselves, putting away all vices and bad behavior and desires, in order to show their dedication to Allah and their hope that he will be merciful to them. The word Islam means “submission,” and the posture of obedience and self-denial taken during the month of Ramadan is the ultimate act of a Muslim’s submission to Allah.

Fasting is also found in the Bible. For a Christian, fasting is usually accompanied by prayer and is a way to express deep distress and dire need. However, there is a big difference between a Christian fast and the Islamic fast of Ramadan. For one thing, the New Testament never commands a fast (even in the Old Testament, the Jews were only commanded to fast one day a year, on the Day of Atonement). Christian fasts are voluntary, not obligatory.

Also, Christians do not believe that fasting will atone for or burn away sins. Self-denial has long been associated with Christianity (see Mark 8:34), but what the Bible says about self-denial is quite different from the Muslim understanding of it. In Islam, self-denial is a way to persuade Allah to “repay” the worshiper. For a Christian, self-denial is a natural occurrence due to a change of heart and a desire to follow Jesus (Romans 6:17–18).

The idea that a god will be appeased by works of charity, generosity, or the suppression of natural desires is almost universal in world religions. In fact, the only religion that does not believe in appeasing the gods with good deeds is Christianity. The Bible teaches that a Christian’s faith will result in good works animated by God’s Spirit (James 2:26; Galatians 5:16–18). Faith itself is a gift (Ephesians 2:8–9), and, even when Christians falter and sin, we do not have any fear that God’s love will be revoked (Romans 8:1, 38). Muslims have no such assurance and must continually seek Allah’s approval by performing good works and fasting during the month of Ramadan. To fail to fast during Ramadan is to face the wrath of Allah.