In this video you can experience what it means to observe a day of Ramadan from morning until evening.
“Eid-al-Fitr is the three-day festival that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan for my family and thousands of other Muslim families in China.
Early on the first day of Eid-al-Fitr I will lead the family in ceremonial washing, after which, for this very special day, we put on our best clothes. Soon it will be time to go to the mosque for communal prayers. I will be taking my eldest son XiangRong as I did last year. But this year XiangJun, who turned 12 a few months ago, will be joining us as well since he has been fasting for the first time this Ramadan.
After the prayers and talk from the imam of the mosque we’ll head home, greeting everyone with ‘Mubarak’ (blessings) and ‘Assallamalaikum’ (Peace be with you). On the way, I’ll also give money to the poor who are lined up on the streets outside the mosque. This is my ‘zakat al-fitr’, giving alms, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. The five pillars are the required practices of my religion. My giving shows gratitude to Allah for his provision last year and, I trust, for the coming year also. I believe my giving earns spiritual rewards too, that will enable me to reach paradise.
While my sons and I are at the mosque, my wife, LiJuan, will have prepared some of our traditional and favourite dishes. Ones like Nao Nao, flour powder cooked with bean curd, some vegetables and beef, Shou zhua rou, which are large pieces of boiled mutton that we eat with our hands, and momo, a big round bread baked in our oven. After our delicious meal, I will bless the family. First blessing my own grandparents and parents, then my children. The children get small gifts of money from my wife and I and their grandparents.
By observing Eid-al-Fitr I am setting an example for my sons to follow after me, so their sons can follow their fathers’ examples. For the second and third days of Eid-al-Fitr the whole family will visit our relatives’ homes for meals. After each meal we also give some cash gifts to their children. There is always lots of laughter at this time! Before I have to go back to work, I will go round to our non-Muslim neighbours, who we know well, and give them some of my wife’s cooked Nao Nao and mutton to bless them and wish them a happy Eid-al-Fitr.”
This originally appeared in OMF UK’s Billions magazine ‘Meeting Our Muslims Neighbours’ May-August 2019.
Have you ever wondered how you could bless people at the “Ends of the Earth”? Parts of China’s Silk Road regions are further from the sea than anywhere else on earth. We believe prayer is one of the greatest ways we can bless people in our world. And that’s especially true for those who are furthest away from us.
Can you take our five day prayer challenge, and see how God answers as you engage with Him in prayer?
“What’s Ramadan like in my area? Well, during working hours in Ramadan the city streets are much quieter than usual with people trying to conserve energy by staying in their air-conditioned shops and offices.
This all changes in the mid-afternoon, as everyone joins the rush home, often stopping at a Ramadan market on the way to pick up food delicacies including curries, savoury snacks and sweet deserts. The streets then empty again as people wait in front of their food at home or in restaurants for the evening call to prayer at around 7:15pm, which signals the time for them to break the fast. This is almost the only opportunity to meet people socially during Ramadan. However, there isn’t much time to linger over the meal, as people rush off to pray. They need to do this before the last call to prayer at about 8:30pm.
The streets around the mosques and prayer halls are then filled with people flocking to the special night time prayers which are believed to bring additional merit during Ramadan. And so, many women, who don’t usually go to the mosque to pray, and children join the men in attending the prayers. The best thing we can do for Muslims during Ramadan is to increase our prayers for them.”
From a Christian professional in Southeast Asia
“The night before the fast starts is an important time in for my Muslim neighbours. There’s a sense of anticipation – this is a very special month and they’ve have been looking forward to it for some weeks now.
Some of them will be watching Ramadan-related shows on TV, which feature prominently throughout the fasting month. Those who will be selling special food for breaking the fast are already busy with their preparations for all that will involve the next day. Women are checking they have everything they need to cook the pre-dawn meal. Some might phone their elderly relatives to check they have remembered that they need to start the fast tomorrow.
Ramadan marks the time Muslims believe the Qur’ran was first revealed to Mohammed. But is also great time for followers of Jesus to pray. To pray for God to bless East and Southeast Asia’s Muslims. And to pray that they would learn more about Jesus.”
From a local follower of Jesus in Southeast Asia
“Let me tell you about what Ramadan is like for my Muslim neighbor and friend Adyan.
The days of the fasting month are even harder work for her than all the other days of the year. With a quiet husband who has struggled to find work, the burden of finding money to feed her family of four children falls largely to her. Thankfully she had good health and is a hard worker. She is shrewd too, a careful wife and mother, so they have survived this far, and now their eldest son is working too.
During the fasting month, Adyan pulls out all the stops and sells snacks for the breaking of the fast each evening, this is on top of the two jobs she held down washing clothes and cleaning at local boarding houses. It means she has to go very early to the market each day to buy the ingredients she needs, and spends hours frying batch after batch of fried snacks in a huge wok of boiling oil.
The days go by in a slow blur, waking a long time before dawn to cook breakfast for the family, shaking the children awake in time to eat before the sunrise, going to the first boarding house to work for a few hours, returning home to do her own housework and get the children ready for school, before starting work on food preparation. And so it goes on throughout the day. Back to the boarding house. Back to school to collect the children. The work doesn’t stop apart for the few hours she sleeps each night.
She is 45 now and feels less strong than she used to be. Her back aches after the afternoon’s ironing work and her eyes feel stretched and tired. But she is driven on by the need to earn enough money to travel home to visit her family for celebrations at the end of the fasting month. She has been looking forward to it all year, hoping against hope that this year she will be able to afford it.
Two years ago she had gone home, taking her two younger children for a precious week at the village. She had seen her sisters, heard all the news, and enjoyed the pleasure of family. When she left, it was in the knowledge that she wouldn’t see them for another year. But it had turned out to be two years because last year money had been too short, so she’d sent her eldest son alone on his motorbike for the long, long journey. He had taken money for the family there – the amount she could have spent on the bus ticket, plus a little bit more she had saved. She hopes and prays that this year she will go herself.”
From a local follower of Jesus in Southeast Asia.
For women like Adyan, their workload during Ramadan can be particularly heavy. Many will rise very early (perhaps as early as 2am) to prepare a meal before dawn. The daylight hours may largely be spent preparing food, either for the breaking of the fast or to sell, alongside their usual responsibilities.
Lord, as you did with Mary and Martha in Luke 10, please would Muslim women, whether they tend toward activity or contemplation, come to know of your love.
I have never been so thankful for noodles.
I lift some lamb into my mouth and look at the smiling people around me. It is the end of a local festival. There are ten of us in total sitting in the closed noodle-shop; the women on one side, the men on the other. It is a feast of good food, kindness, and opportunity for George and I to get to know an entirely new people group.
‘What do you recommend we do with our free time?’ One lady asks me across the table. She is speaking in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese), translating from their usual language, Salaryu. Another kindness. I remember that this is a rare day off in their usual seven day working week, so I suggest that they go to the wen quan, the hot springs. But it is met with a spread of sweet laughter.
Of course, they wash at home, I blush. It is another reminder that I am a newcomer in the midst of a people group I know hardly anything about.
I think back to the moments that got us here, from the moment that we first walked into the noodle place because it just happened to be the nearest to George’s office. We had befriended the youngest member of the family first: an adorable three-year-old boy with slight cerebral palsy. We ended up coming almost every day to play with him or read him a story. And from there, George had met the grandfather and I had met the women, who were initially reserved but incredibly sweet.
Within a few weeks, we had the beginnings of a great friendship with these new people. And now here we are, eating together.
All because of noodles.
I feel a tug on my top and our three-year-old friend beams up at me. In his hands is the bubble machine I had just given him.
‘Would you like me to show you how to use it?’ I say. His mother translates for me, and he nods, his hair falling over his eyes. I take it from him.
Soon we are all watching the glassy bubbles soar from his hands and fill the room. I catch George’s eye and smile. I know we are thinking the same thing. That there are some things that go beyond language and culture that bind people together. Things like bubbles, and things like noodles.
I stand silently, eyes lowered and biting my lip. Everyone is staring at me, waiting for me to speak. My mouth is dry. It feels like it has a whole desert inside.
I’m twelve years old. I shouldn’t be afraid to introduce myself to my new school class. But, as I stand alone in front of 40 curious faces, my knees want to shake with the stress. It’s not because I have to speak 普通话, Standard Mandarin Chinese, instead of the local words our family use. It’s not even because I’m the only one in class today who’s new.
It’s because I’m different from these children. I’m judged before I open my mouth.
My Aunt told me that I mustn’t be ashamed of my traditional dress and long pants, even though these city girls are all wearing tight t-shirts and jeans. She says I should be proud of my colorful patterned shirt, even though all the other shoulders in the classroom are plain. Auntie didn’t say anything about my hands, reddened and rough from hard work in our home.
These children look at me and know I’m poor, that I’ve only just moved to the city. But these children don’t know some things. They don’t know that this month is the first time I can remember living with my parents. “Dadam”, my dad, moved to this city to start a small business when I was two, and my mother joined him the next year. I’ve been living with my aunt and my younger sisters in our home village for the last ten years.
These kids don’t know that my first brother, the pride of the whole family, was born two months ago. They may guess, but they don’t know that he’s the reason I’m in this city. All the time that I’m not at school, I am to spend feeding and looking after baby Ehmet. Any homework I do will have to happen when he is asleep.
My new classmates are starting to giggle at me with my traditional clothes and anxious eyes. But they don’t know the real reason my words won’t come. My Dadam told me last night that six years of study are enough for a girl in our family. After this year, I can no longer attend school.
I will never have the chance that these children have to study for exams and learn a profession. I can only ever become someone else’s sister, or mother, or wife.
As I look down at my dress, I remember something else my Aunt told me: “Women are like flowers by the roadside. After blooming, no one remembers that we even existed.”
I look again at the hard faces of my new classmates. A new thought comes to me; “In the end, no-one will remember. So I can say whatever I like!”
I open my mouth at last. “Good morning, my name is Amangul. I come from a small village at the edge of the desert. When autumn comes, the pomegranates on the trees glow red like fire…”
Some Filipino Christians are crossing centuries’ old barriers to show love to their Muslim neighbours.
“Have you ever heard the ‘still, small voice of the Holy Spirit’?” Joshua* asked Peter*. Joshua was the Filipino pastor of the church that Peter, an OMF worker from Canada, regularly attended in the southern Philippines.
“Yes,” Peter answered while wondering why Joshua had posed the question.
After a pause, Joshua explained that while buying fish in the market that day, he sensed the Spirit clearly telling him that he and his wife were to move to the Muslim community where Peter currently lived. Peter was about to return to Canada for awhile and had been – along with Joshua – praying about who might replace him and his wife in the area.
Peter was stunned by Joshua’s announcement. For one, Joshua seemed to have a bright future ahead as a pastor of his Filipino church. Secondly, there was a history of suspicion, fear and indifference among many Filipino churches toward their Muslim neighbors. Peter himself had seen this in the reaction to his own decision to live in a Muslim village. Most of the members eventually warmed to the idea, but now what would they think if their pastor followed suit?
Sometimes, it is hardest for churches to cross cultures among those who live in closest proximity to them. As Peter says, “Although the church members were used to Muslim communities nearby, the idea of intentionally moving into a community was very foreign and somewhat fearful for many.”
Indeed, the church struggled with Joshua’s decision for several weeks. In the end, the church’s board agreed to allow Joshua and his family to take Peter’s place in the village, which was 5 kilometers away, while still pastoring the church on the weekend.
Joshua’s move happened 25 years ago. Peter noticed that his Muslim friends responded differently to Joshua than they did to Peter. As a foreigner, Peter was able to get away with more language mistakes and cultural faux pas, but Joshua, as a native Filipino, saw doors opened that Peter had not.
Eventually, Peter moved on to other roles within OMF. Joshua moved, too, but is still working with the same Muslim people he has lived and served among for more than two decades. Other Filipino Christians have joined Joshua and his wife in living among this Muslim people group.
They seek to serve their communities in tangible ways. The area of the southern Philippines where they live has been known for revenge killings, war between government and rebel groups, and poverty for the past several decades. The people they serve are poor, subsistent farmers and fishermen.
In light of the many physical needs, Joshua is trying to help. He and his co-workers run a nursery school for small children in the area. They help sponsor older youth to be able to go to school and finish their education. They provide health awareness and education, along with a regular medical clinic. In doing all of the above, Joshua and his team are showing the love of Jesus in real, felt actions.
They also try to encourage their fellow Christians to be more involved in loving the Muslim peoples around them. Joshua longs for more local churches in the area – and the Philippines overall – to catch the vision of being a blessing to Muslims nearby. “There is a need for churches, especially those near Muslim communities, to overcome fear,” Joshua says.
Still, it has been encouraging to see Peter’s and then Joshua’s vision for this people group attract other believers to be involved. A quarter century after Joshua’s bold move, the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit continues to speak, changing the hearts of Filipino Christians to reach out in love to those around them, no matter their background or differences. The result is that after more than two decades of work, the persistent prayers, faithful service and genuine love for the people is making an impact on the Muslim peoples they serve.
*Some names have been changed.
Jenny was an English teacher at a high school in a small town in China where we were working to set up a summer English program. She was assigned to be our liaison with the school, which she was very happy about as it gave her a chance to practice her English.
Most people like Jenny who live in small towns like hers dream of one day getting to the provincial capital city. But Jenny yearned for more. She wanted to earn a Masters degree in Education from a large regional city – a rare opportunity for a Hui teacher from the countryside. While discussing her dream over dinner one night, we were interested to hear Jenny talk about the need to get home before it got dark outside. We asked her why.
She said, “After dark, the Jinn (spirits) come out.”
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