Most Americans would be unaware that Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, begins on Thursday. Many would only be casually aware that this is one of the five pillars of Islam, its date changing each year due to the lunar calendar. Faithful adherents fast from dawn to dusk until the month concludes with the Feast of Eid.

Having studied Islam, we were familiar with this expression of piety, but learned much more during the years we lived in a Muslim country—the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia. In more observant places, fasting is compulsory, though allowances are made for foreigners and non-Muslims. All do without food, but more devout Muslims refuse to drink water, and some don’t even swallow their saliva.

There is irony, however, in the fact that Muslims probably eat more during the month than at any other time. Women of the house arise in the early morning to prepare an elaborate breakfast to provide nourishment throughout the day. When the call to evening prayer signals the breaking of the fast, everyone hurries home to indulge in what could be described as a Thanksgiving dinner. Not much gets done during Ramadan as offices are open for only a few hours, no one has the strength for much physical labor, and it is easier to endure the denial of food by sleeping through the afternoon.

During Ramadan, we found our Muslim friends were more open to talking about spiritual things. We would ask them about their practice, why they were fasting, and what they hoped to gain by it. It was surprising to them when we shared our own practice of fasting from time to time to seek God. We do not fast to get something from God but out of a desire for God himself that exceeds our desire for food. Wonderfully, God does ...

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