As we enter the holy month of Ramadan, OBV's Ijeoma Mbubaegbu examines the significance of Ramadan and compares it to the Christian fasting period of Lent.
In the UK, Islam and Christianity are often seen as very distinct religions and with the rise of Islamaphobia, often a ‘them and us’ perception exists. However, although they are often portrayed as polar opposites they share a lot in common. Both are monotheistic religions with an ancestral heritage from Abraham. Although Islam and Christianity have remained sacred for a long time, both religions have experienced the scrutiny that derives from change and the challenges of remaining sacred in a time of secularisation. Key to both religions is the belief that the enrichment of life through prayer and fasting is important and the religious periods of Ramadan and Lent are extremely important, if not the most important period in their respective religious calendars.
Ramadan and Lent are holy days for monotheists who are searching for the meaning of life. The meaning of life for monotheists is to become close to God. Muslims and Christians both believe in the fall of man, who used to be sacred, but have now become secular. The observation of the holy days during Ramadan, which starts today and Lent which was observed earlier this year in February up to Easter are significant because prayer and fasting during the holy days bring us closer to God and closer to finding the meaning of life.
Throughout the Holy Days of Ramadan, Muslims pray and fast and seek forgiveness from God for their conformity to worldliness, accumulation of material possessions, superficiality and to secularisation instead of holiness. Lent is similar to Ramadan because as with Ramadan, Christians use the time of Lent to pray, fast and to reflect on the actions which have distanced them from God. Both Lent and Ramadan are periods in which Christians and Muslims strive for perfection, to purge oneself from sin while experiencing tests in life and becoming one with God.
Christians believe that they must become “dead to sin and alive in Christ” so fasting during Lent prepares them for any spiritual test that they embark during life’s difficulties. As a result of fasting during Lent, Christians often feel that they can now do without the materialistic object that they were abstaining from. They are now one step closer to perfection in the form of God.
During Ramadan, Mohammed, the Islamic prophet received wisdom from God and the revelation that monotheists should fast as a prerequisite to become close to God Quran verse 2:184 . Ramadan offers a time for renewing Muslim’s commitment and re-establishing their relationship with the Creator and offers every Muslim an opportunity to strengthen his Iman, purify his heart and soul, and to remove the evil effects of the sins committed by him.
Another similarity is the symbolism of the desert for both Lent and Ramadan. The desert is considered to be a difficult place to live in because of its scorching heat and is considered to be an allegory of the difficulties one must experience so as to complete the fast successfully, to become pure and one with God and sacred again as humans were at the beginning of creation before the fall. Therefore the desert is a symbol of experiencing God given tests and is used frequently in the Bible and the Quran during lessons about Ramadan and Lent.
We at OBV want to show solidarity to our Muslim brothers and sisters as they enter into this important holy period, and realise that there is not a ‘them and us’ but hopefully we can work reach a realisation that we are all ‘us’.
Ijeoma Mbubaegbu and Francine Fernandes