Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and begins on 15 May this year. For 30 days, all healthy adult Muslims will be expected to fast during daylight hours, and many Muslims become more devout during this period, sincerely seeking answers from God.
We spoke to a secret believer from a Muslim background in South East Asia about what Ramadan meant to them when they were a Muslim, and what it’s like now that they follow Jesus.
My fasting started from sunrise at about 5.30am to sunset about 7.20pm. It was a full fast where I could not eat or drink. Before I started my fast, I recited my niyaat, statement of intention, on the previous night: “I intend to keep the fast today in the month of Ramadan.”
The following day, like all good Muslims, I woke up about 4.30am to eat sahur, early breakfast. Our meal consisted of either fried rice or noodles with some meat and vegetables. After eating, I performed my morning prayer for five minutes, then went back to sleep and woke up at my usual time to go to work.
Work was normal for me, but for some Muslims, they reduced their activities to conserve their energy. Therefore, Muslims are allowed to get off work early at about 4.00pm. This is because they need to go home to cook or buy food from the bazaar to break their fast.
As soon as the dusk prayer calls are sounded from the mosque, I recited this prayer for the breaking of fast: “O Allah! I fasted for you and I believe in you and I break my fast with your sustenance.”
Every Muslim must fast for exactly 30 days. They are allowed to skip fasting on some days for valid reasons, like being on their period for women, but they must replace those days before the next Ramadan. If not, they will sin against Allah.
Ever since I was 12 years old, I fulfilled my Ramadan ‘quota’ every year, until I became a Christian. Generally, about four out of 10 Muslims fulfill exactly their 30 days quota of fasting.
Muslims are also prohibited from smoking, brushing their teeth, picking their noses, even vomiting. On principle, it is prohibited to put anything in or take anything out of our mouth or from any part of our body. After I became a Christian, I realised these prohibitions have nothing to do with fasting. But during that time, when I was a Muslim, I could not see it. Instead I tried my best to obey them.
I have Christ’s assurance that my sins are washed away by His blood. I don’t have this nagging fear anymore.
My motive to fast is different now.
When I was a Muslim, I fasted to get pahala, spiritual merits. I needed lots and lots of them so that at judgment day, when Allah weighed my deeds, my merits would hopefully outweigh my sins [and I could enter paradise]. That’s why I tried to be a good Muslim by fulfilling all the laws in Islam, regularly praying five times a day, giving alms to the poor, and trying to convert Christians to Islam. That last bit would get me lots of rewards.
But even then, I still couldn’t be sure that Allah would accept my merits and allow them to outweigh my sins. This had always been on the mind of many Muslims, including mine. But we were not allowed to question it. As I think back on my life as a Muslim, I felt trapped and felt it was unfair that I had no freedom of religion.
But praise God I am now a Christian. I have Christ’s assurance that my sins are washed away by His blood. I don’t have this nagging fear anymore. Now I fast to deepen my relationship with God and to know Christ more. Now I fast to pray for God to save other Muslims who are still trying to please Him. Now I fast so that Muslims will discover the bliss of knowing Christ as I have!
Being a secret believer, I have to pretend I am fasting in front of my Muslim colleagues. To do otherwise would result in suspicions and questionings. It is only when I’m alone or with other secret believers that I can be myself. It is not easy to live such a double life.
Many secret believers like me dare not reveal our faith because if we are caught we will be sent to Islamic rehabilitation centres. I’ve heard stories of brainwashing, torture, and mental abuse to make believers from Muslim backgrounds recant their faith in Christ.
If that ever happens to me, I don’t know how I will respond to such persecution. Yet I’m terrified of denying Jesus. Therefore, please pray for me and my fellow believers from Muslim backgrounds, that He will give us the strength not to deny Him.
Open Doors works through local partners and churches to strengthen and equip persecuted believers in Asia through Bible and literature distribution, supplying emergency relief aid, providing biblical and leadership training, and community development projects..
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