Festive Seasons: Ramadan and Pentecost
Unless you belong to one of the mainline churches you might know as little about Pentecost as about Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr. Is that true for you?
This year Eid-ul-Fitr and Pentecost are just one week apart, reason enough to learn more about both these feasts. You can’t miss the beginning of Ramadan. Just check the newspapers where they usually will be hotly debating if the fast starts a day earlier or later. It all depends on the sighting of the moon, a century-old Islamic tradition. But once it starts the daily cycle of any religious Muslim changes significantly: getting up before sunrise to prepare breakfast which needs to be taken before it is bright enough to mark the difference between a white and a black thread. After that there will be no more food or liquid passing through the believer’s throat until sunset when the fast is being broken by taking some dates, the iftar ritual. The Muslim way of fasting thus is really serious, and it becomes much harder to keep up after the first two weeks when the body is already considerably weakened. Only healthy people will be able to master this, and therefore the sick, small children or elderly people are exempted from it.
But why would anyone want to submit his body to such a rigorous punishment you may ask. What is the motivation for such a religious obligation? Some say it “teaches them to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).” Others maintain “that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in Hell, and so can’t tempt believers.” According to the Qur’an it is “a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days.” (Sura 2:183-187.194)
Whatever opinion is held, one thing is for sure: It is not something taken freely or lightly, nor joyfully. Rather it serves as a religious obligation and is enforced by community pressure even on those who would prefer to skip it and rather go straight to the celebration time of Eid-ul-Fitr when feasting and generous gifts lift the spirit for a few days once again.
In contrast on the day of Pentecost the believers who loved Jesus were meeting together in one place not out of a sense of duty, nor because of hoping to attain any religious reward. They simply were following the words of Jesus to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). And what a difference it made to their lives! From being worn out and exhausted they were filled with a new spirit of joy, excitement, and a special gift to communicate the great miracles of God to people “from every nation” (Acts 2:5). It completely transformed them into believers who loved to share the glory of the risen Christ with everyone around (Acts 2:28). If you like it, this was the best birthday party anyone could possibly imagine, because in fact that day the Church of those following Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives was born! Perhaps we could sum up the meaning of our main Christian feasts like this:
- CHRISTMAS = God became man when Christ was born in Bethlehem
- EASTER = God gave proof of his love by giving his Son to die in our place
- PENTECOST = God transformed people by his Holy Spirit initiating the birth of the Church.
It is a time to celebrate, and to invite others to join us.
Walter Eric, April 2020
 These and following quotes taken from online research.