This week remember to wish all your Muslim friends “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” (“Blessed/Happy Ramadan”) as the annual fast of Islam begins Friday, July 20 and goes until Aug. 18.
Ramadan commemorates the month when the sacred scriptures of Islam, the Koran, was given to the prophet Muhammad. In Islam, it is a period of purification, a time if fasting. The fast is observed throughout daylight, commencing at sunrise and concluding at sunset each day. Not only does the fast include food, but water and other beverages— not even a sip. In many instances, Muslims even fast from most forms of entertainment, creating time to recite their scripture and performing additional prayers throughout the night (tarawih or taraweeh).
It’s not simply a fast from food, but a time of cleansing both the body and the soul. Even small children are included in this sacrament.
To Muslims, this practice is essential to their faith; Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, the soul of the Islamic faith. Observing this fast is central to religious identity.
Sadly, it took me way too long to recognize a glaring inconsistency in my life. Every year at Christmas, I’d receive (and continue to) a flurry of well wishes from dear Muslim friends—all wishing me a “Merry Christmas.”
Christmas, of course, is a sacred religious festival for Christians, celebrating the birth of our Christ. And so the recognition of this religious holiday from so many Muslim friends always surprised me. Isa or Jesus is a revered prophet in the Islamic tradition, and so there are clear hinges for Muslims to observe portions of the celebrations, but holiday greetings have always been a sincere affirmation of friendship.
Though many of my Muslim friends remembered me on many of the Christian holidays, I routinely failed to recognize theirs.
Ramadan is not only a special time for Muslims, but for people of all faiths. For non-Muslims, we are invited to consider making our own sacrifices and we are challenged to follow the example of our devoted friends. This is a prayerful time to consider what a more peaceful world might look like if we’d all prioritize periods of religious or non-religious purification.
So this week, to honor your valued friendships with Muslims return the respect and affirmation by wishing them “Ramadan Mubarak.” And come mid-August when the first crescent of the new moon is visible and the fast is completed be sure to wish them “Eid ul-Fitr Mubarak” or “Eid Mubarak” to celebrate their devotion and sacrifices.
To all my Muslim sisters and brothers, may your sacrifice, example and the fruit of your prayers bless us all.
Christopher L. Heuertz is senior strategist for Word Made Flesh , a community serving the world’s poor, and an author whose books include “ Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World ” and the upcoming “ Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community .” Follow him on Twitter @chrisheuertz .