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Ramadan's final week prompts reflections from Istanbulcomment (1)

August 8, 2013

By Madeline Arthington

Ramadan's final week prompts reflections from Istanbul

This reminds me of a fusion of the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., and a carnival,” I thought as I looked out at the thousands of families and groups of friends spreading picnic blankets on the grass and unpacking carefully prepared packages of dinner. Others possessively claimed a limited supply of picnic tables.

Regardless of whether or not people actually kept the fast that day, the pressure of being seen in public conformed everyone into one patient crowd — waiting to eat until the evening call to prayer sounded. 

I accompanied two friends to Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district during iftar, the sunset meal when Muslims across the world break the Ramadan fast Aug. 7. Normally crawling with tourists from every corner of the Western world, this evening Sultanahmet district was welcoming its own — an almost entirely Muslim crowd. 

We moved past the picnickers to the back streets and found our destination — a rooftop terrace restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus Straight, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  

A young Turkish couple sat at the table next to us. The servers quickly placed already-prepared Ramadan appetizers in front of them  — cheeses, olives, hummus and other Mediterranean delights. Restaurants across the city spend the afternoon and early evening preparing for thousands of people to eat at the same precise moment. It is an exact art, and the servers moved with skill and precision. 

As the sun disappeared, the servers appeared in perfect sequence with tureens of steaming lentil soup, ladling it into bowls just as the call to prayer sounded. It was 8:37 p.m., and the fast was over. As the haunting call to prayer began to fade, the young couple next to us waited a few moments, lifted their glasses and sipped water. Below us, the picnickers began eating their feasts. 


The party was on. 

We paid our bill and left the terrace to join the festivities. Vendors selling popcorn, cotton candy, roasted chestnuts, watermelon and cantaloupe wandered through the crowd. Two small girls dressed in pink danced in a cloud of soap bubbles coming from a bubble machine a vendor was selling. Cheap, blue florescent, helicopter-like toys were exploding into the sky like fireworks. 

“This reminds me of Dollywood,” my friend laughed as we meandered through an arts and crafts exhibit. We stopped to watch a glassblower creating a tiny, exquisite horse. Moving on, we saw a small crowd gathered around an ebru (painting) exhibit, where for a small fee one could create art using the classic paper marbling Ottoman art form.

The woman behind the table carefully guided the hand of a young man as he formed a tulip shape with the paint. She lifted the sheet of paper and laid it behind her to dry. “We will be open until 2 a.m.,” she told him.

In the midst of the festivities, it was difficult to remember that our entire evening was spent with a people who were celebrating a meaningless spiritual exercise that denies Christ’s work of salvation. I recalled my many Muslim friends who have told me that they feel closer to God during Ramadan. It grieves me to remember that they are self-deceived and walking in darkness.

Our evening in Sultanahmet was festive and fun, but it also was sobering. I pray that my Muslim friends will one day participate in an eternal festival that celebrates the Lamb of God.

The end of Ramadan will be celebrated with an official holiday lasting three days (August 8–10). As many Muslims celebrate by visiting family and friends, pray that God will accomplish a brokenness in many hearts to understand that their fast has not reconciled them to God.

 Pray for Christian workers to speak boldly of Christ’s work of reconciliation by looking for creative ways to express their love for their Muslim friends and neighbors during the holiday.   

The testimony of many
Muslim-background believers often begins with a dream about Jesus. Pray that Muslims who are having spiritual dreams will encounter believers who would confidently respond with a message from God — the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pray that Christians around the world, even in Europe and the United States, will show intentional and Christlike love to Muslim neighbors and acquaintances during this season and, as a result, that God would bring about many spiritual conversations. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Madeline Arthington is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Central Asia.

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Comment (1)

    Bill Cowley 8/16/2013 10:54 AM

    An article in the August 8 issue describes Muslim Ramadan as a “meaningless spiritual exercise.” Although it is meaningless to many Christians, it is infinitely meaningful to faithful Muslims.

    When Ramadan falls during summer months with sixteen hours of daylight and one works outdoors in the sun without food or water and continues to observe the five calls to prayer, there is depth of meaning.

    The article highlights some cultural or social practices which are seen as incongruent with the celebration of Ramadan and evidence of a “meaningless spiritual exercise.” We wonder if there are Muslims who observe cultural and social practices by Christians which are equally incongruent with the celebration of Christmas and conclude that it is a meaningless spiritual exercise. Where is the Christ in such a heavily commercialized Christmas celebrated by many with no reference to Christ?

    There will be Muslims who will read the article. Will they be more kindly disposed toward Christianity, more willing to hear and more likely to be appealed to by the Gospel? Not likely. Some will be sad to read that their sacred practice has been so characterized; some will be offended; some will be angry; but many will wonder where is the love in the Christian faith.

    None of us--Christian or Muslim--wants to be characterized by the worst expressions of our religion and history. We can proclaim that Christ is the Savior for all people and still respect the sincerity and sensible practices of other religions. We hinder our proclamation of the Gospel when we patronize others by telling them that their practices, which are very meaningful to them, are meaningless.

    The article’s writer urges prayer for Christian workers to look for “creative ways to express their love for their Muslim friends and neighbors during the holiday.” A good beginning would have been to respect their faith and their meaningful observance of Ramadan and not express their love in unfortunate characterizations.

    It is regrettable that the article bears the imprimatur of the International Mission Board and was published by the Alabama Baptist.

    (Signed) Bill and Audrey Cowley and Fred and Denise Kelley, all former FMB/IMB missionaries in predominantly Muslim countries.

    Copied to International Mission Board

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