This is an important month for devout Muslims. Many are fasting in hopes of making themselves more acceptable to their god. Here, where people are much more secular, the fast of Ramazan has about as much significance as Easter does for the unchurched in the US. I asked one of my neighbors if she were observing the fast, and she seemed a little embarassed. "Well, I'm a little bit sick and so fasting isn't good for me. Plus, I can't fast because of my job. People come into the store and want to buy vodka and if I were fasting, it would be wrong for me to handle alcohol."
Yesterday our landlady came by to pick up the rent. She has never seemed to be a religious person, and it never occurred to me that she might be fasting. When I offered her some tea she turned it down and said that she was observing Ramazan. Before she left, I asked her what the appropriate response is when you find out that someone is fasting. In this culture, there is a correct response to everything, and I realized that I didn't know what I'm supposed to say. She told me that when someone mentions that they're fasting I should say, "May God accept your fast."
That posed a problem for me. First of all, there is only one word for God in this language: Allah. To even talk about God, we have to take the time to define our terms. When I say Allah, I'm talking about the God of the Bible, not the god of the Quran. Secondly, I know that the God of the Bible is not going to accept their fast as a means of salvation. The polite response is not the correct response.
If this had been a situation where the landlady had plenty of time to sit and visit, perhaps it would have been possible to have had that conversation. As it was, she was on her break from work and was in a hurry.
There are many times when I don't feel at all uncomfortable using the polite blessings that are so important to the people here. When you meet someone with a child, it's exceedingly important to say, "May God keep your child." Even when I don't have the opportunity to explain what I believe about who God really is, it doesn't bother me to ask God to protect a child. I don't have any problem responding "If God allows it," when somebody says "See you later." That's actually a more Biblical response than what many of us would typically say. And there is even a sense in which I can pray that God will accept their fast in the sense that He accepted the good works of Cornelius before he came to know the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
Please pray that we will have wisdom to know precisely how to respond to our acquaintances and friends who are fasting--and those who aren't fasting and feeling guilty.