It is currently the first week of Ramadan, in the Muslim faith. This is a time that is marked by fasting. Fasting during Ramadan, in fact, is the fourth pillar of Islam. This month is one where believers abstain from food, and other desires, in obedience for the hope of atonement of their sins. As a Christian, this month has always been a cause of deep reflection. I thought that this year would be as good as any; to share some of my thoughts about this self-sacrifice in hopes to be cleansed for sins. The hadith, a collection of teachings and reports of their prophet Muhammad’s life, gives us a quick glimpse of the importance of Ramadan within Islam.
It was narrated that Abu Hurairah said: “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Whoever fasts Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, he will be forgiven his previous sins.” ‘[Sunan an-Nasa’i Book-22 Hadith-116]
Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) saying regarding Ramadan, “Whoever prayed at night in it (the month of Ramadan) out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.” [Sahih al-Bukhari Book-31 Hadith-1]
As I consider the great sacrifices that are made in this month, I immediately draw a parallel to the Christian view of the payment for sins. We know that the Bible says about atonement, or at least we should. Perhaps that is where we will start. I point you to question 56 of the Heidelberg Catechism which states:
“Question 56. What believest thou concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
Answer: That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long; but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God. ”
What does this catechism have to do with Ramadan? Well, I could summarize this in one word for you, “completed”. For those who do not have assurance of salvation, there cannot be a peace of mind. No amounts of cognitive restructuring, meditation, or prayer, could ever fully quench the recognition that there is no guarantee of one’s atonement. You will always be trying to outdo your sins. However, for the Christian, you have complete rest. Now, there is a struggle, as noted in the above catechism, however, that struggle against our sin nature is a battle that is already won. I think knowing the outcome, that our salvation is secured, gives us the proper mindset to “struggle” with our flesh.
However, not all Christian’s understand the extent of our atonement. This doctrine may in fact be one of the most difficult to fully grasp. Logically, perhaps, though many still struggle with knowing their salvation has been “bought and paid in full”. There are many denominations who may not teach that our sins have fully been atoned. This, causes much strife within parishioners, as they are too, struggling to earn full forgiveness.
But let’s be honest, no one has ever won this battle. This is certainly true for Muslims. We read the following passage in the Quran:
Or do they say, ‘He has forged it’? Say: ‘If I have forged it, you have no power to help me against Allah. He knows very well what you are pressing upon; He suffices as a witness between me and you; He is the All-forgiving, the All-compassionate.’ Say: ‘I am not an innovation among the Messengers, and I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner.’ S. 46:8-9 Meccan
The emphasis of this passage is where we read: “I know not what shall be done with me or with you”. The prophet of Islam, himself, cannot be sure of his eternal destination. If the man who entrusted with the message from God, who is considered to be the greatest prophet, cannot be sure, we surely do not have a chance.
I have two feelings, the first, is extreme gratefulness for my assurance, sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ. However, the other is extreme sadness for those who cannot be sure of their salvation. As much as I am called to do as a Christian, I can be sure that God will never lose his grip on me! The words of Peter are like relaxing music to my ears: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). Once for all.
So what are we to do in this time? I have two recommendations. The first, which should start now, but be always before you, is to deepen your thankfulness to God for his sacrifice. This is why my thankfulness seems to deepen during this time of the year, because I know so many are contending for their own sins, yet I have rest. Finally, you should use this as a talking point for evangelism. I can guarantee that many struggle with this question, if they even dare to wrestle with it. You can use it as an inquisitive conversation starter. Do you know for sure where your eternal resting place will be? This isn’t limited to Muslims, but there are many faith groups and religions, such as Roman Catholicism for one, who feel they have only a partial atonement for sins, and still have work to do. The gospel is good news! Invite others to partake in the rest you have!