Some things only appear to have value

by Michael E. Brooks

“Therefore if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – ‘do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things that perish with the using – . . . These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23 NKJV).

The Muslim month of Ramadan has recently ended for this year. This is the month of fasting, one of Islam’s five pillars.

I have long known of Ramadan, but my visits to Bangladesh over the last many years have provided me with much broader knowledge of the details of their practice.

I realize that some of the things I have learned may apply only to Muslims in Bangladesh, and may not be true in other regions.

Practicing Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. No food or drink of any kind may be taken in during those hours.

Once the sun has set however the fast ends for that day and food may be eaten at will. Muslim culture has developed special customs regarding the fast and its after-hours meals.

The first of these is the daily Iftar meal, considered more of a snack, with which the daily fast is broken. Served immediately at sunset the entire culture stops whatever is going on to break the fast. Special foods (often luxurious delicacies) are prepared and the snack may involve a considerable intake of food and drink.

Dinner is always served late in Bangladesh by western standards, but during Ramadan it may be even later, sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight. This is necessary because the Iftar meal has satisfied their hunger at least partially, and the Muslim ladies must have time to finish Iftar and prepare dinner.

Since fasting begins at sunrise, the breakfast meal assumes even greater importance. Most Muslim households wake well before that hour, prepare a large meal sufficient for the day, and eat it before the fasting period begins. In Non Ramadan months breakfast may be served at mid morning, after some work has been done. That is not the case during Ramadan.

One thing that surprised me as I began to observe these events is that more food is consumed during Ramadan than during a non-fasting month. Consequently demand is high and prices soar. This is especially true of the traditional food items used especially for Ramadan.

That seems to be a logical contradiction. A nation actually eats more while it is fasting? How can that be?

The apostle Paul understood this contradiction. If the purpose of Ramadan is primarily to teach self-discipline and control of appetite, it is ineffective. Those who observe it eat more, not less. Granted, control of appetite may not be its entire aim, but surely it is at least part of it.

The New Testament teaches that only through increasing one’s spiritual character can he defeat physical temptation. “I say then, walk in the spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18).

When one learns the nature of Jesus and follows his example, physical desires diminish and the “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) predominates. It is not regulations that help us master the flesh. It is a Godly heart, and the focusing of our attention upon the things above (Colossians 3:1-2).

Forced fasting will never teach us self discipline. Only the Spirit of Christ can do that.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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