Ramadan is a period when Muslims fast for 30 days. Initially Ramadan commemorated the month when Muhammad received his first revelation. Eventually the observance of Ramadan became one of the Five Pillars of Islam. They neither eat nor drink while the sun is in the sky; only after nightfall may they refresh themselves. Besides fasting, alms giving, prayer, reading the Quran and abstaining from bad deeds are emphasized. This year Ramadan runs from Monday evening July 8, until Wednesday evening August 7.
Globally, there are approximately 3,500 Muslim people groups numbering 1.6 billion adherents. More than one in five people in the world are Muslims.
Why Pray for Muslims during Ramadan?
Ramadan is a particularly good period for followers of Jesus to pray for the Muslim peoples. 2013 marks the 20th year for a prayer initiative that encourages followers of Jesus to pray for the Muslim peoples during Ramadan. (Find out more about this 30 prayer initiative at http://www.30-days.net/) .
From the earliest days, followers of Jesus have prayed “for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Thus a prayer focus on Muslim peoples is a specific application of this general teaching. Future posts will provide a similar prayer focus for the Turkic Peoples that are found along the Silk Road from Eastern Europe through Central Asia to Northwestern China. The Turkic peoples are among the most neglected Muslim people groups.
Answered Prayer for the Muslim Peoples
There are indications that God is at work among the Muslim peoples. Since the 1990s, when several concerted prayer efforts made up of followers of Jesus from around the world, believers from Africa and Asia, North and South America, Europe and Australia, began to intercede for the Muslim peoples, there has been a significant increase in the number of Muslims becoming followers of Jesus Christ. In fact, more Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the last 30 years than any time in history and most of these have come to Christ since 9/11 (www.charismamag.com “When Muslims find Jesus,” Accessed 21 February 2010.).
Here are some “snap shots” of Muslims becoming followers of Jesus Christ.
- Every day 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity or 5.8 million per year.
- Iran: In 1979, at the time of the overthrow the Shaw of Iran, there were 500 believers in Iran. Now there well over 100,000 Muslim Background believers (MBBs).
- Iraq: During Saddam Hussein’s rule, there were only several hundred MBBs in Iraq. Now it is estimated that there are 53,000 MBBs in the country.
- Uzbekistan: In 1986 there were very few Muslim background believers; now there are at least 4,500 MBBs.
- Kazakhstan: in 1990 there were only three known MBBs; today there are over 16,000 Kazak followers of Jesus.
- Church Planting Movements among Muslims: In 1997 only two church-planting movements among Muslim people groups were known. By 2010, over 1,000 baptisms and/or 100 churches had been planted among at least 25 Muslim people groups. (Source: Mission Frontiers, March 2011)
One author declares that “The greatest spiritual awakening in the history of the Middle East is under way.” (Joel C. Rosenberg. Inside the Revolution). If these “snap shots“ are indicative of broader trends, this could indeed be an accurate observation.
Certainly many different factors contributed to these millions becoming followers of Jesus Christ. There have been political factors. The dissolution of the Soviet Union opened access to Central Asia. The attacks of 9/11, pierced the conscience of many Muslims as they were repulsed by this act of terrorism. Technology has made it possible to for Jesus’ message to be shared via internet, satellite television networks, DVDs and now mobile phones. The Bible has been translated into the mother tongue of many Muslim peoples during the last 20-30 years and that often results in many becoming followers of Jesus. We also hear many reports of Muslims having dreams that lead them to follow Jesus. Personally, I do not find it coincidental that this breakthrough began after followers of Jesus began to focus their prayers on the Muslim peoples.
Pray for the Persecuted
Ramadan is also a good time to also remember those followers of Jesus who are persecuted by Muslims. Since the first century A.D., it has been a part of Christian teaching to “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body” (Hebrews 13:2 NASB).
42 of the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted are Muslim majority countries or countries where the Christian majority is persecuted by the Muslim minority (Source: World watch list http://www.worldwatchlist.us/world-watch-list-countries/). Those who choose to follow Jesus Christ in a Muslim country face strong familial and social pressure to renounce their faith and return to Islam. For some, this leads to physical harm or even death. Those in the West are less aware of the persecution and martyrdom followers of Jesus experience in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A notable exception is the imprisonment of Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was arrested in September 2012 and is serving an eight year sentence at the Evin prison in Tehran.
Terrorism carried out by Muslim extremists also adds to the number of those suffering. The attack on the Benghazi Embassy on 9/11/2012, the Boston Marathon bombing (4/15/ 2013) and the public knifing of a British soldier in London (5/22/2013) have been in the media spotlight in recent months.
And let us not forget the violence perpetrated between rivaling factions within Islam. The Shia vs. Sunni roots of the civil war in Syria and the attacks of the Taliban in Afghanistan against their own people are current examples of inter-Islamic conflicts that have cost the lives of tens of thousands of people.
The Peace Making Power of Prayer
Jesus taught his followers to be peace makers (Matthew 5:9) and to pray for their enemies. Hear his words as he speaks in Luke 6:27-36 (ESV).
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
St Francis of Assisi exemplifies a person who fully embraced this teaching of Jesus. Though he lived in the time of the Crusades in the 12th and 13th Centuries – there were three crusades during his lifetime plus the disastrous Children’s Crusade of 1212 – he was the first to reach out to the Muslims in North Africa via peaceful means. His outlook on life is well captured by this prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
All who read this article can pray that multitudes from among the Muslim Peoples may find peace with God, and consider other ways to be peacemakers. This Ramadan prayer emphasis is a good occasion to focus on the Muslim Peoples.
Future posts will focus on specific prayer needs for the Turkic Peoples, which are found along the Silk Road, stretching from Eastern Europe to North Western China.