By Rhett Burns
I’ll never forget my first Ramadan in Istanbul. That sweltering summer we slept on couches in the street-facing living room of our first-floor apartment because it was the only room with air conditioning.
On the first night of Ramadan, we awoke at 3 a.m. to a thundering noise from the streets.
Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom-boom.
This, I learned the following day, was the Ramadan drummer, whose job it is to awaken the faithful for the sahur meal just before dawn. Two thousand drummers wander the neighborhoods of Istanbul, dressed in traditional Ottoman costumes, beating their drums, singing and chanting traditional Islamic songs and poems.
Drummers, who work weddings and other festivities during the rest of the year, rely on donations during Ramadan. Our neighborhood drummer treated us to his performance 30 consecutive nights, so when he came to our door in the middle of the month to collect money, I was tempted to match his donations if he’d just knock it off and let me sleep. Instead, I politely declined.
The Ramadan drummer calls for Muslims to arise from their slumber and be filled before the sun rises. As Christians praying during Ramadan, we are also calling for wakefulness.
But we pray that our neighbors would be wakened from the bitter sleep of death. That they would be filled, not with the perishable food of sahur, but with the food that endures to eternal life, the bread of life come down from heaven. We are praying they would be filled with Christ and His Spirit.
What are specific ways to pray during Ramadan?
Pray for the general well-being of Muslim-majority nations.
Because of geopolitical realities, we are often tempted to view these nations as adversaries. While that may sometimes be true of our respective nation-states, we would do well to make distinctions between governments and people.
Muslim people are our neighbors, and one way to love our neighbors is to ask God to be kind to them and secure their general welfare. Remember, God sends rain on the just and the unjust. Praying in this way will soften our hearts toward those we are often conditioned to look on as enemies.
Pray for the discontent of Muslims.
Many Muslims come away from Ramadan disillusioned. Some miss the nightly feasts and the crowded mosques, while others feel guilty about their failures to keep religious habits either during or after Ramadan.
Some Muslims will even question the whole practice of fasting and wonder what spiritual benefit comes from observing Ramadan.
The point is this: Ramadan, as false worship, cannot bring contentment. This is good, not because we want our Muslim friends living discontented lives, but because we want them to seek what can truly satisfy their souls: Jesus Christ.
Pray for the Muslim poor.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims focus on the poor in their midst. Fasting is likened to identifying with those who go hungry throughout the year.
Local municipalities will provide free iftar dinners each evening to those who cannot afford such a meal. Almsgiving increases during Ramadan each year.
These practices are good as far as they go, but such charity does not provide the poor their biggest need. Therefore, pray that the poor in Muslim nations would come to know Jesus, who proclaims to them good news and binds up their wounds.
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people” (Psalm 113:7-8 ESV).
Pray that Muslims would experience the joy and life of Christian community.
There is genuine joy around the table at a Muslim iftar meal. Family and friends laugh and tell jokes and stories; the food is wonderful. All this is a common grace gift from God, and we should be thankful for it.
But vibrant Christian community exhibits what the best gathering of non-believers can never offer: a group of people at peace with God and one another, the true joy of having their sins forgiven, and the real presence of the Spirit of God indwelling them. This community is attractive and potent.
In one Muslim-majority country, Christian researchers found that contact with a Christian community was one of five leading factors in a Muslim coming to faith in Jesus. Therefore, pray for Muslims to meet and befriend followers of Jesus this Ramadan.
Pray for Muslim-background believers in Jesus.
Ramadan is often a time of great spiritual warfare for these brothers and sisters. Being outnumbered so much—a few thousand believers compared to tens of millions of Muslims—they experience doubts about their salvation.
Can so many be so wrong? they wonder. Having lost jobs, relationships, or babies by miscarriage, they may experience doubts about their circumstances. This wouldn’t have happened had you not left Islam, their family reminds them often.
If they attend an iftar meal, they are berated for their nonsensical beliefs.
For these brothers and sisters, Ramadan is filled with pressure from every side. Pray for God to uphold them with his mighty right arm and sustain them in the face of doubts and scrutiny.
‘Awake, O Sleeper’
As Ramadan continues for the next several weeks, the drummers will persist in their nightly duties to wake the neighborhood. Let us persist, too, but in prayer for our Muslim neighbors that they might wake from their slumber and trust the Lord.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV).