Several years ago, I worked closely with a Muslim man. Over our time together, we talked about our faiths quite a bit. I still treasure a copy of the Qur’an he gave me. One day I was sitting in his office talking, absent-mindedly munching on candy that he always had sitting out on his conference table. After a few minutes, I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry! I forgot it’s Ramadan. I didn’t mean to eat in front of you.” He replied saying something like this, “Oh, there’s no need to apologize. I could put away the candy. But instead, this reminds me that I am fasting. It’s a gift, this time of spiritual focus and fasting.”
He was not one of those people (often Christians) who glory in suffering for its own sake. Rather, he realized that sometimes it is in seeing what we can’t have that we realize what we do have. Absence can be a gift. I think of that exchange quite often as Lent rolls around. The Muslim practice of Ramadan has impressed me, with its focus not only on fasting, but on charity. When Christians stop to listen, we have much to learn from Muslims not only about their faith, but about our own faith. We can learn something about ourselves through the eyes of others.
On a related note, Big Picture has a fantastic collection of images of Ramadan online. Go check it out.