Rachel Bomberger is Internet marketing manager at Eerdmans. She loves reading, writing, and learning new things.
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Tomorrow is . . .
a. The commemoration of the prophet Elijah.
b. The 43rd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s lunar landing.
c. The optional memorial of St. Apollinaris, bishop and martyr.
d. Ugly Truck Day.
e. All of the above.
(The answer, in case anyone reading couldn’t guess immediately, is indeed e. All of the above.)
Tomorrow is also (although I might not have known it if the Twitterverse hadn’t told me earlier this week) the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
I’ll be honest here. I don’t actually know all that much about Ramadan.
Oh, I think I understand the basic gist of it: during Ramadan, practicing Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours to focus on self-discipline and spiritual growth. That much I learned in seventh grade, when I asked a friend in the cafeteria why she suddenly stopped bringing lunches to school with her. She wasn’t anorexic, I discovered. She was observant.
Beyond the basics, though, the Muslim holy month remains a bit of a mystery to me — as, for that matter, do many other things related to Islam and the religious experience of Muslims worldwide.
On one level, I’ll confess, I’m not that curious. A devoted Christian of the Lutheran persuasion, I don’t naturally tend toward the kind of spiritual wanderlust that often motivates people to study and compare world religions. As I see it, there is enough still waiting for me explore within my own religious tradition to keep me fascinated for at least one lifetime.
On another level, though, I am curious. Whether on NPR or Fox News — or in our Bible studies at church, for that matter — Islam seems to come up a lot. Are those discussions always fair-minded, well-informed, and truthful? Honestly, sometimes I feel like I don’t even know enough to discern whether they are or not.
This creates a dilemma for me. As a Christian, I am called to bear witness to truth — to the big Truth (with a capital T) of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, certainly, but also to the holiness and rightness of truth-telling in general.
It follows then that if I am rightly to bear witness to my Christian faith before people of other religious traditions, part of that witness ought to include learning enough about what they believe and how they live out their beliefs that I am able to speak truthfully about them — and to speak out when I hear others say things of them that are not true.
Noted evangelical leader (and Eerdmans author) Richard Mouw said something similar in 2004, when he spoke before a packed audience at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. I quote here from Peggy Fletcher Stack’s recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune:
“We’ve often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of members of the LDS faith,” Mouw said that night. “It’s a terrible thing to bear false witness.” . . .
“If in our attempts to defeat them we play fast and loose with the truth by attributing to them things they don’t in fact teach,” Mouw writes, “then we have become false teachers: teachers of untruths.”
So: do I cherish the hope that one day all people everywhere (including Muslims) will come to put their faith in the saving grace of the crucified and risen Son of God? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.
Until that day comes, however (and even if it doesn’t), I will continue to answer God’s call to love all people as well as I am able — with the understanding that part of loving people involves trying to know and to understand them better.
That is why today I’m issuing a Ramadan Reading Challenge — both to myself and to anyone who is willing to join me in it.
As it happens, Eerdmans published two books dealing with Muslim faith and life in 2011 that I have not yet found time to read — Roger Allen and Shawkat Toorawa’s Islam: A Short Guide to the Faith and Theodore Friend’s Woman, Man, and God in Modern Islam. I plan to make my way through one or both of them during the next few weeks.
I’ll be blogging about my reading experience here again at the end of Ramadan, but I’ll also tweet a few thoughts along the way using #RachRRC (short for Rachel’s Ramadan Reading Challenge).
Will you participate in my Ramadan Reading Challenge, too? I hope you will — and if you do, I hope you’ll share what book or books you plan to read in the comments below. You can also get in touch with me on Twitter (@rachbomberger, or c/o @eerdmansbooks).