Abrahamic religions, Ramadan, and breaking the fast

Over the next few days, Muslims all over the world will be celebrating the festival of breaking the fast, which marks the end of Ramadan. Self-denial and abstinence are also familiar in Christianity. Following is a brief outline.

Christians believe in the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mystery of the divine Trinity comes to expression in various ways in the Old and New Testaments, says the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church (Catechism 3.2). In fact, the Bible contains references to the Trinity of God even though it does not yet incorporate an explicitly formulated doctrine on the subject. The doctrine of the Trinity was the focus of more than 350 years of discussions at councils and synods, and was finally formulated in a binding manner at the Synod of Toledo (AD 657). Is the Son equal to the Father or is He subject to Him? In other words, are they identical in substance or only of similar substance? This was the fundamental question that fuelled the debate. The Synod of Toledo finally made it clear that “the Father is the same as the Son, the Son the same as the Father, the Father and the Son the same as the Holy Spirit, namely by nature one God” (Catechism 3.2.3).

Abrahamic religions

Non-Christians do not share this conception. Islam and Judaism are monotheistic world religions. Their conceptions of God are different, but also contain some commonalities. Like Christians, their followers believe in the God of Abraham. Referring to them as Abrahamic religions is practically a segue to interreligious dialogue: Jews are the “children of Abraham” and as such constitute a genealogical unit. Christians integrate the Old Testament into their doctrine, and for Muslims, Ibrahim is the father of the Ishmaelites.

There is yet another tradition that unites these world religions, namely the rules of fasting.

The end of Ramadan, breaking the fast

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is observed as a month of fasting. According to Islam, the Quran was first revealed during Ramadan. Faithful Muslims observe the fast during this time. Between dawn and dusk they refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking, and also deprive themselves of other pleasures. Pregnant or nursing women, the old, the weak, and children who have not yet reached puberty, are all exempt from this obligation.

Christianity also incorporates periods of fasting: especially Lent. The period of forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter is observed in commemoration of the forty days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert. Similarly, the season of Advent is a traditional time for repentance and fasting.

Muslims around the world will be celebrating the end of Ramadan over the next few days. It concludes a longer period of fasting. Fasting (sawm) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and thus a form of divine worship. The other pillars include the profession that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His prophet (shahada), the five daily prayers (salat), the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), and the alms tax levied to benefit the poor (zakat).

The festival that breaks the fast at the beginning of the month of Shawwal is the second most important festival of Islam. The festivities begin with an obligatory communal prayer. Before this, it is the duty of the faithful to pay their alms to the poor. The festival lasts three days and is a joyful celebration.

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Peter Johanning
Divine service, Denominations