International (MNN) — Muslims–there are 1.6 billion in the world–believe Ramadan is the holiest month in the year, when the Qur’an, the book of Islam, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
During this month, observant Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Muslims fast during the holy month as a lesson in self-restraint, teaching them compassion for the needy, a sense of self-purification, and an emphasis on spiritual matters.
Sometimes, Ramadan exposes the dark side of extremism. Persecution watchdogs say Christians often face an increased risk of persecution in Muslim-majority countries. Some governments in Islamic countries forcibly enforce observance of Ramadan, and militant groups increase their vigilante activities against both non-abiding Muslims and non-Muslims. In many cases, these governments tend to become more intolerant toward those who do not observe Ramadan.
That’s especially true in areas where the Islamic State is in control. In Mosul, new rules went into effect in the stronghold city, with extreme measures of justice meted out on the wrongdoers.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA notes, “Christians who are doing outreach, particularly when you talk about areas controlled by ISIS, obviously they have to be very much underground and very secretive in the work that they’re doing. The other thing, though, that plays a particularly significant role during Ramadan is the prayers of God’s people around the world for Muslims to come to faith in Christ.”
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others include the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, alms-giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Put together, Nettleton says, “This is the time when Muslims are seeking God. They’re trying to earn His approval; they’re trying to figure out what His will is. They are in an atmosphere of spiritual seeking. Obviously, that can be a significant time for Jesus Christ to move and for the Holy Spirit to move.”
Muslims around the world are looking for hope, especially in light of the atrocities committed in the Islamic State caliphate. Nettleton believes Jesus Christ offers a hope worth sharing, but the question is: How? “What happens, as a Christian, when your Muslim co-worker says, ‘Hey! I had this weird dream last night….’ Suddenly, you get an opportunity to speak truth into a situation. But that also requires a great deal of tact and wisdom to know ‘What do I say? How do I say this in the right way?’ We can be in prayer, not only for their (followers of Christ) safety, but also for wisdom and for opportunities to share the Gospel.”
VOM comes alongside a Church under pressure with support. That might include leadership training or providing Bibles. In some cases, it’s financial support or providing a vocational means to earn a living. Always, it’s spiritual support from the global body of Christ. Knowing they’re not forgotten is half the battle toward keeping the workers of the Gospel encouraged. Nettleton recognizes the spiritual nature present during Ramadan. “We’ve heard numerous stories of dreams and visions that come during the Ramadan season, so we know that there are these threats, but it’s also a key time for us to be in prayer for Muslims to come face to face with Jesus Christ and to choose to follow Him in a personal way.”