Christian ministry in Afghanistan – Part 2
Missed part 1 of this blog – click here
I hope you had a good week. I am really looking forward to the relaxation of restrictions in the UK! Being able to meet my church home group indoors will be a real blessing. Sitting huddled round a fire pit a few weeks ago was nice but a bit chilly!!
Currently for Muslims all over the world it is the fasting month of Ramadan which ends this week. I’ve written about this regards Afghanistan in the PI Quarterly Update for May but since not everyone reading this receives that let me elaborate a bit more personally here.
Driving in Ramadan
Muslims in Afghanistan fast from sun up to sun down (well so do Muslims in the UK for that matter!). The country is 99% Muslim, so there is much cultural/societal pressure for all locals to fast. In previous eras (pre Mujahedin and Taliban) many Afghans, especially in the cities, didn’t fast so it is debatable if everyone does now. Certainly some people drink water secretly. In work places, hours are shortened by law to accommodate the fast. Then everyone goes home to sleep in the afternoons. Now the days are shorter (as Ramadan moves backwards 10 days each year as part of the Islamic calendar) it is easier for people. Long hot summer days meant people really struggled (even in the UK) and driving became dangerous with sleepy grumpy drivers in very busy traffic.
I well remember a ‘dodgy” journey later in the day along the Khyber pass with a driver who was fasting…..didn’t leave me feeling good so we made some ‘rules’ after that regards the working hours of office drivers in Ramadan!
Gaining an extra blessing from God…
The Koran teaches that pregnant women and people with health issues do not need to fast but many still do and put their health in danger. People tend to eat far more in Ramadan during the fast breaking meal and this can be quite unhealthy too. As an expat you have to be very careful not to say anything that looks like you are being negative about Islam even if you know health is an issue. Verbal delicate challenges to friends can happen but putting things into writing (say in an email) is not wise. I remember an Afghan female doctor telling me how dangerous it was for some ladies but very hard for her to say anything.
Some people certainly practice Islam much more carefully during Ramadan as they believe you gain extra blessing from God. Even Muslims who barely pray normally start to be more conscientious even getting up for the night prayers. In work places men often get together at prayer times and there can be great pressure to conform. Very difficult for those who have become believers. In the past some Afghan believers I have known have suffered serious mental health problems in this period as to be a believer could mean death.
Afghans who are really seeking God
One particular night in Ramadan is called the “Night of Power”* when many Afghan Muslims believe God will reveal himself to them. Some will stay up all night praying in the hope of this. This can be a fruitful topic of conversation though to be honest those I spoke to about it didn’t seem to have any grasp of what “God revealing himself” really means. Some Afghans however are really seeking to find God.
A Muslim friend of mine kept disappearing from the office for long periods. When I asked him where he was going he said he was praying. Of course he was allowed to pray but not for one and a half hours each time during work time!! He told me he was so desperate to know God that he needed to spend a long time praying. He said that in the section of the Muslim prayers which was for personal requests, he really was crying out to God. He wanted to know him. I felt humbled. Later he started to read the Bible, and became a believer. God honours those who seek him.
Expatriate Christians in Ramadan
Expatriate Christians in Ramadan have to be very careful to not eat or drink around locals. While we personally didn’t observe the fast (though some chose to as a way of identifying with and praying for local people), we still wanted to be mindful and respectful of the locals around us. After lunch, we made sure to brush our teeth so that our breath didn’t smell like food. Eating in the bazaar can cause hostility. I once accidentally ate a snack while I was out during Ramadan (forgetting myself) and I received some very angry looks. When temperatures are very high it is difficult but necessary to drink water sensitively e.g. in the back of the car.
As a Christian, Ramadan can be very tiring and certainly most expats have part of it out of country as a break. Those fasting can be very tried, unproductive, grumpy. They can also be very self-righteous (sorry my Muslim friends but…!). The Christian idea of fasting being between you and God is not what happens! People talk endlessly regards fasting and how it is affecting them.
It used to be possible to visit Muslim friends in Ramadan at fast breaking time, in fact they would invite you and it was a very interesting experience to see the process leading up to eating, as well as a visit to socialize. With the long hot summers people became too tired for guests (as well as security issues) but I hope now that Ramadan is in cooler months people will start to invite guests. Also in the UK local Muslim friends became too weary to invite guests as the fasting days were long. In Afghanistan Covid restrictions have not forbidden people from visiting but obviously in the UK they have.
After the month of Ramadan finishes, there is a three day holiday called Eid ul Fitr. I will write about that next week, and also the recent terrible attack on school students in Kabul…
p.s. Would you like to find out more about Christian mission in Afghanistan?
*Night of Power
Night of Power – also referred to as Laylat ul-Qadr – falls within the final ten days of the month of Ramadan. It is believed to be the night when the first verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as guidance for all of mankind.
It is also known as the night in which your fate is decided for the following year, and as such is a time to reflect and repent for your sins and pray for forgiveness and Allah’s (SWT) mercy.
It is said that during this holy and prosperous month, the gates of hell are closed, and the Shaytan (Satan – Devil) is locked away. Therefore, you have the advantage and opportunity to have an even clearer mind and purer soul. It is solely a night of extended worship, prayer, recitation of the Holy Qur’an and visiting the Mosque.
The blessings of praying on the night of Laylat ul-Qadr is believed to be better than that of a thousand months of worship and devotion. This also means that any good deeds sincerely performed on this Night of Power are equal to those accomplished over a thousand months.