The Common Good

Ramadan Karim: The Poor Will Be Fed

The cab driver pulled up to the curb and popped the trunk, but kept inching forward. 

Prayer bead photo, Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com
Prayer bead photo, Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com

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“Hey!” I yelled. I opened the door and flung my briefcase in before he could pull off again. I was in no mood to have a cabbie play chicken with me after a full day of travel from Los Angeles to D.C. 

We whizzed off. 

“I’m going to Petworth,” I said. 

He said he didn’t exactly know where that was, so I explained. Then we sat in silence.

Soon, he grumbled under his breath, “I should have gone home.”

“You didn’t want to pick me up?” I asked.

“You’re in my car. I’m going to take you,” he insisted as we crawled toward D.C.’s downtown area.

All I could think was, “Ugh … What a way to end my fourth day of Ramadan.”

I began the day with what had become my Ramadan ritual: I got up at 4 a.m., made breakfast, sat in the dark while eating quickly enough to beat the sunrise. Then went back to sleep hoping to reach REM sleep before 7 a.m. 

On day one, I started the Ramadan Fast while with a diverse group of evangelicals from across the country, each of whom is dedicated to biblical justice. We convened early in the morning. Around 10 a.m. I felt the first pangs of thirst for water and knew that I still had about 10 more hours to go. All I could think was, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”

We continued meeting through lunch. When I explained that I wasn’t eating because I’m fasting for Ramadan, they didn’t bat an eye, and I became the group’s note taker over meals. 

Each day I found myself anticipating 8 p.m. when I could break the fast. How would I break it? What would I eat? Who would I break it with? 

I’d wanted to break the fast on my first day at a mosque, but our meeting went long, so I wasn’t able to break the fast until about 10 p.m.! 

As we wrapped up, I explained to the group: “During Ramadan you’re supposed to break the fast in community or with family. So, I’d like to invite everyone to join me at a local restaurant to break the fast with me.” 

Surrounded by my beloved community of evangelicals for justice, I broke the fast on the first day at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Pasadena, Calif. 

It was beautiful, actually. 

Earlier in the evening, each of us had shared the stories of our journeys to embrace the biblical call to justice. Some had come a long way from backgrounds that pitted justice against evangelism. Others had experienced the brunt of injustice at early ages and had come to know and love Jesus through his commitment to justice. Now my evangelical family was joining me at table, supporting me in the beginning of my Ramadan journey.  

After two more days of discussion about the call of the church to do justice, and two more days of deep and unwavering pangs of hunger and thirst that had to wait for sundown to be filled, I had an epiphany:  In the same way that I waited eagerly for the breaking of the Ramadan fast each night — counting it as something to celebrate — on the day Jesus comes again, we will celebrate. Interestingly, I recently found out Muslims also anticipate the return of Jesus. For, on that day there will be no injustice anymore. Imagine it! There will be no hunger anymore! There will be no one who is thirsty anymore! All will have their fill! All will taste the sweetness of life!  All will be free of oppression! All will be able to laugh and play, and no one will be lonely any more.

Then it struck me: Ramadan offers an emphatic example of what is to come. Just as the community of creation suffers and groans waiting for all the relationships broken at the Fall to be made right again (Romans 8:18-23), so the communities that practice Ramadan suffer and grow together each day, waiting for their very bodies to be made right again each night through the intake of food and water. 

My grumpy cab driver mumbled something about fasting under his breath.

“Are you fasting for Ramadan?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

“So am I,” I exclaimed. “I’m a Christian, and I’m fasting for Ramadan.”

“A Christian fasting for Ramadan?” 

He asked for clarification, so I explained. He confessed that he had not fasted that day because he wasn’t feeling well. I shared that I understood. I understood the pangs of hunger, the deep thirst, and the lack of energy, but I’d also gotten some deep spiritual gifts from the practice.

“Explain,” he said.

I did: “Just as the Christian communion is not to be taken alone, and just as biblical justice is a communal effort to reform systems that break people and corrupt the rest of creation, so I had found the Ramadan fast to be an emphatic example of just community. Each night of Ramadan, families and mosques across the nation serve Iftar dinners — free meals for the entire community. All are welcome. So, at least during the 30 days of the fast of Ramadan each year all in the community eat, no one shall end the day in thirst. No one shall go to sleep hungry. During Ramadan, even the poor shall be filled.”

My Afghani cab driver picked me up because he needed one more fare to break even that day. Perhaps he was one of “the poor.” I don’t know. I do know taxi cab drivers are among the poorest of America’s working poor.

“Yes. I like that,” he said, “the poor will be fed.”

Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

Prayer bead photo, Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com

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