Islam, Uncertainty, and the Setting of the Sun

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During this year’s holy month of Ramadan, when consumption of food and water is prohibited between dawn and dusk, how do Muslims observing the fast manage in the far north of Scandinavia, where the sun never sets?

That was the question posed at the beginning of a terribly interesting, howbeit unsettling, human interest piece featured on Aljazeera’s website last week. You can find the full article here, and I strongly encourage you to read it. The article went on to detail a religious conundrum for Muslims who find themselves above the arctic circle. The little town in the article is home to a mining operation with hundreds of Muslim workers, who are intent on following the religious requirements of their faith set out during Ramadan. Of course, this means they must fast from sun up until sun down.

But, how do you fast until dark, where there is no night?

According to the article, the Muslim community in this mining town is split into four camps about how to fulfill this requirement. However, my desire is not to wax verbose on their various conclusions. Instead, I want to highlight a quote from the article. The author, Cajsa Wikstrom, asks some town residents to weigh in on the situation, and the responses lay bare an unsettling truth of Islam. Namely, Islam is nothing more than religious legalism grounded on a foundation of uncertainty.

The first of these witnesses is Alankar. For those of us who know the life-giving truth of the gospel, his words should pierce to the heart. Wikstrom writes, “Alankar sticks to Mecca time, Saudi Arabia, ‘because it’s the birthplace of Islam’. But he is worried about whether his fast will be accepted by God. ‘I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing,’ said Alankar, who arrived in Kiruna seven months ago after a hazardous journey via Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. ‘Only when I’m in God’s house, if I make it to heaven, I will know.’

Wikstrom points out in the article that Sunni Islam has no mechanism from discerning the appropriate ethic in unique contexts like this. For Alankar, that means fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of a God who may not accept his obedience to the rules, even when the rules are too unlcear to follow. There is no assurance; there is no grace; there is only expectation, based on the ideal of perfection. In Islam, God stands before the great scales of merit, weighing out your actions. He decides, even capriciously at times, if your deeds “count”.

Thank God for the gospel. Thank God that we do not stand before a sovereign who expects us to climb the mountain of righteousness on our own. No, he has clearly proclaimed our righteousness as rags, and given us the gift of true righteousness through another.Friends, pray with me this Ramadan, that our Muslims friends may see the light of the gospel, and that the power of Christ may free them from the shackles of spiritual oppression.

Reach out to your Muslim neighbor and share the truth that can set them free.

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Keelan Cook Administrator
Senior Church Consultant
Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.
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