“Does staying hungry all day for Ramadan really please God?” Tanselm* wondered. “How does this all work?” His questions turned to a vexing accusation. Satan was tempting him and placing doubts in his head, he thought. Guilt pressed uncomfortably on his conscience. Ramadan did not carry Tanselm to the heights of spirituality but rather drug him to the depths of confusion. What’s the point of all this? Tanselm wasn’t alone.
For many Muslims, the month after Ramadan is marked by sadness. Islamic websites and message boards refer to this phenomenon as post-Ramadan depression. The dinner tables are no longer full, the mosques are empty, and everyone has returned to the normal rhythms of life, each to his own way. Their devout religious habits fade while their lurking pre-Ramadan sins beset them once again. The spiritual high felt during Ramadan seems good for the month, but why doesn’t it seem to last?
Ramadan Cannot Satisfy
No matter how devoutly practiced, Ramadan cannot satisfy the human soul. It necessarily leaves one longing for more. The outlet for this longing takes many forms. Some, like Tanselm, question their beliefs. Others try doubling down on Islamic devotion to deal with their sadness while yet others will abandon the religion altogether. No matter how your Muslim friends go about their lives after Ramadan, you can know this: their souls are not satisfied.
How can we know this?
First, Ramadan is an act of false worship. It is idolatry, and idols are notoriously impotent to deliver on their promises. They have ears, eyes, and mouths, but they do not hear, see, or speak (Ps. 115:5–6). Ramadan promises a cleansing of body and soul but lacks the power to cleanse. False worship, by definition, cannot do the work of true worship.
Second, Ramadan does nothing about one’s sin, the root cause of all discontentment. Even within an Islamic framework, observing the fast can only provide a Muslim with enough good works to—hopefully—outweigh his or her sins. But the sins remain. From a biblical perspective, forgiveness through Christ is the only way to deal with sin with any finality. Ramadan offers no atonement for sin. Therefore, sin’s guilt and condemnation against the soul remain.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Third, Ramadan lacks the power to produce godly living. Muslims will often prioritize prayers and acts of charity during Ramadan, but one of the most common complaints of those experiencing post-Ramadan depression is their inability to sustain their good habits once life returns to normal. Paul’s words to the Colossians regarding regulations according to human precepts and teaching are apropos: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23 ESV).
Only the work of the Holy Spirit—who is gifted to us through faith in Christ—can produce godly living that’s pleasing to God. Man-made religious practices will never cultivate virtue or curb the indulgence of the flesh. All attempts to make them do so only lead to frustration because we are imperfect people trying to be worthy before a holy God. Apart from Christ, it can’t be done.
Only Christ Satisfies
Augustine famously summarized the state of the human heart, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Union with Christ is the foundation for the satisfaction of our souls. Only in Christ can we worship God in spirit and in truth. Only in Christ are our sins forgiven, the record of our debt nailed to Christ’s cross. And only in Christ are we created for good works and given everything we need for life and godliness.
“Anytime we pursue lasting hope, peace, fulfillment, and meaning apart from Jesus, we will end up disappointed and discontent.”
Ramadan fails to satisfy because it denies Jesus as the only source of forgiveness and cleansing. The same is true for any venerated human experience disconnected from Jesus. Anytime we pursue lasting hope, peace, fulfillment, and meaning apart from Jesus, we will end up disappointed and discontent. At the right hand of God are pleasures forevermore, but no one comes to the Father except through Christ.
Love Your Muslim Neighbor after Ramadan
Here are a few practical ways to love your Muslim neighbors who may experience something of a letdown after Ramadan.
First, the month after Ramadan presents a strategic time to pray for Muslims worldwide. Pray that the discontent of their hearts would lead them to search for truth.
Second, ask your Muslim friends leading questions. For example, “Sometimes after big holidays, people feel a letdown or a bit sad. Do you ever feel that way after Ramadan?” Then, be prepared to explore their answers and lead them to the soul-quenching truth of the gospel.
Third, invite them to a joyful gathering of Christians. Losing nightly feasts with friends and family is an oft-cited reason for post-Ramadan depression. In the absence of their gatherings, give your friends an opportunity to experience genuine Christian community.
Tanselm, after questioning the point of all Ramadan’s religiosity, eventually believed and is now a faithful Christian. An intense and devout Muslim, his heart was first softened to Christ by experiencing the hospitality of African Christians while he worked abroad. Here’s your chance to offer hospitality to others who long for it.
Fourth, share the gospel with your friends. In their post-Ramadan disillusionment, your friends need to hear that their souls can find rest in God through Christ. Their sins can be forgiven, their eternal future secured, and their souls satisfied. This is news more refreshing than the first glass of water upon breaking the fast on a sweltering summer evening. This is news more satisfying than all the feasts of all the iftars of all the world.
“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:5 ESV).
David Austin serves with IMB among Central Asian peoples.