How biblical are Iftar meals with Muslims?

Since the world has been struck by Covid-19, participating in any form of social gathering has proved challenging or impossible, but this crisis has not completely disrupted everything. Muslims all over the world are still in the midst of Ramadan, which this year fell between 24th April and 23rd May, and while this year (in many places) it may not be feasible for Christians to join Muslims as they break fast, now is the perfect time to consider whether doing so is biblical. Mission leader and author Steve Bell explores…

During Ramadan it is not unusual for some Christians to break fast in Iftar meals with Muslims they know – some in a Muslim home; some in their own home; some on mosque turf and others on church turf. Some Christians ask how appropriate all this is. 

Last year, a valued correspondent said to the Mahabba Network: “I sincerely believe that…hosting an iftar meal is a form of endorsing Islam…and encouraging Muslims to stay within Islam. This is not the way to love Muslims.”

Some Christians even say Iftar meals are pagan. This is not accurate because orthodox Islam doesn’t do ‘pagan’. It is accurate to say that Iftar food is halal, which is the same as Jewish kosher food. That said – even if halal food was offered to idols, the Apostle Paul would say:

‘Concerning the eating food offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing and there is no other God but one [i.e. to offer it to] …such food does not commend us to God. If we eat it, we are not better, nor if we do not eat it, are we worse.’ (1 Cors.8:4,8)

Remember the primacy of ‘grace’ over ‘law’ in Jesus’ mind when he said: ‘It’s not what goes into someone’s mouth that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouth’ (Mat.15:11).

Like the correspondent above, some Christians say that to attend an Iftar meal is to endorse Islam and affirm Muslims in their Islamic faith, rather than presenting the gospel. The Apostle Paul disagrees, saying: ‘If unbelievers invite you to a feast, and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no questions for conscience sake.’ (1 Cors.10:27)

Jesus also took the exact opposite view by habitually going on to the turf of the Samaritan immigrant community of his day. They had a ‘hybrid-pagan’ form of religion and culture. Jesus intentionally sent his disciples to do a food shop in a Samaritan village; he ate in their homes; and even stayed overnight in their homes (Jn.4:8,40).

Jesus was also used to hanging out with “undesirables”: ‘As he was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples’ (Mat.9:10).

Assuming “tax-collectors” and “sinners” were the equivalent of today’s people of ‘questionable character’, was Jesus affirming such people in their lifestyle? His philosophy was that of a medic on a house call: ‘The healthy don’t need a doctor but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’ (Mk.2:17). This is a ‘grace’ disposition biased towards serving (Lk.22:27), which is a non-negotiable expression of the gospel, which validates verbal witness. Jesus went on to Samaritan turf to help them to ‘belong’ before they ‘believed’; we tend to require the opposite.

In western cultures, we host people at our place to affirm our relationship with them. In non-western cultures we drop-in to be hosted as a way of affirming our relationship with them. Hospitality is the love-language for people of Muslim heritage and eating cements relationship by tapping into our common humanity. To refuse to eat anywhere, with a Muslim in this way, would send a negative message, which hampers ‘whole-life’ Christian witness. So, having an Iftar meal with a Muslim – anywhere – seems to be a no brainer for Christians.

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The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.

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Steve Bell

Steve Bell

Leadership Team at Mahabba Network
A mission leader, analyst, trainer and author, Steve is a recognised communicator with 40 years’ experience in 100 countries. He taught Muslim children in a British inner-city school and then adults in the Middle East. He studied Islamics at Nottingham University, All Nations Christian College, Evangelical Seminary Cairo and Southern Cross College Sydney and has directed Carey College, Action Partners (formerly SUM) and currently is National Director for Interserve. Steve is author of 'Friendship First, Gospel for Muslims and Gospel for Muslims' and co-edited 'Between Naivety & Hostility'. Steve has been a regular speaker for Spring Harvest, Keswick Convention, New Wine and the conferences of FIEC and AOG. He also networks with Mosque and church community leaders on constructive interface and sharing; mission leaders on ‘Islam and Christian witness’ and advises parliamentarians on the issue of ‘social cohesion’. His passion in life is to facilitate ‘ordinary’ Christians discussing good news with 'ordinary' Muslims. He has championed the ‘grace and truth’ (Jn.1:14,17) response to Muslim people for over 20 years. Steve is married to Julia, a senior teacher and, when not enjoying long walks, serious music and cruising, they are “owned” at home by a mentally deranged Siamese cat called Izzy.
Steve Bell

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