I noticed yesterday that the hot dog vendor near my work was gone, and I asked him about it today. He informed me that he’s Muslim, and that he’d taken off yesterday to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, the “Festival of Breaking Fast.”
Like Judaism, Islam uses lunar calendars for months. (By the way, this is why St. Paul refers to weeks and months as “Sabbaths” and “New Moons” in Colossians 2:16 — because the new moon separated month from month, just as the Sabbath separated week from week). Yesterday celebrated the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which went from August 1st to the 30th.
During the month of Ramadan, adult Muslims engage in ritual fasting from sunup to sundown. This practice, Sawm, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse. Each evening, Muslims will break the fast at sundown with Iftar, a traditional meal often beginning with the eating of dates — an homage to a practice of Muhammad.
Consider, then, my hot dog vendor. For an entire month, he sat or stood in a cramped hot dog cart, making hot dogs for other people — and being unable to eat even a bite of food all day. And no matter how hot he got in his cart, or how much he sweated, he was unable to take even a drink. Certainly, he could eat and drink when it got dark, and he was back home, but I imagine standing in the heat, over delicious-smelling food, that’s a small solace.
Even on the toughest of days – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – I’ve had the comfort of at least not working in a food cart, and being allowed plenty of hydration. I was struck by this, and what a beautiful testament it was to the man’s faith. And it got me thinking about Islam, and how we understand that religion as Catholics.
The Catholic Church is clear that Islam teaches some faulty and outright false things about God, and that these threaten a man’s ability to come to a saving faith, or to properly do the will of God. But the Church is also clear that Islam believes false things about the true God, rather than believing things (true or false) about some other god.
To use an analogy: if you worship Jesus, but think He’s a catcher for the Yankees, you’re probably worshiping a different Jesus. So it’s possible to follow after false gods — the pagans worshiped demons (1 Corinthians 10:20), for example — but it’s also to follow after the true God with some false beliefs. So if you worship Jesus, but think He was a fisherman (instead of a carpenter), you probably just have a mistaken belief about the actual Jesus of Nazareth.
Similarly, Islam affirms the God of Abraham is the true God. They are right in doing so, whatever other faults may exist. Christians sometimes stumble over this: how can Muslims be worshiping the same God as us, when they claim He has no Son (Sura 19:35)? The answer’s easy: they’re wrong about Him having no Son. Likewise, Calvinists believe that God predestines some people to Hell. Does that mean that they worship a separate god, one who actually does double-predestine? Of course not. They believe in the True God, they’re just wrong that this True God predestines people for Hell.
Any time you’re trying to follow the God of Abraham, you’re trying to follow the true God. He more or less says as much (Genesis 28:13). You might do so imperfectly — with serious, salvation-threatening errors about His Nature and His Will — but that doesn’t mean you’re following someone else. And this is true whether you’re Catohlic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, or Muslim. That doesn’t mean that these are all equally good roads to God,or anything of the sort. These groups aren’t equally right, and many teach things which threaten your eternal salvation. But like I’ve said, they’re wrong about God, rather than being wrong (or right) about Ba’al, or Zeus, or Odin, or demons.