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Just the other day, I had the privilege of getting together with a Muslim friend of mine, visiting friends during a trip to Houston. The purpose? For me to meet my two-month old “niece.”

And so I did.

I hadn’t seen my friend (I’ll call her “Ella”) for almost eight months. I hadn’t been able to visit her during her labor, and I didn’t really know what was happening with her doctoral studies. Yet this woman–this beautiful, faithful woman–had pursued me in the middle of the day, during the last, most difficult week of the holiest Muslim celebration, with a two-month old to care for.

So we chatted, and I cooed with baby, and she took a breather. I could see the tired lines on her face, along with the joy.

“Why do you fast during Ramadan?” I asked.

“I fast during Ramadan to draw closer to Allah,” she said. “And I fast to remember those who are hungry, and remember to care for them as I care for myself during hungry times.” (My paraphrase of Ella’s words.)

Muslim women visiting Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (by rightohijab via flickr.com)

She paused, and I mentioned something about Christians fasting occasionally. “When Christians fast for many days in a row, when do they break their fast?” she asked.

I paused. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t know any Christians who fast for many days in a row.”

And, I thought to myself, if I had to fast for 40 days (as Jesus Himself did) all day every day with two small meals between 10pm-4am, I certainly would not be sitting here with a two-month old on my hip, talking to a friend, and not complaining.

We said good-bye when baby got fussy and parted ways. I left with many questions: Why don’t Western Christians (for the most part) fast with any regularity? When did we decide it was okay to emulate certain parts of Jesus’ spiritual life but not that one? What would happen if we had a holy month of fasting at Lent, more robust than “I’ve decided to give up chocolate” (woe is me!)?

One thing I knew: I had one purpose in mind when I met with Ella, but Allah had shown me much, much more.