The dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast is not just for Muslims anymore. Indeed, the curious trend of non-Muslim Westerners participating in the tradition has been on full display in 2009:
- Brian McLaren, a leading American evangelical in the "emergent church" camp, has fasted since Ramadan began in late August. He explains: "As Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them. Just as Jesus, a devout Jew, overcame religious prejudice and learned from a Syrophonecian woman and was inspired by her faith two thousand years ago (Matthew 15:21 ff, Mark 7:24 ff), we seek to learn from our Muslim sisters and brothers today."
- Dozens of University of Michigan medical students voluntarily took part in a one-day fast, sponsored by a Muslim group, to help future doctors "understand how annual Ramadan fasting would affect the lives of their Muslim patients." One student said, "In terms of understanding the science and the physical effects of fasting, that's something we can learn in lecture. … As a provider, this helps us understand better why it would be important enough for one of our patients to do this."
- London Mayor Boris Johnson has encouraged Britons to learn about Islam through fasting. While visiting the East London Mosque — known for welcoming radical preachers — Johnson stated, "I urge people, particularly during Ramadan, to find out more about Islam, increase your understanding and learning, even fast for a day with your Muslim neighbor and break your fast at the local mosque."
Though the notion of non-Muslims participating in Islamic rituals appears odd to many, people can do as they please as long as they do not harm others. That said, one cringes when contemplating how Islamists will be emboldened by seeing non-Muslims engage publicly in Muslim practices. McLaren's actions also recall the complementary phenomenon of Western Christian leaders repackaging their faith with Islamic terminology (e.g., the bishop who wants God to be referred to as "Allah" and the Catholic organization that describes Lent as the "Christian Ramadan"). Furthermore, one cannot help but wonder whether joining in the traditions of non-Muslim religious groups would be touted as equally educational for medical students.
The third case does, however, cross a red line that the first two do not. Muslims are free to invite non-Muslims to fast — or do anything else — to mark the Islamic holy month, but it most definitely is not the place of government officials to offer such highly faith-specific suggestions. Imagine Johnson requesting that Muslims take part in Christian rituals to increase their "understanding." If this would never happen, then neither should the reverse.
In summary, these stories reiterate the Islamist Watch recipe for accommodating Islam in the West: while individuals have significant leeway to conduct their own lives as they wish, Islam must not be granted any preferred status in the public square — not even during Ramadan.