Traditions, and New Ways

The spiritual aspects of fasting, with reflection, prayer, and the social aspects of helping the needy are still observed amongst Christians.

As Eid ul Fitr is celebrated, it is a good time to reflect on old foundations, tradi­tions and new ways. Most things remain the same, but some change. And we should remember that Rama­dan and Eid are both age-old and modern at the same time. The foundations are stead­fast, but some traditions change as we discover new and more relevant ways for our time, with variations over geo­graphic areas, groups of people, and more. We should feel that the way we celebrate is right and good for ourselves and for the people around us.

The Christian fast, Lent, which this year was marked partly at the same time as Ramadan, end­ed with Easter about a fortnight ago. At the end of April, the Jew­ish Passover will be marked. The three Abrahamic religions are in­terwoven and build on each oth­er, yet, they also with differences. The old foundations and many of the religious dogma is similar, but traditions have also developed and changes have come over time.

We should appreciate that in spite of variations, much of the focus is on commonalities rath­er than differences, and many differences are often more on the surface, about form and rel­ative emphasis of aspects and is­sues. I believe that everybody’s old foundations, values, and tra­ditions become stronger if we listen to each and consider the thinking of others, not necessar­ily to change, but still to learn about different forms and expres­sions. Exchange between ‘neigh­bours in faith’ strengthens all - as we remember that God is one and the same for all people.

The tradition of fast is an ex­pression of obedience and praise to God, a time of cleansing and reflection, celebrated across and beyond religions and sects and branches within them. In the modern Protestant Christian tradition, few priests and ordi­nary members carry out the ac­tual concrete fast today, but in the Catholic branch, and cer­tainly the Orthodox branch, fast­ing is observed. In the Protes­tant traditions, much has gotten lost and has changed, and new ways have taken over. Some new ways may be good, but many will also regret the changes, admit­ting at the same time that recre­ating old ways is difficult. In the Protestant Church today, the pe­riod of fasting is focused on in the calendar and in the sermons over the whole four-week period of fast; the end of fasting is cele­brated with Easter, which is sim­ilar to Eid.

The spiritual aspects of fast­ing, with reflection, prayer, and the social aspects of helping the needy are still observed amongst Christians, but not quite with the same commitment as shown by Muslims. In Pakistan, though, where Christianity and Islam live close to each other, many Chris­tians observe fast in similar, con­crete ways as Muslims. This un­derlines the positive aspects of related religions borrowing from each other as good neighbors. In any case, the essential aspects of the period of fasting are the spir­itual aspects, prayer, renewal of one’s faith, considering social is­sues, and doing good to others.

People want to distinguish be­tween their own faith and their social and political opinions. Yet, at the same time, people of faith also want their values and eth­ics to be seen in their everyday life. Muslim and Christian faith­ful stress that in the end, our ac­tions are built on our faith val­ues. Today, though, watching the terrible wars in Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere, we seem not to be guided by our religions. We seem to forget the basic teach­ing of Jesus/Isa, that we should love our enemy and always work for peace. Islam and Christianity build on this fundamental way of thinking and behaving.

Dear Reader, may I wish you Eid Mubarak 2024, thank you for all the good you have done, and wishing you health, prosperity and a good spiritual and social life. Let us all pray that the ongo­ing wars and conflicts will end, and that peace will prevail every­where – to be realized with the efforts of all of us.

Atle Hetland
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. He can be reached at

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid

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