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NOBTS prof: Ramadan beneficial to Christians, retailers

NASHVILLE (BP) — Christians in the U.S. can benefit from the hospitality Muslims extend during Ramadan, a Southern Baptist professor told Baptist Press, just as U.S. retailers are increasingly catering to the month-long celebration.

Party City, Whole Foods and Macy’s are offering festive decorations, modest clothing and discounts on ethnic foods this Ramadan, satisfying a Muslim market estimated at between 3.45 million and 5.7 million people.

Christians can use the month to build friendships with Muslims that might lead to sharing the Gospel, said Mike Edens, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary graduate studies dean and professor of theology and Islamic studies.

“The desire of Muslims to show hospitality to their neighbors especially during Ramadan gives me the opportunity to accept the invitation to an evening meal (iftar) with that family,” said Edens, who has ministered widely among Muslims abroad. “This opens the door for returned invitations and sharing opportunities.

“As a Christian I have the chance to intercede with the Father to give my Muslim neighbors opportunity during Ramadan to hear the Gospel and choose to follow Jesus,” Edens said. “Through all of this interaction, we Christians can see the devotion and family life of our Muslim neighbors and in fulfillment of the Golden Rule, desire for them a walk with Jesus.”

Party City said it is the first U.S. retailer to offer a line of products specifically for the Muslim holy month, according to CNN. The chain, with 900 stores in the U.S. and Canada, rolled out in select stores and online in April decorations for Ramadan and Eid, the celebration that ends the observance this year on June 14.

Macy’s debuted online in February modest women’s clothing, the Verona Collection, including hijabs, dresses, tops and cardigans. Whole Foods has offered since Ramadan 2011 a month-long 20 percent discount on a line of certified halal frozen foods branded Saffron Road.

“Customer service is one of the most common core values for American retail enterprises,” Edens said. “I expect companies to identify customer needs and meet them. It happens that these companies are identifying Muslim opportunities and meeting them in a business-like way.”

The Pew Research Center said in January that an estimated 3.45 million Muslims in the U.S. would increase to 8.1 million by 2050, driven by a high birth rate and immigration. The American Muslim Consumer Consortium (AMCC) estimated the U.S. Muslim population at 5.7 million in 2013 with 1.7 million households, according to the group’s Muslim Green: American Muslim Market Study 2014-15. American Muslims have about $98 billion in disposable income, the AMCC said.

Most Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours, but often end each day with a festive meal. The month ends with Eid al-Fitr, a time of sweets, gifts for children, charitable donations and social events, Pew said.

During Ramadan, Edens said, Muslims focus on:

— who their God is and what he wants from them;

— fasting as a reminder to focus their lives on God and their walk with him, and

— community and using the resources at hand to fellowship and meet human needs.

“God is giving us locally the opportunity to participate in all phases of the Acts 1:8 mandate,” Edens told BP. “The Acts 1:8 vision of Jesus is no longer geographically defined. The people groups from Judea, Samaria and the ends of the Earth have moved into our Jerusalem.

“You and I as witnesses can share the powerful and simple Gospel of Jesus in the local marketplace to much of the world’s people groups.”