Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ramadan, 1429

From Granada in Spain and Aubervilliers in France, to Cairo and Jakarta, more than a billion Muslims are this month marking the "handing down" of the Koran. Through daytime fasting, Ramadan, which this year falls September 1-30, is a time to subjugate the body to the spirit.

The advent of Ramadan, which most Westerners would hardly have noticed a decade ago, now merits coverage in such disparate media as the Dallas News and London's Times.

In a passage that Jews who observe communal and personal fast days can identify with, a Muslim contributor to the Times explained that "The late afternoon is always the hardest part of the fast." The Los Angeles Daily News tells its readers that the fast is over only when the "crescent of the moon has been sighted," while The Iowa City Press Citizen empathizes with how difficult it must be to keep the holiday in a place where Muslims are a small minority.

This is also the period when the faithful try to resolve their differences peaceably.

The Pakistani military said it would suspend offensive operations against the Taliban.

As a Ramadan goodwill gesture, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza.

And Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement announced it is committed to negotiating with Hamas rather than fighting - even though the two sides can't even agree on the time of day. Daylight Savings Time in Gaza ended Saturday, but will last for several more days in the West Bank. Also in Gaza, thousands of government employees, among them teachers and medical workers associated with Fatah, are on strike against the Hamas government.

Curiously, this is also a time when some non-Muslims are prone to blame anyone but Muslims for the violence and frustration so prevalent in Islamic civilization.

For instance, an Agence France-Presse dispatch begins: "As most of the rest of the Islamic world welcomes Ramadan... Palestinians in the Gaza Strip warily brace for another holiday under a crippling [Israeli] blockade."

No mention is made of Hamas's adamant refusal to recognize previous Palestinian agreements, end violence against non-combatants, or even accept the right of the Jewish state to exist. There's nothing about Gilad Schalit; or about tons of humanitarian aid Israel has allowed in; or about the 200 Hamas-authorized (and revenue-producing) tunnels between Sinai and Gaza which funnel, among other commodities, arms, missiles and explosives; or about concerted preparations for further aggression. AFP notes only that "Israel has kept the sanctions in place despite a two-month-old truce with Palestinian militants which has mostly halted rocket fire on southern Israel."

DESPITE the fact that the second intifada was launched from the Temple Mount in September 2000, Israel is going to great lengths to accommodate Muslims from Judea and Samaria who wish to attend Friday prayers on the Mount. Married men between 45 and 50 and married women 30-45 can request entry permission, with the expectation that it will be granted. Men over 50 and women over 45 can enter freely.

In addition, for this month the opening hours of checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel proper are being extended. Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons will be allowed to receive special Ramadan packages from their loved ones. And Arab citizens of Israel will be permitted to enter PA-controlled Area A, from where all Israeli citizens are normally barred.

To sensitize Israeli soldiers who come into contact with Palestinian Arab civilians during the holiday, the Civil Administration has distributed leaflets explaining the times, dates and customs of Ramadan: "Soldiers [are] directed to show consideration for the population and instructed to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in populated areas, with an emphasis on the crossing points."

RAMADAN may be an appropriate time for Muslims to reflect on the challenges of faith and modernity. Much of the bloodletting in the Mideast and other Muslim population centers takes place among believers themselves - between those who appear ascendant, who want to return Islam to its most bellicose and imperialistic path, and those who seek coexistence with the "other."

Only when Muslims who aspire to live in harmony with those who do not share their faith are able to triumph over the fanatics will peace between civilizations become a reality.

For this, we too pray.

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