Friday, September 24, 2010

Ramadan 2010

Three near-certainties accompany the Muslim holy month of Ramadan: in Islamic countries, the stock market climbs; in Jerusalem, the already amplified pre-dawn adhān, or call to prayer, becomes even more piercing than usual; and there is a steep rise in Muslim bloodletting.


At around the time Jews will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, more than a billion Muslims will mark the conclusion of Ramadan with festive Eid al-Fitr meals. For the past month, observant Muslims have abstained from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset to commemorate the handing down of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. The faithful are entreated to curb wicked intentions, practice humility, and pray for forgiveness.

No doubt, for many of the faithful, Ramadan is a period of quiet reflection and spiritual serenity. For many others, however, especially in places where large numbers of Muslims cross paths with Hindus, Christians, or Jews, it is an occasion for barbarity. It is said that the gates of hell are closed during Ramadan, funneling martyrs to heaven with ease.

In Kashmir, Muslim violence against Indian security forces regularly spikes during Ramadan. Elsewhere, killing a Christian during Ramadan is deemed especially meritorious: a Syrian Catholic abducted in Mosul, north of Baghdad, was murdered this year even though the kidnappers' ransom demands had been met. All up and down Iraq, suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and snipers have taken an ungodly toll of innocent lives. In Somalia, Islamist suicide bombers killed 31 people at a Mogadishu hotel. In Lebanon, Sunnis killed Shiites and Shiites killed Sunnis in disputes over turf.

Thousands of miles away, in southern Thailand where Muslims are in the majority, Islamists set off a deadly explosive device killing, among others, a two-year-old boy. Again the reason given was Ramadan, a period in which, the Chinese news agency Xinhua notes matter-of-factly, "violence in the region always flares up." In Chechnya, bands of men attacked women in the street for not wearing headscarves. Scores of foreign troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan have been killed, as have many civilians targeted as they shopped for food to break the fast.

Practicing Muslims are now a visible element of daily life in Europe and the Americas, and Ramadan is no longer on the margins of Western consciousness. This year, many British and U.S. news outlets provided coverage of the start of the month-long fast; others helpfully offered special features ranging from news of pertinent iPhone applications to discussions about the propriety of Muslim women visiting hair salons during the month.

Spokesmen for other faiths, trying to look beyond the miasma of violence, have conscientiously focused on the season's spiritual aspects. The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sent greetings in 31 languages, attributing Ramadan-related violence—obliquely termed a "manipulation of religion"—to ignorance, poverty, and injustice. In India, The Hindu published an article by a Muslim author extolling the festival, while from the U.S. a respected Hindu leader sent Ramadan greetings to Muslims worldwide.

In Israel, Christians and Jews distributed food baskets to 250 needy Muslim families in the town of Lod, while in Acre the town's chief rabbi joined an Iftar banquet tendered to promote respect for non-Jewish holidays in the Jewish state. Israeli soldiers who come into contact with Palestinian Arabs have been given sensitivity training and instructed not to eat in front of fasting Muslims. Israeli authorities have gone to great lengths to facilitate access for West Bank Muslims to their shrines atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

But no amount of ecumenical goodwill can change the fact that Ramadan is a blood-soaked period. What can be done about that? Only the Muslim faithful themselves can challenge Islamists bent on brutality. There is a glimmer of hope that this is beginning to happen, but it will take a thorough political and theological reformation before the bloodletting is taken out of Ramadan.


-- September 2010

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