What ISIS Doesn’t Understand About Ramadan
Given the suicide attack in Medina today and the rapidly approaching end of Ramadan, I thought it might be a good time to post this. It’s from last year, but (sadly) it still applies. The author does an excellent job of providing context (from a Muslim perspective) for the “dueling narratives” about Islam (i.e. fringe vs. mainstream), and goes on to explain how the issue is actually something deeper.
If you have time, I recommend reading the entire piece. It starts with a description of the concepts & rituals of Ramadan:
The idea of Ramadan as a season of cruelty and aggression is not just incorrect but unthinkable. So how does it become thinkable?For most Muslims around the world, the month of Ramadan marks a yearly renewal, a time to turn inward in spiritual reflection, upward to God in worship, and outward toward other human beings in acts of charity. It is a time when many Muslims who do not offer the five required daily prayers or have much to do with religion for the rest of the year still refrain from food, drink, and sex during the daylight hours of an entire lunar month for the sake of God. Among the five pillars of Islam it is the fast of Ramadan, not the daily prayers, that is the most universally observed Muslim practice worldwide, behind only belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad. People fill mosques at night to offer extra prayers in congregation, and some even spend part or all of the last 10 days of Ramadan in a state of spiritual seclusion following the example of the Prophet. It is a month when many Muslims pay their yearly required alms (zakat) and when generosity reaches its peak in Muslim societies, especially through giving free break-fast meals (iftar) to the poor.
In a way, Ramadan combines the spirit of Christmas with the inwardness of the Easter season. Indeed, Muslims consider Ramadan to be the month that the Word of God (the Quran) first descended into the world through the revelation to Muhammad, as Christmas is the time when the Word of God (Jesus) came into the world through the virgin birth. […]
It then gets to the crux of the problem, which is essentially the same for any religion (added emphasis mine):
A great danger in all religions is the drift from the inward to the outward, resulting in a focus on the shell at the expense of the kernel. When this happens, rituals like fasting are seen less as interiorizing and illuminating ways of approaching God, and more as measures of conformity and participation in a greater human project. For those people who are usually but misleadingly called fundamentalists (even the most peaceful kind), the pursuits of truth, law, contemplation, and social life are often mashed together into a mechanistic fervor in the service of a supreme goal: the fulfillment of an ideological blueprint. These people fuse and confuse the spiritual and the material, and measure all goodness in terms of adherence to a pre-ordained program and vision of what society (and perhaps the entire world) is supposed to look like. […]
When all that is left of religion is its shell, something more sinister will inevitably take the place of the kernel. Rituals, when they cease to nourish the soul and allow participation in a transcendent truth, can become mechanisms of control: you perform the actions and are punished if you do not, and prayer and fasting become gears and levers in a machine designed to build a perfect world. This is the Ramadan of ISIS, where boys are reportedly hung by their wrists for eating during the fast. Only with such a vision of things does it become plausible to say that no act of worship is superior to war, and that a month of fasting and prayer is a special season for bloodletting.* * *
It is precisely the spiritual power, joy, and generosity of Ramadan that the cynical propagandists of ISIS are trying (and, I would argue, failing) to redirect for their own demented purposes. They will be unsuccessful because for almost all Muslims, Islam is still a beautiful religion whose truths satisfy the mind and whose rituals fill hearts with peace. The idea of Ramadan as a season of cruelty and aggression is not just incorrect but unthinkable. So how does it become thinkable? […]
As I’ve done numerous times in the past, I’ll point out yet again that right-wing anti-Muslim activists are typically in complete agreement with groups like ISIS about the meaning of Ramadan, not to mention many other aspects of Islam. Thanks to their inordinate hatred of all things Muslim, these self-styled freedom defending counter-jihadists actually assist terrorist groups in spreading their hateful, violent ideology.