Reflections on Ramadan: In the Shadow of War

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This year Ramadan brings particular urgency for Muslims as Washington prepares to go to war, without any justification, against an Iraq that has already been crushed and crippled by 12 years of U.S.- and British-engineered sanctions. That urgency is further compounded as the pace of killing and maiming of Palestinian and the destruction of their social, political, and educational lives accelerates under an inhumane and racist Israeli occupation — all without a whimper from president Bush or the international community.

I recall vividly the Ramadan of 1990 and the falling of American “smart” bombs on Iraq. I was working at Scarborough’s Grace Hospital, and the chaplain had asked me to give a talk on Ramadan as part of the daily reflections. I never imagined that the day I was to give the talk would be the very day that an American so-called “smart” bomb would incinerate a shelter full of five-hundred Iraqi women, children and the elderly. I could barely control my emotions as I delivered a talk on “What Ramadan Means to Me” — a reflection-piece written with the help of my youngest son, who is now a neurosurgeon, and has the same passion and love for fasting and the Qur’an now as he did then.

Ever since then, every Ramadan seems to be punctuated by global atrocities against Muslims — genocides, ethnic cleansing, crimes against human rights, brutal occupation, and state-sanctioned terrorism — in Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Kosavo, Afghanistan, Chechnya, China, Iraq, and now India.

How did Muslims come to such a disastrous state as victims of the world’s worst racist policies? More importantly, what can they do about it?

The question of how Muslims arrived at their present global situation requires an in-depth sociological, religious and historical analysis. But to illustrate just a glimpse of the causes of woe throughout the Muslim Ummah (the world “family” of Islam) we turn to Malik Bennabi, a noted Muslim thinker. In his book “Islam in History and Society,” he identifies the “post-al-Muwahhid personality” that succeeded the persona of “Muslim civilization” as the chief cause. The former, he writes, “… is void of intellectual vigor, bereft of any intellectual ideas, ignorant of his/her religious history and faith, and oppressive of the poor and the weak. He/she has not merely transmitted [a] psychology born of a moral, social, philosophical and political bankruptcy; he/she has transmitted him/herself.” The post-al-Muwahhid personality is, therefore, an empty shell devoid of any internal structure.”

In his lectures “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” a century before Bennabi, Muhammad Iqbal, an Islamic scholar and social reformer, defined the Al-Muwahhid personality as “one who only understands the ritualistic aspect of Islam, oppressive of women, poor and weak, oblivious to his/her place in history and the world arena.”

Having replaced the developed and balanced persona of “Muslim civilization” almost six hundred years ago, the “post-al-Muwahhid personality” is still thriving and can be found not only in the Muslim world, but in other world societies as well. This personality bows to external forces through the motivations of personal greed and power, neglecting the very foundation of its religious thought, which is based on social justice, human equality, and economic equity.

People are dying of starvation and hunger, yet a large majority of rich Muslims consume numerous American-made luxuries: fast foods, soft drinks, videos, make up, perfume, cigarettes, designer clothing, music, movies — including Indian films that are often more obscene and devoid of social consciousness than Hollywood’s worst examples.

In the words of the Qur’an, those who are neutral or immune to the question of good and bad, justice and injustice, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery, are “deaf, dumb and blind and lack the spiritual quality of Taqwa. They have hearts, they understand not; eyes, they see not; and ears, they hear not. They are like blind, deaf, and dumb cattle (whose only concern in life is to fill their stomachs) … nay, they are even more misguided, for they are also heedless of warnings.” (7:179)

During Ramadan, the ritual of fasting is a part of a comprehensive program that the Qur’an prescribes for human beings to achieve Taqwa. “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was to those before you, that you may learn Taqwa.”(Qur’an 2:183). As Allah’s vicegerents on earth, we are told to perfect our worldly existence in our private, domestic, political, social, and economic lives; and in our inner spiritual existence as moral and ethical beings. In other words, it means that we learn to observe our social communal duty towards others (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) and in our spiritual relationships towards Allah: and Taqwa circumscribes both.

Thus Taqwa entails God-consciousness, social consciousness, self- consciousness, and personal accountability. “The best of you are those who have Taqwa” (Qur’an 49:13).

What can they do about it?

The Qur’an declares action as the necessary concomitant of faith and God’s commandments to act are innumerable in the Qur’an and leave no room for doubt “It is Allah Who created life and death that you may prove yourself worthy in your deeds. He is the merciful, the exalted” (67:2). And God’s condemnation of Quud (rest, inaction) is no less emphatic. “Woe unto those who worship, yet are heedless of the purpose of it, who will be seen at worship but refuse even small necessities to the needy.” (Qur’an 107:1-7).

“Ramadan is [also] the month in which We [Allah] sent down the Qur’an as a guidance for humanity (Allah’s vicegerents) as a clear proof of that guidance, and as the criterion for distinguishing right from wrong.” (Qur’an, 2:185).

The Qur’an presents itself as a criterion to distinguish true from false, based on the principles of science and rationality, to the vicegerent bearers of God’s trust on earth. In turning away from that trust and falling short of God’s balance, Muslims have created a multitude of social problems that have harmed their societies, not only those who are directly responsible for them.(Qur’an 8:25) The Qur’an explains that human beings are born not only with cognitive and intellectual abilities, but also with the faculties of hearing, seeing, and feeling (67:23) and the ability to freely choose their course of actions; “every soul draws the consequences of its own action.”(16:111)

In addition, the Muslim countries are blessed with an abundance of natural and human resources — chiefly oil. Then what excuse do they have for their failure to improve the social, economic and political conditions of their governments and ordinary citizens?

Focusing only on those who are victims simply supports the popular Freudian concepts of “it is never my fault,” or “blaming the victim.” How else can we explain the deathly silence of the American media on causes of terrorisms in which America itself plays a central role — both in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world? Regrettably, it appears that even Muslims have now adopted a Freudian response of their own, resigned to the debilitating idea that “we are merely victims.”

In contrast to Freud’s premise of “once a victim, always a victim” — a favourite propaganda tactic of Israel — the Qur’an as guidance and a criterion provides a way out of the social, political and economic misery and impotence in which the world’s Muslims find themselves seemingly trapped.

As America embarks on its “crusade” or “holy war” against the Muslim world for oil, a new Muslim personality must emerge that is empowered by intellect and filled with vigor to assume the responsibilities of their moral and material welfare, “to surpass that which is given, to go beyond the known, to cross new historical frontiers, to create and assimilate anew.” After all it is the belief in the oneness of Allah, the oneness of community, and the singularity of the prescriptions in the Qur’an that once transformed almost the entire world. A greater struggle (jihad) than that posed by the outside world awaits Muslims. We must search our inner feelings and ask ourselves if we are willing to struggle for what we are most lacking — God consciousness, social consciousness and self-consciousness.

Mrs. Valiante is national vice-chair of the Canadian Islamic Congress. She is a professional family counselor who recently visited Palestine as part of a fact-finding medical team. While there, the team visited refugee camps, health care clinics, hospitals, orphanages, local and international charities and women’s refugee centres, and spoke with social workers and local Palestinian families.

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