Ramadan begins today and with it comes the month-long dedication to fasting, prayer and charity. But the Islamic holy month this year also coincides with a surge of political upheaval in Muslim-majority Egypt and the ongoing conflict in Syria: Fifty-one people were killed in Cairo this week alone, and it's estimated that an average of 5,000 people are dying each month in Syria.
The United Nations has already asked for a halt to the violence during Ramadan, and the plea is a familiar one for the time of year. But some experts say that, given the historical precedent, those hoping that Ramadan will inspire a temporary period of calm may be engaging in wishful thinking.
"To talk about the fact that Ramadan is upon us and that it's going have any soothing effect is as silly as to say in the height of a cycle of violence that occurs at Christmas time in Ireland that everybody is going to stop because it's Christmas," said John Esposito, a professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University.
Esposito noted that this same question still gets raised over and over when ongoing conflicts coincide with Ramadan.
"We've seen that line brought up so many times in the last 20 years," said Esposito, "But if you feel that you're under siege and being attacked, you're going to fight against the enemy."
In Islam, Esposito noted, there is a commitment to the belief that one doesn't initiate or provoke. But if you consider yourself to be under attack? Not only do you have the right, but in some circumstances, you have the obligation to defend your community, according to Esposito.
Indeed, James Gelvin, a professor of Middle Eastern history at UCLA pointed out that Muslims are not actually prohibited from fighting during Ramadan. History has shown that Ramadan can even be a particularly violent month.
"According to the tradition, there are four months during which fighting is prohibited, and Ramadan is not one of them," said Gelvin. "There are some things that are in the tradition that are necessary, for example, insuring that the word of God is followed or preventing 'fitna,' which is chaos or rebellion. So everybody can justify fighting to end 'fitna.'"
Gelvin noted that in recent years bouts of violence have erupted during Ramadan. Just last year, Ramadan overlapped with the Battle of Aleppo in Syria. And in 2011, the eve of Ramadan brought a siege on the Syrian city of Hama.
According to Nezar Alsayyad, chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, several major historical battles have occurred during the holy month.
"The October War, which the Israelis call the Yom Kippur War, is actually known in Egypt as the Ramadan War," said Alsayyad. "Ramadan is not necessarily a month in which you're not supposed to fight, but more important is to recognize it's always been a month in which events have always happened."
While fighting isn't prohibited during the holy month, the Quran does specifically encourage nonviolent resolutions. When Nicholas Thompson raised this issue for Slate back in 2001, when the United States was engaged in conflict with Afghanistan, Islamic scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl noted that the Quran calls for peaceful resolutions during the holy month:
"Say I have a neighbor, and I extend a hand of kindness at the beginning of Ramadan. If he says 'go to hell,' Ramadan does not obligate me to turn the other cheek. What it requires is that I have made a good-faith effort at finding a moral way to resolve the conflict," he told Thompson at the time.
Alsayyad, for his part, argued that Ramadan could serve as a call to arms for some and a call for peace for others.In light of the political unrest in Egypt right now, he said, "I cannot imagine that it would be a calm month."
Reports: Shawwal crescent has been seen in Saudi Arabia. #Eid— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) Just now
#Ramadan's purposes are many; 1 is definitely to instill empathy & solidarity, a personal awareness of how less fortunate live. #Islam— Kamal Fizazi (@kamalfizazi) 7 August 2013
The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia will meet on Tuesday evening to hear from people who may have sighted the moon, an announcement that has startled many scholars worldwide as it would mean that this year's Ramadan would have lasted only 28 days instead of the requisite 29 or 30 days.
The statement by the court implied that there had been an error with the July 10th start date of this year's Ramadan, and that the holy month of fasting should have started on July 9th instead. Saudi newspapers on Monday quoted a statement from the Supreme Court that encouraged members of the public to sight the Eid moon on Tuesday night.
Religious scholars reacted to the news with surprise and some disagreement, as a Tuesday evening moon-sighting would indicate a mistake in the start date of Ramadan.
Have you mailed your Eid cards yet? If you haven't yet, you can use the new 2013 'Eid Forever' stamp that was just released by the U.S. Post Office.
What do you think?
Ramadan can be a physically as well as spiritually demanding time for Muslims -- even for people that aren't blind.
However, their disability is not stopping the 30 blind Muslim residents of the Yogyakarta Disability Rehabilitation Centre in Indonesia, who come together to read the Quran using in Braille during the holy month.
On the last Friday prayer of this year's Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, Palestinians struggled to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The worshippers passed through multiple checkpoints and scaled walls with ladders in order to pray at one of Islam's most holy sites.
IN CASE OF FIRE -- LIFT COVER #30days #RamadanReflection #Quran http://t.co/LHHwehhtZp— HiMY SYeD (@HiMYSYeD) 5 August 2013
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- On a weekday during Ramadan, soldiers usher reporters to a window looking in on Echo Block where about 15 men are at afternoon prayer. The prisoners stand hip to hip in two rows, kneel then rise in the only glimpse of the captives the reporters will get in a weeklong visit.
As the military tells it, an angry hunger strike is cooling, and Islam’s holy month is a new beginning. But this guarded glance at the 12th Ramadan for most Guantánamo detainees shows no fellowship, no festive meal in the blocks.
And it is the complete opposite of a generous, confident Ramadan visit of a year ago. Then, the prison gave the Miami Herald night and day access to prayer and meals at different times in different cellblocks, to look and listen from unseen vantage points while commanders unhurriedly stood inside prison corridors chatting with confidence that they were doing the right thing.
Last year, the Herald got to record a prisoner under lockdown berating his guards before settling down to call his fellow captives to prayer through his steel cell door.
This year, it is the job of the Pentagon salaried cultural advisor called Zak to tell their story, from behind a desk at the command headquarters.
In the places where the reporters can’t look or listen, says Zak, himself a Muslim, the detainees are “praying, reading the Quran, meditating, being on their own.”
Lockdown has ended for dozens who are allowed to live communally now, if not as liberally as before. “They watch TV,” he says, and a recent report on Al-Jazeera about plans to hold parole-style reviews for indefinite detainees went over well.
“Ramadan is just a time when detainees spend worshipping,” he adds. “It gives the guards a break from putting up with the detainees.”
It is the first Ramadan at Guantánamo for most U.S. soldiers here and, coming after months of lockdown and hunger striking, the prisoners’ most austere in years.Midnight meals come in Styrofoam boxes slid through a slot in each captive’s cell door. Even those the military says are eating and behaving are locked alone inside a cell for six hours, then let out in time for dawn prayers.
Home stretch. #Ramadan— Amina Khan (@aminawrite) 5 August 2013
The stars, cold and distant, twinkle in the sky, seeming oblivious to the anticipated daybreak. The fireflies play hide and seek in the dark backyard in Maine as I sit outside, waiting for the morning pray and start of a day of fasting as part of Ramadan, the Muslim’s holy month of fasting, when the faithful abstain from food and drink, from dawn to dusk.Reza Jalali, an educator and writer, living in Maine, is the author of award-winning children’s book, Moon Watchers.
Most Muslims believe angels are on a mission during Ramadan nights; the sacred time to reflect, recite the Holy Book, ask for forgiveness, and seek closeness to the Creator, to pay a visit and to grant wishes. I’m still hopeful my sky gazing, watching the fireflies play, and reminiscing about long-gone Ramadan of my childhood years, spent in Iran where I was born, would count as acts of piety. As I imagine millions of Muslims living in the four corners of the world could be watching the same sky and the same stars while getting ready to begin a new day of fasting, I feel homesick.
During my childhood, Ramadan was a family time with sumptuous evening meals, Iftar, made more special after a day-long of fasting, and watching the elders cooking extra food to feed the poor. Ramadan is not about personal sacrifice and punishing yourself but to find empathy for those going without food, involuntarily all year long, my father would remind us. Once I left Iran to attend a university in India, I discovered the ancient wisdom behind rituals such as Ramadan: more than charity, it was important to personally experience what a poor neighbor or a hungry person went through, on a daily basis.
Earlier, I had woken up from a dreamless sleep and tiptoed in the dark house, going from room to room to check on our children, pretending to be a thief intent in witnessing and savoring life’s simple joy. I had walked quietly, mindful of the sleeping household, making my way to the kitchen to warm up the pre-down meal, suhur. With little appetite I finished the rice dish and drank water and some tea. The tea would suppress the thirst during the day, Mother used to say as she’d have us drink the steamy glasses of tea minutes before the radio announcer would broadcast the start of the fasting.
Years before radios arrived, my mother, the story teller, would have us believe, it was the loud canon explosions in larger cities, or groups of men walking around the neighborhood hitting the walls of the houses with sticks, who informed the faithful to stop eating and drinking in anticipation of a new day of fasting.
Outside, I watch the sky change colors as I think of my extended family members, the younger generation living outside of Iran, spread over the west, like seeds of a plant, and the older ones living in houses empty of children’s laughter. The ghosts of the past crowd the backyard, pleading for my attention. Somewhere an owl hoots. Just as a cool breeze picks up the scent of flowers, still invisible in the dark garden, to carry it to me, I close my eyes and recite the familiar words of prayer for those no longer living. This seems to calms the audience-seeking ghosts.
I hear a noise and open my eyes to see the outlines of a skinny deer going through the spilled leftovers by the backyard’s compost bin. Another survivor. You made it through past November, the month of hunting in Maine, alive. Next hunting season is months away. You and I are two survivors. I’ve survived my November; periods of political unrest, a revolution, imprisonment, and forced exile and displacement. I go inside and grab an apple to offer to the uninvited guest humbly, the way a devout Hindu woman would at a temple in South India.
The call to morning prayer, coming via my laptop, travelling through the space like a flying angel, moving over sleeping cities, calm lakes, vigilant mountains and foamy oceans, makes me go inside to wash. I stand, facing Mecca, Muslims’ spiritual magnet, and start to utter the ancient verses, God is Great! In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful… I fall on my knees before prostrating to bring my forehead to the ground, the way my ancestors have done for centuries, in total humility and submission, How perfect is my Lord, the Most High…
We’re in the last 10 days of Ramadan Alhamdulillah. Pedal to the metal inshaAllah! http://t.co/tW7v1vpq2s— Abdul Nasir Jangda (@AbdulNasirJ) 2 August 2013
PHOTO: Muslims gather during the holy month of Ramadan in the old quarters of Delhi, India (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood) http://t.co/jpXMFgmGHB— Reuters World (@ReutersWorld) 1 August 2013
At this point, Muslims all over the world have officially began Ramadan—yes, even the ones in Pakistan and India who figured waiting a few more days sounded fun. That’s over 1.5 billion men, women, and children participating in a global fast, going without food and water from the crack of dawn to the setting of the sun for a period of roughly 30 days.Continue reading Hammad Moses Khan's reflection here
The daytime routine is pretty well documented. No food. No drink. No small-snacks-while-no-one-is-looking. Those things are pretty much the regular — that’s what you’ll find on any Ramadan pamphlet or what you’ll get during your awkward coworker’s 45 second explanation of why she isn’t eating lunch today. But what about the other stuff? What about the stuff we don’t tell anyone about? What about the hours we spend praying at community mosques every night of Ramadan? What about the Qurans we carry in our pockets so that we can read a few more verses about charity and patience during the day? What about the the challenges of reflecting more deeply and giving more generously during this month?
We don’t like to talk about those things. And you know why? Because it’s not easy. I can tell you that Ramadan is about not eating or drinking, because I’m not eating or drinking. But to tell you that Ramadan is about building myself in my morals, my characters, and my spirituality — that’s hard. That requires me to admit that those things are more important than what does or doesn’t go into my mouth. That requires me to look inward and ask some difficult questions of myself. And, for many of us, we’re not sure if we want to.
In the Islamic tradition, we have a rich history of scholarship and writing. Much of the life of Muhammad (SWT) has been documented in short, anecdotal narratives as passed on by his companions. Over generations these anecdotes and stories have been studied, authenticated, and recorded in what are called books of hadith. Although many scholars have organized these stories and sayings into various small, easily accessible books, there is one saying that seems to appear in an overwhelming majority of texts. Looking back to the 13th century, we find a collection of 40 hadith as cataloged by a scholar by the name of al-Nawawi. This popular collection begins with one of the most well known and most often cited sayings of the Prophet Muhammad:
“ACTIONS ARE JUDGED BY THEIR INTENTIONS.”And as we begin Ramadan, that is a message that truly rings home. What we do, what we don’t do, whatever it is that we achieve during these coming weeks — it will all be based on the intentions with which we begin this month. It will be based on why we choose to fast. It will be based on the tough questions we choose to ask of ourselves as we begin this month of introspection and reflection. Most definitely, it will be based on what we want to change about ourselves and how willing we are to do it.
But at what age should children start? Usually they begin at puberty, but some Muslim parents have been encouraging even younger children to fast.
BBC Africa's Zuhura Yunus met up with an East African family in London to find out about a 10-year-old girl's experience. Watch the video here
Traffic Accidents Decrease in First Half of Ramadan http://t.co/7GADt0DCvd— MOI_UAE (@AbuDhabiPolice) 29 July 2013
Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion.
"So I hear you know a lot of women," says the young man. What a great reputation to have and a great way to start a phone call. This will definitely not be fun.
"I am looking to get married and was hoping you can help recommend someone to me." I've actually never spoken to this young man before and don't even know his last name. But he has called so the conversation continues.
"I am not really a matchmaker. Can you tell me what you're looking for?"
"I want to marry a nice, Muslim girl." Of course.
"Could you elaborate a little more?"
"Someone who will be nice to my parents."
"That's helpful. Because I was going to introduce you to someone who would be a jerk to your parents."
Ramadan is meant to make us think of those who are suffering, irrespective of where they come from. http://t.co/1zJInLHUyp #photos— Oxfam International (@Oxfam) 30 July 2013
After Ramadan, I hope I'll be able to jump out of my bed for Fajr the same way I jumped out of bed for Suhoor. #RamadanReflection— Yasmine Itani (@yasmineit) 29 July 201
Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion.
At times we don't realize how hard our hearts have become. The gradual process of a subtle bitterness enveloping them coupled with an absence of regular and consistent times for self-reflection and self-care lends us towards a lot of heaviness on our insides. The pursuit of complacency becomes our goal rather than the pursuit of contentment and we sacrifice things that would bring us everlasting comfort in pursuit of those things that simply give us the facade of comfort.
Even if you are not able to perform itikaf this year, take the time to reflect on your inside. Acknowledging the presence of a certain hardness is the first step in eliminating it.
Dhu-nun al Misri, a 9th century Egyptian Muslim scholar known for his teachings around the development of the soul and the purification of the heart, gives a profound advice to the seeker of internal peace on how to deal with the hardening of the heart."Idha aradta an tadhaba kasaawatu qalbik, fa adimis siyaam.
If you desire that hardness of your heart leaves you, then endure fasting."
The U.S. government has been hosting iftar dinners to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for over a decade, with individual events held by the White House, the State Department, and other government agencies.
However, the official dinners are now coming under fire from some Muslims, who see these attempts at inclusion as hypocritical, as the U.S. government continues to engage in policies reviled by the American Muslim community at large, namely the drone war, the force-feeding and imprisonment of people at Guantanamo Bay, and NSA domestic surveillance.By calling for a boycott of the iftars, these Muslims simply polarize the country into two groups, Muslims vs. Americans, which erases much of the progress that other activists have made to show that Muslims are Americans. The otherizing of Muslims happened widely after 9/11, with many American Muslims experiencing discrimination at home, but conditions have vastly improved since then, largely thanks to activists who fought to reclaim their identity as Americans as well as Muslims.
(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama saluted Muslim Americans on Thursday for their contributions in helping build the nation as business entrepreneurs, technology innovators and pioneers in medicine.
Obama spoke at a White House dinner he hosted to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The meal, or iftar, breaks the day of fasting when Muslim families and communities eat together after sunset.
Obama said Ramadan is “a time of reflection, a chance to demonstrate ones devotion to God through prayer and through fasting, but it’s also a time for family and friends to come together.”
He said it is a White House tradition to celebrate sacred days of various faiths, adding that these occasions celebrate diversity that defines the country and reaffirms the freedom to worship.
Pakistan TV show dubbed 'Islamic Price is Right' gives away orphaned babies http://t.co/WSoWGWSYJk— The Independent (@Independent) 25 July 2013
A Ramadan guide for teachers!
Millions of Muslims around the world have begun a month-long fast during daylight hours for Ramadan. Here are some resources to help you explore the festival in class.
It's the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and that means the start of Ramadan – this year in July for the first time since 1980 – and most of the UK's three million Muslims, including older children, will be fasting from dawn to sundown and focusing on being better Muslims and people.
Ramadan is a great opportunity to find out more about Islam in RE lessons and beyond and also a chance for everyone to practice a little introspection. Fasting is a powerful way to empathise with those in need and give thanks for our food, and some non-Muslim students may like to practice their own controlled fasts during the Ramadan period in support of their Muslim friends.The following news stories, multimedia, teaching resources and recommended websites will help students understand the meaning behind Ramadan and how this important festival works.