Jihadists Are Attempting To Shift The Focus Of Ramadan From Spiritual Reflection To Violence
The prophet of Islam Muhammad's view and understanding of Judaism and Christianity, the Abrahamic faiths that preceded Islam, was greatly influenced by various Jews and Christians he encountered while on trading journeys from Mecca to Syria. When he started to become a more deeply religious man later in life, he took up many of the spiritual disciplines he had seen being practiced by Jews and Christians throughout the Middle East. As spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting were chief among them and deeply took root into Muhammad's life, he became known for taking regular retreats to a cave on Mount Hira during which he would spend days, and sometimes even weeks, in prayer and fasting. It was on one of these retreats during the month of Ramadan in the year 610 that he first encountered the Divine as he was awoken by the archangel Gabriel revealing what would later become the holy text of Islam, the Qur'an. It is for this reason that Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is the most spiritually significant time of the year for Muslims worldwide.
Just as Muhammad had learned and embraced the spiritual practice of fasting from Jewish and Christian followers of the earlier Abrahamic faiths, he also instructed Muslims to continue with the tradition as we see in the Qur'an: "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become righteous."
Unfortunately, for the past three years the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has been marked by disillusioned, ISIS-inspired jihadists carrying out a plethora of very un-righteous, heinous acts of terror against innocent civilians. These jihadists have carried out attacks against Shia, Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Christians and Secularists, Westerners and Easterners, and anyone else they consider to be an infidel
according to the sick and twisted ideology preached by ISIS' spiritual leaders.
This concerted effort over the past several years to transform what is meant to be the most holy and spiritually significant time of year for Muslims into a month of unparalleled bloodshed first manifested itself in 2015, six days into Ramadan, when Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami, who was the official spokesperson and a senior leader of ISIS at the time, called for attacks to commemorate the holy month. And then again in 2016, days before the start of Ramadan, he orated another sermon to jihadists saying, "Get prepared, be ready to make it [Ramadan] a month of calamity everywhere for nonbelievers." He pontificated that the targeting of civilians in the West was not only permissible but desirable, and that as long as coalition forces were at war with ISIS there were no "innocents."
A few months later in August 2016, fire came down from heaven in the form of a U.S. airstrike, and Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami was killed in Aleppo, Syria. Lamentably, this righteous judgment wasn't enough to incinerate his violent ideology and fanatically literal interpretation of Islam, which continues through his successor, the current ISIS spokesperson Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, who has now made calls for jihadists to commit beheadings during this year's Ramadan.
These calls for heinous, indiscriminate violence during Ramadan make my heart and soul ache. Ramadan was always a month I enjoyed immensely while living in the Middle East. I loved the colorful lights and lanterns that customarily are hung in homes and on the streets, the delectable meals and special foods shared between family and friends when breaking the daily fast, and most of all, Eid al-Fitr
, the three-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
More importantly, it became a time of renewal for me as I began to take personal spirituality and faith more seriously. As I embraced the discipline of fasting during the month of Ramadan alongside the Muslim community of which I lived and was a part, I understood it to be an act of worship with the distinct goal and intent being to cultivate a deeper love for God, for creation, and for others. As I daily experienced discomfort from hunger and thirst, I found myself gaining a deeper level of understanding as to the daily struggles many of the world's poor face. I found that fasting connected me on a very real, human level to the less fortunate as I entered into the pain and suffering of those who have no choice but to be hungry and thirsty day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. This annual month of renewal helped me immensely during the years I worked as a humanitarian, immersed in horrendous poverty day-in and day-out. The utter hopelessness and despair that permeates virtually all aspects of life in urban slums and refugee camps took its physical and emotional toll on me year after year, and the annual month of prayer and fasting would be what I needed to sustain me for yet another year.
Indeed, there is no time of year I miss more than Ramadan when I am away from the Middle East. But unfortunately, like so many other things in Islam, ISIS jihadists have grossly distorted the true meaning of Ramadan for their sick and evil purposes.
While Ramadan is about growing nearer to God by way of peaceful, contemplative prayer, the jihadists claim nearness to God is attained by beheading innocent civilians during this holy month. While Ramadan is about developing and strengthening powers of self-control so that, throughout the rest of the year, sinful desires and thoughts can be better resisted, the jihadists say not to forbore sexual cravings but instead to just go and take women as sex-slaves to satisfy. While Ramadan is a month in which the good deeds of charity, kindness, and generosity are rewarded manifold in the afterlife, jihadist preachers tell their followers -- mostly disgruntled, disillusioned young men -- that "good deeds" include deadly terrorist attacks. Where the deprivation from fasting Muslims experience during Ramadan is meant to produce greater empathy towards the plight of those less fortunate, the jihadists instruct their followers to plunder entire villages and take by force men, women and children as literal, real-life slaves.
Ramadan is meant to be a month in which Muslims across the globe practice the ancient spiritual discipline of fasting as a way to become more pure, righteous, and holy before God and man. These calls from ISIS jihadists to make Ramadan a month of unparalleled bloodshed are entirely contradictory to this. Maybe this will be the year more righteous fire screams down from heaven, and incinerates the madness perpetually.