Ramazan: Reflection on the Past, Present, and Future of Islam

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Ramazan is a month-long period of day-time fasting and prayer for the Muslims worldwide that commemorates the first revelation of the holy Quran to their prophet Muhammad. This annual observance is regarded by the practicing Muslims as one of the five pillars of Islam. During this period Muslims are obligated to be kind, generous and truthful. They must refrain from hurting others (except in self-defence), emancipate themselves spiritually and reflect on the sufferings of others.

Since the year 610 CE (Christian Era), when the religion Islam was founded in Arabia by a forty-year old preacher-warrior, Muhammad, Ramazan is observed with a spirit of festivity as it ends with the celebration of Eid. The Muslims -- rich and poor -- spend their savings on good food, clothing and gifts thereby cementing their social-cultural identity. Muslims who don’t observe fast also celebrate this festive season. In India (and in Bihar), the Hindus and the Muslims inter-dine together. Variants of such faith-based cultural festivities are found in other religions also.

Historians have given tons of accounts on how the 7th Century religion Islam spread throughout the world in a relatively short period of time. The summary inescapably is that the three Cs -- the Concept, Commerce and Conquests -- carried Islam to almost every continent. In many parts of the world where there were extreme inequalities based on birth, culture and wealth, Islam appeared as an egalitarian solution. It was followed by the trades of the Arabian merchants and the swords of the conquerors.

Islam, literally meaning submission to God, can be considered a religion of peace in the sense prophet Muhammad, through the preaching of Islam, wanted peace to be established among the members of the querulous pagan society of Mecca where Kaaba was the spot of worship. The four-walls of Kaaba and the surrounding areas contained stones and idols that were revered by the congregants.

As the story goes, a young Muhammad once successfully mediated a conflict between several parties fighting over who would be the “first” to lift a stone or stones (supposedly pagan deities). Muhammad’s solution was to place the deity on a sheet of cloth and all the disputants lifting by the edges. That made everyone happy and Muhammad a peace maker.

The intention of the founder of Islam might have been establishment of peace; however, the expansion and preservation of Islam -- many scholar-researchers argue -- were through brutal acts of violence and barbarism. An honest mission to peace floundered on bloodshed and factionalism. Scores of battles were fought to retain the leadership of Muhammad during his lifetime and subsequently to be his successor and inherit his mantle.

One of the numerous stories of violence and deception handed down through the centuries is that of the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (599 - 661 CE). The cousin and son-in-law of prophet Muhammad, Hazrat was the fourth caliph and was also designated -- after the Muslims split into the Shias and the Sunnis in 632 CE -- as the first Imam of the Shias.

According to the narrative, on the morning of the 19th Ramazan in the year 661 CE, as the fasting Hazrat was prostrating in prayer at the mosque of Kufa (now in Najaf, Iraq), Abdur Rehman Ibn-e-Mujlim, a Jewish-converted-into-Muslim conspirator struck him on his head with a poison-laced sword. On the 21st Ramazan, Hazrat died and was buried by his two sons, Hasan and Hussain in Najaf itself.

Since that fateful year of 661 CE, the Muslim world has witnessed so many fratricidal wars between the two sects of Islam. Shootings, bombing and mayhem of the devotees in prayers at mosques from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iraq on Fridays have been repeated numerous times. This is in addition to the wars of Muslims against the “Others” such as the Kafirs (Infidels or, non-believers), the Jews and the Idol-worshippers specifically mentioned in Quran, the Muslim holy book.

Now, the question is: Will a young innocent Muslim man or woman of the current generation, who hasn’t been brain-washed, not question in his mind how a person could call himself a Muslim when he or she kills or plans to kill a fellow Muslim? Quran forbids the killings of the innocents, leave aside the Muslims.

The unfortunate truth is the killing instincts of Ibn-e-Mujlim and his co-conspirators are reflected in the modern days of the 21st century as well. And many of the players happen to be educated and skilled in modern technology. Last year (2016), in response to a call in the holy month of Ramazan, the Islamist-inspired violence were committed in Istanbul (Turkey), Orlando (USA) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). In the civil war within the Muslims, there are admirers of Ibn-e-Mujlim also.

In the holy month of Ramazan this year (2017), the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gave a call to its followers to use knives, guns, and vehicles in an “all-out war” on “infidels” in “their homes, their markets, their roads and their forums.” The result has been the Islamist terrorist violence in Manchester, Kabul, London, Brussels and Paris, all in the month of Ramadan.

In an action-reaction spiral, the Islamist-terrorist violence had its own backlash. Many mosques in North America have been vandalized, the Muslim community members harassed and Muslim worshippers at Quebec and London mosques shot and killed. Even Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency is partly attributed to the anti-Muslim sentiments.

The dangerous prognosis is that this “eye for an eye” will escalate to spread violence all around. It will likely turn the world blind. The anti-Islamists and anti-Muslims will continue to hold the literature of Quran, the violent preachings of the Imams or the Sharia law as the source of trouble; whereas the Islamists will strongly believe the dominant colonialism and exploitative foreign policy of the Jewish-Christian West bred violence. The innocent people will be caught dead in the crossfire.

May be, after unprecedented levels of death and destruction, the world will have to reconcile to the path of compromise -- to find ways to coexistence. The West will have to bend to become more egalitarian and accommodative. At the same time, the Islamic world will also have to undergo an extended phase of reform where it will eschew religious dogmatism/fundamentalism and develop greater appreciation for dignity, equality and human/gender rights. It will grow out of the archaic beliefs and practices of the 7th century Arabia.

Let the holy month of Ramadan -- the fast and the prayer -- culminating in Eid inspire everyone to be more loving and giving. A society based on mutual respect and prosperity can be created.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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