The Month of Mercy and Giving is a month of both activism and devotion.
Ramadan is upon us. Almost two billion Muslims around the world will embark on a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset in commemoration of the month during which the Quran, the last revelation from God to humanity, was revealed.
It is a month that brings joy to all; a month of fasting by day and communal prayer by night; a month of hope, mercy, and service. It’s a time when the collective Muslim world is enjoined to be extra generous, to better their relationships with others, to reflect and refine personal vices and transform them to lofty virtues, and to strengthen their resolve to come to the aid of others.
The holy month is especially joyous this year as most masjids return to full capacity – carefully trying to balance crowds while monitoring the spread of the virus that still looms globally.
The month of giving comes with a sombre reality, however.
While fasting during Ramadan is considered a voluntary form of showing one’s servitude to God, large portions of the Muslim population are fasting by default due to lack of food. Ramadan this year also comes during the Ukraine tragedy, which has dominated headlines, in addition to continued humanitarian and existential catastrophes around the globe – in Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Burma, China, Somalia, Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan, to name a few.
As Muslims around the world rally to support those in desperate need and to thwart famine, the international gaze and outrage is singularly focused on the conflict in Ukraine. This has not gone unnoticed.
A prime example is the case of Afghanistan. The UN has called it the world’s ‘worst humanitarian crisis’. More than 13,000 newborns have died from malnutrition since January, 95 percent of the population does not have enough to eat, and poverty is soaring.
And yet, the crippling sanctions that collectively punish its population are, in fact, harsher than the sanctions placed on Russia. While Moscow was granted concessions that have allowed for continued trade, Afghanistan’s economy was forced to a standstill.
Washington even unjustly proposed that part of Afghanistan’s central bank assets – money that belongs to the Afghan people – be given to victims of the 9/11 tragedy, which Afghans had nothing to do with.
Then the same entities behind this humanitarian catastrophe – the US, EU, and UN – began trying to donate funds to cover its deeds. It’s like a reverse Robin Hood.
The question of refugees is another case in point. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ has dominated media discourse for nearly a decade. Today, bigoted comments from Western journalists and officials centre around the idea that Europe welcomes Ukrainian refugees because they are “like” them. France even proposed the reactivation of the EU’s ‘temporary protection’ directive to accommodate Ukrainians – a step that a former French ambassador essentially admitted was racist.
International media and pundits have pushed the trope that ‘those brown people essentially have always been fighting for decades’ while wilfully overlooking the Western colonial histories of these nations – colonial histories that were undeniably the root cause of the violence they remain submerged in to this day.
The Muslim world is well aware of this hypocritical media coverage and of global aid politics. In these trying times, Muslims face many sources of frustration that may, in turn, lead to indignation. This is precisely why the month of Ramadan comes at such an opportune time.
Ramadan has historically been a month during which Muslims overcame insurmountable odds.
It was in this month that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) defended Islam from an oppressive regime at the Battle of Badr in 2 H (624 CE) – in spite of being outnumbered three to one. It was in this month that he showed a general amnesty in the conquest of Mecca in 8 H (629/630 CE) – an act that, to date, remains one of the most significant manifestations of amnesty in human history. It was in this month that Muslims were able to thwart the onslaught of the Mongols in the Battle of Ayn Jalut 658 H (1260 CE), as well as the Crusaders in the Battle of Antakya 666 H (1268 CE).
Muslims draw from such inspiring moments in Islamic history occurring during Ramadan to overcome the most trying of times.
It is symbolic of the objectives of Ramadan that, although we encounter some challenging hardships while fasting, the purpose is to find the deeper spiritual strength that anchors us as Muslims thanks to our certainty in the Almighty, Who helps us overcome all.
The Almighty describes the believer as a “successor” who bears responsibility to deliver faith and serve not just humanity but all of creation. The Quran directs the believer to abandon the shackles of anxiety in the world that weigh down a person’s conscience and be freed via the emancipation of God consciousness.
It is for these reasons that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) was said to have given the most during Ramadan. He was described as the most generous of men, and as being the most open-handed during the month or Ramadan. It is in this spirit of giving that Muslims are encouraged to open their hearts and pour their generosity down upon those who are in need; giving during this month is as integral as fasting, praying, and rectifying our character.
Ramadan is a channelling mechanism for the believer – one that allows prayer to build focus and that makes use of the act of communal gathering to build social awareness about caring for others and strengthening the bonds of brotherhood. While in the pursuit of our own needs, Ramadan helps us to think, on a daily basis, beyond the material that we seek and to consider the basic necessities that others don’t have.
Ramadan offers an opportunity for Muslims to gather and unite. Just as gathering with our families and communities for the act of collective prayer is empowering, we, as Muslims, firmly believe that the strength of our convictions is equally the strength of our bond to each other.
Ramadan hence becomes a transformative experience. For Muslims, it is a call not just for individual action, but also for societal rectification. While the world ignores the plight of some over others, Muslims rise up to stand for all those who suffer. Muslims must demand the world not to turn a blind eye to global suffering and demand that the duplicity and policies of war come to an end. This is because Ramadan is as much a month of activism as it is a month of devotion.
It is here, in fact, that the joy of Ramadan is found. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) was once asked, “what is the best deed after the obligations (that God obligated on humanity)?”; his response: to bring joy to the hearts of believers and other humans.
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