Ramadan is the holy month of Muslims, and the last ten days are considered the holiest of the holiest, a period of blessings, forgiveness and peace. Yet there is little peace in the world these days, Turkey having witnessed another horrific terrorist attack this week that killed and injured so many innocent souls. In a time like this, when there is much reflection and prayer among Muslims in any case, there is an added strength in that reflection, an additional sorrow in those prayers.
From a political perspective, as well much has happened this Ramadan. The Orlando attack and the one in Turkey are only two we really thought about because they were covered with intensity in American media. But the ones in Syria and Iraq and even Pakistan were not, so we hardly registered their significance.
As Muslims we reject any sort of violence in the holy month of Ramadan, as we do in any month. Others who call themselves Muslims seem to think there is an added incentive of some sort to kill innocent people in that most sacred of months. I’m talking about ISIS of course, which routinely calls out for additional violence and mayhem in Ramadan, as if God’s love can descend upon them through such horrible acts.
At the same time, in our own national discourse, we see hateful rhetoric and bigotry from all political quarters, especially but not limited to the presidential campaign. Muslim Americans have to find it in themselves to forgive some of the worst Islamohobia not only from those on their television screen but also in their personal lives. All while fasting.
In my house, the television set has been deliberately set in the line of vision from every angle of the dining room. When my children are awake cartoons are the norm, but when they are asleep I watch the news like an addict seeking his fix. So my every suhoor (beginning of the fast before dawn) has been spent watching early morning news, and my every iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset) has been spent the same way. In between those two times – the entire fast – has been spent worrying and praying about the state of the world.
Instead of seeking forgiveness for my own sins I seek forgiveness for everyone who is misled, who thinks the end justifies the means, who does not understand the teachings of Islam as beautiful and pure and peaceful. The Prophet Muhammad taught us to pray for our enemies, and I admit it is hard but it must be done – if not for them, then for our own spiritual enlightenment.
I pray for a lofty goal – peace in the world – that we as human beings have probably been praying for since the middle ages. I pray for a safe world for my children, and everybody’s children. But the news on television is ugly, and I am constantly reminded of the following verse in the Quran: “surely God changes not the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts (13:11)” and I know we all need to do something besides pray.
This is what Ramadan has been for me this year. Still, I think I gained something from it all.
During my reflections, what I learned is this: prayer and reflection only help when one is surrounded with peace. One can recite the Quran and offer additional night-time prayers and fast every day for 30 days, but nothing changes the fact that we live in dangerous times unless we stand up and do something about it.
Politics is part of life now, and along with fasting I now know individual Muslims need to do much more. Writing articles, protesting, calling their Senator, marching with others, helping their neighbor, even getting educated about a topic they didn’t know much about… all these are ways to make worship more meaningful. Whatever issue one worries about – gun control, Donald Trump’s immigration ban, the war in Syria, local community issues – get out there and make a change happen.
After all, in Islam, worship not only describes ritual related to God, but encompasses everything one does to serve God’s creatures.
Of course, my suggestion doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to Muslims alone. People of all faith – or no faith – can join in making these changes and improving our impact upon the world. In fact, some of the most successful projects are interfaith and intercultural, so we know that when we all get together to use our faith traditions as a force for change, then change actually does occur.
So I say let’s get out into our communities and make a difference, not just in Ramadan but throughout the year. Only then can we say we are really worshipping God.