The season begins on Sunday evening, June 29, and ends 30 days later on Sunday night, July 27. In the Hijri Islamic calendar, it is the 1435th observance of fasting from sun up to sundown.
Like many religious observances, this one has a practical origin. The fasting of the Syrian Christians Lenten season preceded it, but Ramadan was also a response to the scorching heat and extreme dryness of the year, thus fasting and inactivity during the day made lots of physiological sense.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Shahadah is the foundation, declaring the oneness of God (“la ilaha illa Allah”), and Muhammad is the messenger of a radical lucidity on the unity of life. Five times each day, the ritual of prayer, salat, is observed. Social responsibility is pegged at 2.5 percent of one’s savings, the zakat, shared with the poor and needy in one’s community. Sawm is the fasting and the discipline of self-control during the month of Ramadan. Once in a lifetime, a devotee undertakes a pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj.
“Salaam malaikum” and “Malaikum salaam” are greetings approximating the salutations of “Peace be with you” and “And also with you.” The Muslim greeting is heard on the streets of Saipan as muezzins of the two mosques on island call the faithful to prayers. As a minority group, they are perhaps more dismissive of the Shia/Sunni divide that is wreaking havoc in areas where the Muslims are a majority, and be more conciliatory to each other in the manner prescribed in the Quran.
In predominantly Muslim Iraq, the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis have difficulty getting their act together, not just for the ethno-nationalism predominant in the region but also the economic power struggle on who has access and control of the black gold on the ground.
Recent diplomatic effort of John Kerry of the U.S. State Department to promote a unity government in Iraq got turned down by PM Maliki, who do not see a greater representation of the Sunni Arab community led previously by deposed Saddam Hussein. The sectarian and authoritarian policies of Maliki are exploited by jihadist militants fomenting for Islamic states in Iraq and the rest of the Levant.
We demonize Islam similar to what progressives and liberals in the U.S. do when we go after the pickup-riding white Kristian rednecks that are alleged cousins to the Ku Klux Klan. In the devotion to Allah, the ethos of unity is an overriding concern, thus the harmony of its faithful is a given expectation. The same expectation surrounds the overarching power of “love” in the Christian tradition. The assertive defense of Israel toward its ancient borders is understandable in light of its history since the Roman Empire took over Jerusalem, to Germany’s policy and practice of genocide in the Holocaust during World War II. One cannot say the same of the imperial designs of both Christendom and Islam. Still, it is well to glean the gifts of three traditions from the Levant.
I was introduced to the authority of scriptures in Protestant Christianity that led to the priesthood of all believers and the confidence in each one to decide on one’s own on matters of faith and practice. The reality of the-way-life-is I took to be the all-powerful faith statement of YHWH folks of Jerusalem, leading them to decide ethnically to be the covenant people to lead in “praise” of that reality.
The covenant to be personally chosen became a matter of choice, to play the role of the Christ, unfortunately deformed in the current idolatry of Jesus. Mohammad brought that back to the complete freedom of the “prophet-hood” but instead of sticking to the night of power when the Quran, Allah’s self-revelation, was first revealed to the prophet, now celebrated in Ramadan, followers quickly converted the event into the idolatry of the book, the authority of those who perceive themselves to be its keepers, and the exclusiveness of its male-centered hierarchy.
Authority has become an issue in our time. The Zionists understandably established the Land of Israel after the western millennial anti-Semitic history. Ecclesiastical authority was the Church’s concern since Constantine that got anchored in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, later supplanted by the paper pope and the integrity of all believers. Mohammed had the prospect of pulling authority out of social structures into the authenticity of freedom but the politics of the bubbly crude in the desert got his followers into power struggles.
In our time, the whole issue of “authority” is in question. The reality of authenticity, not authority, is the ascendant human spirit.
The divesting of “things,” faithfully adhering to Allah as the “no-thing” during Ramadan, is in tune with Christian existentialist and phenomenologists’ move from creed to social action, but now, as a thorough-going secularist, I say a return to the wisdom of YHWH, the way-life-is, without authority of learned “experts,” but on the authentic witness of individual instinct, intuition, intellect, and intention, we might yet turn the arid air of the desert to the productive human spirit of the world.