It is perhaps a sign of degradation in our times that the coming of almost any religious holiday brings warnings of death and destruction — not from any supernatural being but from misguided humans who claim to be doing the will of the deity. Thus the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia felt compelled to issue warnings Saturday that terrorist groups might undertake attacks to coincide with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The attacks came not in Saudi Arabia but in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq on Monday and Tuesday, where car bombers struck the Red Cross headquarters and four police stations, killing about 40 people on the first day of Ramadan. The day before insurgents bombed a hotel full of U.S. occupation officials. Four people were killed in a car bombing, Tuesday, west of Baghdad, the same day one of Baghdad’s three deputy mayors was killed in a hit-and-run shooting. Sunday night, three U.S. soldiers were killed in attacks.
Perhaps we should no longer be surprised when purported believers use holy days as excuses for violence. But it is tragic that Ramadan should be sullied by such sacrilege.
Faithful Muslims believe it was during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, that the prophet Muhammad received the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, from Allah. During Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast — not only from food and drink, but from smoking, sex and the inhaling of fragrance — during the day. Fasting in Islam is viewed as a way to foster piety, self-purification and spiritual growth.
The 11th-century Islamic jurist and theologian Al-Ghazali contended that fasting has three levels. The first level is simple observation of the rules. The second level involves keeping all one’s senses and limbs from sin. The third level consists in abstaining from all worldly desires and withdrawing the heart from everything except Allah and the last days. For those who achieve this level, thinking of anything but Allah breaks the fast.
Besides fasting, Ramadan is marked by worship and charity. During the course of Ramadan Muslims recite the entire Koran during their prayers. Some Muslims remain in the mosque day and night during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
In times when everything is politicized, it may not be surprising that people debauch religion. The fact that some do should not reduce our respect for Muslims who take Ramadan seriously.