Today will probably be the last day of the holy month of Ramadhan for those who profess Islam
Many non-Muslims might get shocked if I say, the Muslims all the over the World were engaged in an intensive Jihad during this holy month. This shock might come from the misunderstanding about what Jihad really means. In Islam, there are two forms of Jihad.
There is the Jihad that now is misused by people with a narrow interpretation of Islam referring to jihad as engaging in vicious fight where loss of life and destruction of property feature prominently. But the most important Jihad in Islam is the Jihad with one’s own weaknesses.
Most English dictionaries refer to jihad as a holy war or vigorous physical and emotional crusade for a principle or an idea. However, the standard Muslim understanding of Jihad is striving or struggling, especially with a praiseworthy aim.
It can have many shades of meaning in an Islamic context, such as struggle against one’s evil inclinations or in extreme cases combat in self-defense. During the formative years of Islam particularly when the battle of Uhud took place after the pagan Arabs invaded the Muslims leading to armed conflict, the Muslims defeated the pagan Arabs and on returning back from the battle, Prophet Mohamed told his companions then, that they have just finished the easier Jihad and should be prepared for the most difficult Jihad meaning fighting off one’s own weaknesses.
The context in the Arabian Peninsula around the time when Prophet Mohamed started his mission was devoid of any organized religion. Many of the Arabs worshipped idols and excessive drinking of alcohol had caused a big societal problem. In addition, buccaneers drove many people into poverty due to usury and excessive interest rates on borrowed funds.
There was also slavery which was a moral and human rights problem. Prophet Mohamed intention was to reverse these social ills and make the Arabs and all adherents of the Muslim faith to desist from activities that negatively affect their social and economic well-being. In the reformative process, the Muslims were urged to exercise jihad or struggle against this social and moral problems. This process required strict behavioural controls.
That is why in Islam the consumption of alcohol is forbidden and consuming or giving money at an interest is also strictly prohibited. The holy month of Ramadhan is symbolically a month that demonstrates the preparation for stricter behavioural controls. It falls on the ninth month followed by the month of Shawal and Dul Al-Qada, a month when fighting is forbidden against enemies of Islam unless provoked to a point of being annihilated.
The most trying moments for Muslims is not even Ramadhan since fasting in this month happens in most cases in one’s home environment. The last month in the Islamic Calendar is the month of Hajj, which involves rigorous physical and emotional endurance all with the aim of inculcating the virtues of patience amongst Muslims.
Ramadhan therefore expresses the epitome of a faithful’s moral uprightness. A fasting individual is expected to forgive and even pray for his enemies.
By bringing out the humanness in us, it reminds us of our duties in society. The time and effort Muslims indulge in prayers seeking forgiveness means Jihad with one’s own self weakness is at play. This is a moment that Muslims are also expected to reach out to people of other faiths and show compassion and share meals and participate in acts of charity.
During one of the prayer sessions in the Mosque, the Imam gave a sermon on how to maintain good neighbourliness. “The best medicine in your life is to love your neighbour,” he said. According to the Imam another prescription for a healthier and more peaceful life is for a Muslim to forgive anyone who wrongs him or her. “Please pray for those who wrong you,” he exhorted us.
In a big way, Muslims have a central role in fostering national cohesion not just by adhering to the prescription within their faith.
The Ramadhan season is a golden opportunity for Muslims to organize peace rallies, invite peoples of all faith to come to understanding that we can share the little resources available without any fights. The spirit of Ramadhan is based on these principles.
Mr Guleid is a governance consultant and the chairman, FCDC Secretariat; [email protected]