The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is the one time every calendar year when nearly 20 percent of the world’s population (over 1.5 billion people) will stop eating and drinking during daylight hours for thirty days in observance of their religious obligations to try and become better human beings.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year and is believed to be the time when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. This month of fasting for Muslims is similar to the annual observances of Lent for Christians and Yom Kippur for Jews and serves as a time for self-reflection, gratitude and atonement for Muslims around the world. As President Obama recently said on the commemoration of Ramadan: ”For the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time for thoughtful reflection, fasting and devotion. It is also an opportunity for family and friends to come together and celebrate the principles that bind people of different faiths — a commitment to peace, justice, equality and compassion towards our fellow human beings.”
Can Ramadan bring peace to volatile places such as Syria and Egypt? Maybe not. But since nothing else has worked so far, perhaps Ramadan can serve as a ‘cooling off’ period where people on all sides can go back to their respective corners for 30 days. In Syria, it was reported that rebels from the Free Syrian Army had offered President Bashar Al-Assad an offer of a ceasefire truce in the major city of Homs for the duration of Ramadan, which began yesterday evening. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a Ramadan truce in Syria when he recently said that, “I am calling for … every person holding a gun, to stop fighting and offer this month of peace [Ramadan] as a collective present to their people.”
Although the Syrian government had initially rejected the notion of a partial Ramadan truce, the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations did say that his government sought a “full end of violence, not a partial one” and he called on rebels to be “fully engaged in peace talks and commit to a U.S.-Russian sponsored round of talks” in Geneva, Switzerland.
Nearby, the overall situation in Egypt is getting more precarious by the day. In light of the recent military coup overthrowing and deposing Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, many human rights organizations and media outlets are reporting an increase in sexual assaults against women at protests and at least 26 people had been killed and 850 people have been injured in clashes across Egypt between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi supporters and the military prior to the latest massacre in Cairo.
Most recently, at least 51 people were killed and 435 others were wounded when Egyptian military security forces fired on pro-Morsi supporters who were reportedly performing their dawn prayers outside the Republican Guard headquarters where Morsi was reportedly being detained.
As both situations in Egypt and Syria continue to spiral out of control, leaders around the world, religious or otherwise, must leverage Ramadan to find peaceful political solutions for these internal violent quagmires plaguing the Muslim world. As the prophet Muhammad once famously said about Ramadan: “Whoever does not give up evil actions, God is not in need of his leaving food or drink [during Ramadan.]” Since the people of Syria and Egypt have already faced too much suffering and turmoil, I pray that my fellow Muslims in both of these countries (and around the world) will help find a way to end the senseless killing that has already taken far too many lives already.