“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley
“Make them forget sleep, terrorize them so that the neighbor fears his neighbor.”
Abul Hasan al-Muhajir
The fast of Ramadan 2018 started yesterday. During the next thirty days Muslims around the world will fast from sun up till sun down, with Ramadan ending on or about 14 June. (The start of Ramadan varies by locality based on the sighting of the new moon by religious authorities.) The ninth and most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan marks the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad and is a time of increased spiritual reflection and devotion. Adherents traditionally abstain from food and drink during daylight hours throughout the month, from the first light of dawn until sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, meaning it is among the core rituals of the faith.
Ramadan has increasingly become not only a month of pious celebration of charity and prayer though acts of generosity and self-discipline, but also has become one of the bloodiest months of the year throughout the Islamic world and across the entire globe. Discovering why and what we can watch out for during this next thirty day season is extremely important. It is equally significant that we learn how we can bless Muslims during this traditional celebration month.
Even though war during Ramadan is taught as taboo in the Qur’an, Ramadan has a bloody history of celebrated battles and carnage dating back to its earliest days, including the numerous attacks that took place just last year. While numbers vary, one monitoring source counted 124 Islamic terrorist attacks in 24 countries during Ramadan in 2017.
There is competition between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. This contest is partially responsible for spikes in terrorist attacks. It is likely this will continue as both these terrorist groups seek to gain dominance over the other. This year is not proving any different as violence continues to increase. The jihad report counted 171 attacks in March and 550 in 36 countries through mid-April, 2018. Some reporting agencies show less attacks, some more, depending upon methodology, reporting, and coverage.
If the Qur’an is explicit about the cessation of violence during Ramadan, why are so many acts of violence being carried out and encouraged by the leadership of terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda? Let me see if I can unpack the logic (however skewed it may be) as to why Ramadan is a great time of year to not only fast, but to be furious as well.
The prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” (Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1887) The logic is: Muhammad taught that during Ramadan, one would receive 70 times the blessing for carrying out an obligatory act during Ramadan than he would at other times of the year. What would an obligatory act be that would give one 70 times the blessing? Certainly there are acts that do not include acts of violence,which is what most would say Muhammad was pointing to. For instance, Muhammad was very explicit with this one… Muhammad says: ”Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it (i.e. his recitation), and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif-Laam-Meem is (considered as) a letter, rather Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi] Simply put, Muhammad instructed Muslims that if they recite the Qur’an during Ramadan they will get 10 times the blessing they would get reciting it at other times. This holds true for giving to the poor, helping the sick or journeying to Mecca during Ramadan.
According to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the obligations of a Muslim are three-fold: A Muslim is required to become an obedient slave of Allah, he is required to mold his life, his values, his priorities, and his ambitions according to the commands of his lord. Secondly, he must preach and disseminate the ideational and practical guidance of Islam to his fellow human beings, to enjoin all that is good and prohibit all that is evil. Thirdly, he must try his utmost to establish the domination of Islam over all other systems of life, all over the world.
There are a host of interpretations of the obligations of Muslims. Most of these are built on a preconceived sense of inevitability. Islamic rule will dominate the world one day. It is just a forgone conclusion, so people ought to just submit to it now, because one day it will just “be.” That is the Islamic meta-narrative.
This is not the forgone conclusion of radical Islamists. In their interpretation, the prohibition of all that is evil and the domination of Islam over all mankind is a very clear mandate for Muslims and since it is an obligation for all mankind to follow the teachings of Muhammad, however one brings one to this place of obedience, it is the end result that is important. Acts of violence for the disobedient are perfectly legitimate courses of action for fulfilling the obligations of Islamic teaching. Additionally, when done in the context of Ramadan, it will yield a 70 fold reward. This is not necessarily the pre-dominantly held position by much of the clerical elite, especially in the West, but it is an espoused teaching by the leadership of many Islamic extremist groups. It is the same for Islamic governments in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is much of the reasoning behind why so many acts of violence are carried out during the month of Ramadan.
Here are some additional factors that may increase the potential for violence during Ramadan in 2018.
- The blowback of recent strikes on Syria by the United States, United Kingdom, France and Israel will likely increase the number of planned and spontaneous attacks against these and other countries.
- ISIS and their affiliates are trying to salvage their relevance.
- Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are striving to project their dominance among jihadi supporters, donors, and recruits.
- Sunni affiliated jihadi groups, which account for the overwhelming majority of Islamic terrorists and insurgents, are encouraging affiliates, cells, and individuals to carry out local, regional and international attacks. This includes simple lone wolf attacks utilizing a knife, gun, car or truck.
- The collapse of ISIS sent many foreign fighters back home and to other countries. Additionally, fighters who would have traveled to join ISIS in Iraq or Syria are now encouraged to carry out attacks in their own country for the Caliphate.
- Hezbollah and other Shi’ite affiliated insurgent and terrorist groups will likely be adding to the Ramadan carnage this year due to the recent attacks on Syria by the United States, United Kingdom, France and Israel.
- Increasing levels of injustice, chaos, frustration, corrupt and dysfunctional governments, and disparity of wealth and resources around the world is fueling jihadi recruiting and attacks.
The reason for the attacks which occur during Ramadan is that they are image-management tools, ways to reset global perceptions and boost the hopes of the true believers fighting on the front lines in Iraq and Syria. In the past this triumphalist effect could be achieved through slick execution videos intended to terrorize the international community. Increasingly though, encouraging attacks outside of the self-proclaimed caliphate heartlands is its chief means of resetting the global media agenda.
In the end, much of the violence we will see against apostate Muslims, Westerners, Christians and non-Muslims will be carried out as part of an elaborate grab for power, wealth and prestige. The evil one is doing very little that is new. Why should he? What he has been doing for thousands of years still works with humans. We as Christians also fall for his ploys so often! As long as we do, all our fasts will be accompanied with fury.
It appears to me that knowing our enemy’s tactics will forearm us to his attacks. By knowing that he will use ideology, economics, social networking, media, literature, our government and even our convictions to achieve his mission we can be better prepared for his onslaughts when they come.
Consider the risks. There are ways you can protect yourselves and your families while traveling and resting, even in an environment that is increasingly hostile to Westerners, both at home and abroad.Ramadan, will likely see an increase in terrorist, insurgent, small cell, and lone wolf activity that will continue throughout the rest of the year. The United States, United Kingdom, Israel and France will be the most desirable targets for jihadists. Potential soft targets in the U.S. and abroad include tourist attractions, shopping areas, restaurants, bars, hotels, sporting events, concerts, trains, subways, and buses. These will appeal to jihadists due to their availability, ease of access, light security and potential for high casualties with a lot of media coverage.
Overseas, specific areas and establishments that are frequented by Westerners will be viewed as low-risk, high yield targets of opportunity for planned and spontaneous attacks. The summer tourist season will provide Islamic extremists with countless potential targets that are filled with Westerners throughout Europe and around the world. Tourist sites, beaches and resorts, shopping and entertainment areas, transportation facilities, special events and other potential targets are all in play.
What can you do? The answer is not to stay home and cower in fear. If you do that, the Islamic extremists have won already. There are a host of ways that you can live safely while enjoying God’s creation. Many would have you believe that all Muslims are out to get you and have some kind of animosity towards Westerners. After having lived among Muslims for 25 years, I can assure you that they do not. They can be among the most caring and generous people I have ever met. Just because we ultimately disagree with one another on some pretty important matters, does not mean they desire us any ill or harm. The ways we can reach out to Muslims are the same as we’ve discussed before and are of the same significance as always.
- Make Muslim friends. Get to know them, their culture and their families.
- Pray for the Muslims in your community. Pray that they will not stay separated, but that they will acclimate into the American community.
- Share with your Muslim neighbors the hope that is within you. You need not try and convert them. The Good News that you bare will draw them as they see it lived out in your life and in the lives of those in your community. You need not fear the power of their ideology. Next to the Gospel it stands naked and incomplete. The Gospel alone will heal the brokenness that haunts their lives as it will all others.