It is the period of Ramadhan. A few days of the fast remain and as often happens, the workday stresses of life seem to have disappeared leaving in their place a mind that is open and calm to think of life and how it can proceed towards spiritual development.
Ramadhan, one of the principles of Islam gives the ideal opportunity to Muslims to be creative and live a life of fulfilment particularly in the present environment. Fasting (Sawm) is a unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam. Fasting does not mean mere abstinence from food and drink; it teaches the principle of sincere love which means the complete submission and surrender to Allah, the consequence of which is the care and concern of His creations.
“All creatures of Allah are his family, and He is the Most Beloved of Allah who loveth best his creatures” (Kitab-Al-Iman). Fasting, in fact, is a divine prescription for self-assurance and self-control, for maintenance of human dignity and freedom thus establishing peace in one’s heart, which is the permanent peace with Allah and consequently with the whole universe.
Ramadhan offers endless opportunities to us to develop our inner faculties to work towards the complete annihilation of evil. Discipline and control are primary in the observance of the fast where the objective is to so develop the will power that it can command oneself so that one can attain true moral greatness. These are the ideals of the Fast of Ramadhan and to become reality much effort is needed.
It is in such a month as Ramadhan the feeling of God-consciousness inspires us to rethink, reflect and reaffirm the values, moral spiritual essential for a good and righteous life. The religiousness of the Muslim goes beyond Belief in Allah, Divine revelation and in the Hereafter. It means the realization of the Divine in the life of man through the process of submission to Allah and the services of humanity.
Having dwelt very briefly on the principle of fasting, the opportunities afforded by this month are many particularly in the environment of Sri Lankan Muslims. We have seen the extermination of the scourge of terrorism, the end of the war and the beginning of a peace process. Yet, national integration seems a distance away and the reality of a Sri Lankan identity remains a mere shadow.
Every individual belonging to the diverse communities has a role in building a nation that stands out not as a model of a military state that had exterminated terrorism but as a paradigm of a state for accountability, acknowledgement and peace.
Looking within a community, examining its actions and identifying particularly its shortcomings is the first priority in working towards strengthening it. Sri Lanka being a pluralistic nation needs a balanced community not quantitatively but qualitatively to build a nation of stability and solidarity. Majoritarianism and extreme nationalism will have no room in an environment which has spiritually developed and morally strong communities.
The Muslim community needs to look within itself to refine its principles and work towards becoming ‘Muslim’. Islam is the religion which we follow. Ramadhan is the ideal month where the meaning of Islam can be made clear by our actions. It is the month where we have the opportunity to be Allah-conscious and make efforts to surrender and submit ourselves to the Divine. It is this God-consciousness that promotes peace. This is the time to re-affirm our faith (Iman) – Tawheed, the basic concept in Islam comes alive – The Oneness of Allah – ‘La illaha illalah’ – “There is none worthy of worship except Allah”.
The Oneness of Allah as proclaimed by Islam was the basic concept on which rested another concept the Unity of Man. The Quran says “All mankind was at first but one community and subsequently it ‘stood divided’ and it should be man’s endeavours to restore its unity (2:209). The nurturing of the unity of man and the cherishing of this ideal brings in its course ethical implications that should govern man’s actions towards his fellow beings – “Everyone of you is a keeper unto every other and will be accountable for the welfare of his fold” (Al Bukhari – Kitab-Al-Aklam).
This attribute, it is obvious, was to eliminate friction among the different faiths and proceed to a relationship that has its basis on a common belief of Unity. “O ye Mankind! Surely we have created you a male and female, and made you tribes and families that you may identify and care for each other; surely the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one among you most mindful of his duty. Allah is Knowing, Fully Awake – Quran (49:13). To care for each other needs emphasis – all humanity should work on this common ground.
On this point of caring for each other and the positive attitude one should nurture in relationships with others projects the idea of Khalifa or Kilafat – the vicegerent of Allah where man holds everything he has in trust, nothing belongs to him and in his lifetime he should take care of everything and everyone around him.
Ramadhan is the period, which is the most conducive to the remembrance of these concepts. Knowing concepts is not enough – The Motto of Islam is ‘Believe and work righteously’ and the guidance for this is given in the Quran, Hadith and the Sunna. This is where we Muslims need to re-think the means and methods given in Islam and make the effort to be the Khilafat of Allah.
When one thinks of effort, the word Jehad comes to our mind – Jehad coming from the root word ‘Jehada’ which means striving and effort.
The way Jehad has been misconstrued by those who do not know of Islam sometimes is understandable when one views the way Jehad has been modelled by Muslims themselves. It is synonymous in their minds with extremism, violence and bloodshed. In fact the highest form of Jehad or Jehad-el-Akbar is the Jehad against one’s own evil ways. Jehad is to create ways to create essential conditions for a peaceful life.
At the first instance one needs to strive for inward peace but it is also one’s responsibility to strive for peace outside. One cannot be silent, sit on the fence and watch events go by that upset the peace. In fact if Sri Lankans are concerned about the peace process and its progress and mere words of criticism, confrontation either verbally or in action are not the answers – Jehad or striving in the space you have, even in small measures to create harmony and minimize polarization and conflict should be one’s objective. The life of the Holy Prophet (sal) gives us many examples.
Ramadhan is a time for remembering and reflecting on the values that Islam propagates. Reflection necessarily must lead to action and in the present context values especially taking the peace process forward must be activated. Islam as a religion is built upon a foundation of peaceful values and principles. What are the values in the framework of Islam that practitioners and advocates could utilize to facilitate peace-building and promote understanding and harmony in the pluralistic State of Sri Lanka? What values stand foremost in social integration to build solidarity in a nation?
In Islam the pursuit of justice is a cardinal value and social justice of great importance. Besides justice there is a range of values that relate Islam to harmony, understanding and peace, in short to build bridges and relationships amongst humanity. Some of them are beneficence (ihsan) compassion (rahmah), wisdom (hikmah), service (amal), faith (yakeen) and love (muhabath). Great weightage is given to brotherhood, equality of mankind (abolition of slavery and racial and ethnic barriers), tolerance, recognition of rights, responsibility in duties. Both the Quran and the Holy Prophet (sal) hadith and sunnah affirm these values repeatedly. Justice (adl) is highlighted in Islam as Islam emphasizes both individual responsibility and primary moral obligation to fight against injustice.
The Quran lays great emphasis on forgiveness. Mercy is another value which plays an important role in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Patience (sabr) is another value highlighted by Islam and Muslims are encouraged to be patient and non judgemental. This is an important quality of those who want to be agents of change in areas. It is important in peace building and socio economic sustainable development projects where results are seen in the long term and patience needs to be exercised by both the agents and beneficiaries.
Collective action, colloborativeness and solidarity are essential in binding a community, a region and a nation. The basis of solidarity in Islam is wider than the Muslim community and extends to embrace humanity.
What Islam encourages is inclusivity. If Sri Lanka’s plural community is to go ahead build the nation, inclusiveness over exclusiveness is the goal and the policies that govern the nation need to have these values enshrined in the consultative process in the making of decisions by the ruler/rulers. The Islamic values of shura (consultation), and ijma (consensus) are priceless mechanisms of governance in the sphere of decision making. When one considers these values, the community’s reflections on strategies of participation and representation in governance is of great priority.
Ramadhan is an opportunity for growth – spiritual growth. To be effectively used, conscious re-thinking, re-affirming and reflecting should be set in motion. The environment of Sri Lanka presents a context rich in issues that require reflection and action. Muslims are aware no doubt of the intra-community and inter-community strengths with creative and innovative mechanisms for solidarity and unity. Islam is rich in its teachings, the theories and paradigms. It is for the community to utilize it.