Ramadan, a time to catalyse peace efforts
To mark Eid, Ahmed Ahmed reflects on concepts of peace and inclusion in Islam and the period Ramadan as a time of spiritual and religious reflection that throughout history has galvanised people to end conflict and lay down arms.
Ahmed Ahmed is a traditionally trained Islamic scholar from the UK. He completed his studies of the Islamic sciences at the Dar al Mustafa Seminary in Tarim, Yemen in 2019 with a specialisation in Islamic Jurisprudence. His research interests include Islamic Theology and the history of Islam on the Swahili Coast. He is currently a research assistant at the faculty of Islamic Theology at the University of Osnabrück where he is pursuing further studies in Islamic Theology.
What is the connection between Ramadan and peace?
From a theological perspective, the month of Ramadan has a specific connection to the revelation itself, the Quran, that Muslims believe is the revelation from God. There are several passages in the Quran that speak about Ramadan and its connection to the Quran itself. For example, the month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed, and this is commented on by scholars that point out that of course the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed, Peace Be Upon Him, in several stages. We can say the revelation is entering the world or the spiritual atmosphere of the world in this month of Ramadan as the month of Quran. The month Ramadan as the month of the Quran contains within it the Night of Power. In one of the passages of the Quran, it describes this Night of Power as being one where the angels greet the believers with the word “peace”.
There is directly a connection between Ramadan, the Quran and the concept of peace. These people that are being greeted are the ones that have a specific quality which in Arabic is called Taqwa, which is God consciousness. This Taqwa is also referred to in connection to the month of Ramadan, in one of the verses of the Quran. The Quran says that the fast in Ramadan has been prescribed on believers and on nations before Islam, Jews and Christians and others. So fasting is a ritual that God has prescribed on the believers so they may increase their God consciousness.
This concept of Taqwa is one that is central to Ramadan as well. These people that have this quality of God consciousness, whom the angels greet with the word peace, also God himself Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, greets these people with the word peace. For example, in the chapter named ‘Surah Ya Sin’, there is a verse “Salamun qawlan min Rabin Rahim”, “peace is the word from the most merciful Lord”. There are many other indicators which connect Ramadan to peace and that connect the people of Ramadan who have attained the quality of God consciousness through the fast to the concept of peace and the guardians of peace of paradise who come in the afterlife.
What differentiates Islamic peacebuilding from other frameworks?
I think it’s twofold, at least from a theologian’s perspective. Firstly, in the sense that any Islamic framework is a God-centred framework, so any intention behind it, any way it is framed, any goals that will be set are ones that will have God in the centre frame. This is not just an individual concept or goal, it is a social one. So, in Islamic society, the main goal we can say is to provide a social sphere where every individual has the same opportunity to access God and his revelation and benefit from it. So that’s on a purely theological basis.
Secondly, Islam as a religion has very complex, powerful ethical and legal frameworks within it. So, these ethical and legal frameworks based on the life example of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him, which are quite unique to Islam, provide us with a framework for our goals and the ways we shape our institutions for the way we organise society; for the way individuals interact with other members of the society and so on. These would be the general points about what differentiates an Islamic peacebuilding framework or an Islamic framework for anything. This doesn’t mean there won’t be overlaps with other peacebuilding frameworks. Generally, for some of the definitions of peace and justice and others there can be many overlaps even though we find cultural relativism in everything, but the main thing is, firstly, God-centred for individuals to access God and these frameworks of how we handle things, how we define things and how we interact with others.
In Islam, all individuals should have equal access to God, so what bearing does this have on inclusion?
From the core, Islam is a communal religion so many of the rights and rituals and practices that are unique to Islam require a communal effort. For example, from the prayer that is done in the communal setting to burials which have communal rights, to the fast when people are fasting for Ramadan and the alms tax, providing for the poor. These are all necessary communal things. The religion does not function without a community.
The legal and ethical frameworks that have been taken from the Quran and life example of the Prophet, Peace be Upon Him, all have developed organically from bottom up, so it is not like someone brought a unique philosophical idea which was then implemented by government and that was pushed on the people. Rather, what happened was that traditional scholars in traditional Islamic fields were part and parcel of the societies and the communities in which they were living. The problems and solutions were coming from these communities themselves and were then expounded upwards. This gives us the framework for better input into governmental structures. Everything comes from the bottom up.
This is where it is important to examine civil actors in society rather than governmental and institutional actors. This is why inclusion is not just from a theological perspective. Of course, if we talk about the theological perspective, the Quran talks about different peoples, different religious groups coming together for common ground to work together. The Quran mentions gender disparities in society and how these should be addressed. These are all things the Quran mentions to allow for a more level playing field, and because it is God-centred the main goal is everyone has better access to the Divine within the social context.
I think it needs to be reiterated that civil actors are the most important ones as they are the actors on the ground connecting or dealing with Islam and Islamic law, and they are the people coming up with real answers, real solutions, moral, ethical conclusions for real issues that overarching frameworks cannot perceive or take care of.
What are your priorities during Ramadan?
I think personally that Ramadan is a space and a school for the religious and spiritual development of people. So that is the main goal. If there are people that wish to have an impact on a peace process or anything to do with alleviating some of the pain in the world, then this is the perfect time to do so because it targets, through the fasting and an increase in ritual prayer and worship, it targets the soul of the individual and it targets the sicknesses that prevail in our hearts.
I personally like to research the impact of traditional Islamic leaders and scholarship in how civil society has functioned throughout Islamic history. And, I see that Ramadan as a time period has been a massive catalyst for this work to be pushed. I can give examples such as Southern Yemen or Indonesia of Ramadan being used to end conflict and put weapons down.