Why more Islamic violence during the sacred fasting month?
The Islamic sacred fasting month of Ramadan ended on 23rd October ushering in the celebration of Eid on 24th October, which is a day of great feast and fun. In the midst of Eid celebration, a heart-breaking estimate of Ramadan month violence in a website caught my attention: “The holy month of Ramadan saw 291 deadly terror attacks in 17 countries across the globe racking up over 1600 dead bodies”. A few recent news-headlines also drew a grim picture of Islamist violence during the Ramadan month around the world. An Associated Press news headline on violence in Iraq read:
“Four days of sectarian slaughter killed at least 91 people by Monday in Balad, a town near a major U.S. air base an hour’s drive north of the capital. Elsewhere, 60 Iraqis died in attacks and 16 tortured bodies were found… During the same month is also projected to experience heaviest-ever coalition casualties surpassing 107 U.S. and 10 British soldiers died in January 2005.”
A few days ago, an Los Angeles Times report (Violence Up During Ramadan) read: “Insurgent and sectarian attacks in the Iraqi capital have shot up during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and atonement, according to U.S. military statistics released Thursday.” In the US military press-briefing on 19th October, spokesman said that violence was 22% higher in the period of Ramadan and this spike in violence was consistent with the previous increases.
Over in Thailand South, Islamist terrorist groups launched a wave of shootings resulting in 9 deaths on 16th October. Also Al-Qaeda, the dreadest Islamist terrorist group in the world, urged America Muslims to leave the US, for second time during this holy month, showing their intent to launch an attack before the end of Ramadan.
Against this holy-month upsurge in violence by the Islamist groups, there is a general notion amongst Muslims that violence and blood-bath is forbidden in Islam during the holy months. Recently, newspapers in Bangladesh were awash with news and commentaries about Government’s dilemma over carrying out the execution during Ramadan of a number of deadly Islamic terrorists, who were sentenced to death for launching a decade-long campaign of terror resulting in nearly 200 deaths.
Another case requires mentioning here. Before the arrival of the first Ramadan after US coalition’s misadventure in Iraq in 2003, the insurgency was taking an increasingly violent turn. As the Ramadan was approaching, the foreign troops and the interim Government pinned high hope for a respite in violence during the holy month of fasting and atonement. Yet, the leaders of the terrorists group had disputed the alleged prohibition of violence during Ramadan in Islam and vowed to continue their violent acts. And surprising all expectations and speculations of the pundits, the media and all others, the campaign of terror took an upward surge during Ramadan overtaking that of any previous period. During every subsequent Ramadan, violence in Iraq has shown consistent upsurge. This is true in case of other hot-spots of Islamic violence around the world.
Why is this upsurge in Islamist violence during the Ramadan defying the alleged prohibition? It is said that the Islamist terrorists follow the rituals and edicts of their religion seriously. An investigation of the Koran and events during the days of Prophet Muhammad, which determines the body of divinely-inspired Islamic ideals and laws for eternal times of Muslims, is essential to reach a conclusion regarding this riddle. My recent research into how Ramadan became a divine ritual in Islam gave me clue as to why there is increased violence by militant Muslim groups at various hot-spots across the world.
The Prophet of Islam was born in the Arabian city of Mecca in 570 AD in a community of Koreish, who were mainly pagan and devoted to the worshipping idols. Mecca also housed the most sacred temple of Arabia, called the Ka’ba, which allegedly housed 360 idols and was the center for worship and pilgrimage for people of many beliefs in the entire Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad had lost his both parents by the age of five and grew up as an orphan under the care of his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib and later his uncle Abu Taleb. Like all people of the city, young Muhammad followed the religious customs prevalent there until adulthood.
Muhammad got married to a merchant lady, named Khadija, a Christian, at the age of 25. Soon after his marriage; he stopped worshipping idols and started retiring in a nearby cave in the mount of Hira for meditation. At the age of about 40 in 609 AD, he claimed to have received revelation from God and started preaching his new religion in Mecca rather freely. His messages were denigrating to the centuries-old indigenous religion of idol-worship. He called himself and followers of his creed the righteous and those who rejected it were liars, wrong-doers, inventor of falsehood and he consigned the idolaters to the eternal fire of hell [Quran 90: 17-20; 16.104-105].
Despite, expressing his divine messages in such offensive, uncouth and derogatory language, the idolater of Mecca never protested or molested him. The citizens converted to his religion freely except in cases of a few slave converts, belonging to the pagan masters, who faced certain persecution. However, the Prophet’s insult to the Mecca citizens, their Gods and ancestors became intolerable and the citizens of the city imposed social blockade against Muhammad and his community in 617 AD before lifting it 2 years later.
The propagation of Muhammad’s religion over 13 years in Mecca became stagnant with about 100 converts in all. The idolaters of Mecca remained steadfast in their rejection of his faith. About this time, his new creed was getting popular in Medina and the Prophet immigrated there with all the Muslim converts in June 622 CE.
After arriving at Medina, a Jewish strong-hold, the Prophet adopted fasting of Ashor and a number of other Jewish rituals as part of his creed. Prophet’s new messages from heaven started affirming the Jewish and Christian scriptures during the first 1.5 years in Medina and urged the Jews and Christians to accept Muhammad, as their new Prophet. Although the polytheists of Medina accepted his creed in greater number, the Jews stubbornly rejected and even criticized various inconsistencies, inaccuracies and logical fallacies in Islamic revelations in their gossips and poetry. Angered by this, the Prophet now started proscribing the Jewish customs he had adopted and ordered assassinations of those critics and poets who mocked his creed. Allah also revealed a verse acknowledging the stubbornness of the Jews and Christians and promised not to exhort them any more to His religion [Quran 2:120].
In late 623 AD, the Prophet proscribed the Jewish fasting of Ashor and replaced it with the month-long fasting of Ramadan. This is how fasting during Ramadan became part of Islamic rituals.
Not long after arrival in Medina, the Prophet turned his attention to avenge the Meccan’s rejection of his new faith by attacking and looting the life-sustaining Mecca trade caravans passing through nearby routes to Syria . Muslim converts of both Mecca (whose parents and families lived there) and Medina expressed unwillingness to his violent intention. He soon received a verse from God to force the unwilling Muslim cohorts into fighting:
“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not”. [Quran 2.216]
After several failed attempts, the first success of attack on the Mecca caravan came during Nov/Dec in 623 at Nakhla, in which one Mecca caravan attendee was killed; two were captured while another was able to flee. It was the last day of month of Rajab – a sacred period in the Arabian custom on which fighting and violence were prohibited which was religiously followed by the inhabitants for centuries. This caused great dissatisfaction amongst the citizens of Medina including the Muslim converts. His God quickly revealed a verse to justify this blood-shed during prohibited month:
“They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: “Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members.” Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter…” [Quran 2:217].
It should be noted that the fault of Mecca citizens was simple rejection of Muhammad new religion and advising others not to accept it; not allowing him access to their sacred temple of Ka’ba on which he had laid claim of belonging to his own God and applying the civilized measure of social blockade on his community after his 10 years’ of continued insult and degradation of Meccans’ religion, customs and ancestors. These circumstances ultimately lead the Muslims to emigrate to Medina seeing a greener pasture there. This is exactly what Allah has noted about the reactions of the Mecca idolaters to Muhammad and his new creed in this verse: “but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members .” Interestingly, this so-called tumult and persecution became worse than slaughter in the judgment of Islam’s God and fighting and attacking them became a religious duty.
With this command, the fighting, killing and the capture of booty during the traditionally forbidden month were made lawful for the Muslims. The Prophet also ordained Abdullah with the title, ‘Amir-ul-Muminin’ (Commander of the Faithful). This blood-bath was also very meaningful for the Islamic faith in that this was the first raid which brought them booty (wealth) of which the Prophet kept a fifth as his share and the remainder was distributed amongst the raiders. The two prisoners were exchanged for ransoms.
Also about this time, the Prophet had disbanded the fasting of Jewish Ashor and introduced Ramadan as the Fasting month for the Muslims. About two month later in January 624, during the first fasting month of Ramadan, Mecca leader Abu Sufian was returning from Syria with another huge caravan. The Prophet assembled an army of Muslim fighters under his own command and set forth for attacking the caravan. News of this plan of attack reached Mecca and nearly 1000 men set off to rescue the caravan in which majority of the Mecca families had their shares. [Prophet’s biography by At-Tabari, i. 1281; Ibn Hisham, p427]
The caravan had escaped taking a safe-route. Unaware of this, the Prophet arrived at Bedr and took position at a vantage location occupying the water-wells. A tired and thirsty Meccan army arrived after 7-8 days’ journey through the desert and found all the water-wells occupied by the Muslims. The battle finally ensued on Friday, the 17th of Ramadan. The Muslim army of 305 fighting men routed the 1000-strong Mecca army killing 49 and capturing similar number as prisoners and lost only 14 fighters on their side
As the dead-bodies of the slain Koreish were being unceremoniously thrown into a mass-grave, a madly indignant Prophet yelled over them: “Have ye now found true that which your Lord did promise to you. What my Lord promised to me, that have I verily found to be true. Woe unto these people! Ye have rejected me, your Prophet! Ye cast me forth, and others gave me refuge; ye fought against me, and others came to my help!”
One particular incidence of bravery in the battle-field of Bedr requires special mention. In the midst of the battle, the Prophet was loudly spelling encouragement to his soldiers: “Allah had promised paradise to those who die fighting in His cause”. At this time, Omeir Ibn Hubab, a lad of only 16 years, was wondering around eating dates on the side of the battle. Hearing this exhortation from the Prophet’s mouth, he threw away the handful of dates? “Is it these (the dates) that hold me back from paradise?” cried Omeir. “Verily, I will taste no more of them until I meet my Lord (in paradise)!” Whereupon, he picked up a sword and rushed on to the enemies only to be slain. Prophet’s biographies endow glowing tribute and praise on his bravery and list him as the first martyr in Islam.
A number of prisoners were cruelly put to death immediately afterwards at the battlefield and others were carried to Medina to be exchanged for ransom. However, disputes broke out over the distribution of the booty (horses, camel, weapons and other stuffs left behind by the Mecca enemies), to which Allah from heaven quickly responded by revealing the rules for distribution of spoils of war:
“And know that out of all the booty that ye may acquire (in war), a fifth share is assigned to Allah and his Messenger, and to near relatives… [Quran 8.41]
Thereupon, the booty was distributed accordingly. The Prophet, on top of his normal one-fifth share, took possession of the camel of his sworn enemy, Abu Jahl, and his famous sword, known as the ‘Dhu’l-Fikar’ which the Prophet used in all subsequent battles. After the distribution of the booty, Muslims headed back to Medina . In a few days, the month of Ramadan ended and Muslims celebrated the first-ever Eid (Eid-ul-Fitr). The booty captured in Bedr must have had added to the feast and festive mood of Muslim’s first-ever celebration of Eid.
In the light of the Koran and Biographies of the Prophet by pious historians, it is evident that the first Ramadan in Islam was the most violent month the nascent Muslim community had yet seen. They launched this violent encounter proactively to plunder the enemy’s trade caravan. The Prophet’s attitude and expressions on the battlefield was one of unstinted zeal and of evident joy at the victorious outcome, instead of regret and sorrow over blood-bath during the maiden holy month. Muslim God also quickly revealed a verse on how to distribute the spoils of war in the field of battle showing His agreement to this aggressive blood-bath instead of admonishing the Prophet. Just two months earlier, Muslims had launched a blood-letting attack on the Mecca caravan during a forbidden period and Allah had disbanded that existing civilized tradition [Quran 2:217].
These holy-month successes in battle and the blood-bath not only brought spoils of war but also gave Muslims confidence that God was on their side to bring them success even if the enemies were much stronger. Indeed, the Prophet had proclaimed on the battlefield of Bedr to prop up his fighters that ’20 angels of God were fighting the enemy with each Muslim soldier.’ These events and circumstances must have inspired the unfurling numerous future raids, expeditions and battles of immense violence and blood-bath such that Muslims were poised to take over the entire world within about a century, had they not been defeated by the French army under the command of Martel at the battlefields of Tours in 732 AD. Indeed, many major subsequent campaigns were launched by the Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
The bottom-line is that there is no true prohibition against violence during Ramadan in Islam. During the first Ramadan, Muslims had launched a blood-letting and successful war with unstinted pious zeal. The holy month of Ramadan is, thus, inspirational, not prohibitive, towards violence in the Islamic creed. And that’s exactly what we consistently witness today in the increased violence by militant Islamist groups in Iraq and other violent hot-spots. Any talk of prohibition during sacred month/time, emanates from the pre-Islamic Jahiliya (age of ignorance) tradition, which is, thus, un-Islamic and has been disbanded in Islam.
We should now be aware of how accurately the violent Islamist groups follow the fundamentals of Islam. They are as correct as they claim.
Note: For more elaborate historical details, read my recent article “How Ramadan and Eid Became Noble Rituals in Islam?” (http://www.islam-watch.org/AlamgirHussain/Ramadan&Eid.htm)