Saturday, July 02, 2016

Ramadan Reflections on Muslim Mannerisms

A time for reflection, Ramadan is also the month of community, and this is the aspect we appear to lack most. Like most aspects of Islam, Ramadan has by now been heavy commercialised with branded offers directed at individuals who are asked to compensate for the lack of genuine Islam in their lives by purchasing Islamic merchandise. Individual Muslims appear to have adopted the same consumerist attitude, expecting service provision by Muslim institutions on the one hand, and marketing their own understanding of Islam aggressively to anybody appearing to be in any way different to them. Having already succeeded in turning the general non-Muslim public of the countries in which we reside against Islam by our poor and selfish portrayal of this otherwise most convincing religion, we are now doing an equally good job of turning fellow Muslims off Islam or at least off frequenting Muslim-run venues, including, or first and foremost the mosques.

You go to Juma prayers to endure a khutbah sermon preaching a narrow-minded message in dreadful defective English by a "sheikh" fancying himself as everybody's God-sent teacher. You might enter the mosque for nightly tarawih prayers in the hope of spiritual uplifting and leave totally deflated because you encountered some of those whose sole purpose of being there seems to pick on your dress code or the way you pray. If you chance upon going to the mosque on the 27th night of Ramadan, the most likely candidate for the auspicious laylatu-l-qadr or night of power, expecting to benefit from some extra recitation of the Qur'an, you will most likely find yourself caught up in the midst of a charity auction instead where worshippers are almost pressurised into parting with money they sometimes don't have, after all, you can pay by credit card! Should you stay at home, you won't miss out altogether if you mobile phone number is registered in a Muslim name. I received three SMS messages from the same charity begging me not to miss out on the blessings of laylatu-l-Qadr, the final one just after midnight telling me that we had entered the last third of this night and there was still a chance to give.

Having started Ramadan at a different date than those who sent the message, this wasn't my 27th night anyway. I have written numerous times before about this issue here. For more than two decades now, the starting and ending of Ramadan has become a sad show of political allegiance. We are meant to start the lunar month based on the sighting of the moon, but we now "see" the moon based on predetermined dates like those in the Ummalqura calendar of Saudi Arabia. Arguably this takes the unpredictability - and excitement - out of major Islamic events of the year, but the justifications are dishonest to the core. Some pretend to see the moon when it cannot possibly have been there - by the same token I could open my fast early by closing the curtains and pretending the sun had set! Some claim to have a scientific formula for arriving at the most likely date for the moon to be sighted but sadly get their calculations terribly wrong due to an only cursory understanding of astronomy. By the same token online prayer time tables are usually out of sync by at least a few minutes, because they only account of longitude and latitude but not elevation of the place they provide timings for. In May this year the so-called "International United Hijri Calendar Congress" decided on "a common calendar" which has Islamic festivals falling on the same date across the globe, by ignoring "─░htilaf-─▒ matalia" or local variations. They, too, call this a scientific approach, except that for the moon to be seen all around the world at the same time the earth will have to be flat!

Interestingly, the reformists and the dogmatics, such as ISIS (although the latter is an American financed subversive movement to both discredit Islam and facilitate intervention in the country's proxy war with Russia fought over Syria amongst other places) have more in common than it first appears. They are obsessed with rules and control. They love corporate Islam which dictates to individual Muslims what is halal and what is haram and they cannot tolerate diversity. And due to their overbearing influence, that which is truly halal becomes obscure and frowned upon and that which used to be haram becomes halal by attaching the appropriate certificate or label to it. Islamic banks, for example, which charge higher interest rates than the high street, or halal meat, pre-stunned for the convenience of the automated slaughter process, available now in endless flavours in all supermarkets. If you still want the real item, where the animal is cared for both during its rearing and during slaughter, you'd have to do it yourself. Or you'd have to restrict  yourself to a piscatorial and vegetarian diet.

There are more Muslims in the world now than ever before. Islam has gone mainstream and we've become just like everybody else. So how do you teach your children to hold on to their religion when it no longer makes much difference? You buy them Islamic articles to replace the lost identity. Nasheeds, for example, abound now which, in spite of being spiced up a little bit by their exotic Arabic phrases or fleeting references to the divine, could quite happily be played in a disco. You can buy Islamic T-shirts, Muslim hoodies, designer hijabs and even attend Muslim fashion shows. The ISIS brand is out there too with T-shirts and other bric-a-brac. And you can fill the empty void left in your home by the departure of spirituality with so-called Islamic art, from wall decor to carpets.

Hijra, emigration, is a very important concept in Islam and essentially means moving away from a place where Islam is besieged to a place where it can be freely practiced. It also means moving away from that which is sinful in general. Might it be time to commence hijra away from the modern-day Muslims who have happily carved out a market niche for themselves in a world otherwise ruled by forces of evil? Prophet Muhammad, peace be with him, said: "Islam began as a stranger and will become a stranger again, so give glad tidings to the strangers." He was asked, "who are the strangers" and replied: "Those who correct the people when they become corrupt." He is also reported to have said: "They are a small group of people among a large evil population. Those who oppose them are more than those who follow them."