Get ready for Ramadan 2022
Every religion has rituals, such as celebrating an important religious occasion by attending services conducted in much the same way they have been for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In ancient cultures, rituals are also an integral part of people's lives. Organized religions can use rituals to govern and control the people they serve. For example, it was a big deal when the Catholic Church refused to grant a divorce to the English King, Henry VIII, in 1534. The King had the Catholic Church disbarred from England, but the people still needed clergy to officiate marriages, baptisms, and burials. Thus, the King created a church that was catholic in nature, but with elements of the reformation movement that was beginning to surface in Europe, aka, The Church of England. Both churches had formalized rituals, but now one church was subservient to a sovereign king, whereas the other was a sovereign into itself. All these rituals, repeated over and over with absolute precision, serve to organize our lives, honor our ancestors, faiths, history, and country and celebrate our successes. Ramadan is one of those ritualized celebrations that Muslims worldwide recognize and honor.
Ramadan is regarded as the holiest month of the year for Muslims as it was the month in which the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad on the night of Laylat Al Qadr, one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. "Ramadan" comes from the Arabic root "ramiḍa," which means dryness. Participants are expected to abstain from food and drink, sex, and impure or violent thoughts with the idea to cleanse the mind. Adult Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk every day throughout Ramadan. Fasting is an obligatory act — one of the Five Pillars of Islam, rooted in a commitment to get closer to God (Allah) once a year. After dark, it is well known that feasting and holiday beverages are consumed. Those ill, elderly, diabetic, pregnant, menstruating, or breastfeeding are not required to fast. Those who travel or are unwell during Ramadan may fast on different days at a later point. Children are not required to fast unless they have reached puberty, although many still do out of choice.
Because the calendar is lunar, the month of Ramadan shifts from year to year. Ramadan officially begins with the first sighting of the crescent moon. Ramadan lasts for one complete moon cycle, usually 29 or 30 days. This year, the moon sighting should start on the evening of April 2nd, and the holiday period should end on the evening of May 2nd. The moon sighting determines the duration. Nowadays, astronomical calculations have started taking precedence over the age-old tradition of moon sighting by the naked eye to select the dates. A moon-sighting committee in Mecca is responsible for officiating the beginning and the end of the Ramadan annual observance.
Several variables, including regional practices, scholarly disagreements, and cloud conditions, mean that the start of Ramadan is neither uniform around the world nor perfectly aligned with the Gregorian calendar. While most practicing Muslims around the world will use the time to attend mosque more frequently and be with family, the religious fervor of the month will invite a select few to engage in acts of violence in the name of Islam. Jihadists see Ramadan as an especially auspicious time for attacks, believing that actions taken during Ramadan are somehow nobler, despite prohibitions on the aggression of any kind during the month. For radical terrorists and insurgent groups, Ramadan is an opportunity to encourage and initiate increased attacks, suicide bombings, and carnage against perceived enemies worldwide, regardless of nationality, location, or religious affiliation. They feel that Ramadan is when martyrdom and jihad are exceptionally rewarded in paradise. Virtually everything about these attacks and the motivation behind them goes against the core teaching of the Qur'an.
Waging war during Ramadan is prohibited by the Qur'an. There are exceptions (2:194 and 2:217) which terrorists and jihadists twist to encourage attacks and martyrdom during Ramadan. Most of the jihadist groups behind these attacks are motivated by power, prestige, and money, not religious conviction or nationalism.
Ramadan has a bloody history of famous battles and carnage dating back to its earliest days. In 2020, Breitbart News analyzed the deaths and injuries inflicted by seven Islamic terrorist organizations during Ramadan 2019. On average, jihadists killed 28 people per day and injured 34people. The Taliban was the most violent, followed closely by the Islamic State. Afghanistan is the bloodiest region, followed by Iraq and then Nigeria.
Motivation and Timing for Ramadan Attacks
Most Muslims believe that acts carried out during Ramadan, from paying zakat, the annual Islamic charity tax, to becoming a martyr in a jihad, will carry much more weight with Allah. There will be periodic attacks throughout Ramadan and often another flurry at the end that may carry over into the Eid al-Fitr celebration. From a cultural and political perspective, symbolic, strategic, or newsworthy targets will be top priorities.
Regardless of motivation - redemption, revenge, or glory - jihadist predators seek out radicalized or vulnerable men, disgraced women, and brainwashed children, encouraging them to the glory of martyrdom. A small number of misguided Muslims will look to fulfill their destiny by carrying out suicide missions.
There is an increased frequency of attacks on Fridays, the Muslim Sabbath. By encouraging affiliates, active terrorist cells, and spontaneous recruits to strike on Fridays, the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda can create an illusion of global and regional coordinated attacks that are purely coincidental. Additional Friday attacks may be encouraged by the preaching of radical mullahs and the extremist elements that begin speaking at mosques after traditional Friday services. This could include mosques in North America and Europe. One of the reasons why so many protests in Islamic countries take place on Fridays; Muslim parishioners – spun up by primary or secondary speakers - spill out of the mosques and into the streets.
The majority of attacks during Ramadan will range from small cells to lone wolves - utilizing suicide bombers and jihadists, explosives, small arms, and vehicles to attack infidels and other perceived enemies throughout the world. Attacks in the West would likely be unsophisticated, poorly planned attacks typically involving vehicles, blades, or firearms. Inexperienced, grassroots jihadists might also attempt a drone-based attack outside a war zone. While such a plot is unlikely to prove tactically effective, it would capture substantial media attention.
While attacks against Westerners have attracted the most headlines, most jihadist violence has targeted Muslims. For example, Shiites build shrines to honor their imams, religious leaders, and scholars. Sunnis consider it blasphemous to conduct rituals, ceremonies, and prayers that venerate anyone or anything except God. It is well known that fundamental sects of Sunnis will blow-up shrines or conduct suicide attacks against other Muslims they believe are blasphemous.
The Spirit of Ramadan
Most Muslims get great spiritual rewards for studying, reading, and listening to Quran recitations this month. They strengthen their resolve to live the aims and objectives of Islam during this period. While Muslims seek to do what's right, some think dying for the cause is the quick and easy way to achieve their place in the afterlife. Most of us, Muslims and Christians, know that there is no quick and easy way; we must work hard and resolve to live the values that our faith puts in front of us.
Image credit: Ramadan crescent moon by Mohanad Kh, Wikipedia Commons.