It is a rhythmic word. One that represents to many non-Muslims like myself the core and opening gate to Islam. The idea of a full month of religious observance, complete with a total fast (not even cigarettes!) followed by a huge family feast - each night, for a stretch of 30 consecutive days! It boggles the mind.
At my place of work, I meet many devout Muslims. Towards the afternoon, I can see the weariness in their eyes, and the anticipation of that evening’s upcoming festive meal. Many employers here in Israel send their workers home early during Ramadan.
These days, I find myself saying the traditional Islamic greeting, “Ramadan Kareem” (a blessed or generous Ramadan) so often that the Muslims are beginning to wish ME – an Orthodox Jew – a ‘Ramadan Kareem”.
But not everyone knows that Ramadan is much more than just fasting and feasting. I did a little research. Turns out that at the very heart of this major holiday is an important and fundamental concept: Teshuva (the common Hebrew word for ‘Repentance’).
Yes. One of the hidden values of this ancient festival is in its call to repentance - for the entire Muslim nation, as well as each individual Muslim.
Imagine: 1.8 billion Muslims, doing what it takes to do true repentance before the Creator in a classic four-step process: first, examining one’s thoughts and deeds; second, identifying those issues that fall short of what is the right thing to think or do; third, making every effort to correct erroneous thoughts and deeds; and fourth, committing to not returning to old, problematic ways.
What would the world be like?
While I am no expert at human behavior, and I’m certainly not in the business of finger-pointing; I’d like to suggest two possible areas for real, effective R&R (Ramadan Repentence).
An End to Violence
Anyone who reads the Quran knows that in many places, it commands the followers of Islam to treat human life with respect. The Quran constantly mentions that Allah is all-merciful, and enjoins His servants to emulate this trait.
True, there are other places in the Quran itself that seem to express intolerance; but conversations with numerous simple Muslims has shown me that they believe that a dominant creed underlying Islam is ‘live and let live’.
Unfortunately, it is a simple fact that in practice, violence seems to underlie much of Islamic societal relations, both among Muslims themselves and between Muslims and people of other faiths. Muslim children are taught violence as tool for venting frustration from a very early age.
This cannot square with the intent of the Quran, as expressed by many a common Muslims with whom I have spoken who believes that real peace between nations is possible. The use of violence, against human beings, animals and property, goes against the Quranic theme of making life better for all people.
Here is an area where individual and collective repentance could change the face of the globe.
Islam and the Land of Israel
Another issue that is ripe for collective and individual repentance on the part of the world’s Muslims is how Islam relates to the relationship between the Jewish Nation and the Land of Israel.
In the seventh chapter of the Quran, we see an astounding statement:
We (Allah) gave the persecuted people (the Children of Israel) dominion over the eastern and western lands (east and west banks of the Jordan River) which We had blessed. Thus was your Lord's gracious word fulfilled for the Israelites, because they had endured with fortitude; and We destroyed the edifices and the towers of Pharaoh and his people (Sura 7:137, “The Heights”).
While I do not claim to be a practiced interpreter of the Quran, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that this holy book of Islam at least in one place openly sanctions the divine right of the Nation of Israel (“today’s Jews”, as told to me by one Muslim in Jerusalem) to sovereignty in its own Land – the very Land that in our times, much of the Islamic world claims belongs to an Arab, not Jewish, people!
The practice of Islam of denying the Jewish People the right to their homeland results in – you guessed it – enormous violence, in Israel and throughout the world. Could this be in direct contradiction to what the Quran states as a divine truth?
If Islam were to do Teshuva by going back to the original intent of the Quran, as stated in this verse – much of the most conflicted policy of the Muslim world would simply cease to exist.
That is the power of Teshuva.
It is also a little-known fact the Quran foresaw, and sanctioned, Zionism, which is simply described as the the National Liberation Movement of The Jewish People as foretold in the Bible by the Hebrew Prophets. In a later section of the Quran, it is said:
He [Pharaoh] sought to scare them (the Children of Israel) out of the Land (of Israel): but We drowned him (Pharaoh), together with all (Egyptians) who were with him. Then We said to the Israelites: 'Dwell in the Land (of Israel). When the promise of the hereafter comes to be fulfilled (in the End of Days), We shall assemble you all together (in the Land)". (Sura 17:103-104, "The Night Journey")
"… when Gog and Magog are let loose, and rush headlong down every hill; when the true promise (of the return of the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel) nears its fulfillment; the unbelievers shall stare in amazement, crying: 'Woe betide us! Of this we have been heedless. We have assuredly done wrong (in resisting the return of the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel)'" (Sura 21:95-96, "The Prophets")
"Gog and Magog” is described explicitly in the Book of Ezekiel from the Hebrew Bible as a war against the Jewish Nation who has returned to the Land of Israel after a long exile.
In our times, some Orthodox Rabbinical thinkers, placing their after-the-fact spin on the unfolding of Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel, have made an amazing statement regarding the War of Gog and Magog. They claim that the numerous wars resulting from the return of the Jewish Nation towards political independence in their ancient homeland, when taken together, are actually the event Gog and Magog itself, which has been taking place over an extended stretch of time!
In any event, the fact that the Quran points out the remorse that those people who oppose the return of the Jews to their Land in the time of Gog and Magog is itself a kind of admittance of a need for repentance for their own faulty vision and understanding.
Teshuva – A Tall Order
No sane person would claim that this would be easy. And keep it should be self-evident that every nation, as well as every human being on the planet, should ideally go through some kind of process of repentance in order to reach their full potential, as individuals and with relation to others, in this world.
But dreaming for bigger and better things has always been a part of humanity. And, as the legendary but controversial Jewish thinker Theodore Herzl once stated:
“If you will it, it is not a dream”.