Ramadan’s 'Truce of God'?

There are some hopeful signs that support a vision of a more tolerant and peaceful Ramadan.

Laylat al-Qadr (370) (photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
Laylat al-Qadr (370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
Ramadan, a key pillar of Islam, is currently celebrated by the faithful as a period of purification, introspection, and fasting. And yet, the “best month in Allah’s eyes” is also characterized by the intensification of violence against co-religionists and “infidels” throughout the arc of instability from West Africa to East Asia.
Despite this contradictory reality, is there still the possibility or probability of minimizing intra and inter-religious confrontations and maximizing ecumenical fraternalism in the Moslem World and beyond?
The short answer is definitely yes, provided theological antagonists everywhere recognize Ramadan’s universal imperative of peace with justice for all humanity. Admittedly, such a noble and desirable outcome seems almost unreachable in the face of the escalation of hatred, extremism, and bloodshed, both vertically and horizontally.
Consider, for example, several ominous Ramadan-related events currently occurring throughout Islamdom:
•    On the eve of the Holy Month, when shoppers were buying supplies for the holiday’s feast, a car bomb exploded in Lebanon, injuring dozens of civilians.•    In Egypt, the Moslem Brotherhood’s spiritual leader ruled that supporters of former President Muhammed Morsi may break their fast to fulfill a Ramadan commandment of Jihad in the battle against perceived adversaries.•    Waves of violence rippled across Iraq during the festivities, targeting worshippers at Sunni and Shiite mosques in Baghdad, and resulting in death and destruction.•    A Taliban official in Afghanistan asserted that since Ramadan promises major rewards for participation in Jihad, the Mujahideen will continue their fight during the holiday. •    And in Indonesia “hard-line” believers exploit Ramadan and vow to intensify attacks on bars, nightclubs, and alcohol shops. 
As tragic as this evolving record is, there are nevertheless some hopeful signs that support a vision of a more tolerant and peaceful Ramadan. For instance, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, as Commander of the Faithful, has initiated during Ramadan a series of lectures with the active participation of Moslem theologians and scholars from countries ranging from Mali to China. The purpose of these religious gatherings is to underscore the theme that prayer, Zakat, preaching good deeds, and discouraging evil actions requires divine obligations.  
Moreover, the President of the Syrian National Coalition has offered the regime a Ramadan “ceasefire.” Also, in Somalia the government invited al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group, to renounce violence during the holiday. Similarly, in Nigeria, the governor of Kaduna State appealed to radical co-religionists to “embrace one another as brothers and sisters created by God to exist in peace and harmony.” And the National Revolutionary Front, representing Moslem separatists in Buddhist-dominated Thailand, has pledged to work towards achieving a “violent-free Ramadan.”
Other ecumenical messages are also noteworthy. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on both the Syrian military and the rebels “… to stop fighting and offer the month of peace as a collective present to their people.” And in the same vein, Israel’s President Shimon Peres, in his Ramadan Greetings video, suggested that the need to bring peace is a “call from heaven… to all of us on Earth.”
In sum, the foregoing moves to promote Ramadan’s ecumenical spirit are, thus far at least, rather limited in scope and impact. The “Truce of God” concept is indeed a desirable goal but is still unattainable during the unfolding holiday season.But make no mistake: the latest Ramadan cease-fire initiatives can practically serve as stepping stones in creating an environment more conducive for building the foundation of security and human dignity tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.
At the end of the day, what is of critical significance is for Moslems and non-Moslems alike to heed the teachings of the Koran: “If they desire peace, give them peace, and trust in God.”
Professor Yonah Alexander is director of the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies in Washington, D.C. and editor-in-chief of Terrorism: Electronic Journal and Knowledge Base (http://www.terrorismelectronicjournal.org/).  Sharon Layani, a University of Michigan Graduate, provided research support for the article.