Ramadan used to be a time only for faith, family, food, fun and forgiveness. In these last few years, this holy month for Muslims and others has become a time of fear. Mosques, designed to be places of peace and piety, are increasingly targets for white supremacist terrorists and haters of Muslims.
The recent killing of 51 innocent worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch in New Zealand is a reminder of the psychological horror that Muslims will harbor as they turn to tarawih prayers every night. In 2017, a mosque in London was attacked during Ramadan, killing an elderly worshiper. That same year, six Muslims were shot at a mosque in Canada. Bomb alerts at mosques are frequently reported.
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At these moments, rather than tone down their hatred, white supremacists up the ante. In the week after Christchurch, anti-Muslim hate crimes reported across Britain increased by a staggering 593%.
Verbal abuse directed at Muslims in London, among the world s most cosmopolitan cities, in separate incidents is alleged to have included shouts of "you need to be shot", "you deserve it" and "Muslims must die." To those free speech fanatics who claim oral abuse does not count, can we in all equanimity say that this type of mood-music that creates the ethos for killings is to be tolerated?
It is in this environment that nearly 2 billion Muslims will enter Ramadan this coming week to re-connect with God through fasting, abstinence from sex and drink from dawn to dusk, praying extra dedications at home and in mosques in the evenings, and seeking forgiveness for our trespasses. This heightened spiritual awareness brings communities and congregations together across the globe.
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Ramadan is also the month in which the Quran was divinely inspired to an Arabian merchant in 610CE during his spiritual retreat. The businessman Prophet Mohammed called his people away from the chaos and commerce of the city of Mecca to remember God in their trading and travels. That inspired text is the Quran. The Quran repeatedly calls its readers to reflect on creation and renew our commitment to doing goodness to humans and God. This is the spirit of Ramadan: there is nothing to fear, nobody to kill. Let Muslims be as they turn to worship the God of Socrates, Aristotle, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
The enemies of God, the haters of modern humanity, target the lovers of God at these moments of mass coming together. The Christchurch killer most likely inspired the killing at the San Diego synagogue last week. Jihadists slaughtered almost 300 Christians in Sri Lanka days ago. This year started in January with an attack on a church in Cairo where a Muslim policeman died defusing the bomb. Later that month, jihadists killed 20 Christians in a church in the Philippines.
Jihadist ISIS, declared their fascist "Islamic state" in Ramadan of 2014 as they beheaded and raped people in Syria and Iraqi. Extremists inspire other extremists. Islamist terrorists give cause to white supremacists. As Muslims embrace Ramadan this year, we must be vigilant that these two extremes, white supremacist ideology and Islamist fanaticism, do not rip us apart. Muslims will be at mosques with trepidation this year. How did we come to this?
We are the inheritors of a free world bequeathed to us by the prophets who called us to worship of God in Ramadan and the Enlightenment philosophers who shaped a tolerant, modern world. The terrorists wish to destroy this civilization of co-existence by spreading anti-Muslim hatred. We cannot let them: an attack on Islam and Muslims is an attack on all of us. If Ramadan loses its sanctity and safety in the West, what remains of civilization? Europe has a history of centuries of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. Don t let the white supremacists sow the seeds of a new cleansing of their imagined race and culture. Muslims are part of the West.
This year saw the ongoing rise of anti-Muslim crimes, but this year also witnessed, for the first time in history, a Pope celebrating Mass openly in the Arabian Peninsula, birthplace of Islam. In Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, Muslim leaders welcomed Pope Francis. In that spirit of freedom of conscience, the bedrock of civilization, send a message to your Muslim friend, colleague, neighbor, doctor, postman, teacher or other and wish them Ramadan Karim, a noble Ramadan. We are all in this together.