Ramadan and Eid: Cultivating Empathy; Celebrating Compassion

Eid Mubarak! The hope of Eid, the promise of empathy and compassion dispelling violence and ignorance, is needed now more than ever.

Tragic events in the United States and around the world cast a shadow over the month of Ramadan this year. Even as Eid arrives and the Raven Foundation wishes Eid Mubarak to our beloved Muslim sisters and brothers, we mourn the escalating violence in the Middle East from Syria to Iraq to Afghanistan, as well as the terror attacks against Muslims from Iran to London. We call for a merciful end to the devastating bombing campaign in Yemen resulting in the world’s worst famine and an outbreak of cholera. And here at home, we grieve the more than 20 % increase in hate incidents against Muslims and other vulnerable groups in the United States, the bullying of 2 in 5 Muslim school children, and especially the brutal murder last week of Nabra Hassanen.

Nabra’s murder, as she walked from her pre-sunrise breakfast back to a mosque and was abducted and beaten to death with a baseball bat, is a crime and a tragedy that has devastated the Muslim community in the United States. We at the Raven Foundation extend our embrace to those who grieve not only her death, but the climate of hatred and fear that has gripped so much of the country and rendered Muslims vulnerable to harassment and attack. Nabra and millions of others around the world, Muslim and non-Muslim, are innocent people caught in the endless cycle of violence perpetuated by American bombs, drones, and weapons. Our nation’s reckless killing of civilians in wars that make nobody safer occasionally result in blowback in the form of attacks that are reported out of the context of endless war, driving a climate of Islamophobia. The fear, hatred, and violence self-perpetuate, sweeping up innocent lives in their path.

But Eid is a promise of hope in the midst of the violence, a promise we all need to realize regardless of our faith. In the darkness of our mourning, the promise of Eid is the promise that God – not war, not greed, not imperial power – will fulfill our needs. The One who is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful, brings us through our hunger and vulnerability to the joy of community and abundance.

Three years ago, I wrote an Eid reflection in honor of my Muslim sisters and brothers. I offer a portion of it again now not only to my Muslim friends, but to everyone, as the lessons of empathy and compassion culminating in celebration can help light a path forward to peace if we take them to heart.

Let us first ponder the meaning of Ramadan, the 30-day fast meant to tune the heart, mind, and soul toward God and break down walls and build bridges of compassion and solidarity between the wealthy and the poor. Muslims believe that it was during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was first revealed from God through the angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an describes itself as a mercy and a guidance, and just like our world today and all times and places throughout history, mercy and guidance were desperately needed! My friend Adam Ericksen explains the world of pre-Islamic Arabia, the Jahiliyya, or Age of Ignorance, as a time when “fate” was thought to determine the rich from the poor, the winners from the losers, leaving little incentive for compassion or generosity. It was a world in which tribal gods were invoked in violent raids of conquest, and the wealth of a few created a world of desperation and misery for the poor, particularly the widow and the orphan. Sadly, this sounds very much like our world today. But it was in the midst of this violent and bleak hopelessness that Muhammad, tuning his heart and his mind to the needs of the poor and vulnerable, was able to hear the message of God: a message of ultimate peace, which is the meaning of Islam.

So it is appropriate that the month in which the Qur’an was revealed is a month of fasting, a time when the faithful enter into solidarity with the poor and hungry. As stomachs growl, those who are normally well-fed get a taste of the hunger 1 in 8 people worldwide experience (according to the 2013 statistics of the World Hunger Education Service). This voluntary material poverty is reminiscent of the world of Jahiliyyah into which the Qur’an was revealed, as faithful Muslims share the experience of the poor. Nothing dispels ignorance more than the active empathy that Ramadan requires.

Furthermore, in this month of spiritual renewal, desires are reoriented from human concerns to divine will. As Muslims find themselves sustained throughout the day not by food but by the loving God and supportive community, they liberate themselves from things that society tells us we need. Negative mimetic desires for material possessions, which can lead to envy and conflict, are tuned out as Muslims become models for one-another of positive mimesis. Turning away from selfish desire to following the desire of God, whose will is for all to love one-another, Muslims during Ramadan find mutual support as they strive through the day to renounce wants masquerading as needs, instead focusing their hearts, minds, time, and resources on those most in need. As food intake decreases, prayer, charity and compassion increase, and the empathy born from this experience extends past the imposed 30 days. The hope is that after the fast comes to an end, Muslims will continue to choose to spend fewer resources on themselves and more in the way of charity toward the poor and vulnerable, relying always on God’s abundant providence.

Eid is a festival of this abundance. It is a holiday that symbolizes that the mercy of God’s message, lived out among the faithful, dispels ignorance. It is a reminder that the same God who sustains us through hunger and poverty generously provides us with a rich and beautiful world to enjoy and share.  Eid is the promise of light after darkness, fulfillment after hunger, celebration after tribulation.

We need not be Muslims to recognize that the empathy cultivated from sharing the experience of hunger and vulnerability with the suffering can help alleviate pain and foster good will. Learning from the compassion that our Muslim sisters and brothers nurture with patience and discipline in the month of Ramadan, we can join with them in solidarity and friendship, countering the false narrative of enmity that ISIS and warhawks would have us believe. Raising our voices together, we can stand up for the dignity and humanity of Muslim children bullied in the United States and families suffering violence, famine and disease in the wake of our wars around the world.

As Muslims around the world come together today to celebrate the triumph of God’s mercy, abundance, and love, I pray that all of us may learn the lessons of Ramadan – empathy for the victims of violence and greed – so that we may all work toward a future Eid in which we invite all to the table – rich and poor, friend and foe – to share the rich feast of God’s boundless love.


Image: This image was generously created by ihsaniye and labeled for reuse.

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