“Islam is a death cult.”
Those words, painted on a wooden sign, were recently visible on Mountain Road in Jaffrey NH, fewer than 5 miles from the Public Library where I presented an “Ask a Muslim Anything” program, not far from where African American Amos Fortune, born a slave, purchased his freedom at age 60 and started a leather tannery business, not far from where America lives, works and worships.
There’ll be calls to shame the author, to deny his message oxygen, to deny the coward any right to post hateful messages on privately property.
Let the coward be – he (or she) has every right to be ignorant and hateful. Let the sign stand so neighbors will know who’re the true haters.
It’s the American way: the same First Amendment that empowers us to speak freely, publish, worship, and assemble protects cowards and heroes, troglodytes and thinkers.
Let them be.
Permit me, today, as I celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, to relate a story that suggests to me how the person in Jaffrey’s woods should be treated.
In the early days of the Muslim community in Medina there was a woman who daily would throw trash on Prophet Muhammad as he walked past her house. The routine never varied – Prophet Muhammad would walk by, she’d throw trash, he’d ignore her.
In spite of advice from friends and companions the Prophet never responded or retaliated.
He ignored her and kept walking.
One day he walked by her house and no one threw trash on him.
He stopped walking: He went to her home to inquire and see if she was well.
Jaffrey’s trash has been removed. Someone should stop by and see if the author is well.
We, Muslims and non-Muslims, have bigger issues.
Ramadan, an obligatory month of fasting for Muslims who’re able, is meant to be spent in contemplation and prayer, an opportunity to confront challenges to our humanity and forces us to consider fully what it means to serve our fellow man.
It means not getting upset over a street sign.
Ramadan’s the time to turn inward in reflection, upward toward God, outward toward all others. It’s a time to heal relationships, to re-establish paths to goodness and hospitality.
Don’t get upset over a street sign.
At its best, Ramadan is a time when we’re reminded of our inter-dependence, our reliance on our sisters and brothers, of breaking free of parochial desires.
At its best, Ramadan is an exercise in overcoming ego. Otherwise, as the Prophet said, “Many people get nothing from the fast but hunger and thirst.”
Ramadan challenges us to define and reaffirm the sacred in a world grown increasingly profane, a world seemingly consumed by greed, wars, conflict, poverty and occupation, by pillagers, abusers and exploiters of the gifts which we’ve received from the Beloved.
And in this increasingly profane world our thirst and hunger reminds us not only of the abundance, sometimes excesses, of our lives but of the many for whom life each day is a struggle with poverty and hunger, of those for whom potable water is an unknown luxury, of those for whom disease and illiteracy is epidemic, of those who dwell in dark, desolate corners of our earth.
Reminds us of those who deny the gifts with which we’ve been blessed, reminds us of those deprived from sharing in those gifts:
“And the earth has He spread out for all living beings, with fruit thereon, and palm trees with sheathed clusters [of dates], and grain growing tall on its stalks, and sweet-smelling plants. Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?” (Qur’an 55:14)
This Ramadan attacks in Manchester and London in the UK, in Paris and Brussels, in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Iran remind us that there are too many willing to turn their back on the Beloved in order to despoil those gifts.
“Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?”
As we judge the visibly culpable, terrorists, bombers, and warlords, those far from our souls or distant from our shores we need to be careful and attentive.
Attentive and fearful, too, of those, acting in our name, committing acts of terror, preying on the innocent and the unprotected.
Fearful of those disavowing the Sustainer’s powers.
Let there be no confusion: those who deny health care to the sick, those who deny shelter to the homeless, those who pollute our earth and betray the trust of the people are terrorists – they are among those who disavow the truth.
Those who are casual in war, accepting casualties as “collateral damage” when hospitals, mosques and civilian centers are bombed, equally are perceived as terrorists.
Those who would deny the needy opportunity to support their families, who deny communities of color the franchise are terrorists; those who avert their gaze from those living in Aleppo’s rubble – for whom every day is a fast – are complicit.
And those who stand mute as parents weep and agonize that they cannot get their children the simplest Ramadan gift are complicit with that terrorism.
Leaders who stand mute as some citizens are terrorized and targeted because of their religion or gender preference are terrorists.
Terrorist is not just a person with a bomb, van or suicide vest. A terrorist is also one who deliberately targets the vulnerable, who exploits privilege and power for profit – who believes that one color, or one religion, is more privileged than others.
We must resist all injustice and inequity, resist all who who target the vulnerable, who target Nabra Hassanen, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile.
Resist all who deny truth.
Prophet Muhammad said that, especially during Ramadan, one should respond to abuse by saying, “I am fasting. I am fasting.”
I am fasting.