The month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim calendar and the holiest month of Islam, has begun. Muslims have embarked on a month of abstinence from eating and drinking, as well as a month of reflection, purification and soul searching.
About 1.2 billion Muslims start this year's Ramadan under highly unusual circumstances. The United States has been attacked by terrorists in the name of Islam. And the attackers have been roundly condemned all over the world - including by reputed Islamic authorities, heads of Islamic states and by the Islamic Republic of Iran, a long time foe of the government of the United States.
Imam Elahi of the "House of Wisdom" in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, said the condemnation of the September 11 attacks on the United States is absolute and without reservation, as sanctioned by the holy Koran and the "sunnah," the deeds of the prophet of Islam as recorded and passed to the successive Muslim generations. "This horrible and tragic act of September 11 is very sad and has the complete condemnation of the global community, including the Islamic community and the Islamic world," he said, "and we have received these messages of condemnation from religious leaders and Muslim communities in the United States and everywhere in the world. There is no room for terrorism in Koranic teachings. They are based on peace and justice."
The holy month of Ramadan starts when the sliver of the new moon is sighted to the satisfaction of each community or country. This explains the divergence which exists between the East and the West, and the difference in the first day of fasting between various Islamic countries. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are among the countries that began fasting on Friday. Fasting was to start in Oman, Iran and some other countries on Saturday.
Imam Elahi, like many other Islamic scholars, believes that to introduce certainty into this annual ritual of the sighting the new moon requires resorting to science and seeking assistance from the astonishing advances made in astronomy, aided by modern super computers.
There are about six million Muslims in the United States. It is generally agreed that Islam is the fastest growing religion in this country. President George W. Bush, in his Ramadan message, states that "the Islam we know...teaches the value and importance of charity, mercy, and peace. "The holy Koran," adds the president, "says that piety does not lie in turning your face to the East or West. Piety lies in believing in God."
The president of the United States has repeatedly stated that the war against terrorism is not a war against Islam, as some would want the world Muslims to believe. Imam Elahi, by virtue of his wide contacts with the the Muslim communities in the United States, addresses the question of Muslim feelings here in this country on this issue. "The answer to the question [of whether it is a war against Islam] is - absolutely not, because Islam is absolutely against terrorism, so the war against terrorism cannot be the war against Islam," he affirmed. "If you look at it from our president's point of view, he mentions many times that it was not war against Islam, it was against terrorism. But the feelings of the Muslim community is mixed because, first of all, they love their country the United States. They support President Bush and politically, they trust and support their president. They have a mixed feeling about the situation because [on the one hand] they are very much against terrorism and want global unity against it and want peace and justice. But, at the same time, they are very concerned about the innocent people in Afghanistan and innocent people in Palestine."
Muslims trace the origin of their religion to the year 610 A.D. According to tradition, Mohammad Bin Abdallah, a member of the elitist Quraysh tribe from Mecca, received the first divine injunction on the "Night of Power" during the month of Ramadan. Muslims believe that Mohammad was suddenly engulfed by the divine presence commanding him to "recite!"
The five pillars of Islam are fasting, daily prayers, alms giving, Hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca), the acknowledgment of the oneness of God and the mission of Mohammad as God's chosen messenger.
In deference to the injunctions from the Koran, the fundamental scripture of the faith, adult Muslims begin a fast, avoiding food, drink and smoke from dawn to dusk for a period of one month, until the sliver of the next moon appears. The Koran, however, does not require travelers, nursing mothers, the sick and the soldiers on the march to fast. But these are expected to make up the days missed as the opportunity arises. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are called upon to shift from their daily routine to an attitude of self denial, purification, meditation and soul searching. Muslims are also called upon to suffer in solidarity with the less fortunate of the world.
Within 100 years of Mohammad's call, Islam spread to much of the populated world. The Koran emphasizes reason, perpetual search for truth, careful observation, contemplation and transcendence beyond the transitory, the insignificant and the ephemeral.
In the process of religious search, the faithful find the "signs" and the "clarifiers" (ayat and bayyenat in Arabic) that lead to God as the eternal truth and the source of all existence.
At the call of the muezzin from the golden minarets of the mosques all over the Islamic world, hundreds of millions turn toward Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet of Islam, and prostrate themselves in humility before their Creator.
The religion-based Islamic quest became a foundation for scientific method and the discoveries made by early Islamic scholars precede European research and learning. Many advances in natural sciences, math, medicine and astronomy are attributable to Islamic scholarship in the early centuries of Islam's expansion.
It is generally believed that Islamic scholars and scientists transmitted much of the classical knowledge of the ancient world. Since then, ethnic, tribal and cultural differences have superseded the Islamic injunctions for perpetual search. But many modern Muslims seem convinced the rise of a genuine Islamic revivalism as a positive force may once again place Islamic communities in the right path.
Many Muslims are dismayed that their religion today is somewhat linked with terrorism and violence. "Far from embracing violence," Imam Elahi of the House of Wisdom says, "Islam is a religion that teaches compassion not only during Ramadan, but throughout the year."