Ramadan - the month of socio-political activism and jihad
This year, the month of September coincides with the holy month of Ramadan. In the Seerah of the Prophet and throughout Muslim history, this has been a month of jihad and activism. Yet in the modern world., it has become one of passivity and personal piety. FAHAD ANSARI explores this paradox.
“O Allah! Should this group [of Muslims] be defeated today, You will no longer be worshipped.”
These were the words of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) as he stood before his Lord one Friday night with his hands raised in the air, his palms wide open, weeping and crying, supplicating for victory for the Ummah .(Sahih Bukhari, part of a hadith related by Ibn Abbas). So troubled was the Messenger of Allah (saws) that his tears did not cease, his supplications did not end, until his cloak fell off his shoulders and Abu Bakr (ra), his closest companion, assured him that Allah would not reject his prayer. But this was no ordinary night and this was no ordinary place. This was the 17th night of Ramadan and this du‘a’ was being made in the valley of Badr, on the eve of the battle of Badr, the most important battle ever to be fought by the Muslims. Completely outnumbered by a much-better-equipped army, the Prophet (saws) and the Muslims did all they could physically do and made du‘a’ before, during and after the battle. Out of His infinite mercy, Allah granted them victory against the odds.
Were this battle to occur again today, many Muslims would, from the comfort of their homes, raise numerous concerns about such tactics. Why don't the Muslims wait until they have more numbers? Why don't they wait until they are better trained? Why not negotiate a peace treaty? The most common concern, however, would be why on earth these Muslims are fighting during Ramadan. Surely, they should be in the mosque reflecting and contemplating and making du‘a’ to Allah for victory for the Ummah? The irony of such statements would be lost on many, for this is what this blessed month, this month of mercy and patience, has become: an excuse for inaction and selfishness. Today, Ramadan has become a month of hunger and thirst, which alone will not enable us to achieve that noble objective which Allah tells us is the purpose of fasting: taqwa.
In a month in which Muslims should increase their efforts to enjoin good and forbid evil, should strive with their wealth and their selves to spread the message of Islam and stand up to tyranny, instead we see the complete opposite. Conferences, demonstrations and other such activities are considered to be inappropriate for such a sacred month.
A preliminary examination of Muslim history will show us that many of the greatest victories for the Muslim armies occurred during Ramadan. After Badr, the Muslims trained for the Battle of the Trench during Ramadan 5 AH, although the actual battle took place in Shawwal. In 6 AH, Zaid ibn Haritha (ra) was sent to Wadi al-Qurra at the head of a detachment to confront Fatimah bint Rabi'ah, the queen of that area. Fatimah had previously attacked a caravan led by Zaid and succeeded in plundering its wealth. She was known to be the best-protected woman in Arabia: she hung fifty swords of her close relatives in her home. Fatimah was equally notorious for her open hostility to Islam. She was killed in a battle against the Muslims in the month of Ramadan.
It was in Ramadan 8 AH that the Muslims opened Makkah, liberating it from the mushrikeen, the Muslims' greatest feat at that time since the beginning of their call to Allah. For these pillars of the Ummah, waiting until after Ramadan to cleanse the House of Allah of idols was a wait too long. Rather, they wanted to celebrate Eid at the Ka‘abah. After entering the city with the biggest army of Muslims ever seen, the Prophet (saws) stayed a further 19 days before leaving. These were the final days of Ramadan, but even then the gravity of the mission deterred the Prophet (saws) from simply retiring to the masjid to make du‘a’. Instead, he began despatching platoons to eliminate the last symbols of shirk from the Hijaz. He sent Khalid bin Waleed (ra) at the head of 30 horsemen to Nakhlah to destroy al-Uzza, Amr ibn al-‘As (ra) to destroy Suwa and Sa'd ibn Zaid al-Ashhali (ra) to destroy Manat.
After the death of the Prophet (saws), the Believers continued to regard Ramadan in the same light: a period of purification for their souls, as well as being a time to enjoin good, forbidding evil and strive in the cause of Allah.
In the Ramadan of 31 AH, the Muslims, under the leadership of Mu'awiyah (ra), conquered the Christian islands of Rhodes, destroying the biggest idol in the world at the time, the Colossus of Rhodes (named after the Greek god named Helios), a statue 110 foot tall that sat on a 50-foot-high pedestal of white marble near the harbour entrance of the city.
In the Ramadan of 88 AH Musa ibn Husair, the Umayyad governor of North Africa, sent an army of 12,000 under the leadership of Tariq bin Ziyad to face an army of 90,000 Christians under King Roderic, the tyrannical ruler of the Visigoths in Spain at the time. After burning the Muslims' boats to prevent anyone from even contemplating retreat, Ibn-Ziyad warned the Muslims that victory and Paradise lay ahead of them and only defeat and the sea behind. After Allah blessed them with a clear victory over their enemies, the Muslims succeeded in liberating the whole of Spain, Sicily and parts of France. This was the beginning of the Golden Age of al-Andalus, where Muslims ruled for more than 700 years.
It was during the month of Ramadan of 1187CE that Salah ud-Deen Ayubi, one of the great generals, defeated the Frankish army at the Battle of Hattin. His advisors counselled him to rest from the battle during the month of fasting, but Salah ud-Deen insisted on continuing because he knew that Ramadan is a month of victory for the Muslims. This defeat was the first of a series of defeats for the Crusaders, resulting in their being driven out of virtually all of Syria.
Less than one hundred years later, on the 25th of Ramadan 1260 AH, the Muslims came out to defeat one of the most barbaric armies they had ever encountered. For almost 150 years the Mongols, led first by Genghis Khan and later by his grandson Hulagu, had been the scourge of the Muslim world, conquering Samarkand, Ray and Hamdan before butchering an estimated 2 million Muslims during the sack of Baghdad. The Christians were asked to eat pork and drink wine openly while the surviving Muslims were forced to participate in drinking bouts. Wine was sprinkled in the masaajid and no adhaan was allowed. So petrified were the Muslims of the Mongols that some narrations relate that a Mongol woman would command a Muslim man to wait while she went and got her sword to kill him. This Muslim man in his fear would then wait for her to return and execute him. It was again in Ramadan that Allah raised up, from the Mamlukes of Europe, Muzaffar Qutz, who united the Muslim army and defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut in Palestine.
The key point here is that these Muslims were not doing what many Muslims today do in such situations: retire to the masaajid and neglect to mix their du‘a’ with action. It is noteworthy that both Hittin and Ayn Jalut took place on the nights in which Muslims are commanded to seek out Laylat-ul Qadr. How much more sincere must the du‘a’ be of one over whose head swords are flashing for His sake than the empty words of the worshipper in seclusion!
More contemporary examples include the experiences of the mujahideen in places such as Bosnia, Kashmir, Afghanistan and, more recently, Iraq. It was during Ramadan that mujahideen in these lands increased their offences against the enemy. Commentators already compare the heroic resistance of the Muslims in Fallujah during the last nights of Ramadan in 2004 with that at Stalingrad. For them, Ramadan was the month of blessings, the month of victory, the month in which Allah's mercy would come down upon them, if they demonstrated their sincerity.
These Muslims understood that, just as one increases other aspects of worship, such as prayer, charity, studying Qur'an and ‘umrah, during Ramadan, one should also strive harder in the path of Allah in other acts of worship, such as jihad and ribaat. Through the actions of the Prophet (saws) and his Companions (ra), we understand that Ramadan must never be used as an excuse for inaction and laziness – rather, the opposite. It is the month in which efforts to propagate the deen and defend the oppressed should be accelerated.
Today, the Muslim world is in complete turmoil. Numerous Muslim lands are occupied, thousands of Muslim men and women are held in ghost prisons around the world, Muslim women have been left abandoned as helpless prey to the wolves around them. For Muslims living in the West, armed jihad is an almost fantastical concept. What is expected of them is far less, but even that is not forthcoming. Fundraising, spreading awareness of the plight of their brothers and sisters, attending demonstrations and conferences, assisting the families of the prisoners – these are all activities that each and every Muslim in the West is capable of in some capacity, but come Ramadan the attitude most are likely to have is that this is the month to reflect, not to act.
One should, of course, use this month to recite more Qur'an, pray more and reflect; only a fool would argue otherwise. History shows us that the Muslim armies used to do all of this whilst on expeditions. The point is that their victories came whilst they were out on the path of Allah, not while they were in the masaajid. What the Muslims should ask themselves, however, during this Ramadan in particular, is whether, if the Prophet (saws) had made the du‘a’ he made at Badr in his masjid in Madinah while the enemy was attacking the Muslims, we would be worshipping Allah today.