Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ramāḍan has nothing to offer non-Muslims

Jewish date:  14 ’Av 5771 (Parashath ‘Eqev).

Today’s holidays:  Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Forefeast of the Dormition (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Feast Day of St. Buck Dharma (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Jewish Rights on the Temple Mount”.  Please sign and tell the government of Israel that Jewish civil rights matter.  Thank you.


An article that recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post, “Ramadan has something to offer all faiths” by Kaled Diab, disturbs me.  This is an article by a secular Muslim on the famous ’Islāmic month-long fast.  The author is clearly dazzled by the holiday, but not in the way someone religious would think of it.  For comparison, when thinking about Christmas in the United States, a serious Christian thinks about the birth of Jesus, while a secularist who enjoys the holiday thinks about Santa Claus, presents, and Christmas trees.  This article is close to the “Santa Claus” level; the rituals, both formal and informal, and the aura get all the attention, while how Ramāḍan relates to ’Allāh is ignored.  While such an article may be useful for understanding how secularists understand Ramāḍan, it is not so useful for understanding how observant Muslims view it.

Fairly disturbing is the ecumenical approach the author takes towards Ramāḍan.  As the title of the article implies, the author does not see Ramāḍan as just for Muslims.  He cites recent interfaith ’ifṭārs (meals eaten to break the fast during Ramāḍan) and the case of (extremely rare) Ṣūfī Jews, one historical (Rav ’Avraham ben Mosheh ben Maymon) and at least one actually living whom he can actually name as having at one point fasted during Ramāḍan.  While the author may see great potential for Ramāḍan as a bridge between different religions, what is glossed over is why these huge gaps between religions exist in the first place and why Jews and Christians for the most part do not observe Ramāḍan at all.  

Anyone who has read the New Testament and Qur’ān knows (or should know) that Christianity has deep elements of rejection of Judaism, and ’Islām has deep elements of rejection of Judaism and Christianity.  Historically these have been acted on, and in the case of ’Islām, they are very much acted upon.  Only recently has Christianity taken serious steps to bridge the divide and come to peace with Judaism.  ’Islām, on the other hand, to a large degree is still at war with the rest of the planet, including Israel.  Individual Muslims, especially secularists, mystics, and heretical groups, may shed anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity, but when the hatred is embraced all too prominently by observant Sunnīs and Shī‘īs, not to mention the leaders of Muslim countries, the gap is too wide to reasonably bridge.  The author of this article unpromisingly displays the anti-Semitic attitude of blaming Israel for the problems of the “Palestinians”, completely ignoring “Palestinian” terrorism and anti-Semitism as the reason for how Israel treats them.  A man like this is not one your humble blogger would bother trying to bridge the gap with.

Also ignored is that Judaism looks coldly on borrowing from other religions.  Any serious religion is believed by its followers to be the truth; if so, why bother borrowing from a false religion?  There are religions which do grant some sort of validity to other religions as ways to the truth or getting closer to whatever god exists or at least becoming better people.  But ’Islām is a heresy to Judaism, not the worst heresy, but a heresy nevertheless and certainly one in direct conflict with Judaism—not a promising source.  Also, one cannot simply graft any practice onto any religion.  Full observance of Ramāḍan is impossible in Judaism.  There is a long list of days in the Jewish calendar in which fasting during the day, the most famous practice of Ramāḍan, is expressly forbidden, and one of these, Shabbath, happens every week.  It is forbidden to fast on Shabbath with very few exceptions (Yom Kippur, emergency conditions, lack of choice, and being scared so badly by a dream which one suspects is a premonition that one seriously feels better off fasting).  That Jews should adopt Ramāḍan simply is unthinkable.

Furthermore, your humble blogger has no idea what Ramāḍan has which is worthwhile that Judaism does not already have.  Fast days we already have, and those who feel the need can always fast a few more.  Some fast on every Monday and Thursday or the day before Ro’sh Ḥodhesh.  “Soul-searching” and “reflection” are handled by the month of ’Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance.  “Bridge-building” and “solidarity, camaraderie, unison and communalism” are handled by Purim.  Communal eating is common in practically every synagogue on Shabbath.  Unless one wants to claim something especially worthwhile about Ramāḍan television shows, there does not seem to be anything useful in Ramāḍan that Judaism needs.

And do Jews really need or want another holiday?  The Jewish calendar is already saturated with holidays, especially after the recent additions since the formation of the State of Israel.  Every month has holidays.  Some of the old holidays, such as Ṭu biShvaṭ and Ṭu be’Av, have gained new meanings.  The State of Israel added a number, many of which seem to be observed based on one’s politics, and a few others, e.g., Jabotinsky Day and Herzl Day, which seem to be ignored.  Unofficial holidays seem to have little attention or popularity over here.  Family Day seems observed only in schools.  Silvester is limited to Russian immigrants.  American immigrants brought Thanksgiving with them, but it does not seem to have caught on.  There is an unofficial holiday, besides the official one, in honor of Yiṣḥaq Rabbin (I have no idea why), and that one’s observance is very politically limited.  Jews (and other non-Muslims) in Israel have had plenty of exposure to Ramāḍan, and I have seen no interest over here in adopting it in any way, even from secularists.

In conclusion:  Jews observing Ramāḍan?  You’ve got to be kidding.



PS:  Expect me this fall to be promoting Yarov‘am ben Nevaṭ Day (15 Marḥeshwan) as a parody holiday alternative to Yiṣḥaq Rabbin Memorial Day (12 Marḥeshwan).  I find it baffling that Yiṣḥaq Rabbin is celebrated at all, considering he committed treason by aiding and abetting the terrorist Yāsir ‘Arafāt (may his name be erased).  If Rabbin deserves a holiday, then why not honor Yarov‘am ben Nevaṭ, an even bigger traitor and promoter of idolatry?  Why honor someone who tried to make peace is an obviously idiotic way when we can honor someone who betrayed the god who made him ruler of an entire kingdom?