O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another.Somehow throughout history, perhaps the year after Prophet Muhammad died (circa 633 AD, or 1), Muslims lost sight of this. Today, you're more likely to hear about diversity as a threat rather than an asset. In fact, it seems to go hand-in-hand with regards to whether a Muslim country can be peaceful or democratic or successful: Well, I would say Country X would have a smooth transition, but they have a very diverse population with different ethnicities and groups. It's almost like Muslims can't survive with their own layered identities in the modern-age, longing instead for some Orwellian dictator to give them all a uniform to gloss over any differences that they may have. Of course, enough of those beautiful strongmen have come along for us to know that is not a great path either (um, certain exceptions aside of course).
And so in 2013, we enter into Ramadan, all 1.5 billion Muslims, or 1.2 billion, or 1.8 billion of us, depending on who's counting (or better yet who's making up statistics off the top of their head and then getting cited by the media, thereby cementing that figure as real), with a 'Muslim world' in complete conflagration - i.e. business as usual. Now all these millions of Muslims, some nominal, some not so nominal, live in different places with different challenges faced. Some in the West. Some in the East. Some in Muslim majority countries. Some as minorities in secular or other countries. And so it goes. Yet, look around, and we see challenges. There's the conflict in Syria, with a death count now over 100,000 and a displaced population representing a quarter of the country. There's the spiralling situation in Egypt, with an uncertain future ahead. And you can never count Pakistan out, with essentially a bombing a day.
You start to go through Muslim countries, and there's a lot that leaves a lot to be desired. It's almost too long of a list. It kind of makes you want to sing an Islamicized version of Les Misérables "I Dreamed a Dream", I guess with a Fatima instead of Fantine. Given the state of Islam, you might actually get in trouble for singing in public. I know that the 29 or so days of Ramadan will not bring peace, emancipation, and progress to the lands where so many Muslims live. Likely the strife, struggle, and scarcity that defines so many people's lives will not change. In fact in places like Syria, violence could actually intensify this month (some militant groups have actually announced an 'Operation Ramadan').
Thus, the realities of Ramadan may overwhelm us. Yet, if Ramadan is anything, it is a time for reflection and thinking of what can be, rather than what is. And in that spirit, I thought it would be good to end with a vision, a so-called Ramadan Dreams, of the realm of a possible future, of the Muslim world (i.e. Umma), where:
- There are far more Sushis than Sunnis & Shiites;
- Being an 'Islamist' means being an expert in Islam rather than a judge/jury/executioner;
- The takbeer is used in excitement of a goal scored on the soccer field rather than a direct hit on the battlefield;
- Having a beard is a fashion statement not a religious statement;
- When we hear about a scandal about a royal Prince, it's because he had a nipple slip and not a multi-billion dollar arms deal go to his bank account;
- There are more ninjas than women in face-covering black robes;
- There will be actual Jews around to respond to somebody who says "don't be such a Jew";
- When someone says "that's the bomb" he's not actually pointing at a bomb;
- You can debate the existence of God with two sides of the debate present; and
- People can be proud to be Muslim...and not Muslim.
Now before anybody gets their kefiyyeh in a twist, there are many Muslims who live in countries where things are not so bad, and countless others in Muslim countries, who believe in a pluralistic and open society. Yet, there is a long ways to go before we escape so many of the ills that have come to define Muslim lands and societies. Ramadan 2013 will not bring the change many of us would like to see, but here's hoping that, that change will come sooner rather than later, and help shape a Muslim world that embraces its pluralism, recognises its intellectual tradition, and empowers its people. Ramadan Kareem.