A man walks into the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in this 2015 file photo.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
A man walks into the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in this 2015 file photo.

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Ramadan is a month of spiritual reflection for Muslims, writes Ed Husain

ISIS and jihadists have a flawed interpretation of history and scripture, he writes

Editor’s Note: Ed Husain is a commentator and writer specializing in Islam, the West, and the modern Middle East. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

CNN —  

The 30 days of abstaining from food, water and sex during the daytime is a month of spiritual reflection for Muslims around the world.

But this Ramadan, we have hundreds of people killed in many different countries by ISIS murderers. They kill in the name of religion and God. Why?

Ed Husain
Ed Husain

Here in Europe, we no longer take religion and religious beliefs seriously. This loss of our heritage also stops us from fully grasping the kind of mind that leads to slaughter in the mistaken name of divine sanctity. Unless we understand it, we can’t challenge the extremism.

ISIS, al Qaeda and other jihadist terrorists believe in an Islam of literalism, anger, activism and political control. Most Muslims now and throughout history observed an Islam of contemplation, piety and inner goodness.

At the core of Salafi-jihadist violence is an extremely literalist reading of history and scripture. An ISIS magazine published before Ramadan named it “the month of martyrdom” and called upon its readers to “maximize the benefit you receive on the day of judgment.”

Ordinary Muslims believe that God doubly rewards us for our worship, Quran recitals and abstention from food. Salafi-jihadists argue that this “double reward” applies to martyrdom, war and death. They do so with evidence, but their interpretation of that evidence is flawed.

Salafi-jihadists look to 7th-century Arabia and the Prophet Mohammed’s life with a dogmatism that bemuses most Muslims. Two events from the life of the prophet are misunderstood by ISIS, but used successfully to drive their Ramadan killing craze.

In the Ramadan of 624, the Prophet Mohammed’s small community of Muslims in Medina fought the pagan idolaters of Mecca. Only 313 Muslims stood valiantly against a thousand disbelievers.

This first battle of Islam, known as Badr, took place inside the holy month because the pagans had violated peace agreements between the prophet and themselves. The Battle of Badr was a defensive war after 10 years of the first Muslim community being killed, tortured, expelled from their homes and threatened, even when in exile.

That context is missing in a global war that ISIS has declared based on literalism of citing Badr. Why attack Europe when Muslims thrive and prosper here and are free to worship the one God?

Salafi-jihadists from ISIS and other groups also cite that the prophet in 634 conquered Mecca. Therefore radical groups should seek glory and conquest in the month of Ramadan. In their literalism again, they overlook that the prophet rode into Mecca on a mule, his head lowered in humility and his thousands of companions slowly reciting prayers. They were not raiding Mecca and enslaving its men, raping its women and killing en masse as Julius Caesar had done across Gaul.

The prophet forgave his torturers and declared an amnesty. It is this spirit of magnanimity and kindness that resonates with most Muslims, but ISIS and others miss the point.

Finally, ISIS and Salafi-jihadists cite the verses of the Quran that declare “Kill them wherever you find them” as evidence for perennial warfare.

Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe that large parts of the Quran were revealed to the prophet. Every night, Muslims recite significant portions of the Quran in Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan.

Of the 114 chapters of the Quran, 113 start with “In the name of God most compassionate, most merciful.”

Again and again, the Quran reinforces that the prophet is a mercy and a light, and directs us to shun anger, evil, killing, warfare. In that wider context of compassion, most Muslims see Ramadan as the month of peace.

When fasting, picking an argument is forbidden and a believer is expected to say “Innani Sa’im” (I am fasting – and thus abstaining from worldly pursuits). The verses that permit and encourage fighting have a specific application. Just as Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the Nazis that “We will fight them on the beaches. We will never surrender,” so it is with scripture.

It pains me to have to explain my faith, my personal observations, my relationship with God because a dark and sinister movement seeks to steal this jewel away from me.

In this angst, I am not alone: A music video put out by Gulf Arab Muslims has gone viral because of its religion-based condemnation of ISIS.

We in the West should not shy away from arbitrating between the Islam of anger and activism, and that of purity and peace. The future of the world depends on it.