By Stephen Schwartz
July 24, 2014
The final day of the Islamic fasting and prayer month of Ramadan will arrive on midnight, Sunday, July 27, followed by Eid al-Fitr, the holiday of feasting, on the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal, given the proper sightings of the moon and differing geographical locations. Eid al-Fitr will continue for up to three days.
Eid al-Fitr has different names around the Muslim world. Having sojourned in the Balkans, I know it best by its Turkish, Balkan, and Persian name: Ramadan Bayram. In contrast, among Muslims of those and some related cultures, Eid al-Adha, marking the end of Zil Hijjah, the month of hajj pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, is a second, later "Bayram." The hajj month will commence as the third after the end of Ramadan, and will conclude the Islamic lunar year.
Ramadan this year began under the shadow of crisis in the Middle East, with the eruption of the so-called "Islamic State," formerly calling itself the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" or ISIS, across the border of Iraq. Several Muslim commentators appealed for peace during the holy month of fasting; when Muslims are called on to ponder their condition as believers, and to do good by helping the poor and otherwise disadvantaged.
The ultra-Wahhabi "Islamic State" proclaimed its dominion in Syria and Iraq, and, presumptuously, asserted authority over all the Muslims in the world. The "Islamic State" used the beginning of Ramadan as a moment to glorify its aggression. An undetermined and probably unaccountable number of Islamist extremists have gone to fight in Syria, in the name of Sunni Islam.
The holy month was further darkened by the new confrontation in Gaza, and the atrocious destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on the Ukrainian-Russian border on July 17. The aircraft was headed nonstop from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital. I have travelled the route and it is not a burdensome one -- some 12 hours.
Victims of the shoot down comprised 283 passengers and crewmembers. The largest group -- 193 people -- were Dutch, followed by 43 Malaysians.
One aspect of the tragedy is especially disturbing to Islamic believers -- the disregard for the dead, who were left exposed, their possessions looted, and were then hauled onto a refrigerated train. Islamic funeral law requires the deceased be treated with respect.
The Netherlands called for national unity in the face of the horror, and declared Wednesday, July 23, a day of national mourning. Representatives of the other countries whose citizens died in the terrible end of MH17, especially Australia, have stated their dismay at mishandling of the bodies and the disorganized process of investigation at the site. With 24 of its people gone, Australia was the third in number of dead.
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared, "In these challenging times, regardless of our political or religious backgrounds, we must unite as one Malaysia."
Malaysian authorities expressed hope that remains would be returned before Hari Raya Aidiftri, the Malay name for Eid Al-Fitr, although the long process of identification of victims' bodies may make that impossible.
Malaysians will see the loss of MH17, naturally, as affecting their country's interest. Media have speculated on the tragic disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in March, on its way to Beijing, and the massacre in the skies involving MH17, as a double blow to Malaysia's national flag air carrier. But the loss of MH370 was mysterious, and leaves Malaysians with a sense of frustration. The crash of MH17 was a deliberate act, and the fate of its dead are well-known -- by now, too well known.
Malaysians and other Muslims around the world will pray for their co-religionists among those killed on MH17. But many Muslims pray for members of other religions on their passing. A well-attested Hadith (oral tradition) about Muhammad recounts that he stood in honor of a Jewish funeral which passed by while the Prophet was sitting with a group of his Companions. When it was pointed out to him that the dead man was a Jew, Muhammad answered, "Was he not a soul?"
Muslims everywhere will celebrate the coming of Eid ul-Fitr with happiness, special prayers, and food to commemorate the end of the fasting month. As during the month of Ramadan itself, Muslims should commit themselves to good deeds -- for the benefit of all humanity -- at Eid al-Fitr. Moderate, traditional, spiritual and conventional Muslims may be expected to join in the mourning of the people of the Netherlands and Australia as well as Malaysia. Prayers for all the dead of MH17 should be delivered in mosques and elsewhere Muslims gather. Muslims should contribute to relief for the families of the dead, whatever their faith or belief.
As the Quran reveals (surah 5, ayah 32): the Creator instructed the House of Israel that whoever kills a person except for legal reasons, "it is as if he had killed all of humankind. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved all of humankind." All of humankind, all of God's creation, all the souls for whom Muslims pray, was represented, in microcosm, on MH17.
The pursuit of justice is a good deed in Islam, appropriate for Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr alike. Justice has so far been mocked in the MH17 case. Muslims everywhere should therefore join the appeal for a thorough investigation and punishment of the perpetrators.