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Complications with the holy fast


HONG KONG (SE): In the Muslim world the holy month of Ramadan is not only a time of physical fasting, but also a spiritual fast, one for the purification of the mind and spirit, a time to rid self of the effects of past sin and especially promote peace and serenity, both in personal life and in society.
But sadly, many lament that rather than being a season of peace, Ramadan is quickly becoming a time of violence and terrorism and, as Father Rafic Greiche, the spokesperson for the Church in Egypt, points out, a time when Christians are targeted by terrorists.
Christians in Egypt have been the target of several terrorist attacks in recent months, among them the Palm Sunday assault on the Coptic cathedral in Alexandria and the bombing of a church in Tanta.
But on the eve of Ramadan, which this year begins on May 27, a group of Coptic Christians on their way to the Monastery of Anba Samuel south of Cairo were killed when gunmen stopped the bus they were travelling on and opened fire.
Reports of casualties vary, but somewhere between 23 and 36 people are dead.
“What is certain is that there are many victims,” Father Greiche told AsiaNews.
Pinar Tremblay wrote in Turkey’s Al-Monitor last year that unfortunately we now live in an era when Ramadan, rather than being a time to promote peace and serenity, has become an excuse for committing hate crimes.
He describes Ramadan as a period to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset, as well as for five periods of prayer.
Many people are excused from the fast due to pregnancy or illness, and although the life-style demanded by modern urbanisation makes it difficult for many people, the month-long fast is taken extremely seriously.
But unfortunately another movement has gained ground and there are those who use it as an opportunity for strong hate language and aggressive attacks against people who are not observing the fast and, in Turkey at least, with the apparent tacit approval from government officials.
“Turkey has experienced several instances of well-planned, organised attacks by predators who are on the hunt to find and punish the non-observer,” Tremblay says.
Father Greiche says that in Egypt this aggression is also being taken out on Christians at the hands of Islamist extremists. He points out that in the first five months of this year alone, 75 Christians have died at their hands.
Tremblay calls it a furtive attack on of the secular state and an attempt to force the authorities to at least establish a de facto theocratic government in majority Muslim countries like Turkey, Egypt and others.
He quotes a prominent lawyer in Istanbul, Erdal Dogan, as saying, “We now see a blatant and almost encouraged discrimination against those who are trying hard to remain secular.”
Dogan added, “Religious practices have become symbols of being a part of the government, hence it is not about belief, but rather conformity. The scary part is that increasing numbers of police, gendarmerie and other government employees turn a blind eye as secular groups are victimised.”
While Tremblay says that Turkish authorities often turn a blind eye to the attacks, almost revelling in the revolution against the secular, Father Greiche says that the Egyptian government has reacted differently, as 48 accused Islamic State members have been charged recently and 31 of them are in prison. Arrest warrants are out for the remaining 17.
It is perhaps no accident that the Islamist Maute Group in The Philippines chose the approach to Ramadan as the date for its attack on the predominately Muslim city of Marawi, concentrating the initial strike on a Catholic Church and a Protestant school.
Marawi has long been regarded as the cradle of interreligious dialogue in Mindanao and a home of good relations between Christians and Muslims, which are supported by the secular society.
While at this stage it is not clear what role the government is playing in fomenting the violence that has culminated in martial law, suspicions are widespread, as the president has long talked about declaring martial law and it has a precedent, as Ferdinand Marcos orchestrated an attack in the 1970s.
Tremblay believes it is also a problem of a lack of mutual respect. He quotes Omer Gergerlioglu, a columnist in Istanbul, as saying, “Every Ramadan we see news of violence against non-observers. Rather than reactionary interpretations, we should first resolve the issue of mutual respect for one another in society. Muslim societies must ponder the increasing tendencies toward violence in a multidisciplinary setting.”
But for those who hold respect for the month of the holy fast, Ramadan is a period to promote peace and serenity.
When Sunni Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan announced that the fast will begin in Beirut on May 27, he spoke to the whole country, saying, “We ask God Almighty to fill its days with security and serenity for all Muslims and Lebanese people.”


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