The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.
In yesterday’s piece, I offered some reflections on the tradition of forgiveness in Islam. But, forgiveness is, preferably, just a step – if not the first step – toward an even greater objective: reconciliation.
If forgiveness requires an epic struggle with the ego, then reconciliation – actually opening yourself up to a harmonious relationship with a past foe – requires something quite heroic. And, beyond the individual there is also the matter of reconciliation between entire communities. Today’s world is in much need of healing and reconciling between religions, ethnicities, races, and other factions.
As a Muslim, one of the most troubling divisions I am witnessing right now is between Sunnis and Shia’ in certain parts of the Muslim World. There has been terrible violence and bloodshed in places like Pakistan and Iraq. And, the sectarianism on the streets and around the dinner tables is quite ugly too. We need a few good men and women to work toward peace and reconciliation during these dark times.
One of the most positive moves in recent memory was when hundreds of senior Muslim scholars representing different schools of thought in Islam came together to sign the historic Amman Message in Jordan, which called on Muslims to co-exist peacefully and respectfully wherever they may live. But, the implementation of the historic document is still lagging far behind.
The Qur’an itself emphatically states, “The believers are brothers [and sisters], so make peace between your brothers and be mindful of God so that you may receive mercy” (49:10). There are several other passages that encourage peacemaking between people, in general, as well (4:114 for example). The Prophet Muhammad said, “Shall I tell you of something that is better than fasting, prayer, and charity? [It is] reconciling between two people.”
Here are three principles from the Qur’an that offer insights on how to actually make reconciliation happen:
1) “God may still bring about affection between you and your [present foes] – God is all powerful, God is most forgiving and merciful” (60:7). In other words, no matter how bad things get, never close the door on the possibility of reconciliation.
2) “…Repel wrong with goodness and your foe will become as close [to you] as an old and valued friend, but only those who are steadfast in patience, only those who are blessed with great righteousness, will attain to such goodness…” (Qur’an 41: 34 – 35). The offering of kind words, gifts, and so on in the midst of enmity can soften the hearts toward a more peaceful future.
3) “O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives…refrain from following your own desire, so that you act justly – if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do” (4:135). Usually when there is a falling out and enmity between two people or between communities, there is a need to rectify a past wrong. By the end of a conflict there are probably wrongs on both sides that need to be rectified. While calling for absolute justice ends up in cycles of unending conflict, some measure of justice and fairness is needed for people to be able to move on.
I pray, despite all odds, that Ramadan is the month in which hearts are brought closer together, relationships are repaired, and loving friendships are formed. I pray, for prayer is our best hope for beating the odds. As Muslim country musician, Kareem Salama puts it in his song Prayers at Night: “But we can bend iron with our prayers at night. Yes, we can bend iron with our prayers at night.”