Friday, July 10, 2015

Ramadhan: A Call for Mercy in the Middle East

By Mohamad Hery Saripudin and Dimas Muhamad
July 10 2015
“They gave us a present for Ramadhan” a Syrian in Damascus facetiously commented after the government and the rebels traded fire, killing more than 30 people at the beginning of the holy month.
As Indonesia embraces the fasting month with joy, throughout the Middle East, millions have to endure ravaging bombshells as their “Ramadhan presents”. According to the UN, more than 200,000 Syrians have been killed, more than 21 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance and 3 million people in Iraq have been displaced. Add to that list the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Kuwait and Tunisia.
Although the conflagration in the Middle East seems far removed from us, peace in that region is of interest to us. The Middle East is a region with more than 1.25 million Indonesian migrant workers. Many of our compatriots are increasingly at risk amid spiralling violence.
Furthermore, conflict in the Middle East has been a startlingly potent impetus of radicalization for our fellow countrymen. It is estimated that more than 500 Indonesians have joined the Islamic State (IS) movement.
Apart from that, the Middle East is a major market for Indonesia.
For instance, our non-oil and gas exports to the United Arab Emirates on average grew more than 10 percent annually from 2010 to 2014. Stability in the Middle East would be paramount to enable our economic partnership with the region live up to its enormous potential. Thus, we can only ignore the turmoil in the Middle East at our own peril.
Indonesia and the international community should strive to end the long standing conflict.
In this regard, Ramadhan can offer an important drive toward amity in the Middle East. The most evident feature of the holy month is abstaining from food and drink during the day. But it also entails the duty to rein in our worldly desires, including our hatred, malice and anger.
Furthermore, the conquest of Mecca led by Prophet Muhammad that occurred in the month of Ramadan has a profound lesson to offer. For years, the people of Mecca persecuted the prophet and his followers. They planned to assassinate him just before he left the city.
They also did horrible things to the people whom the prophet deeply loved; one killed and mutilated Hamza, his uncle and protector; and another caused his pregnant daughter to fall off her camel, resulting in her miscarriage.
Given the incredible evil that the Meccans inflicted on him, the Prophet could have annihilated them to seek vengeance but he did not.
Instead, he told them, “There is no blame upon you, go for you all are free”. Preaching compassion when you are weak is natural, but practicing compassion when you can bring your enemies to their knees is remarkably exceptional.
The spirit of fasting and the magnanimous example that the Prophet set in Ramadhan can help galvanize the peace process in the region.
Indeed it is naïve to think that with Ramadhan the violence in the Middle East will completely come to an end.
Not to mention that religion is not the only factor in instigating the atrocity in the region.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that religion has been exploited as a major stimulus for the conflict, including by fanning the flame of sectarian hostility. An IS spokesperson urged the “holy warriors” to turn Ramadhan into a “month of disaster”.
It is important to resist those who seek to wreak havoc but it is even more pivotal to fight against their twisted narrative. If they can manipulate religion to lure many to join their cause, then we can also harness religion as a force for peace and harmony.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon did just that when he called for a Ramadhan truce in Yemen. We should echo his call and amplify it to the whole region.
Going forward, we should continue to explore all avenues- including by engaging countries involved through bilateral channels and utilizing multilateral for a — such as the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to revive the moribund peace talks.
Years of carnage in the Middle East show that military solutions alone cannot resolve the imbroglio.
Ramadhan can offer the momentum to reinvigorate the dialogue toward lasting reconciliation.
Instead of letting Ramadhan get hijacked as the month of disaster, we can and should make Ramadhan the month of mercy.
After all, did God and his messenger really teach us to observe fasting by killing innocents? Let’s not forget what the prophet once said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.”
Years of carnage in the Middle East show that military solutions alone cannot resolve the imbroglio.
Mohamad Hery Saripudin is director for the Centre for Policy Analysis and Development on Asia Pacific and the African region at the Foreign Ministry and Dimas Muhammad works at the ministry.