On August 22, Muslims in America began honoring our holy month of Ramadan -- a month of fasting, prayer and a renewed religious focus. It is a month of introspection, where Muslims around the world focus on the truly important elements of their lives; renewal of faith, family and strengthening one's relationship with God.
Many Americans are unaware of the significance of Ramadan for Muslims, both locally and abroad. It is celebrated in the ninth month of the lunar calendar during which Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received the scripture of the Quran. From sun-up to sun-down we will fast from all food and drink in order to obey what we Muslims believe is God's commandment in the Quran to fast (2:185). It is a deeply challenging but spiritually rewarding month.
The fast is a symbolic equalizer for all Muslims from every part of humanity. From the very rich to the very poor, the fortunate or the less fortunate, during this month every Muslim finds common goodness in the challenge and rewards of the daily fast. The hunger and thirst is a remembrance of the cornerstone of free will and discipline in faith as much as it is a sign of health. It is a reminder of thanks for our health and a test for Muslims to see and feel the plight of those less fortunate. In hunger and in thirst, we are all equal. It is an equality that not only crosses social boundaries, but religious, political and geographical as well. It is a reminder of our shared humanity with every individual around the world.
In that equality, Ramadan bears significance beyond its spirituality for Muslims. Every year it reminds me of my love of personal liberty and free will from Islamist coercion. A respect for universal equality is a central community value vital to ultimately defeating the theocrats of political Islam. Muslims need an Islam whose laws stay out of government, and instead teach the equality of all humanity regardless of faith practice.
The spirit of Ramadan is a true example of how Islam can flourish under the separation of mosque and state.
You read that correctly. Ramadan illustrates the true potential of Islam under the separation of mosque and state. That's because no matter where you are in the world, the fast of Ramadan should be a personal practice of the heart shared by all Muslims but imposed by none. Choosing to partake in the daily fast and month of prayer must be an exercise of pure free will outside the purview of everyone but God. Those that partake must be willing and government should certainly stay out of it.
Religion, freely practiced without the oppression of government intervention, is one of the founding principles of America and a part of what makes our democracy, under God, so great.
My prayer is that this year during the month-long introspection, our Muslim faith communities begin to come to a universal understanding, that living under the oppressive rule of Shar'iah law (Islamic jurisprudence) is not only strangling our religion, but perverting it. The application of Shar'iah law in government suffocates the basic human right to practice our own beliefs how we freely choose. No matter how benevolent it is packaged, when Shar'iah law is imposed through religious mandate rather than through reason and liberty, it denies the very inalienable rights which Ramadan teaches us to cherish. It is my prayer that the introspection of the month brings millions of Muslims to the realization that the recurrent problem of radical Islam is a symptom of the underlying supremacism of political Islam.
At the culmination of Ramadan on the first day of the next lunar month is our major holiday Eid ul-Fitr ('holiday of the feast'), a celebration of the many blessings bestowed upon us and our families by God. As we make our way through Ramadan this year challenging our bodies in a fast and feeding our minds spiritually, it is my prayer that we wake up to the real blessings of the freedom to practice all aspects of our faith without political dictations. It is a goal for Muslims that will not come without strife and sacrifice. If our fasting does not teach us to respect the innate nature of individual religious freedom and the need for each to be able to choose or reject any aspect of faith then Ramadan teaches us nothing.
Religion, as in America, can only fully be realized as a personal relationship with God, freely practiced and without theocratic repression and direction. It is the Islam I, my family and many other American Muslims enjoy. It is the Islam I hope all Muslims will enjoy one day soon. With effort and a united purpose, we can.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, based in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.