Observing Ramadan During the Gaza Massacre

Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza has made it incredibly difficult for many Muslims to celebrate Ramadan this year. In place of cloistered ritual, we must redouble our efforts to win a cease-fire and an end to the occupation of Palestine.

Muslims gather in front of the White House on the first day of Ramadan to demand a cease-fire for Gaza, March 11. (Celal Güne / Anadolu via Getty Images)

For many Muslims this year, celebrating Ramadan has become impossible — the ongoing genocide in Gaza has prevented us from being capable of that. In its place, we need to develop an iron resolve to stand up for the freedom of the Palestinian people.

This month we must reject hopelessness and commit ourselves to raising hell in the heart of the American empire that is enabling Israel’s war. Muslims, and people of all faiths who stand in solidarity with Palestine, must replace our prayer mats with the concrete of the streets across our country to ensure that no one in our ruling class knows peace until the genocide has been ended.

We should reject the apolitical spirituality that often permeates our communities, which encourages people to focus on prayer and cloistered ritual instead of taking action in the streets and in the halls of power. Here we can remind ourselves of the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who rejected a form of textual commitment separate from the realities faced by humanity in the here and now:

It’s alright to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s alright to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.

Standing up with our congregations against imperialism isn’t just an obligation. It is also a task that faith communities are uniquely situated to take up.

Faith and the Fight for Palestinian Freedom

Faith communities have historically been a crucial part of the antiwar movement. This is because our fight to end imperialism requires us to motivate millions of people to take action to force our ruling elites to change course.

Faith communities provide many people with a crucial source of moral guidance. In North Carolina, more than two hundred pastors from black churches stood up to support a cease-fire, with some withholding their endorsement of Joe Biden in the absence of a permanent cease-fire. In New York City, over seventy faith leaders signed a letter calling on New York legislators to support a cease-fire.

The positions taken by faith leaders here are far from ceremonial. They represent a rejection of US imperialist logic by heavily working-class institutions across this country. For too many Americans in the post-9/11 era, support of imperial war abroad to secure safety at home was a moral calculus they were willing to make, one their faith communities often made as well. Today that calculus is shifting, as anti-military sentiment has grown alongside massive inequality at home, where a dysfunctional social safety net and the recent memories of Afghanistan and Iraq linger.

Ramadan is a time to remind ourselves of the faith we have not only in our higher power but in each other. This is an example of what philosopher Martin Hägglund might call “secular faith” — a faith that acknowledges that every institution we’re trying to build and maintain will cease to exist without sustained devotion to it.

Through daily deprivation of our needs, Ramadan reminds us of the ephemerality of perceived consistencies and how those perceived consistencies require constant commitment to remain intact. Regardless of our faith (or lack thereof) in a higher power or religious tradition, we know that building the movement for Palestinian freedom in this country will require sustained commitment and a dramatic upheaval of our political system. We know that we need a massive, organized movement of people that see ending imperialism as a priority, and who are willing to take action in the streets, in government offices, at work, and at the ballot box.

Growing and Sustaining the Movement

Having faith that this is possible is challenging, especially when the genocide rages on for a fifth month. It feels challenging to motivate people to care, especially when so many are still unaware of what is happening in Gaza — in a recent Pew Research poll, only 52 percent of those surveyed knew that the Palestinian death toll in Gaza was higher than that of the Israelis.

Hägglund refers to secular faith as inherently fragile, since the object of faith can cease to exist at any time. We know that the Palestine solidarity movement is in its infancy in America, even if it has grown exponentially in the last four months. We know that political repression has been an obstacle, and that the risk of even greater political repression in the future under a second Donald Trump administration is a serious threat to the movement’s continued growth.

But acknowledging the fragility of our movement can also push us to redouble our efforts to grow it and to build it into a force that can achieve lasting political power. We know that moving the US government to end support for Israel is crucial for Palestinian liberation, even if the goal is difficult and seems far away. We know that it is possible that our movement in the streets loses steam, or that after a cease-fire is achieved, the energy behind the movement to end the siege on Gaza and free the entirety of Palestine will dissipate.

Our faith in each other and in the finite nature of our movement motivates us to build political organizations that can continue to organize for Palestinian liberation in the halls of power even when street protests wane. This means electing more representatives who will vote against aid to Israel, changing our electoral system to reduce the impact of lobbyists and make it easier for principled anti-imperialists like Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush to win elected office, and building powerful political machines that can keep those representatives in power.

This month, Muslims and people of other religious traditions should connect our particular faiths and our desire to end oppression in service of a higher power, with a universal faith in the capacity of the Palestine solidarity movement to end the war and occupation. We must refuse to subsidize the creation of hell on earth any longer. The Palestinian people resist, and we have an obligation to stand with them until they have defeated their oppressor.

In the Quran, Abraham is placed in the fire by angry fellow tribespeople, and God instructs the fire to be “a coolness and peace for Abraham.” Just as God transformed fire into a refreshing coolness for Abraham, we have faith that we can transform Palestine from a site of genocide back into a place of peace, where orchards of olives and oranges thrive.