Why should a Jew care about Ramadan?

Ramadan Karim to my Muslim readers (I have some regular Muslim readers.)

Ramadan this year corresponds to the Hebrew month of Av. There is an interesting blog Jihadi Jew, by a Breslov Baal Teshuvah who teaches in a community day school, who asks the question: Why should a Jew care about Ramadan? He discusses why he is comfortable wishing Ramadan greeting when he is quite uncomfortable and has compunctions about Christmas. Ramadan is not Hukkat Hagoyim, the ways of the gentiles because the message of Ramadan is about Jewish values and that the Koran already acknowledged this.

I have no such qualms about saying “Ramadan Mubarak!” On the contrary, I hunt down nifty e-cards on the internet. I even include personalized messages. In person, I give handshakes, hugs (or for women- a decorous nod) and those words come easily, “Ramadan Mubarak” a Blessed Ramadan! I keep a mental Ramadan countdown. I get enthusiastic. It is admittedly very weird for a Jewish guy. It is even weirder for an observant Jewish guy. I get that.

Ramadan is very “Jewish.” In Ramadan, we have a practice that promotes monotheistic worship in the world while employing practices that are specifically endorsed by Jewish tradition (prayer, fasting, charity and ethical restraint). The continuity of Ramadan with previous Jewish practice is actually acknowledged by the Qur’an itself. Even the Qur’an says it’s very “Jewish.”

O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God.
– 2:183 (Muhummad Asad trans.)

“Those before you.” That would be US. Indeed there are obvious parallels to specific and well-known Jewish practices. The dedication of the month of Elul as a period of repentance and spiritual focus and the standard Sephardic practice of doing special early morning selichot (“forgiveness”) prayers for the 40 day period from the beginning of Elul until Yom Kipppur is a clear parallel to the Muslim practice. That this period corresponds to the period in which Moses received the Torah is paralleled by Ramadan’s commemoration of the receiving of the Qur’an. Similarly there are fasting practices associated with this period in the Jewish year for the 10 days of repentance. There is even a kabalistic custom… to refrain from food during the daytime for the entire 40-day period (Shabbat and Rosh Hashana exempted). The Qur’an’s comment that the practice of Ramadan is based on previous practice can and should be taken at face value. Ramadan has Jewish roots.

Ramadan also supports Jewish values. Perhaps most important is the intention of Ramadan as laid out in the Qur’an “the awareness of G-d.” It is precisely the awareness of G-d which the Tur explains is the absolute purpose of the entirety of Jewish practice. There is no worthier goal for a human being and it makes sense that we would support others in their attempts to achieve it through prayer and fasting, means which are so clearly approved by our own tradition.

Ramadan also has a deeper ethical dimension. A hadith relates this as follows.

Abu Huraira related that the Prophet said: If a person does not avoid false talk and false conduct during the fast, then Allah does not care if he abstains from food and drink (Bukhari, Muslim).

Indeed the great Muslim theologian Imam al-Ghazali divides fasting into two dimensions: ordinary and special fasting.

Ordinary fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction.
Special Fasting means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet — and all other organs — free from sin.

Ramadan is a time for developing emotional and impulse control.

Ultimately, Ramadan is part of a process of repentance (taubah / teshuvah) of facing oneself, altering ones behavior and facing G-d to ask for forgiveness of sins from G-d in His infinite mercy. It is all about returning to G-d after our own self-imposed alienation knowing that he will accept us if we are sincere.

In a well-known hadith relates G-d’s address to mankind,

O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.
Hadith Qudsi 34 (Tirmidhi , Sahih)

The message of the greatnesses and far-reaching consequences of this return to G-d is again familiar enough to Jews. The Talmud (Yoma 86b) in a beautiful litany of the greatness of repentance writes:

Rav Meir used to say Great is repentance, that because of an individual who repents, the entire world is forgiven, as the verse says (Hoshea 14:5) I will rectify their waywardness, I will love them gratuitously, for My anger has turned away from them.

In a broken world, desperately in need of redemption, I don’t know whose repentance is going to tip the scales. If my warm “Ramadan Kareem!” or my warm “Ramadan Mubarak!” or my little e-card encourages a moment of genuine return to G-d, if it inspires a Muslim friend to be good and to do good, I make myself into a partner in their holy endeavor. As a result, all of us, Jews and Muslims reap the benefits of a more peaceful world that better reflects the glory of the One true G-d. Read the Rest Here.

For those Jews wanting to know more about Ramadan, Here is an article on the spirituality and here is one on etiquette.

Here is a related post that I once ran on Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes.

Islamophobes dont bother commenting!!

4 responses to “Why should a Jew care about Ramadan?

  1. Thank you for this post! (I’m one of those regular Muslim readers.) The natural companion piece would read along the lines of ‘Why should a Muslim care about the Days of Awe’.

    All the best.

  2. Why should a Muslim care about the Days of Awe’.

    B Iqbal,
    Write the companion piece and I will link to it.

  3. Here’s a link to Mokhtar Maghraoui speaking about Ramadan:

  4. Why should a Jew feel more comfortable wishing someone a Ramadan Mubarak than Merry Xmas? Aside from the lesser theological problem with Islam, I’d say (going on my wife’s experience) that it’s more social. Jews & Muslims are both minorities, with endogamy, a strong legal tradition, similar modesty restrictions, and holidays that wander around on the calendar and are thus not well known to the general society. So there’s already some sympathy for the other minority in the Christian land.

    And there’s the rub – wishing someone Merry Christmas means giving in to the majority culture’s cultural imperialism – their automatic assumption that everyone follows their rhythms, is part of their system, celebrates Xmas, and you’re a weirdo if you tell them otherwise. The whole structure of society in November/December is meant to force people into the Xmas mold. We Jews are contrarians, am keshei oref, and resist being absorbed into the Christian culture.

    Whereas, wishing a Muslim a Ramadan Kareem (what does the adjective mean, BTW?) is one minority wishing another minority strength in keeping to their culture. It probably helps that we’re both on a lunar calendar. It’s self-affirming, in encouraging another minority to stay strong, rather than self-effacing, in giving up one’s identity to the majoritarian Christmas juggernaut.

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