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The War and Ramadan
With Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan
Executive Director, CAIR-NY,
Director, Interfaith Affairs,
Islamic Center, Long Island, N.Y.

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001; Noon EST

Taliban fighters retreated from the Afghan capital of Kabul Tuesday after Northern Alliance forces overtook front-line positions north of the city. The retreat came in the wake of a string of opposition victories across northern Afghanistan bolstered by a coordinated U.S. bombing campaign.

Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, begins Saturday. What effect will it have on the war? Will military action continue?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan, executive director of CAIR-NY (Council on American-Islamic Relations and director of interfaith affairs at the Islamic Center of Long Island, N.Y., was online Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Noon EST, to discuss the Ramadan observance and how it will be affected by the war in both the U.S. and Afghanistan.

"The Muslim fast of Ramadan, to begin on Nov. 17, will offer an opportunity for Americans to learn more about the religion of "Al-Islaam" and the Muslim-American community," said Khankan in an interview with the washingtonpost.com.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: On Nov. 17, the Muslim community in America and around the world will begin the month-long fast of "Ramadhaan" which is the month on the Islamic lunar calendar during which we abstain from food, water and other sensual pleasures from break of dawn to sunset. That means complete abstinence, not even chewing gum or smoking a cigarette, even you must train your mind and tongue to fast from speaking ill about others -- not back-biting so to speak. "Ramadhaan" teaches us discipline, self-restraint and generosity for the needy while we are obeying God's commandments. Fasting is one of the five pillars of "Al-Islaam" along with the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, charity and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca). Because Ramadhaan is a lunar month it begins about 11 days earlier each year. The end of Ramadhaan will be marked by congregational prayers called "Eid ul-fitr" which means the feast of breaking the fast. That will be on Dec. 16, 2001 (pending new crescent moon citing).

Chicago, Ill.: Greetings,

I'm a non-Muslim, but I wish to open channels to those of other faiths. Would participating in the fast of Ramadan as a Christian be insulting to anyone?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: Of course not. On the contrary, you'll be following God's commandment: "All you who believe fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you so that you may learn self-restraint." Second Chapter/Verse 183 of Al-Quraan. I might suggest that contact a mosque nearby and let them know and I'm sure they would invite you to break the fast at sunset with them. It would be a beautiful experience.

Fayette, Mo.: During Ramadan, fasting is expected during daylight hours. Would this be excused for the Taliban and northern alliance forces?

What is the major concern about U.S. attacks during Ramadan?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: If the person is physically unhindered health wise then they are expected to fast. Those who will not be hindered health wise are expected to complete the fast. Unless one is ill then they will have to break the fast and either feed someone who is in need or make up the days missed in the future.

The major concern is that it might look to the majority of the Muslim people who form 1.3 billion human beings in the world that we are not sensitive to their religious beliefs and are taking advantage of the situation.

Virginia: U.S. military personnel who are Muslims are torn between their roles and the war. What would you suggest? And are there Muslims in European military?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: When they joined the military, they have made a promise to fight wherever they are ordered and from an Islamic point of view, if you make a promise you must fulfill that promise. Now there are some, like the example of former boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to go to Vietnam on religious grounds that he believed that he could not kill other human beings without due process. So some might refuse and follow the example of Muhammad Ali.

Yes, there are Muslims in European military because there are many Europeans who are Muslims.

Arlington, Va.: I have Muslim friends here at work. I would like to acknowledge their participation in Ramadan in some way. "Happy Ramadan" does not quite seem to be right. Is there an appropriate, non-condescending way to do this?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: You can say, "Ramadhaan Mubaarak," which means "may God bless your fasting."

Annandale, Va.: When Iran and Iraq were fighting their war in the 80's, did they slow or even stop fighting during Ramadan?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: I really don't recall. It depends on the person himself because Muslims are personally accountable on the day of judgment for their deeds in this world. So those who wish to fast can fast; those who didn't, they must have their reasons, must ask forgiveness of God and make up the days missed later.

Alexandria, Va.: Do children fast also? At what age does that start?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: That is a good question. Upon reaching puberty young Muslims must fast. Below that age we are encouraged by our parents to try to fast part of the day.

Fairfax, Va.: I know that Muslims are supposed to abstain from food, sex and other activities during daylight hours during Ramadan. Apart from sentimental considerations, is there ANYTHING in "official" Islamic scriptures that you can quote that prohibits military fighting during the penitential season? I have been hearing a lot about a Ramadan cease fire, and I have to say that I am getting the feeling that the whole thing is looking to me like a ruse to try to give the Taliban a chance to rest and regroup, rather than an authentic religious imperative.

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: There is a statement which says that during the holy months Muslims are commanded not to fight, to have peace. But if they are attacked, then they have the right to defend themselves during those months.

Simple, quick question: Does CAIR believe Osama bin Laden is behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11, does CAIR condemn the attacks resolutely (with no "buts" about historical context or Israel) and does CAIR support the U.S. war against terrorism?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: We condemn any act of terrorism whether it is individual, group or state-sponsored because terrorism is an act of violence against innocent civilians and that is un-Islamic.

From the media reports and President Bush's statements it seems that bin Laden is behind the attacks. It would be useful if we as taxpaying citizens also know the clear cut evidence. The president would lose nothing by showing us the evidence against bin Laden and it would be advisable if this evidence is shown to all members of the U.N. so that the whole world will join us in our fight against terrorism.

Park Point: Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: If there is anything that all cultures share beyond their variations of religion, it is unleavened bread. What in the Muslim diet is comparable to pita, lefse, etc.

Too bad there are not bakers as world statesmen and we could break bread together rather than bombs?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: We are all brothers and sisters in humanity. After all, we have the same father and the same mother, Adam and Eve, and we should therefore always try to live together in peace through exchange of opinions and dialogue and try to find and stress the commonality between all human beings. We should share equally the resources provided to us from the Creator in this world and avoid greed and selfishness and establish justice in all spheres of life so that true peace can be established.

Potomac, Md.: How would you respond to the student at the Islamic School in Potomac Maryland who was quotes as saying, "I am ashamed to tell my cousins in Pakistan that I am an American?"

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: I wouldn't say that. The student is misguided and should know and will know when he grows up that America is one of the very few countries in the world where people's human, civil and religious rights are protected by the Constitution. As a Muslim American I am proud to be an American.

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: I love America even though I might disagree with some of the immoral social customs and some of the ill advised foreign policies.

Chapel Hill, N.C.: Why is it so hard for Muslims to unequivocally say they think that Osami bin Laden and Al Qaeda are wrong? Or that the Taliban is a perversion of Islam?

Do you not believe that the evidence provided by the President to the U.N. Security council and our NATO allies implicating bin Laden in 9/11 is sufficient? Do you think that Bush is making up the evidence? Why do you think that it needs to be shown to more people? Especially since doing so might compromise our intelligence gathering capabilities AND the British govt released transcripts of a video in which Bin Laden admits having done it.

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: I can say unequivocally that some members of the Taliban government have indeed perverted true Islamic teachings. By denying females an education they have perverted the Islamic belief which says that education is an obligation on every man and every woman. And the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." Also, he said, "Seek knowledge even if it is as far as China." And also, the first verse revealed to the Prophet from God Almighty through the angel Gabriel, peace be upon him, said, "Read in the name of thy lord who created humans from a clinging sperm. Read and your lord is most generous who taught the use of the pen and taught humans things they did not know."

There is no secret that we have spies on the ground. There is no secret that we have satellite spies ... So there is nothing to compromise to tell us the facts because America teaches that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and we are a nation of law. We need not know the names of those spies and where they are, so what are we compromising?

Arlington, Va.: Good afternoon. You stated that during Ramadan, "you must train your mind and tongue to fast from speaking ill about others". Does that apply to political statements as well? Might we expect fewer statements from Osama bin Laden during this time if he were adhering to this principle?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: I agree.

Grand Rapids, Mich.: Is CAIR-NY one of the organizations that characterized the trial of the participants in the 1993 Muslim attack on the World Trade Center as a "hate crime" against Arabs and Muslims?

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: No. The hate crimes were perpetrated against American Muslims probably because of guilt by association or by painting the whole 7 million American Muslim community with the same brush.

Al-Haaj Ghazi Y. Khankan: Let me conclude by saying that American Muslims and American Arabs who make up 10 million citizens unequivocally condemn the horrible attacks that resulted in the tragedy of Sept. 11 Those who hijacked those planes have actually hijacked the peaceful teachings of Islam and I call upon my fellow American citizens and urge them not to rush to judgment by causing harm to other American citizens because so far more than one thousand hate crimes against this minority community have taken place, including four deaths and fire bombing of places of worship. And please remember that terrorism has no religion. When Catholics bomb Protestants in Ireland and when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, this is not Christian terrorism. And when Jews kill innocent civilian Palestinians who are Muslims and Christians, we don't call it Jewish terrorism. And for the same good reason, when a Muslim kills others we should not call it Muslim or Islamic terrorism. These acts are never condoned or encouraged or approved by the teachings of God Almighty and as recorded in the holy books.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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