Ramadan: A de-colonial centering moment

Published 02.06.2016 01:11
Updated 02.06.2016 09:16

A de-colonial Ramadan means to strive toward a real agenda for the mind centered on measuring our thoughts and actions by the metaphysical realities

The month of Ramadan is approaching and with it a deliberate shift occurs in the daily life and practice of every Muslim. Islamic sources offer extensive commentaries on the Divine wisdom behind mandating fasting the month of Ramadan. Discussions abound on the numerous benefits in this world and the hereafter for those observing the fast as well as the countless spiritual advantages emerging from the simple act of abstaining from the permissible pleasures of the world from sunrise to sunset. I would like to add to the extensive list an idea of Ramadan being a de-colonial centering moment. What do I mean by a de-colonial centering moment and what does it involve?

The contemporary modern Muslim world was born and given a birth certificate within a colonial Eurocentric epistemic, which centered the material, the secular and temporal while de-centering Islam. In general, modernity, or the modern age, is thought of as a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period that ushered the emergence of capitalism, industrialization, secularization, rationalization, the nation-state and its institutions. Entering into modernity's fold implies severing the relationship with the past and privileging the new while selectively leveraging a historical origin to the modernization project.

In this context, modernity is a double move process involving a de-centering of the past, then centering the present, while paying selective homage to an ancient event or set of events, but never allowing the ancients to enter into the conversation on their own terms. Indeed, central to modernity's emergence in Europe is the insistence on a total emancipation from religion and the hegemony of Christianity, which was followed by a subsequent call for secularization.

To be modern is to be secular, capitalist, rational, industrial and for sure disconnected, both in thought and action, from the holds of the ancients. Muslim modernity came into being within the womb of colonialism and followed the same trajectory with observable differences but do not let these variances confuse you from the overall adoption of the modernist epistemic. John F. Wilson defined "modern" as "a correlative term: it implies what is new as opposed to what is ancient, what is innovative as opposed to what is traditional or handed down."

If Muslims internalized modernity within the confines of colonialism and have adopted it as the driving epistemic for contemporary discourses, then Ramadan is as a good period as any to re-center Islam in our lives. This re-centering implies re-affirming the continuity with the past, which cannot be done in a distorted form of the current neo-traditional or nostalgic veneration approach. A continuity with the past means centering and locating the epistemic within its confines and embarking on a project of intellectual stitching back the torn fabrics of the Islamic tradition with all its complexities, contradictions, affirmations, negations, categorical and speculative pronouncements.

Certainly, centering a continuous past does not mean a lack of engagement with the present, the here and now; on the contrary it actually provides a coherent and meaningful worldview to the contemporary engagement. Ramadan's fasting involves both body and mind or the temporal and spiritual. How can a deliberate effort that can actualize the fasting of the mind aside from the already existing commentary that speaks of abstaining or cleansing the thoughts from desires be undertaken?

A de-colonial Ramadan involves committing oneself to a process of first cataloging the existing modern and material inventory in our mind that originates in the colonial epistemic and centered on capitalism, secularism and distorted rationality. A de-colonial inventory that insists on making a distinction between Islamic ethics and economic principles and capitalism. Islam and capitalism are not one and the same. The hidden hand of Adam Smith is not the same as the Divine manifesting His power and sustenance in the market. The emergence of the nation-state edifice and its centrality to the modern project must be extracted and a different and de-colonial notion of polity is centered. How this will look is not the issue at present rather the process of de-centering the secular and modern absolute about the world and the constitutive elements that bind or unbind people to one another.

A de-colonial Ramadan involves a commitment to navigate out of the racism that is deeply embedded in the mind of the modern Muslim, who is in an endless search to affirm his/her worthiness by means of physical and mental proximity to the superior whiteness. Yes, Islam is founded upon an anti-racist epistemic, but Muslims are children of the modern colonial project with racism and a racial matrix lodged deep in its roots. Saying Islam is anti-racist, while constantly searching and using a metaphorical "Fair and Lovely" epistemic cream that can assist in birthing a non-attainable whiteness is the pinnacle of contradiction for Muslims. This has produced multitudes of problems, least of which the ever present feeling of inferiority in relations to whites and the penchant to flee from associating with blacks, Muslims or otherwise. A fasting of the mind has no meaning of its simply being an act of expressing the intention to fast without removing this long and deeply rooted racist mental framing.

A de-colonial Ramadan means to strive toward a real agenda for the mind centered on measuring our thoughts and actions by the metaphysical realities. Consequently, the ancient belief in the metaphysical world must be centered, which if undertaken will be disruptive to modernity and its reliance on the physical and material alone. What is the meaning of being Muslim if Islam is only understood as pertaining to different arrangements of relations with the material and nothing more? A de-colonial Ramadan asserts a metaphysical starting point that shapes and informs the material but not the other way around.

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