City of Brass

President Obama’s Ramadan greetings were drafted by Muslims in his administration, so they are not perhaps as useful for comparison to President Trump. So instead, without much comment, I am reproducing President George W. Bush’s first Ramadan greeting, issued just a few months after the attacks of 9-11, with that of President Trump.

President George W. Bush:

Message on the Observance of Ramadan
November 15, 2001

As the new moon signals the holy month of Ramadan, I extend warm greetings to Muslims throughout the United States and around the world. The Islam that we know is a faith devoted to the worship of one God, as revealed through The Holy Qu’ran. It teaches the value and importance of charity, mercy, and peace. And it is one of the fastest growing religions in America, with millions of American believers today.

The American Muslim community is as varied as the many Muslim communities across the world. Muslims from diverse backgrounds pray together in mosques all across our great land. And American Muslims serve in every walk of life, including our armed forces.

The Holy Qu’ran says: “Piety does not lie in turning your face to the East or West. Piety lies in believing in God.” (2:177). Americans now have turned to acts of charity, sending relief to the Afghan people, who have suffered for so many years. America is proud to play a leading role in the humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan, through airdrops and truck convoys of food, medicine, and other much-needed supplies. And today we are committed to working for the long-term reconstruction of that troubled land.

We send our sincerest wishes to Muslims in America and around the world for health, prosperity, and happiness during Ramadan and throughout the coming year.

President Donald J. Trump:

Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Ramadan
May 26, 2017

On behalf of the American people, I would like to wish all Muslims a joyful Ramadan.

During this month of fasting from dawn to dusk, many Muslims in America and around the world will find meaning and inspiration in acts of charity and meditation that strengthen our communities. At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence, to pursue peace, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty or conflict.

This year, the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.

On my recent visit to Saudi Arabia, I had the honor of meeting with the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations. There, in the land of the two holiest sites in the Muslim world, we gathered to deliver together an emphatic message of partnership for the sake of peace, security, and prosperity for our countries and for the world.

I reiterate my message delivered in Riyadh: America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it. During this month of Ramadan, let us be resolved to spare no measure so that we may ensure that future generations will be free of this scourge and able to worship and commune in peace.

I extend my best wishes to Muslims everywhere for a blessed month as you observe the Ramadan traditions of charity, fasting, and prayer. May God bless you and your families.


As of 7:57 PM on 5/25/2017, by the Fatimi Hijri Calendar – it is sunset on 29th Shaban 1437, so therefore Ramadan has begun. Mubarak!

Alhamdulillah, It’s Ramadan! (Audio by Shahed Amanullah)

Ramadan is nigh!

Tonight is the new moon - 0% illumination

Tonight is the new moon – 0% illumination

The first fast is upon us – the one act of piety most associated with Ramadan. The spiritual and spiritual benefits of fasting get the most attention, but there is a third aspect that isn’t discussed as often: the cognitive benefits. A great article from Christianity Today generalizes the question to self-control:

Studies on self-control have boomed in the past two decades, and self-control is a really good thing to have. Research has found, for example, that people with more self-control live longer, are happier, get better grades, are less depressed, are more physically active, have lower resting heart rates, have less alcohol abuse, have more stable emotions, are more helpful to others, get better jobs, earn more money, have better marriages, are more faithful in marriage, and sleep better at night. But psychologists, sociologists, and other scientists aren’t just interested in self-control’s practical benefits. They want to know what it is, how it works, and why some people seem to be better at it than others.

Let’s start with definitions. Self-control regulates desires and impulses. It involves wanting to do one thing but choosing to do another. We substitute responses to a situation, like wanting to eat a bag of chips but instead picking up an apple. That definition may seem obvious, but thinking about self-control this way helps us avoid less accurate or more vague ways of thinking about self-control, like “being a good person.” We use self-control to regulate what we think, what we do, and even how we express our emotions. Willpower is the emotional and mental energy used to exert self-control.

The applicability of this research to fasting is obvious. The article explains that the broad concept is referred to in the literature as “ego depletion”. The article is more interested in the applicability of self control and ego depletion with respect to sin, but it equally applies to simple addiction and even everyday bad habits – or outright denial. Ramadan teaches us to exert self control against the most primal of our body’s needs – hunger. Well worth the long read!

My friend Haroon writes, in despair:

I think there is a Muslim world, there is meant to be an ummah, and that means we belong to each other. Not politically, but in a deeper, more profound sense. Which means we are responsible for each other.

And we will, especially where the ummah is made up of minorities, be blamed for each other’s actions. It is a terrible fact that right now the Middle East is split between an Iranian regime conducting a murderous war in Syria, killing even more than ISIS; ISIS itself; al-Qaeda; Hezbollah, and the entirely unjustifiable Saudi war on Yemen. What do all these actors have in common? They believe themselves to be Islamic. They call themselves Islamic. They claim to uphold God’s word and God’s values.

And what do they do?

Indiscriminately torture. Murder. Starve. Each and every one of them. For shame.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said a time would come to pass when Muslims would abandon Islam in droves, and the worst of people would be the most outwardly religious, and you have to wonder. Are we there yet?

And how much worse can it get?

I am not interested in people who demonize all of Islam; the vast majority of the world’s Muslims reject this violence. Wholeheartedly. I am instead interested in why so many millions can accomplish so little.

I am also not interested in platitudes like “Islam is the solution”–as if every problem is religious; Islam is not the solution to a broken bone, nor is there one Islam, or one solution, to most of the world’s pressing challenges–or paeans to our golden age. It is nice that a thousand years ago we were advanced for our time, but what does that mean when we have young people who believe blowing themselves up and killing innocents around them is not just sanctioned by God. But cheered by Him?

Something more is called for. Not marches against terrorism; those are mere symbolic gestures. Something bigger is called for. Something grander and greater. Initiatives that seek to build institutions out of our common sentiments. Educational enterprises that seek to create leaders, build networks out of them, and amplify their voices and ideas until they drown out the ugliness around them. For the love of God stop building mosques. Build leaders.

Throughout history, there have been only two actors: the Chief acting unilaterally downwards, and the People acting en masse upwards. I hate to be cynical here but the Chiefs in the Islamic world have a vested interest in the status quo, and the People will not mobilize unless they have an animating ideal. We thought for a time that Freedom was sufficient an ideal for this, but the Arab Spring sputtered and died, and we now have such low expectations that the re-election of Rouhani is seen as some kind of victory when in fact all it does is preserve a status quo. Until the people of Islam themselves rise, nothing will change. I think the only possible solution is to remember that every Islamic people had a pre-Islamic cultural heritage. Perhaps an appeal to that heritage is what can overwhelm the cookie cutter Islam in a Box culture that is exported from Saudi on the authority of their possession of the Holy Sites. If people in Iran, in Syria, in Palestine, in Xinjiang, in Myanmar, in Yemen, in Nigeria, in Somalia, in the Congo, in Darfur… were to reclaim their identity – then we would see true change.

We have 10,000 years of history to draw on. Ten millenia of civilization, built upon fifty millenia of exploration and settlement. Every nation today (with the exception of China) is only a few centuries old at most. What endures is language, culture, writing, art. That is what each of us can do – reclaim our identities from the faceless and sterile vision of Islam that the hirabists proffer, and replace it with something truly alive.