I thought often of those two men this past Ramadan, when we all witnessed a warin which Muslim fought Muslimin Afghanistan.
Ramadan is a month when God specifically commands us through fasting to let goof our shortcomings - gluttony,lust, anger. In their place, God encourages us to fill our spirits with mindfulness,kindness and generosity.
This doesn't always happen, of course. This Ramadan, we were all rudely remindedthat we don't live in thebest of all possible worlds.
Before the month started, the scriptural prohibition on violence during Ramadanbecame a hot topic forwar-planners and media pundits alike. I even discussed it with the person whocuts my hair. Should and would the war in Afghanistan continue during Ramadan?During the horribly bloody warbetween Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the President and many others argued,Muslims did not stop killingMuslims.
In fact, sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't. Iran and Iraq wouldoften agree to Ramadan ceasefires,to be broken as soon as Eid Al-Fitr rolled around.
This Ramadan, as news came of prison massacres, carpet bombing, sieges, and missile strikes, I thoughT often of that late Ramadanafternoon fight in the holy city ofMecca.
It was just after the Asr afternoon prayer, as tens of thousands of worshippersmade their way back to theirhotels, inns, hovels, or cardboard sidewalk homes to preparefor the imminent breaking ofthe daily fast.
One man's car had hit the other's car, one right headlight collidingwith the the left rear taillightof the other - two more casualties of Mecca's traffic-snarled roads.
The two men -- one a burly man in a bright yellow car and the other a scrawnyman in a white one -- glared ateach other. They started shouting until their voices crescendoed into a furiouscacophony of unrestrainedArabic cussing.
Suddenly, the burly man slammed his fist against the side of the scrawny man'shead. Stunned and enraged, the other man responded by grabbing his sandal and attempting to swat his foe.Instead, he ended up swiping apasser-by who had bravely interposed himself between the two combatants.
As the two streetfighters continued to lunge at each other, two groups of menattempted to restrain eachfighter.
"Haraam! Haraam!," they cried out. "Fighting is forbidden; this is the month ofRamadan!"
Various onlookers offered up their own advice.
"Ya Ikhwan! O Brothers! Your fast will be broken and void."
"Astaghfirullah! Seek forgiveness from Allah!"
"This is the House of Allah!"
One passer-by in a brown robe hugged the scrawny fighter, imploring him to stopfighting. Then, as a motherwould kiss a son, the passer-by began planting little pecks of peace all overthe man's head.
"Fighting is forbidden; this is the month of Ramadan!"
Finally, both fighters stopped lunging at each other. It appeared the kisses,the imploring, and the physicalrestraint of various passer-by had worked. The two men returned to theirrespective cars.
Onlookers continued to counsel the two men through their car windows.
It's Ramadan, they reminded them. We cannot fight, they cautioned. Even if itwasn't Ramadan, this is theHouse of Allah. Even if it wasn't the House of Allah, you just shouldn't fightlike this.
Some passers-by again tried to restrain the fighters. Others gave up andcontinued their walk up the hill. Thechorus of honking cars grew louder as now-furious drivers waited impatiently forthe melee to end.
The scrawny man walked defiantly towards a police car parked nearby. It would bethe policeman's turn toresolve the conflict between the now-exhausted fighters and the exasperatedonlookers. He curtly instructedthe two drivers to drive to the side of the plaza to unclog traffic, demandedidentification, and then beganto disinterestedly listen to their versions of events.
This Ramadan, I wondered what happened to the two men who made that MeccanRamadan such a memorable one forme. Hopefully, they controlled their anger this year.
As American Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with an Eid party at the WhiteHouse and war continues inAfghanistan, I pray and hope that the Ramadan message of restraint, forgiveness,and reconciliation will notbe lost on us.
While the Eid holiday inevitably returns us to a mundane, non-fasting routine,let's not forget the spirit andhope of Ramadan.