2016-06-30
The onset of Ramadan has raised the question of whether the United States should suspend its attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan out of deference to Muslims. While there is less discussion of this question now than before Ramadan began, it is still worth considering, because it raises fascinating questions about the ethics of war.

Ramadan for Non-Muslims

  • I'm Christian and I'm Fasting for Ramadan

  • Join Beliefnet's call to fast
    Add your name to the pledge

  • What is Ramadan?

  • Bomb the Afghans--With Food

  • This War is Moral

  • "Listening is the First Step Toward Peace"

  • Like all religious observances of a constructive nature, Ramadan is worthy of respect from those outside the tradition. Muslims are directed to fast from dawn to sundown, abstaining also from smoking and sexual relations. The purpose of the Ramadan fast seems similar to that of Lent for Christians--a time of reflection, contemplation, and self-purification.

    But should we stop fighting? The response to this question must be offered at two levels: the ethics of war in general, and the ethical and political issues raised by events in this particular war as they unfold.

    In terms of the ethics of war in general, I am aware of nothing in the world's moral or legal traditions related to war that would indicate a religious holiday should interrupt military activities. Mainstream interpretations of the just war theory, for example, while regulating various aspects of fighting, do not mention religious calendar considerations.

    The primary moral issue related to war is whether it should be fought at all. The secondary moral issue related to war is how to restrain its destructive impact. War, to put it bluntly, is simply not a nice enough phenomenon to allow pauses for various holy days, feasts, and fasts. If that much mutual understanding existed between warring parties, there would be little need for war in the first place.

    Further, there is nothing in the Qur'an forbidding war during Ramadan. Muhammad himself led his followers in battle during Ramadan. As well, Muslim nations have waged war both on non-Muslims and on each other during the Ramadan fast. And the predominantly Muslim nations that attacked Israel in 1973 chose a date holy both to Judaism (Yom Kippur) and Islam (Ramadan). At a moral level, therefore, the issue of a Ramadan pause is a non-issue.

    The ethics and politics of this particular war raise a very different question. Here the matter is a prudential judgment: will continuing (or choosing not to continue) the attacks during Ramadan advance the just cause of the United States as well as the broader human interest?

    Ramadan for Non-Muslims

  • I'm Christian and I'm Fasting for Ramadan

  • Join Beliefnet's call to fast
    Add your name to the pledge

  • What is Ramadan?

  • Bomb the Afghans--With Food

  • This War is Moral

  • "Listening is the First Step Toward Peace"

  • It is certainly true that Muslim nations are not enthusiastic about Ramadan attacks. But they were not, of course, enthusiastic about pre-Ramadan attacks either. Muslim states that are at least officially allied with our nation in this battle must be especially sensitive to the reaction of the so-called "street." The stability of the government of Pakistan, with its atomic weapons, is particularly important. If Ramadan fighting had seriously risked the fall of the regime there, it might not have been worth the trouble. But so far, all seems quiet on that front.

    Likewise, a pause linked to humanitarian aid, as some called for just before Ramadan, could conceivably have been both morally and politically constructive. But at this point, the progress of the war effort in most parts of the nation has opened the possibility of a resumption of relief aid in a way unimaginable just a few weeks ago. This makes a good example of the folly of condemning all forms of military activity as a threat to humanitarian interests.

    Dramatic recent advances by anti-Taliban forces in all parts of Afghanistan, and the insertion of a growing number of U.S. personnel, appear to be leading toward the imminent culmination of the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida. The situation is fluid and chaotic. Innocent people are at risk each day that the fighting continues--until it reaches a resolution.

    War has its own logic, moral in its own sad way. Fighting and killing continue until a victory is won and resolution is achieved. The end of hostilities begins the process of political and economic reconstruction. The goal is a peaceful and just political order. Until the fighting ends, that goal is out of reach. Interrupting the fighting to honor a holiday or any other unrelated event before political order can be reestablished is exactly the wrong idea. It is a humanitarian notion that would have inhumane results.

    more from beliefnet and our partners