2016-06-30
I once saw two men fight once on the road in Mecca on one of the last few days in Ramadan, at the edge of the plaza of the Grand Mosque.

I thought often of those two men this past Ramadan, when we all witnessed a war in which Muslim fought Muslim in Afghanistan.

Ramadan is a month when God specifically commands us through fasting to let go of 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 reminded that we don't live in the best of all possible worlds.

Before the month started, the scriptural prohibition on violence during Ramadan became a hot topic for war-planners and media pundits alike. I even discussed it with the person who cuts my hair. Should and would the war in Afghanistan continue during Ramadan? During the horribly bloody war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the President and many others argued, Muslims did not stop killing Muslims.

In fact, sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't. Iran and Iraq would often 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 Ramadan afternoon fight in the holy city of Mecca.

It was just after the Asr afternoon prayer, as tens of thousands of worshippers made their way back to their hotels, inns, hovels, or cardboard sidewalk homes to prepare for the imminent breaking of the daily fast.

One man's car had hit the other's car, one right headlight colliding with the the left rear taillight of 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 scrawny man in a white one -- glared at each other. They started shouting until their voices crescendoed into a furious cacophony of unrestrained Arabic cussing.

With sweat gathering on their bald foreheads in thick beads, they drew closer. traffic behind them came to a standstill and a crowd of spectators gathered.

Suddenly, the burly man slammed his fist against the side of the scrawny man's head. Stunned and enraged, the other man responded by grabbing his sandal and attempting to swat his foe. Instead, he ended up swiping a passer-by who had bravely interposed himself between the two combatants.

As the two streetfighters continued to lunge at each other, two groups of men attempted to restrain each fighter.

"Haraam! Haraam!," they cried out. "Fighting is forbidden; this is the month of Ramadan!"

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 stop fighting. Then, as a mother would kiss a son, the passer-by began planting little pecks of peace all over the 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 physical restraint of various passer-by had worked. The two men returned to their respective 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 it wasn't Ramadan, this is the House of Allah. Even if it wasn't the House of Allah, you just shouldn't fight like this.

The episode wasn't over yet. The two men continued to exchange insults through their car windows as they inched along. Suddenly, the burly man got out of his car again and punched the scrawny man once, twice, three times through the open car window.

Some passers-by again tried to restrain the fighters. Others gave up and continued their walk up the hill. The chorus of honking cars grew louder as now-furious drivers waited impatiently for the melee to end.

The scrawny man walked defiantly towards a police car parked nearby. It would be the policeman's turn to resolve the conflict between the now-exhausted fighters and the exasperated onlookers. He curtly instructed the two drivers to drive to the side of the plaza to unclog traffic, demanded identification, and then began to disinterestedly listen to their versions of events.

This Ramadan, I wondered what happened to the two men who made that Meccan Ramadan such a memorable one for me. Hopefully, they controlled their anger this year.

As American Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with an Eid party at the White House and war continues in Afghanistan, I pray and hope that the Ramadan message of restraint, forgiveness, and reconciliation will not be lost on us.

While the Eid holiday inevitably returns us to a mundane, non-fasting routine, let's not forget the spirit and hope of Ramadan.

more from beliefnet and our partners