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 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 it involves is an important question.
The contemporary modern Muslim world has been born and given a birth certificate within a colonial Eurocentric epistemic, which centered the material and the secular temporal and de-centered Islam. In general, modernity, or the modern age, is thought of as post-traditional, post-medieval historical period which ushered in 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. Indeed, central to modernity emergence in Europe is the insistence on an emancipation from religion and hegemony of Christianity, which was then 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 don’t let these 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 good of a period as any to re-center Islam. This re-centering implies re-affirming the continuity with the past, which can’t be in the distorted form of a neo-traditional or nostalgic veneration approach. A continuity with the past means centering and locating the epistemic within its confines and embarking on a process of intellectual stitching back the torn fabrics of the Islamic tradition with all its complexities, contradictions, affirmations, negations, and 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 is a fast involving both body and mind or the temporal and spiritual. How to undertake 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?
A de-colonial Ramadan involves committing oneself to a process of first cataloging the existing modern and material mental inventory that originates in the colonial epistemic and is centered on capitalism, secularism and distorted rationality. A de-colonial inventory 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 the 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 is the issue.
A de-colonial Ramadan involves a commitment to navigate out of the racism deeply embedded in modern Muslims that are in an endless search to affirm its 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 lodged racial matrix setting deep in its roots. Saying Islam is anti-racist while constantly searching and using a metaphorical “Fair and Lovely” epistemic that can assist in birthing a non-attainable whiteness is the pinnacle of contradiction. This has produced multitudes of problems, including is the ever-present feeling of inferiority in relation to whites and the penchant to flee from associating with blacks, Muslims or otherwise. A fasting of the mind has no meaning as its simply an act of expressing the intention to fast without removing this long and deeply rooted racist mental framing.
A de-colonial Ramadan means a 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 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 arrangement of 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.