The Western world continues to have misunderstandings and misgivings about the religion of Islam. Marred by increasingly violent global politics against Islamic extremist groups and nativist fears against Islam at home, the world have increasingly viewed even Islam’s benign activities through a lens of trepidation. While it is hard to argue that Islamic terrorism should be viewed negative, even more typical Muslim activities, such as the celebration of Ramadan can be met with mixed reactions. The following essay will look at what aspects of Ramadan major news carriers focus on and how they present Islam’s holy month.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed as holy by Muslims around the world. It is considered one of the “Five Pillars of Islam” and is used to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran experienced by Muhammad. The celebration month can last anywhere from 29-30 days depending on when the sight of the crescent moon is first experienced. One really important aspect of celebrating the month is that they must fast from until sunset for the duration of the month, which includes no liquids, food, smoking or sexual relations. It is a very important and holy Muslim occasion and is covered in depth every year by many media outlets.
One way that the media covers Ramadan is by drawing links between the Muslim holy month and the ongoing terrorist epidemic throughout the Middle East. In an article entitled “ISIS enforces Ramadan fast by crucifying two children,” in Syria, the title itself provocatively forges links between the holy month and the most feared group by westerners. According to the article the children were caught doing the rather petty “crime” of eating and were then executed by militants. The technique of the lead sentence of the headline makes sure that the reader is struck by provocative details of the story. Those being killed are none other than children, an innocent class of people, and their crime is eating. They were executed, according to the story, on the streets because they failed to obey a law of Islam. The story says that this is not an isolated incident and links it to other times that ISIS has crucified people for failing to obey Islamic law. They then transition into other egregious acts of ISIS saying that they “urged its followers to escalate attacks on Christians,” and notes that the group is continuing to gain followers in places like Iraq.
The publication of the above article is the Jerusalem Post. It is easy to see how they would have a vested interest in not only making Islam a fear worth being afraid of in the Middle East, but also in expanding it to Christians to make sure that it hits home for the western world. The state of Israel continues to fight against Muslim groups in the Gaza strip and therefore would be well served to have the Western world, its major ally, to stay invested and worried about the spread of Islamic groups. While the facts of the case of ISIS executing children may very well be true and should rightfully be rallied against, its linking of it to Christianity and the spread of ISIS is not immediately related to the content of the story itself and would have obvious intentions in spreading the fear of Islam.
In a more critical tone toward Israel and groups against Islam, The New York Times contained an article entitled “Israel cancels Gaza residents’ access to Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.” In this article it says that Israel has cancelled previously granted permission of Muslims to enter a Mosque in Jerusalem. It includes quotes from critics that it is likened to a punishment and another example of how Israeli authorities were trying to limit the freedom and movement of Palestinians. It does also quote Israeli rationale that the decision was made after rockets had been fired into Gaza recently and it was done as a safety measure. It says that ISIS had taken credit for the rocket launches, but that Israel pronounced it was done by Hamas, the democratically elected party in Palestine. It says that the Palestinians who have family in Gaza will still be allowed to visit them. It finally ends with a quote on how this is another example of the unprecedented control that Israeli authorities have over the lives of Palestinians in being able to block their movements during their most holy holiday.
Overall, this article is very balanced compared to the one written by the Jerusalem Post. It gives both sides, how it affects and hurts the Palestinians, but also the rationale by the Israeli authorities that were doing it not out of just wanting to control Palestinians but because there were recent activities that made them think the area was in danger. However, it should be noted they include a part of the story that the recent dangerous activities against Israel were done by ISIS and not Hamas, and that this had been admitted in the open. Israel still punished Hamas, though, by going against the Palestinian people. This is sort of implying that Israel is using the recent attacks as an excuse to tighten its security group on forces it sees in its midst and shows how Ramadan can become entangled in the messy politics of the Middle East.
Finally, since Ramadan happens all over the Muslim world, another article in Al-arabiya, shows that Ramadan is much more than just a religious holiday and they focus on how it affects and is intertwined with economics. The article entitled, “Saudi Arabia, Egypt stocks slip as Ramadan thins trade,” focuses on how Ramadan affects the global economics. According to the article the stock markets in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt dipped because many investors had left their positions at the market to follow Ramadan. They then give the economic statistics and how much the month had cause the dip. The article is generally pretty terse and gives only the economic facts. In this way, it is not necessarily promoting any one view or another by saying that it is a good or bad thing but rather just showing that Ramadan has great and lasting affects throughout the world. It also implies the diligence and dedication of those involved that they are moving away from basic activities like money making in order to pursue greater, more spiritual ends. As a Middle Eastern based publication they would not be as adamant about drawing any sensationalist claims about what is happening surrounding Ramadan. It is not interested in showing how its related to ISIS or how it can be implied to be a danger to Christians as the first article based in Jerusalem shows.
In all, it can be seen that even benign holidays can be wrapped up in the greater context of the issues of terrorism and international politics. Rather than just reporting on the many people peacefully practicing the holiday as they do every year, many mainstream media wings still tend emphasize the negative aspects and focus on how the holiday is part of the greater conversation on the role of Islam and terrorism in world politics.
"Saudi Arabia, Egypt Stocks Slip as Ramadan Thins Trade." June 22, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/economy/2015/06/22/Saudi-Arabia-Egypt-stocks-slip-as-Ramadan-thins-trade.html.
Hadid, Diaa. "Israel Cancels Some Gazans’ Access to Al Aqsa Mosque During Ramadan." The New York Times. June 24, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-gaza-ramadan.html?_r=0.
"'ISIS Enforces Ramadan Fast by Crucifying Two Children'" The Jerusalem Post. June 23, 2015. Accessed June 24, 2015. http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/ISIS-enforces-Ramadan-fast-by-crucifying-two-children-406876.