24 May, 2020
During the Corona crisis that has held the world in its grip, Iraq too was not spared. Last March, Iraq implemented a range of protective measures and a nationwide lockdown to prevent further spreading of the virus. When looking for resilience and perseverance in times of difficulties, one will certainly find it in the Iraqi people. All over the country people supported each other by providing food baskets and other necessities to people who were hit the hardest by the crisis.
Iraq's Ramadan traditions
With the month of Ramadan approaching, the government replaced the lockdown with softer measures by allowing free movement between particular times. As a consequence Iraqi markets and sweet shops slowly started to fill again with people preparing for the month of Ramadan. Moona (مونة) is an old Iraqi tradition of stocking up on food descending from the old days where most ingredients weren’t constantly available, and people would prepare and save them for other seasons. Stocking also takes away the hardship of doing groceries while fasting. Throughout the whole country, ingredients that represent the Iraqi kitchen were stocked. Lentils for the soup, meat for the dolma, qamar ideen and tamar alhind for fresh drinks, dates for the kleicha and spices like noomi’l basrah and seb’at baharat all fill the Iraqi kitchen cabinets.
The tradition of Moona also enables people to focus on spirituality during the day and leaves room for family- gatherings in the evenings. From Iraq’s south to its north, people unite after the iftar and play the age-old game mhibis (hide ring). The plate of baklava, the prize for the winning team, is shared by all while telling stories and reciting poetry. Children play around in the neighbourhood, singing famous songs to receive candies and sweets.
Lessons from the Hijra
In Iraq and many other countries, Ramadan is a special month of spirituality and connection. The regular time frame of 9 till 5 that is based on principles of operating and moving through the circle of economic obligations is exchanged for a spiritual clock that starts with sunrise and ends with the sunset. The Gregorian calendar that was introduced in 1582 is exchanged for the Islamic calendar, rooted in the Hijra (migration) of the prophet Muhammad (ص) from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 CE. Al Hijra and the events that followed from it left us lessons that are still important in the present.
Hijra implies giving up one’s home, family, land or nation. The prophet Muhammad, along with a small group of companions, made the moral decision to save the message of Truth by migrating away. This was a strategic choice in the revolt against corruption and oppression inherent to the old social order’s embedded injustice. The prophet was welcomed by the people of Medina and despite the imposed economic sanctions by the oppressors, he managed to resettle and build a collective community based on principles of justice and truth. This offered his ongoing struggle a stronger, more organized and stable base. The Meccan oppressors who had to either buy or enforce the loyalty of their supporters were as unstable as a spider’s web. One passing storm could destroy the web’s fragile structure at once.
This structural collapse of the Meccan aggressors is exactly what happened when the Truth of the prophet triumphed over them during the month of Ramadan eight years after the Hijra migration. Despite being outnumbered in most of the battles, the prophet and his companions were victorious and conquered Mecca. This is because the message of Truth is a divine and everlasting light, and the reason why it’s rejected by their oppressor is because it challenges their falsehood, power and arrogance. Their lies and deceptions that enable them to rule are rooted in temporariness. Compromising with the evil and corrupt therefore may only give success for a limited timeframe. The man in darkness who kindles a fire, is left again in his darkness after the fire dashes out.
The enduring principles of justice
This reminds us of the battles Iraq is facing today. For decades, Iraqis have been facing severe attacks that are perpetrated even during the holy month of Ramadan. These attacks took more aggressive forms since the start of the war on terror in 2001. The perpetuated imperialist terror and aggression culminated in the 2003 war, which threw Iraq into a destructive cycle of violence that continues until today.
The war against the Iraqi people is merely the recycling of the old and known colonialist logic of oppression and domination. What we see today in Iraq and other countries in the region is the mutation of the same colonial virus that has been afflicting us over the course of history. The British Empire has always employed racism and imperialism to maintain their hegemony. After WWII, the USA took over the responsibility to spread the virus of imperialism. Now the people of Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Somalia and beyond are battling this virus. Similar to the prophet and his companions they have to face a larger and stronger enemy with their perseverance and higher morals as their weapon.
Our calendar and the way we perceive time and history is based on the Hijra migration. The hijra was a revolution that caused a paradigm shift of such a magnitude that it marked a year zero, a rebirth and the migration from injustice to justice. When ramadan comes to its end we should not let the Gregorian calendar push away the Hijra calendar and its principles. We ought not to forget the sacrifices that the people have made for the sake of truth and justice, from the Hijra in 622 CE until this day. By keeping their values alive we will kill the virus of injustice. This Ramadan we pray that all the oppressed people, from Iraq to Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Somalia and beyond will eliminate the virus soon. With the will of God, their victory is near.