On 26 May, just as Ramadan was about to start, jihadists attacked buses carrying Egyptian Christians to a monastery, killing 29 – some of them young children. During the rest of the month of Ramadan, jihadists killed more than 1,600 people, making it the bloodiest Ramadan in recent history.
Although for many Muslims Ramadan is a time of self-denial and fasting, for others it is a time of jihad. Some Islamic traditions suggest that those killed in jihad during Ramadan will gain double rewards in Paradise. In fact, it was during the month of Ramadan that Muhammed and the first Islamic army conquered Mecca in 630AD and this has led some jihadi groups, such as the Taliban, to declare jihad obligatory during Ramadan.
What may surprise and shock many people is that Ramadan, which is revered as the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, is far from being a month of peace. Some Muslims have been killing other Muslims in large numbers. In fact, the majority of those killed in the past month were actually Muslims. They were killed either because they were liberal Muslims or because they belonged to different sectarian groups (or even different jihadi groups). Jihadists use an Islamic theological device called takfir to declare groups with whom they disagree to be “non-Muslims”, and therefore legitimate targets of jihad.
There are estimated to be more than 1,620 victims of this year’s Ramadan violence. This represents an appalling catalogue of carnage. Yet it is sobering to note that behind this lies the historical teaching of sharia on jihad and apostasy – those deemed to be non-Muslims, particularly if they are viewed as having have left Islam, can be legitimately killed. We stand in mourning with the families of all those murdered, whether Christian or Muslim. But in doing so, we call for tolerance and an end to the assumption that those who express a different belief, or choose to change their belief, should be killed.