The summer has dawned upon the UK, in all its rain-filled glory, and is expected to be the hottest since records began. Some of us have extra reason to welcome the summer this year; it heralds the month of Ramadan when Muslims abstain from food and drink for some of the longest and hottest days of the year, from dawn to dusk.
Many fasting may see it as an opportunity to lose an inch or two from the waistline; however it could serve a far greater purpose in conflict resolution.
You see, most conflicts arise when individuals and nations are willing to fight, tooth and nail, to secure what they consider to be their fundamental rights. 'Rights' here is, of course, code for the never-ending human thirst for power and wealth. Russia and NATO equally consider the militarisation of their borders as measures of self-defence; India and Pakistan are just as passionate about protecting their 'rights' over Kashmir; and China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea, but so do the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei! No one thinks they are the offenders, especially given that we humans are capable, in fact the masters of justifying anything when it comes to serving our self-interests.
'But what does abstinence from food have to do with all this,' I hear you ask? Well, I am not suggesting that a reduction of our food intake is the solution to all conflicts. No. But there is a lesson that could be learnt here.
The issue at heart is that the struggle to demand one's own rights comes with a fundamental flaw; when the urge begins to grab one's piece of cake, too often one becomes blind to the share of others. Naturally, therefore, the practice of forsaking the bare essentials during Ramadan can serve as an important preparation in the art of foregoing for the sake of others when the race is on to snatch and acquire.
For example, Chatham House, a leading British think-tank, published an alarming report highlighting that if a few individuals had not practiced extraordinary self-restraint in the face of provocations during the peak of tensions in the Cold War, a nuclear attack would almost certainly have been launched. The report disturbingly states:
"...Individual decision-making, often in disobedience of protocol and political guidance, has on several occasions saved the day...Historical cases of near nuclear use resulting from misunderstanding demonstrate the importance of the 'human judgment factor' in nuclear decision-making."
If this was the case, then one cannot be grateful enough to those individuals who 'saved the day' due to their self-restraint. However, once again the two superpowers of the world are refusing to cooperate whilst striving to protect their interests.
International politics aside, tensions continue to intensify even between communities living abreast of one another, yet it seems we cannot keep ourselves from offending each other because we feel it is our indispensable human right.
If the approach and psyche are reversed, and fulfilling obligations towards others is prioritised over vehemently tussling for one's own rights, we may see a glimmer of hope.
This very pertinent message is constantly given by a Muslim Caliph. No, not the notorious, never-seen-again Baghdadi, but rather a man who is persistently seen travelling the world and speaking out to deliver a message of peace. His Holiness, and Caliph to millions of Ahmadiyya Muslims, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, recently said during an interview with a Swedish Newspaper:
"If we want peace we should value and prioritise giving rights to other people, rather than demanding our own rights. This is the key to peace and to ending the conflicts in the world."
It is this message that Ramadan brings in isochronously. It trains us in temporarily sacrificing some of our fundamental rights so that if the time does come to choose between the loss of our humanity and that of comparatively petty self-interest, we choose the survival of the former.