The example and inspiration of Ramadan
Growing up in largely Muslim societies, I learned early that Ramadan, the holy month of Islam, is a time when Muslims reflect on the teachings of the Koran and the oneness of the Umma. As this year’s Ramadan comes to an end, Muslim friends everywhere look forward to Eid Ul Fitr after a month of fasting, prayer and contemplation.
The approach of Eid provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on the richness of the history Islam; its contribution to world civilisation; and its role in the advancement of humanity. From science to poetry, Muslim scholars have helped to promote education and enlightened millions around the world.
Here in Sierra Leone Islam provided the earliest form of formal education. As trade routes from North Africa and the Middle East grew, scholars brought the Holy Koran and its messages of love, unity and forgiveness. These teachings resonated in particular among the needy, poor and vulnerable.
Visitors to Sierra Leone, like me, are always struck by this country’s enduring example of peaceful co-existence between faiths. Islamic festivals, like Christian ones, are widely and peacefully celebrated by both communities. Frequent intermarriage has fostered generations of mutual understanding and tolerance. Despite its recent dark past, Sierra Leone is proud to be a shining beacon of hope in a troubled region. But Sierra Leone’s religious journey does not end there.
Isolated reports of religious violence should remind everybody – Muslims and Christians, government officials and ordinary citizens, Salones and visitors like me – that sustaining peace is beset with challenges. The world is changing. And it is changing very fast. It is easy to look at the successes of the past and extrapolate a similarly secure future. Easy but misleading. To sustain Sierra Leone’s admirable levels of religious tolerance will take courage, understanding, frank dialogue, mutual respect and unity.
As Muslims prepare to celebrate and say alham duli lahi for the month of Ramadan, and as Christians look forward to Christmas, all Sierra Leoneans should take this opportunity to reflect on the central teachings of both creeds: peace, unity, love and harmony; of neighbourliness and mutual support; of a common understanding of the true values of two faiths that promote peaceful co-existence and tolerance. Together we can make a difference. Let’s start today.
Happy Eid Ul Fitr and Asalamu Alaikum!
Ian Hughes, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone.
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