As Muslims embark upon another Ramadan journey, it is imperative to reflect on its true significance. Going without food and drink and often lack of sleep for extended hours can be taxing on the human body but that is where the physical and spiritual battle is waged. It is the committed Muslim’s strength of iman that sees him/her through an arduous day, in some places stretching to 17 or more hours.
Weather also plays a part especially in the Muslim East and South Asia where temperatures can soar to 40–45 °C. Poor workers involved in backbreaking jobs have to toil in relentless heat to eke out an existence. The rich hide in their palatial air-conditioned homes often sleeping during the day and venturing out only at night to overindulge.
Unfortunately this contrasting lifestyle is widespread in the Muslim world where social and economic justice is virtually nonexistent. Unless Muslims take cognizance of this dichotomy another Ramadan will come and go without making much of a difference in their lives. The building of taqwa — consciousness of Allah’s power presence — that is supposed to develop with fasting (2:183) is seldom realized.
Notwithstanding this failure of Muslims, there are many important Islamic events associated with Ramadan. The first and foremost is the revelation of the noble Qur’an. It was sent from the lawhun mahfuz (the well-guarded tablet) in its earthly form and revealed to Muhammad (pbuh) in the solitude of the Cave of Hira’. That brief but dramatic encounter in the grotto between divine power and human frailty led to the establishment of an Islamic society and polity that ultimately transformed humanity. But it was not easy. There was an intense struggle of 23 years in which the nascent Muslim community endured many challenges including oppression, torture, exile, and death. Led by the noble Messenger, divine revelation guided the early Muslims. Commitment, steely determination, and the spirit of sacrifice helped them overcome all trials and tribulations. It was not easy; no struggle for truth and justice is ever easy but what determines the outcome of a struggle is the commitment of its adherents.
The early Muslims imbibed the message of the Qur’an and lived it, bringing them out of jahiliyah (ignocracy and primitive savagery) into the light of Islam. Today, Muslims will have to undergo a similar process to bring about the requisite transformation in their admittedly terrible plight. This requires not only reading the Qur’an, as the overwhelming majority of Muslims do today, but also understanding it that regrettably few do, before they can apply it in their lives.
The Qur’an is a book of guidance — Allah (swt) Himself says so in the noble Book (2:02, 2:185, and many other ayat). To receive guidance, there must be an understanding of its message.
Today, Muslims are spread all over the world. Ideally, every Muslim should understand the Arabic language since it is the language in which Allah chose to deliver His final message. Failing that, Muslims should use the numerous translations available in many languages as well as tafsirs (exegeses) to understand the divine message. While this should be done throughout one’s life, Ramadan offers a special opportunity to do so.
In this column and magazine, we have repeatedly stressed the point about understanding the message of the Qur’an. We have not only written about it, we have also provided the means for Muslims to do so. Through the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), we have published the first-ever tafsir written directly in the English language by Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi. Titled, The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, 14 volumes of this monumental tafsir have already been published (and are available in electronic format online), the last two of which are in the process of being printed.
What is special about this tafsir is that it is the first-ever written in English to enable English-speaking Muslims to access the divine message directly. As Allah’s final revelation to all humanity the Qur’an’s message is applicable at all times and in all places. With advancement in human knowledge, many mysteries of the Qur’an, hitherto hidden, are gradually revealed to us.
One final point about Ramadan is in order. In this month, committed Muslims also organize Quds rallies to highlight the Zionists’ continued illegal occupation of al-Masjid al-Aqsa. In 1979, Imam Khomeini declared the last Friday of Ramadan as Quds Day and called upon Muslims worldwide to hold rallies. Today Quds-Day rallies have become a global phenomenon. These rallies have become an important component of the committed Muslims’ struggle in Ramadan for truth and justice in a world dominated by oppression and illegality.
We call upon Muslims and other justice-loving people throughout the world to become part of this noble struggle.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).