Allah (swt) says in the translated meaning of the Quran:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ
“The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong).” [Al-Baqarah: 185]
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ
“Verily! We have sent it (this Quran) down in the night of Al-Qadr (Decree).” [Al Qadr : 1]
It is a time when the entire Ummah, across its many races and lands, strives to embrace this book and increase in its good deeds. Whether it is attending taraweeh during the nights in congregation, staying up for tahajjud or giving sadaqah the Ummah is busy with goodness as the Shaiyateen are chained up.
It is natural to increase in good deeds during this month in a manner that one does not do so in others. It is the month where the reward of a voluntary act is made the same as the reward for performing an obligatory act, and the one who performs an obligatory act during this time is given 70 times the reward that would ordinarily be associated with performing this act outside of Ramadan. Given the collective spirit that exists in the Ummah during this period, and the blessings on offer by Allah (swt), we should use this time as a training period to prepare ourselves for the rest of the year.
As we increase in our listening and recitation of the Quran this month, we should be mindful of the powerful content that this book delivers. It is a book that whilst it was being revealed, triggered a struggle between the disbelieving rulers of Quraish in Makkah and the best of creation, Muhammad (saw), and his followers. The reason for this was simple – a message was being presented by Muhammad (saw) that wasn’t just about following a god that people would perform some rituals for, as the Quraish had no problem with having many gods that people would perform rituals for.
Rather, it was a message that fundamentally challenged every aspect of Makkan society from the most subtle, innermost beliefs of an individual to the values and practices dominant in that society that shaped the relationships between people from issues of family and commerce. The Quran challenged established beliefs along with the order that preserved them, being bold in challenging both. For instance, the Makkans had a barbaric social practice of burying their daughters alive. This is something which was a norm, yet the Quran challenges it:
وَإِذَا الْمَوْءُودَةُ سُئِلَتْ – بِأَيِّ ذَنبٍ قُتِلَتْ
“And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked, For what sin she was killed.” [At-Takwir; 8-9]
There was the unjust economic practice of dealing with interest (riba), which is expressly forbidden in the Quran:
فَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلُوا فَأْذَنُوا بِحَرْبٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ۖ وَإِن تُبْتُمْ فَلَكُمْ رُءُوسُ أَمْوَالِكُمْ لَا تَظْلِمُونَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ
“And if you do not [give up what remains to you of interest], then be informed of a war [against you] from Allah and His Messenger. But if you repent, you may have your principal – [thus] you do no wrong, nor are you wronged.” [Al-Baqarah: 279]
In the issue of belief itself, Allah (swt) attacks the people who simply followed the way of life of their forefathers or societies, those who simply “went with the flow of things” without using their own minds:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۗ أَوَلَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ
“And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?” [Al-Baqarah: 170]
Instead Allah (swt) encourages us to reflect upon the creation around us when contemplating the truth of His existence:
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِن مَّاءٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ دَابَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason.” [Al-Baqarah: 164]
To encapsulate these and other various matters, Allah (swt) addresses the matter of how society should be run when saying in the Quran:
وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ …
“…And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the disbelievers.” [Al-Maidah: 44]
The Quran therefore is a book that was sent by Allah (swt) as a comprehensive manual for mankind to live our lives, to use as a reference in all of life’s affairs rather than being restricted to merely the individual or spiritual realm. It is a book that was sent by Allah (swt) to shape mankind and the societies we live in, rather than change Islam to suit the whims of people. Like then, today we live in a time that is once again a time of darkness with many of the evil practices mentioned in the Quran appearing in different parts of the Earth.
It is important to understand this wider context of the Quran because whilst we look to utilise this Ramadan to improve ourselves and attempt to draw closer to Allah (swt) by engaging in personal ibadah, we should not forget the wider purpose of this message and our responsibilities from it. In the time of Muhammad (saw), the idolatry that kept people away from Allah (swt) was in the form of physical gods and desires of the Quraish to hang on to their traditions. Whilst this particular context may have changed, the struggle between the path to obeying Allah (swt) and disobeying Him is very much alive today.
The gods that are placed before Muslims today to worship, that is to revere and obey, are not physical but conceptual. No longer are the Muslims challenged by the Arabian gods of Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, Hubal and Manat but instead are presented with the concepts of secularism, nationalism, individualism and freedom.
These concepts today tell us that we only need to follow Islam in our personal lives rather than use it to shape society; that we arrange ourselves in to nations based upon the lands we are born in to rather than strive to live as one unified Ummah with one leader; that we look after ourselves rather than worrying about each other as Muslims, and that ultimately we do what pleases ourselves even if it means rejecting the laws of Allah (swt).
All of these ideas must be challenged in ourselves as individuals and together as a community, if we are to maintain and develop our Islamic character and improve our situation as an Ummah.