Islam is a way of life. The prayer taught by Allah to His last Messenger ran thus: "Say O’ Muhammad, verily my Lord has guided me to a path that is straight, a religion of right" " It further states that, "Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light" (2.25)."
One of the distinctive features of Islam is its simplicity and even its revealed text, the Qur’an, is not a collection of dogmas, myths, or stories, but a simple practical code of life that appeals to human intellect and nature and is attainable.
The path of Islam is not an option of convenience and its pursuit is not possible without a clear choice, single-minded devotion, steadfastness, reason and intellect, and compliance with the command of the Creator. In our present predicament — religious, social, economic and political — the significance of Ramadan is of particular relevance to Muslims. Today, when we are threatened by internal and external forces, it is imperative that we reflect on the discipline of Ramadan to understand the intended purpose of that discipline, and the reality which the discipline is built to defend against; destructive forces and false gods.
The Qur’an reminds us that as human beings we have been endowed with the power of thought and the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, Allah will judge the individual whether he/she has obeyed the code of conduct prescribed in it. The Qur’an says, "We shall test your steadfastness with fear and famine, with loss of life and property and crops." And for those who have followed His commands "We shall not deny them their reward…"
Introspection and self-analysis is part of the month of Ramadan, and currently the thoughts about the state of the ummah are far from happy and cheerful. There is no doubt that the world ummah (community) of Islam is an unhappy and traumatized community in these modern times. Despite the fact that it is largest in number, richest in land and resources, the greatest in legacy, and possessing the most viable, practical and simple philosophy of life "Islam", it is a very weak constituent of the "new world order." It is fragmented into numerous states, divided against itself, and its many parts are at conflict with each other on all its frontiers. It is unable to defend itself against its enemies, and incapable of producing what it needs or consumes. Most of all, instead of being a community (wasat) of the median way among the people of the world, which is what Allah wished it to be, it has become the target of everybody.
Unfortunately, aside from verbal and emotional expressions of the virtue of unity and the striving for common good from the platform of Mosques and some other Muslim and Arab organizations, a matching response to the formidable challenges facing the Muslim world at this critical juncture is not forthcoming. Muslims have intelligence, but lack reasoning and an understanding of the world around them. They take their reality for granted. They do not even ask why things are as they are, or where they are going, or what is behind this artificially created world reality and what must they do to make it better. We start off with the same conviction, like the rest of the world, that all we need to do in this life is to satisfy our appetites and entertain and amuse ourselves. We try to attain happiness by pressing buttons that require no thinking, no reflection, no understanding and no efforts.
Ramadan in history and in society has always been a time of increased activity and of great trials and crucial events. Ramadan is a month wherein the Almighty Allah is constantly testing His creation and giving humanity an opportunity to attain peace, justice and the means of developing a greater consciousness of Allah’s presence. The consciousness of Allah (Taqwa) provides protection against the schemes of those who manipulate reality, spread hate, create divisions, and cause sufferings in this world.
Just as in "Matrix," a recent science fiction movie, Ramadan offers two clear paths (Sabeel). One is to unplug our consciousness and reason from blind conformity and embark on a journey that leads us to see reality objectively in order to change our way of life and follow the right path. Or take the "blue pill," and go through the ritual of Ramadan and once it is over revert back to a way of life that is built on conformity and irrational passions, greed, hate and wants.
"Matrix" is a system that controls the human conscious and reason. "It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth, that you are a slave. Like everyone else you were born into bondage and into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch; a prison for your mind." Neo (the main character) is offered a personal choice between two distinct paths in the form of a blue pill and a red pill. "This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill " you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." Neo chooses the red pill and rediscovers human reality and gains self- consciousness and the power of reasoning to discern between right and wrong.
The Qur’an says: "There is no compulsion in religion. Truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error" (2:256)" The guidance of the Qur’an is addressed to reason rather than to emotions. To follow the right path requires reason. Reason allows us to go beyond the obvious to discover what is behind the surface in order to understand the forces which operate underneath the surface. If we are only passive receivers of opinions, impressions and thoughts, we can manipulate them but we cannot see beyond them, and in this we lose our God-consciousness and become part of the hidden reality of human existence that has been replaced with the artificial distorted snapshot of a pseudo-reality — not too different from the "Matrix" in which human beings just exist.
The congregational prayers coupled with the distribution of poor dues (Fitra), marking the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr should not be seen as rituals but need to be understood for their global significance, especially at this difficult time. The Qur’an says to "hold fast all of you together to the cable of Allah and do not separate." Since we have practically ignored this advice we are getting divided and fragmented. We cannot be an Ummah unless the whole body feels the pain when any of the limbs are hurting.
There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. It is only when the human mind is unplugged from frivolous and mindless pursuits, when the motivating force of belief "Islam" is deeply and genuinely absorbed into conscious self, that the required response is realized. If adopted as a guiding motto in the individual and the collective life of the Muslim, the discipline, generosity, unity, self- restraint, kindness, and patience evident during Ramadan can, over time, change the destiny of the ummah. And it will once again be destined to meet one of its most frightening challenges, that of American hegemony.