The month of Ramadan is in fact an annual invitation, given by the Creator to human beings to shed their selfish, greedy, wicked and arrogant ways and instead put on the garb of humility; that is, to adopt the discipline of self-restraint and self-control. As the Qur’an teaches, "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint’ (2:183).
During the month of Ramadan also falls the night of al-Qadar on which day the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Qur’an says, "Ramadan is [also] the month in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for humanity and with clear proof for that guidance, and the criterion [Furqan] for distinguishing right from wrong." (2:185) It was the Qur’an, not the ritual of fasting, that was to transform Arab society and forever change the course of human history. It was addressed to men and women alike to empower them with new knowledge, wisdom, and enlightenment to combat darkness, ignorance, poverty, human degradation, injustice, inequality, racism, gender barriers, greed, and power-lust on the earth. "He is the One who sends down to His servant clear revelations, in order to lead you out of the darkness into the light." (57:9)
The message was directly addressed to people to tell them of God (Allah), of His attributes, of how He rules over the entire cosmos and its history, of how He relates Himself to you, and how you should relate to Him, to yourself, to your fellow human beings, and to every other creature in existence. The Qur’an tells us that it is the "light" (nur) that guides us daily. It is the healing (shifa’) for our inner soul-sickness, as well as for the external social ills that surround us, and it is the constant reminder (dhkir) of our true nature and of our duties toward Allah, self and others. "There shall come to you Guidance from Me, and whosoever follows My guidance no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow." (Baqarah 2: 38)
The Qur’an is also an ethical guide that sets forth normative ideals of thinking and behaviour for all human beings, in all times and places. "We have brought them a Book that is fully detailed, with knowledge, guidance, and mercy for the people who believe." (7:52)
Muslims tend to believe that Qur’anic guidance is for them only, but this is a misguided view because the Qur’an itself says: "Wherewith Allah guides all who seek His Good pleasure to ways of peace and safety and leads them out of darkness." (5:16) At another place it says that it is a guidance and instruction for those who are conscious of Allah (3:138). Thus the message of Allah is universal and infinite.
During this month, Muslims all over the world will devote a great deal of time to reading and reciting the verses of the Qur’an. The emphasis one gathers from what most religious scholars say is primarily to read those verses with religious fervour and not to distract ourselves by asking questions, such as: What are we gaining by reading the Qur’an? Are we learning anything by this exercise, however sacred it may be? Has it taught us knowledge and wisdom to guide us in doing what is right and avoiding all that is wrong? Unfortunately, for many Muslims, the Qur’an has become no more than a sacred fossil, to be read without understanding, or something magic, like blessings without wisdom and action.
Yet on almost every page of the Qur’an the reader is invited to use reason, reflection and understanding. It asks: Why do you not hear? Why do you not see? Why do you not think? Why do you not reason? Why do you not ponder? Why do you not understand? Why do you not take what you read to heart?
To whom are these challenging invitations addressed, if not to every human being who possesses the faculties of hearing, seeing and thinking? "A Book We have sent down, [it is] full of blessings, that people may ponder over its messages, and those who possess understanding may take them to heart.’ (38: 29).
Today we have the same Qur’an as the one first revealed to Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an tells us, "Verily, We Ourselves have sent down this Exhortation, and most surely We will be its Guardian." (15:10) Millions of copies are in circulation, read and recited daily by millions and millions of Muslims all over the world. Down through history, voluminous exegetical works have been written expounding its meaning in depth. Words are still poured out, in a seemingly endless stream, to explain the details of its teachings and to exhort us to live by them, yet so many hearts remain unmoved, so many minds remain untouched, and so many lives remain unchanged.
All over the world we find Muslims who claim that they believe in the Qur’an and yet we see them humiliated in more then one way. They are occupied, controlled, starved, slaughtered, tortured, their religion denigrated and they are treated with contempt and disregard.
Can the Qur’an again become as relevant and powerful a force as it was for the early followers whom it inspired and to whom it provided a basis and direction for all their ethical values and worldly endeavours? This is the most crucial question that we must answer if we wish to shape our destiny afresh and unhindered under its guidance.
The Qur’an claims that its guidance has eternal relevance for all people in all times, being the word of the Eternal God.
For the truth of this claim, it seems to me, that it must be possible for us to receive, experience and understand the Qur’an as its first recipient did. I believe that we almost have the right to this possibility of receiving His guidance in its entirety and His blessings. In other words, despite the fact of its revelation in a particular language, at a particular time and place we should be capable of receiving its pristine message and making it an integral part of our lives — just as it was for the early believers — and applying it with the same urgency and relevance to our current situation and experience.
It is only then that the Qur’an will cease existing as a religious relic and be restored to us as a mighty force, stirring, moving and guiding us to deeper and higher accomplishments in this world and for the hereafter.
We are living in a time when the need to center our lives on the Qur’an and its teaching is not only urgent but it is a must. Without the Qur’an in our lives, we Muslims will never truly be ourselves, never give meaning to our existence, will not find dignity in this world, and will not please our Creator. More importantly, without this guidance, the human beings too will continue to slide downward into hate, darkness, and the abyss of total annihilation. It is up to us.