One need only to see an aerial view of the Ka’aba in Makkah with Muslim pilgrims circling the central shrine in tawaf to recall how central the circle is in Islam. This is in effect the center of the Islamic world, and in a form of worship, the pilgrims or Hojjaj must circle it, thus also participating in the making of a circle. Now we recall that the architecture of the Quran is also circle-based, one could even say in three dimensions as in the shell of a chambered nautilus. But the scope of this discussion is so far reaching, the symbolism contained in Quranic architecture so profound, it may be more enlightening to include more graphics to do justice to the idea of dynamic symmetry in relationship to cycles, returning (to our Creator Allah), the creation, the divine Message itself, and last but not least (as you shall see in the Quran), us.
The Quran frequently refers to issues relating to Truth and lies; distinguishing between them is critical, in many ways the defining point of guidance. In fact, faith itself is predicated on that distinction, the purpose of the Quran and other divine revelations being to guide us to the truth and, as a part of that guidance, to help us recognize and avoid falsehood.
From Al-Nisa’ 4:105:
إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَآ إِلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ بِٱلْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ بِمَآ أَرَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ۚ وَلَا تَكُن لِّلْخَآئِنِينَ خَصِيمًا
We have sent down to you the Book with the Truth that you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you, and do not be an advocate for the treacherous.
We all know Ramadan as a sacred month of fasting and worship, of purification, of compassion and contrition. Looking at the meaning of the word “sacred” in English, it is not an exact translation of the Arabic word haram, which means “prohibited” or “protected by prohibitions” in a sense, but also it means “sacred” in the sense of being reverenced, which brings us to another word, taqwa. This word is mentioned frequently in varying grammatical forms, sometimes translated as “fear of God,” or “reverence.” I like the word “reverence,” because although there’s an element of fear and respect in reverence, it is of a particular kind, a willing attitude of one who appreciates the value and power and importance of that which is revered. It acts as fear of God in causing one to avoid doing anything that would incur God’s wrath, so it is a directed fear, and that involves the mind. The Quran also uses the word taqwa in the sense of “beware” or “be aware,” invoking mindfulness, whereas fear itself, expressed in a very different Arabic word khauf, is an emotional reaction that does not involve thinking or the mind.
Ramadan is first mentioned in the Quran as the month in which the Quran was sent, literally “sent down.” Thus its significance as a month of fasting (and other forms of abstention) is very closely related to the Quran. After all, the Quran is central to Islam; it is the sourcebook for the religion, for everything from jurisprudence to inspiration to wisdom of a more intellectual nature. It is a guide to life, in essence whose language and presentation is often allegorical or via parables or metaphor, all this being expressed in one Arabic word mathal.
Most people think of reason as associated with science and philosophy, not religion. Religion is associated with faith, which in turn is usually seen as opposed to reason, based on “leaps of faith” that circumvent reason or logical thought in order to jump to a religiously acceptable conclusion about important and basic questions that deal with the meaning and purpose of life. Yet here we find that the Quran enjoins Muslims to think, use their minds, to reason, and make an effort to comprehend. This is not a religion of blind faith.
The word thikr ذكر in Arabic encompasses layers of meaning, as do many Quranic words — no single English word can replace it in all instances, thus translations use various English words in different contexts. However, knowing that this is the same word helps in grasping the depth of the Quran.
It basically refers to “remembrance” or “bringing to mind” by means of words, and indeed thikr ذكر means also “to invoke” (powerful words/ names) or “say/ mention.” Thus when we say “ithkur Allah” (“ithkur” being a verb form of thikr), we mean to mention or invoke Allah and thus bring Him to mind. It has been translated “remind/ reminder.” But it also can mean simply “remember” or “bear in mind” or even “memorize,” as indicated by the context of its usage. The Quran itself is referred to as “thikr al-hakeem:” thikr (in this case, a book) which is wise, just, and balanced (hakeem), whose purpose is to bring the deeper truths about Allah and our purpose in life to our understanding.
“Remembrance” in English often implies recalling or commemorating something from the past, whereas thikr implies a “reminder” of something of which one was oblivious; something like a wake-up call from an oblivious state.
The Quran tells us that thikr Allah, both invoking His name(s) and remembering Him, is the greatest form of worship and also the most effective way to stay on the straight path:
Surat Al-ankabut 29:45
اتْلُ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ
“Recite what is inspired/ revealed to you of the Book, and maintain the salat (“contact prayer”—the formalized physical worship which has geo-astronomically determined time of day/ direction perimeters to maintain “contact” with Allah), for the salat prevents (or inhibits) immorality and vice; but certainly the remembrance of Allah (thikr Allah) is the greatest. And Allah knows everything you do.”
Why is thikr Allah the most important, even though salat (formal Islamic “prayer”) is one of the most crucial requirements for a Muslim? Is there some greater “power” in Allah’s name or the thought of Him?
The Quran is unequivocal and mubeen (perfectly clear) on the subject of war: it is prohibited to be fought as a means of converting people to Islam——
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
(Surat Albaqara 2:256)
There is no compulsion in religion; the proper way has been clearly distinguished from the wrong way. Whoever rejects evil, and believes in Allah, indeed he has taken grasp of the strongest hold that will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.
Islam, according to the Quran, does not permit the acceptance and adoption of a belief system to be by force. All true belief must be freely chosen from the heart. Free will is an essential component of faith. Allah prohibits forcing people to convert to a particular religion or to adopt a belief system. To force others to convert to Islam (or any belief, for that matter) is oppression, and hence incurs Allah’s wrath. Contrary to what is being promulgated by some, the above aya unequivocally states that such use of force is both “wrong” and “evil”.