Ramadan: Purification and Emptying Out

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As this most sacred of months, Ramadan, continues, we think about what it’s true meaning is. It’s about more than food and drink, because one must also abstain from certain bad behaviors, from slander and profanity, from committing any crimes such as vandalism or theft, from acting with cruelty to others such as bullying or mocking others, in person or online, openly or in secret. Not only must one abstain from sexual activity of any kind (and one considers that for Muslims this will be marital, lawful), but refrain oneself from any sexual thoughts or innuendos or behaviors that approach this area, including viewing materials online or in any way, shape or form. Even excess anger is prohibited. You get the idea. So it is a kind of emptying out of those things of this world that lead us away from thikr Allah, actively remembering Allah and calling upon Him and invoking His name while alert. It is a kind of purification.

The word zakat, which refers to the obligatory charity to be paid and distributed to the needy (who are defined specifically in the Quran), means “purification.” The idea is that one’s wealth or possessions, in excess of survival needs, should be shared with those who do not have the means to survive or who are in a state of deprivation of basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. If one has excess wealth and does not spend it on the needy in due proportion, one incurs Allah’s wrath.

Surat Fussilat 41:7 –
الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُم بِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ

Those who do not give zakat, and in the Hereafter they are disbelievers.

The preceding aya concludes with the condemnation of idolaters, which the above aya completes.

Ramadan has its own special zakat to be paid during the month, often towards the end of the month. This emphasizes the importance in this month of purification.

And what is exactly purification? It is a clearing up, an emptying out of our lower desires and impulses, a reining in of that which could separate us from Allah. Because in the Hereafter, there will be no more free will, no more time to do what would help us meet Allah on that Day, that unimaginable reckoning when all we will have are our deeds, and thoughts are counted as well, including intentions, so that those who worked hard and struggled to be accepted by Allah will find themselves in an unimaginable paradise from which they can never be deprived or removed. Those who rejected Allah’s presence and His revelations, whose attitude was to serve their own self-interests without compassion for others, those who worshipped anything other than Allah, including their own selves and desires as well as idols or saints whom they call upon instead of Allah, all those will be separated from Allah. And the Hereafter is a timeless realm where they will be locked into the consequences of what they did in their time of free will.

So purification is crucial to our ultimate survival. Of course one can deny that there is a Hereafter. But they won’t make it not come true. And the rewards of fasting in Ramadan are palpable even in this life: when we spend time in prayer and reading Quran, and rein in even the basic desire for food, there’s a bright spirit of support that comes from the ever-present Allah to shore us up and give us a taste of the joy and fulfillment of the believers when they find Allah has accepted them. And so it is indeed a holiday, a holy month where we put in our account for the next life what we have in this life, actions we take for Allah alone. And He has made it obligatory as a gift, to ensure that we may be motivated enough in this life with its temptations to purify ourselves for the next.

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Meaning vs Meaninglessness: How Islam Connects Us to Meaning

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The mathematical constants of our universe and their evidence that the universe is fine-tuned for life has been considered proof that the most reasonable explanation for the creation of the universe is not random events or necessity but design. And design means, essentially, God. Christians have taken this up and added further embellishments to support beliefs unrelated to the physics. The Quran however teaches that God “has no similitude”, the meaning of God defined as unlike anything or anyone else. This is the one fact that is revealed in the “fine-tuning” discovery. Truth-seekers would do well to consider that such a God would also communicate with the life God created: with divine revelation such as the Quran. 
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Quranic Architecture in Islam, Nature, and Ourselves

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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. Continue reading

The Quran’s Guidance on Truth, Lies, and Faith 

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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.

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Ramadan and Taqwa: The Purpose Of Fasting

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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. Continue reading

Ramadan, Honoring the Quran 

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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.  Continue reading

Quran’s FAQ: “Will You Not Use Your Minds?”

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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.
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