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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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, 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

Thikr Allah and the Human Soul

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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?
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The “Holy War” Lie

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Syria's Tragedy Exposes Dark Side of War

Syria’s Tragedy Exposes Dark Side of War

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”.

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Ramadan 1: The Meaning of Ramadan

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One could say Ramadan commemorates the tanzeel or sending down of the Qur’an, which occurred on the “Night of Power” or Laylat-ul-Qadr, a night the Quran describes as “better than a thousand months.” One fasts from the first thread of light of dawn until what the Qur’an mentions as “layl” or night, but which is usually interpreted as the first darkness, or sunset, although some wait longer to be sure it is really night. The fast includes not only food and drink (including water), but also abstention from profanity, smoking, sexual relations, and any other “impiety” such as lying, stealing, or fighting. War is prohibited except in actual self-defense. It is a sacred month, one of four, and the most sacred of all. Continue reading