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.
A not-infrequent complaint from Christians about Islam is that the Islamic idea of Allah is not personal enough. Another complaint from people in arguments against religion generally is that God is too impersonal. There is this general belief that God created the universe (if they even believe that), then left it alone to fend for itself, retiring into abstract glory to answer, perhaps, a prayer or two. The first idea, of a personal God, seems based on human interpersonal relations. The second on possibly kings or dictators. Neither idea is true of Allah, the Almighty, All-Merciful, who describes Himself in the Quran as being “closer than your jugular vein.” (Surat Qaf 50:16)