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

The Qur’an as a Whole

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Although we may read from any part of the Quran we wish and take from it wisdom, the Quran is an inviolable whole in a more profound sense, which is important to take into account in trying to understand it. The Quran is unique in being utterly comprehensive in scope, free of contradictions or confusion, presented with great clarity for ordinary people to understand, easy to remember, and of the utmost integrity, both in the sense of being well-integrated and in the sense of being unimpeachable. If one thinks about it, these qualities are mind-boggling. But how can all this fit into a relatively small book, commonly printed at slightly over 600 pages of Arabic text?
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Is Allah “Personal,” “Impersonal,” or None of the Above?

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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)
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Allah Has No Gender

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That Allah has no gender should be obvious to all Muslims, for the Quran makes it clear that the Creator does not procreate, is neither created nor begotten, nor is there anything whatsoever similar to Him. He created male/female in His creation, but Allah has no equivalent and, as exemplified by the great names Al-Rahman, Al-Raheem, which, like the concepts of yin and yang, comprise both power and receptivity (in an abstract sense, female and male principles) in one Supreme Being. Continue reading

The Circle of Time

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One of the most important and yet illusory elements of human life is time. It begins for us when we are born and when time as we know it ends, this is signified by our death. So our concept of time is completely tied up, for us, with birth and death. But for Allah, who is neither born nor dies, time cannot be as we know it. For Allah, time has no boundaries. Many thinkers have thought of this as a circle. Continue reading

The Difference between Salat and Du’a: What is Prayer?

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When most people think of “Islamic prayer,” they picture rows of worshippers bowing and prostrating in unison, usually inside a mosque, facing Mecca (Makkah). But the act of worship pictured is salat, a specific act of worship with geophysical as well as body-language physical protocols, requiring a ritual ablution, preferably in water, prior to its performance. The word du’a, on the other hand, is equivalent in meaning to the English word “prayer,” which is simply “supplication.” To refer to salat as “prayer” is convenient, because there is no English equivalent, but inaccurate. Continue reading

The Green Quran

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The Quran has much to say about what we call environmental issues, about taking care of the earth. Fasad fi’l ard is usually translated “corruption on earth,” and one of its meanings is in fact corruption in the usual moral sense: cheating, bribery, promiscuity, abusive behavior, theft, oppression, political corruption, spree or senseless killing. But the term “fasad” also can refer to spoilage, as in spoiled vegetables or fruits. Or to something adulterated. Or pollution, such as environmental pollution. Why else would it be constantly called “corruption on earth?” Why mention this? We know corruption takes place on earth already. Continue reading