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.
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.
The days of Ramadan are flying by with so much to do, so little energy, and no time to write about it. Time and its fleeting nature is a topic the Quran discusses with some frequency, most often in reference to spending some of that time with thikr Allah, thinking about Allah, how we will meet Him in the Hereafter, and what we are doing to be better people, more compassionate and responsible. The difference between faith and denial is enormous——yet manifested in small ways, perhaps the change from one to the other could move a mountain, a change of mindset that may take a matter of seconds…
The first Sura of the Qur’an is al-Fatiha, or “the Opening.” It is short, consisting of 29 words arranged in seven ayat. Note the word for “verse,” when referring to the Qur’an, is aya (singular) or ayat (plural), and means “sign” or “signs.” This carries the sense of “miracle” as it does in English.
Surat Al-Qamar (The Moon): 54:17
“And We have made the Qur’an easy to remember; so are there any that will study it?” (17)
وَلَقَدۡ يَسَّرۡنَا ٱلۡقُرۡءَانَ لِلذِّكۡرِ فَهَلۡ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ۬ (١٧)
Note on 114 chambers: this stands for the 114 Suras of the Qur’an, which we shall see, during the course of this study, are arranged in the Qur’an in a very meaningful way. One can think of them, roughly, as chambers such as one sees in the chambered nautilus shell. This graphic comparison can be used as an aid to memorization as well as a gateway to comprehension and appreciation of the meaning and magnificence of this revelation, this message.
For Ramadan, I’ve decided to write an entry every day from my analysis of what I call Qur’anic architecture, that is, the structure and “design,” as well as what one could call “style,” of the Qur’an. As a revelation from Allah in Arabic to all humankind, the approach to this subject shall be one of reverence, but also intense interest in the deeper meaning of its content. Because for a book of this nature, style and content are necessarily closely related, this study is important, especially as I haven’t seen it done before.
The study will begin with some overall, general observations about which there is no issue or controversy, such as the general (and not strictly regular) decrease in length of the Suras from beginning to end, and the repetition of certain words and phrases. We will examine the significance of these and other structural elements carefully, bearing in mind that in this book, all elements are significant, especially the most prominent structural features. And where this will take us can only be, as we shall see, breathtaking.