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.
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.
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…
After hearing so much horrific news about happenings in the Muslim world, particularly the oppressive actions of dictators who torture Innocent citizens— men, women, and children — and prevent Muslims from worshipping in mosques, as well as the slaughter of innocent civilians and destruction of their homes and lives by armies, police, and whole governments, I paced for hours in a state of unbearable rage, until the time came for salat al-asr (afternoon worship).