12 October 2019 / 13 Saffar 1441
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RAMADAN, the great lunar month of fasting, reflection and renewal, is also the month of the Qur’an. It is regarded as the month of Qur’an due to its first words being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad [saw] on its 27th night.
This occurred in a mountain cave outside Makkah over 1,400 years ago. This was when the Angel Jibril descended from the heavens, his shining wings covering the sky, to speak to the Prophet [saw] for the first time.
Ramadan is a name originated from the root Arabic word “ramada”, which means to scorch the earth – a reference to the blazing Hijazi summer sun.
The figurative meaning of Ramadan refers to the effects the fast has on the soul. The fast, or siyam, burns away its undesirable traits such as arrogance, lust, greed, stinginess and ill-feeling. In turn, these traits are replaced by humility, restraint, compassion and generosity.
Another of Ramadan’s focuses is the recitation of Qur’an’s 114 chapters over its 29 to 30 nights, whether in private, or in the company of imams reciting its verses in the tarawih prayers at a local mosque.
Historically, Ramadan has an encompassing significance for the history of human revelation.
Traditions tell us that on its first night, a scripture was revealed to Ibrahim [as], that on its sixth night the Torah was revealed to Musa [as], that on its 13th night the Injil was revealed to ‘Isa [as] and that on its 18th night, the Zabur was revealed to Dawud [as].
Indeed, the revelations given to the biblical prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and David are all mentioned in the Qur’an. The Old Testament is referred to 18 times, the Gospel 13 times and the Psalms eleven times. The Qur’an does not mention the name of the scripture revealed to Abraham.
A relationship with the old texts is immediately fostered when Surat ul-Baqarah, the first chapter of the Qur’an and a long one, with myriad meanings and 286 verses, is recited. One of its first topics is the people of Moses, the Bani Isra’il. Normally, during Ramadan this Qur’anic chapter is recited with great speed.
But on studied reflection, the most insightful messages leap from the pages when we actively search for them. Zakah, which is our primary focus here, is mentioned in the context of the Bani Isra’il as early as the 43rd verse, and accorded an importance second only to prayer. This line appears against the context of Allah reminding the Bani Isra’il not to forget His Covenant with them.
The next mention is in verse 83: “…worship Allah alone, care for parents, orphans and the needy; speak kindly to people; perform the prayer and give Zakah…”
Here Allah, still mindful of the Israelite Covenant, broadens the scope of His Message. Whilst the verse is khass, or specific to the Bani Isra’il, it does tell us all who we should be as human beings when expending Zakah: we have to be God-conscious and compassionate to those around us.
The real virtue of the God-conscious human spirit is given a further contextualisation in verse 177:
“Righteousness is not turning your faces towards the east or the west during the prayer, righteousness is believing in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the revealed books and the prophets; spending wealth for the love of Allah on …orphans, the traveller, the needy, beggars and freeing slaves; it is performing prayer and paying Zakah…”
It is interesting to note how Zakah as a social institution is mentioned so early on in the Qur’an. This obviously points to its huge significance. What makes it emphatic is that each time “Zakah” is used in the text, and not another word. In addition, the grammatical construction is almost identical in each three cases – which linguistically accentuates its repetition.
In addition, charity is referred to generically a further 14 times in Surat ul-Baqarah. We are reminded of our conduct to those less fortunate than ourselves.
A verse in the Surah (264) expressly reminds us not to ever humiliate others by reminding them of our charity. If we do this, says Allah, we invalidate our good works. Another verse (267) emphasises that those who give charity should not give away shoddy goods, or things they wouldn’t use themselves.
Given the context of our modern times with rising poverty, unemployment, social despair and anger, the opening chapter of the Qur’an is deeply profound with its early emphasis on charity and the specific mention of “Zakah”. If anything, Zakah is mentioned here as a blueprint for future stability – it’s almost as if Allah is saying: please, dear believer, take note!