Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
From today, June 7, the holy month of Ramdhan begins in most of South Asia. In many parts of the world it began yesterday. The variation of a few hours is because of Islam’s lunar calendar which begins with the sighting of the crescent moon, which occurs at a gap of nearly a day in different regions. The difference is rarely of more than 24 hours.
The holy month has extraordinary significance in Muslim life across the globe. The Prophet (PBUH) used to prepare to welcome it right from Rajab. After that came the month of Shabaan, in which the Prophet’s (PBUH) preparations increased with prayers, supplications and remembrance of God. The Prophet (PBUH) said “Shabaan is my month and Ramdhan is Allah’s month.”
The ulama explain that every month is Allah’s, but the Prophet (PBUH) meant to say that he exerted at the utmost in preparation for Allah’s blessed month, Ramdhan, when He showers extraordinary blessings on the believers. It is for believers to get focused on the blessings and prepare to receive them even before the month begins.
The Prophet (PBUH) gave up nearly everything during the month and spent all his time in prayers and supplications. The donations to the poor that he gave in other months were increased considerably even to the point that virtually nothing was left for himself or his family. For him (and his followers) the month came as a time to learn sabr (patience and hope from God), compassion and helping others. Before the advent of Ramdhan he used to pray, in words similar to “God, make me reach Ramdhan.”
From this account we can guess how dear the month is to Muslims of every region, continent and colour. The significance of the month lies in many more things, not the least of it is that God’s Book, the holy Quran, descended in this month. It is the Book that is the lifeline of Islam and Muslims anywhere on earth. It was always so, will remain so till the Day of Judgment.
It was during this month that the historic battle of Badr was fought and won by a handful of half-starved, ill-clad, ill-equipped and ill-shod Muslims against well-fed, well-clothed, well-equipped enemies. This victory changed the status of Muslims from a persecuted and harassed minority group to a respected, equal and feared group of believers. From here the victory over Makkah and an end to persecution of Muslims in Arabia for all time to come was not far.
The month is heavy with significance, many of them obvious as described above. Others are hinted at in the Quran. There are still others experienced and observed by pious men and women immersed all the time in the recital of the Quranic text, dhikr and fikr (remembrance of God, recitation of holy words and meditation on God’s attributes), fast during the day and vigil at night. Each and every moment brings a great shower of God’s bounties.
The bounties of the month are innumerable, making it impossible to count them. Some, as said earlier in this article, are not readily apparent to the uninitiated. One of the most visible is the several-fold increase in the sustenance of the believers. This is visible to everyone, even to ordinary believers like most of you and me. People who have usually five items on their dinner table through eleven months of the year find that there are ten or twelve during Ramdhan. In poorer localities the well-off Muslims make sure that everything they eat in iftaar (breakfast at sunset), dinner and sehr (pre-dawn snack) also reach the poorer brethren and sisters. Richer Muslim countries try to help Muslims in poorer countries.
The Prophet (PBUH) said his Ummah is like a single person. If one part of the body has pain the whole body feels it. According to it, Muslims are brothers and sisters to one another. When the persecuted Muslims, driven out of Makkah to Madinah, each of the Muslims was adopted as a brother (akhi) by one Madinan Muslim (one Madinan akhi for each Makkan Muslim) under a muakhfat (brotherhood) agreement established by the Prophet (PBUH). Thus everybody got a brother to protect and cherish him and his family. This is also a month of renewal of the spirit of muakhfat between every Muslim.
The heavy downpour of rizq from Allah is clearly evident in richer Muslim countries where the well-off people carry every imaginable fruit, juice and cooked food to feed large congregations at mosques and public places. It is a glut of food and drink that everybody is free to partake of.
One of the most important bounties of Ramdhan comes in, most probably sometime between the 21st and 29th of Ramdhan on an odd date. It is a night called Lailatul Qadr (the night of power). This night of power is called so by God Himself as a night of vigil, prayers and dhikr of this one single night is “better than a thousand months” which means ibadat in this night is better than more than 80 years’ worship, a reward that no one can hope to get otherwise because most human lives are shorter than 80 years by a considerable margin. Grab this night and don’t let it go.
The month’s all three ashras (ten-day periods) are soaked in God’s grace. The first ashra is of rahmat (Mercy), which all of us need in life and after death. The second is maghfirat (God’s pardon), the value of which all of us know deep inside our hearts. The third is of nijaat (being saved from eternal damnation). The Prophet (PBUH) told Muslims to seek Lailatul Qadr (mainly) in the odd nights of the last ashra, that is on the night of 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th and 29th of the month.
All these ashras end with the sighting of the new moon heralding the beginning of a new month and end of Ramdhan. On this night God pardons the sins of innumerable believers saving them from eternal damnation. The next morning Muslims congregate in large numbers in festive mood, with contented hearts, in their best dress, thanking God for the mercy he had showered on them. On the Eid morning again God pardons innumerable believers, saving them from hell, “which they, with their sins, had ensured for themselves.”
The most wrenching part of all this is that the month of God’s Mercy passes too quickly, in almost a fifty. So, be alert. Don’t let it pass. Seize the moment.
Salaam and all the best wishes for the holy month.