With the advent of Ramadan, two diametrically opposite reactions are noticeable among Muslims. Those residing in the Muslim East, especially the affluent, simply switch off. Ramadan is a time for overindulgence at night, and sleeping during much of the day because, well, it is Ramadan. For the toiling masses there is no respite. At the other end of the spectrum, Muslims engage in reading the Qur’an as a way of enhancing their spirituality. Tarawih prayers are a special occasion during which the (Sunni) Muslims concentrate on listening to the recitation of the noble Qur’an. Arrangements are made for qurra’ (Qur’an reciters) to complete the entire Qur’an during tarawih prayers in this month.
This is commendable but not enough. Reading or listening to the recitation of the noble Qur’an is a meritorious act but that alone would not benefit Muslims unless they also make an effort to understand what is being recited. The Qur’an is a book of guidance — Allah (swt) Himself says so in the noble Book (2:02, 2:185 and many other ayat). Therefore, understanding what is being recited is incumbent upon Muslims. Only after understanding the message of the Qur’an will Muslims be able to implement it in their lives.
So what needs to be done? In this magazine, we have repeatedly stressed the point about understanding the message of the Qur’an as exemplified by the Sunnah and Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). We have not only written about it, we have also provided the tools for Muslims to do so. Through the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), we have published the first-ever tafsir written directly in the English language by Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi. Titled The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, 10 volumes of this monumental tafsir have already been published while the 11th volume is in press. Work on the next two volumes is also underway.
What is special about this tafsir? It is the first-ever attempt directly in the English language, which is considered a global language today. Other tafsirs available in English have been translated from different languages thus inevitably losing some of the flavor as well the accuracy of the original. With The Ascendant Qur’an, the muffasir conveys his understanding directly. More importantly, in The Ascendant Qur’an, Imam al-‘Asi links the message of the Qur’an to the contemporary age.
The Qur’an is Allah’s (swt) final revelation to all humanity and its message is applicable at all times and in all places. Thus, with advancement in human knowledge, many of the mysteries of the Qur’an are gradually revealed to us. However, what is striking about this tafsir is that it identifies the present-day Fir‘awns (Pharaohs), Qaruns, and Nimrods. These oppressors and tyrants were not just figures in history: they represented a mindset that still exists today. Unless we are able to identify their present-day equivalents, we would miss the message of the Qur’an.
The other important lesson that comes through clearly in this tafsir is the understanding of Allah’s (swt) power presence in man’s life. All power and authority belongs to Allah alone. Man is only His representative on earth to carry out His commands as revealed in the noble Qur’an. This task is performed by the special group of people identified in the Qur’an as al-ladhina amanu — the covenant-bearing Muslims. This group is totally committed to implementing Allah’s commands on earth. This also explains why there is not a single ayah in the Qur’an starting with the expression, ya ayyuha al-ladhina aslamu (O you who have acquiesced to Allah). Instead, the group is always addressed with the call, ya ayyuha al-ladhina amanu (O you who have made a firm commitment to Allah, that is, the covenant-bearing Muslims).
The word iman (faith-commitment), according to Imam al-‘Asi, is related to two other words: amanah (trust) and amn (security). Thus, the person with iman has accepted Allah’s Covenant or trust, and, therefore, shall have amn (peace and security from Allah’s corrective justice).
In His infinite mercy, Allah (swt) provides Muslims the opportunity in every Ramadan to engage His noble Book more intensely. After all, Ramadan and the Qur’an are intimately linked. It was in this month that the first few ayat were revealed to the noble Messenger (pbuh). Muslims would do well to engage the final message of Allah in earnest. The Ascendant Qur’an is thus an extremely important means to do so, especially for English-speaking Muslims as well as sincere non-Muslims searching for truth, and thus a meaningful existence (all 10 volumes of The Ascendant Qur’an are available from Crescent International at a special price of US$30/volume including shipping and handling anywhere in North America. Orders can also be placed through the ICIT digital library).
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).