Ramadan, taqwa, and the noble Qur’an are intimately linked. The Qur’anic ayah that declares fasting has been mandated in the month of Ramadan says, “Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you so that you may guard yourselves against Allah’s corrective justice [that is, achieve taqwa]” (2:183).
We know from prophetic history that the noble Messenger (pbuh) received the first revelation in the solitude of the Grotto of Hira’ (outside Makkah) during this month. Allah (swt) says, “It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was [first] bestowed from on high as guidance to man…” (2:185), but it also emphasizes that only those with taqwa will be guided (2:02). Thus taqwa is a prerequisite for guidance.
In addition to fasting (refraining from food, drink, and other intakes during the day) Ramadan affords an opportunity for Muslims to engage the noble Book. While it should be done all year round, in Ramadan, most Muslims listen to the melodious recitation of the qurra’ during tarawih prayers.
Every opportunity to engage the noble Book should be welcomed. It is equally important to make much greater effort to understand the message of the Qur’an before it can be implemented in our lives to acquire taqwa and, therefore, proper guidance. Sadly, the vast majority of Muslims today are not familiar with the Arabic language in which the Qur’an was revealed. They are forced to rely on translations that attempt to communicate the divine message in such languages as English. Widespread use of the internet has also contributed to English translations becoming more easily accessible. While translations are helpful, they are not enough for understanding the Qur’an properly.
Muslims need to go much further. This is where the tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur’an comes in. It is interesting to note that while English today is a universal language, there has never been a tafsir of the Qur’an in English until recently. Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi’s tafsir, The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, is the first-ever tafsir written directly in English. Thus, it is not only unique and historic in this sense but he also relates the message of the Qur’an to the contemporary global situation. Since the Qur’an is Allah’s eternal Word to all humanity, its message is also applicable for all times and in all situations.
Published by the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), 12 volumes of the tafsir have now been printed; the 13th volume has just gone to press, with 14 and 15 anticipated by year’s end. When completed, the tafsir series will likely span 30–40 volumes. It will thus be an encyclopedia of the Qur’an.
Together with the print edition, the tafsir is also being serialized in the Crescent International newsmagazine. Additionally, all volumes are also available on the ICIT Digital Library platform (www.icit-digital.org). The ICIT Digital Library also has other literature, such as analytical material on the Sirah of the noble Messenger (saws) as well as most other ICIT/Crescent publications. Works of other scholars including the late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, Professor Hamid Algar, Imam Khomeini, Sayyid Qutb and a host of others are also available from the ICIT Digital Library. There are currently more than 30,000 articles, papers, books, etc. on the digital platform.
This is important because in the age of the internet, most people including Muslims find it easily accessible. While the internet can cause much confusion — and it has with unqualified people projecting half-baked ideas — putting cutting edge analysis on the net will enable Muslims and non-Muslims to access material from the primary sources of Islam: the noble Qur’an, the Sunnah and the Sirah. It is not an easy task; we have always been conscious of the enormity of the challenge that requires vast intellectual, material and manpower resources. We in the ICIT/Crescent International are committed to providing whatever is at our disposal — primarily our intellectual output but also endless hours of hard work — so that Muslims would be better equipped to meet the challenges of the contemporary world.
The challenge for all Muslims in this Ramadan is to move beyond mere recitation of the Qur’an and to try to understand its message. Imam al-‘Asi’s tafsir facilitates this. Even if a little of the divine message is properly understood each day it will help open new insights and enable us to begin to implement the divine message in our lives. It is through such implementation that we would be able to assume our proper role as guides to humanity.
The savage people of Arabia, described as jahils in the noble Qur’an, were transformed into the most upright human beings on earth through the message of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and Sirah of the noble Messenger. The same transformative opportunity awaits us if we grasp the divine message properly and begin to implement it in our lives.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).