As Muslims approach the blessed month of Ramadan, it would be well to remember that it is not merely a month during which we are required to go without food or drink for a prescribed number of hours each day. Ramadan is special for many reasons; it was in this month that the first revelations of the noble Qur'an were brought to the Messenger of Allah (saw) in the solitude of the cave. Similarly, Allah says that it was in this month that the Qur'an – the transcendent Word of Allah preserved from eternity in the Lawh-e Mahfooz (the Well-Guarded Tablet) – was sent in its earthly form as guidance to all humanity till eternity (Al-Qur'an: 85:22) .
A number of important landmarks in Islamic history are associated with the month of Ramadan. In the second year of the Hijra, the nascent Muslim community was tested by the Battle of Badr during this month. Despite being outnumbered three to one, the Muslims emerged victorious. Badr may be considered the most crucial victory in the history of Islam, for defeat for the Muslims then would have dealt an immense blow to the Prophetic mission. The early Muslims were tested in battle on numerous subsequent occasions, tasting defeat as well as further victories, but because they persevered they ultimately triumphed over all their enemies. The greatest victory occurred with the liberation of Makkah, referred to as Umm al-Qurra (the Mother of all cities), in the eighth year of the Hijra. Muslims entered Makkah triumphant, not only liberating it from the clutches of the Quraishi mushriks but also cleansing the Ka‘aba of the idolatrous accretions that had polluted its sacred precincts for generations. Makkah is central to the ethos of Islam; today other kinds of idols pollute its environs, including monarchy, tribalism and nationalism. It now requires cleansing yet again, but this will not be possible without its liberation from the clutches of the modern-day successors of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab. This is also a prerequisite for the arrest and reversal of the wayward drift of Islamic history.
Ramadan is the month of jihad in all its manifestations. While the crusading West has made jihad (like many other Islamic terms) a dirty word, it was the spirit of sacrifice shared by the early Muslims that helped them overcome enormous difficulties. The fasts of Ramadan do not only involve going hungry and thirsty for a few hours; they are also intended to teach social consciousness and solidarity. The Prophet (saw) said that the fast of a community breaking the fast while one among them is hungry will not be accepted. Imam Husain (ra), his illustrious grandson, said when asked about Ramadan: "It is that the rich should feel the pangs of hunger and appreciate what the poor have to endure and, therefore, share Allah's bounties with them." Ramadan is the month of caring and sharing and therefore of giving. It is also in this month that Muslims traditionally give zakah in order to purify the wealth they have accumulated during the previous twelve months.
Ramadan, however, must be seen primarily as the month of struggle and jihad, both internally as well as externally. As Muslims continue to struggle against oppression in many parts of the world — Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Kashmir — it becomes incumbent upon all Muslims to share in their pain and suffering. Ramadan should spur us to redouble our efforts to help in their struggles for liberation and dignified existence. Islam is not a deen that provides individuals with a quick pass to Paradise if they perform a few rituals, such as going hungry or offering additional prayers, important as these are. Islam is Allah's choice for humanity; in its basic sense it means total submission to Him. An important dimension of this submission is helping those who are in need or who are subject to suffering and persecution. The grave plight of Muslims worldwide should make it easier to understand what we have to do. This Ramadan, we must resist the temptation to organize grand iftar parties, and reflect instead on our responsibilities to our fellow Muslims, and to suffering humanity at large. The problem is not a shortage of resources but of understanding and willingness to help and share.