This year, Ramadan will start in the last week of April. Given the current situation, it is likely to be a very different experience for most Muslims compared to their experience in previous years. Many Muslims, especially in North America, are already asking whether there will be taraweeh prayers during this year’s Ramadan. It is difficult to say what the situation might be in three to four weeks’ time but under the present circumstances, it is highly unlikely that there will be taraweeh prayers this year.
That, however, is not the end of the world. After all, taraweeh prayers are not fard (compulsory). In special circumstances, Muslims can offer even their fard salat at home, including avoiding gatherings for the weekly Jumuah salat. So why so much concern about taraweeh? One of the reasons, at least among “Sunni” Muslims, is that taraweeh prayers provide a nightly opportunity for communal gathering and to listen to the melodious recitation of the noble Qur’an.
No doubt, these are meritorious acts but Muslims should move beyond mere recitation or listening to the noble Qur’an and begin to take steps to understand it. The Qur’an itself states that it is a Book that has guidance for those with taqwa (2:02). To get guidance, however, one must first understand the message of the Qur’an.
Let us also recall the link between Ramadan and the noble Qur’an. It was in this month that the first few ayat were revealed from on high to the noble Messenger (pbuh) in the solitude of the Cave of Hira. The Qur’an refers to that night as Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power – 97:1–5) and Laylat al-Mubarakah (the Blessed Night – 44:02). It was on that night that Divine power placed weighty speech on the frail shoulders of humanity in order to guide it to the straight path.
While Ramadan and the noble Qur’an are intimately linked, the equally crucial link between the Qur’an and Muslims must also be revived. This means that the Qur’an must become our guide from the womb to tomb. Parrot-style recitation, as most Muslims do, will not suffice. The Qur’an has to be understood in order to implement its message in our lives.
We in the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) and Crescent International are not merely preaching this message. We practice what we preach. Towards this end, we have embarked on a very ambitious project of producing the first-ever tafsir in the English language. Titled, The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, 14 volumes have already been published and two more volumes are at an advanced stage.
The mufassir, Imam Muhammad al Asi, is one of the leading Qur’an scholars in North America. He is both a scholar and an activist. His life has been marked by incessant struggle for truth and justice and immense sacrifices. Alhamdulillah, he has never wavered in his commitment. Other ICIT members involved in this monumental project are equally committed Muslims. They have given great sacrifices. Some gave up lucrative careers to devote their lives to the struggle of Islam. They understand that Islamic work is not without sacrifices. This is what we learn from the Sunnah and the Seerah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). And since he is the best of exemplars (33:21), we are obliged to follow him.
While the tafsir project is underway, we have also embarked on another related project: a new English translation of the noble Qur’an. Imam al Asi has completed the translation. It is currently under review to ensure precision and accuracy. Again, a team of ICIT associates are involved in this painstaking work.
It may be asked, with so many English translations already available, is there need for another translation? The answer is ‘yes’. We would not have embarked on a new translation unless we felt it was needed. This can best be explained by reviewing different translations of ayah 51 from Surah al-Maida. Most translations render it as follows:
O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for friends. They are friends one to another… (Marmaduke Pickthall).
O you who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians as friends. They are but friends of one another… (Abdullah Yusufali)
O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya (friends, protectors, helpers etc.), they are but Auliya to one another… (Dr Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali & Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan)
O You who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another… (Muhammad Asad).
In the above translations, Yahud and Nasara are translated as ‘Jews’ and ‘Christians’. Is this what the Qur’an means? Let us look at how Imam al Asi translates the ayah.
O you who are securely committed [to Allah’s power]! Do not take the [political] Jews and the [political] Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another…
The rather careless translations of Yahud and Nasara as ‘Jews’ and ‘Christians’ without context and proper qualifiers has led the enemies of Islam to accuse Muslims of being hostile to non-Muslims.
A discerning reader will be able to immediately note several differences between the other translations compared to Imam al-Asi’s. First, he does not translate the expression, Ya ayyuha al-ladhina amanu as ‘O you who believe!’ Instead, he translates it as ‘O you who are securely committed [to Allah’s power]! This is an important distinction.
More crucially, he correctly identifies the Yahud and Nasara as not the average person of the Jewish or Christian faith. Rather, the Qur’anic reference is to their power elites—the political Jews and political Christians. This distinction is important. If Muslim men are allowed to marry righteous Jewish or Christian women, how can they be prohibited from taking them as “friends”? So, in today’s context, Yahud and Nasara would mean Zionists and imperialists.
There is one other point we would like to mention. All Islamic work needs resources. Muslims are always very generous in supporting the needy and destitute. This is admirable, but we also need to ask, why are there so many destitute people in the world, most of them Muslims? There is no shortage of resources. The reason is gross injustice. Unless we understand the root causes of our suffering, we will never be able to change our condition.
The ICIT relies on the support of individual Muslims that appreciate the value of such work. In early Islamic history, there used to be the Bait al Maal that helped the needy as well as supported scholars involved in such work. There was also the Islamic institution of Waqf. It still exists in some Muslim countries but such institutions are controlled by regimes that are responsible for our grim situation in the first place. They only support people that do their bidding. Hence, our appeal to individual Muslims for help and support.
In order to sustain such vital work, we need more Muslims to step forward. The work of the ICIT is part of the building blocks to recreate the Islamic civilization of the future.
The late Dr Kalim Siddiqui, whose 24th anniversary falls this month, had said: “Our task is to dream and work for the future—for a time when a new Muslim civilization will emerge—a dynamic, thriving, growing, healthy and happy civilization... In the meantime, we must plan and produce the pre-requisites for such a civilization.”
This is what we have embarked upon in the ICIT. We invite you to join and help us in this noble task.
(Donations can be made through Paypal or through ICIT website. All donations, big or small, will be gratefully acknowledged)