Grammar helps you take a word for word translation and make sense of it. For instance, the word al-Kitab is a written text. The word Qur’an means that which is recited abundantly, is read frequently. In the Qur’an we see that different pointing words are paired with these two words – this Qur’an, and that Kitab. And this makes sense. At any time our written text is in a fixed place, in our bookbag, our iPad, in our car. It’s possible that we will be far away from our written copy of the text (otherwise known as the mushaf). But that which is read and recited, the Qur’an that is in the heart, that is always near, and we see that reflected in the pointing words used with these different words.
When we take a closer look we also notice the first place the word al-Quran is mentioned from the beginning of the Quran is in the verse about Ramadan. Before that the word that is used is al-Kitab. Because in Ramadan we recite Quran, abundantly, more than it is recited in the whole year. And so the first time we are introduced to this word is in this verse.
-Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda, Bayyinah Quran Intensive 2013
Today (Friday) is the third fast of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, in which Muslims worldwide fast from before sunrise to sunset for 30 days. It’s a month of reflection, prayer, personal transformation, charity and empathy, and a time that is much anticipated before it arrives. This year, there are two aspects of Ramadan I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of days.
1) Ramadan is a universally accessible experience.
For the past month I’ve been studying classical Arabic grammar in Dallas, Texas, and I returned to Vancouver the day before Ramadan began. The course was my first trip to the States, and over the month I learnt so much about mosques, the beauty of faith, Arabic grammar, the state of my own heart, and so much more. When it was possible, I tweeted reflections from our classes, and through messages and tweets I received that month, I realised that there were people across the United States and other parts of the world who were following our classes, and very much wished to be with us. Being part of such an incredible learning opportunity was a tremendous blessing and gift.
In contrast to that experience of traveling for a specific class, or other religious experiences such as the pilgrimage of Hajj or Umrah, it’s beautiful how Ramadan is something that is available to everyone. Regardless of time limitations or finances, everyone can, and is meant to change their routine, reflect on what they are doing, where they are going, and how they are personally striving to become better people. It is a gift that we don’t travel anywhere to experience Ramadan, it is just there waiting for us, and I hope I can take advantage of this month and make the most of it.
2) Ramadan asks us to figure out how you fit spirituality in your daily life
At the Arabic course I was taking, we had class from 8-3pm everyday, and then returned back to the mosque from 7-11pm for additional classes and reflection time. It was beautiful to have that window away from my daily life and to take time everyday to study, read Qur’an, pray with others and make personal supplications as well. The challenge when you leave such an experience is figuring out how to maintain the spiritual habits and your relationship with the Divine you’ve started to cultivate while you were away. The challenge is translating the learning you’ve done into your character and your life. The challenge is actually becoming a better person.
Ramadan is the opposite. In the midst of one’s daily routine of commuting, going to work, preparing meals, and whatever responsibilities make up your day, you challenge yourself to fast, to set goals of developing a better character, and finding time to connect with the Qur’an, reflect on its meanings. You challenge yourself to do good works, to give in charity, and to spend ample time in personal supplication. It’s a month of practical spirituality. It’s a challenge because you are sleep and food deprived, but a critical exercise because the character development in Ramadan occurs as your life continues around you. As a result, the habits you develop in Ramadan are hopefully habits you can continue once the month is done.
During my Arabic class, I struggled with whether or not I should blog about our experiences – partly because of time constraints and partly because in recent months I’ve been trying to figure out whether writing is a beneficial way to spend my time. In the DFW airport on Monday though, I walked through bookstores eager for something for the flight, and realised I couldn’t find anything that spoke to my experiences particularly well, and had a long think on the way home about writing. This month, I’m going to God willing, try and spend some time sharing Ramadan experiences and reflecting on the course I just took – hopefully there is something here that is of benefit. Till next time.