SHAFAQNA – The question might sound childish … maybe even ignorant but what is Ramadan? By that I do not mean the mechanics of fasting – I am referring here to the religious symbolic of the holy month of Ramadan.
Of all the many duties and obligations set upon us by God, only the month of Ramadan belongs to Him, and Him alone. While prayers, and charity serve us, as they help connect us to Islam by tangibly anchoring us in our faith, Ramadan remains God’s …. But that does this even mean?
Many I’m sure will see in Ramadan an exercise in humility, a right of spiritual passage which enables us to experience empathy and mercy for others. A fasting of both the soul and the flesh, Ramadan also allows for our body to regenerate … a grand yearly reboot of the body and the mind if you will.
But surely Ramadan is more … surely Ramadan stands for more than an exercise in piety.
For me, and of course I can only speak for myself Ramadan’s meaning is best found in those events which took place during its month. It is in History I have found Ramadan’s true dimension. I realise of course that my truth only holds me, and cannot define others’ experience or understanding. Being neither a scholar, nor a cleric I cannot ambition to decipher Islam, only offer my opinion.
Two events I would say have marked Ramadan most of all: the Quran, and the death of the first Imam, and son-in-law to the Prophet Muhammad: Ali ibn Abutalib.
If we consider the words of the Prophet Muhammad: “I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate,” I would argue that the “birth” of the Quran, and “death” of our Imam during the month of Ramadan are divinely connected.
Just as knowledge descended upon the world during the night of power, so was its Custodian recalled during its nights. For many Muslims the Prophet Muhammad stands the embodiment of Islam, while Imam Ali, his most trusted and beloved regent, rose the Quran itself.
It is pertinent to remember that as the Quran was offered to the Prophet to tell the world, it was Imam Ali’s lips who best spoke its words, and enacted its wisdom. More pertinent still is that where the prophet of Islam stood perfected by God himself, Imam Ali’s faith was anchored on the Quran by faith alone – an act of sacrifice in itself, as he, best of all, transcended his imperfect nature to reach the divine.
The prophet himself rose Ali upon his blessed shoulders – an act which surely echoed both here on Earth, and the Heavens. Born in the heart of the Kaaba, Imam Ali’s life and character were shaped on, in, and around Islam. In many ways he became a living testament of God’s will – a light for those who chose to see.
Would it be then far fetch to assume that just as Muhammad’s prophethood was born during the month of Ramadan so was Ali’s Imamate. I which case the month of Ramadan speaks of Islam’s legitimacy as much as of its faith.
It was during the holy month of Ramadan too that a vile hand rose against our Imam, striking death at the heart of the community – that evil I doubt could ever be atoned for.
Islam’s first Imam died a martyr at the age of 63, on the 21st of the month of Ramadan, 40 A.H., after being mortally wounded by a Kharijite while praying in the mosque at Kufa.
In the face of evil his words were: “I thank thee O’ Lord for rewarding me with martyrdom. How kind and Gracious of Thee. May Thy Mercies further me to the Glory of Thy realm.”
Ramadan for me speaks of Imam Ali, it echoes of a life spent in the service of God, it speaks of a faith so perfect in its expression, and its strength it continues to guide the faithful across the centuries.
Maybe as you break your fast this Ramadan, you will spear a few prayers for Ali ibn Abutalib, the gate of Knowledge, and true Custodian of the Word.
By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna