There is a close relationship between the noble Qur’an and Ramadan. It was in this month in the fortieth year of his life in Makkah that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) had a dramatic encounter in the Cave of Hira’ with the archangel, Gabriel.
Inscribed for eternity on the lawhun mahfuz (the Well-guarded Tablet – 85:22), the Qur’an assumed its earthly form when its first few verses (96:1–5) were revealed to the Prophet in the solitude of the Cave. Thereafter, it was sent down over a period of 23 years to transform humanity by “bringing it out of darkness and into light” (65:11).
That first encounter in the Cave set humanity on a trajectory bringing it into conformity with Allah’s divine guidance. The Qur’an is our guide from the womb to the tomb; whenever Muslims have committed themselves to its teachings as exemplified by the noble Messenger, Allah has granted them victory.
Of course, the a priori requirement is the understanding of the noble Book. There was a time when Arabic was the dominant language of the world. People from all over the world, including Europe, learned Arabic to study at Islamic institutions.
This is not the case today. English has replaced Arabic as the universal language and instead of people, including Muslims, studying at Islamic institutions, they enroll in Western institutions.
Why is there this dramatic reversal in the fortune of Muslims? They have the entire Qur’an in their hand, the Sirah (life story of the Prophet) and the Sunnah (example) of the noble Messenger, and they recite the Qur’an in their homes and especially during Ramadan in tarawih prayers. So why doesn’t the recitation of the noble Book bring about the same transformational change in their lives that it did in the early days of Islam?
The simple answer is that most Muslims read the Qur’an for its undoubted blessings but not guidance. Every Ramadan, Muslims listen to the melodious recital of the Qur’an but the message does not penetrate their hearts because few understand it.
Understanding the Qur’an requires first and foremost a willingness to conform to Allah’s divine message. Short of learning Arabic, Muslims are left with understanding the divine message through translations in other languages.
Regrettably, most English translations fall short of conveying the divine message fully. To properly grasp the essence of the Qur’an, there is no substitute for a tafsir (exegesis). Until very recently, there were no tafsirs written directly in English. Those available were translated from their original Arabic or Urdu. Many of them are still not completed.
We draw attention to this fact because during this Ramadan, Muslims must not only listen to the recital of the Qur’an but also make an effort to understand it so that they can begin the process of applying the divine message to bring about the necessary transformation in their lives as well as the environments and cities in which they live.