How reading shapes Ramadan

Many know Ramadan as a time of fasting, but it’s just as much a time of reading, writes Aliyah Umm Raiyaan, author of Ramadan Reflections and The Power of Du'a. Here, she discusses how supplementing her reading of the Qur’an helps her be more reflective.

Aliyah Umm Raiyaan
Illustration: Selman Hoşgör

Whether or not you’re a Muslim, the first thing that probably comes to mind when Ramadan is mentioned is the abstinence of food and drink. And whilst yes, Muslims are required to fast between dawn and dusk, there is something else significant that most do not attribute to this special month: reading.

Ramadan is a month of reading. It is a month of The Book – the Qur’an. Reading in Ramadan is so intrinsically rooted to the very reason fasting in Ramadan is prescribed for Muslims. As Allah says in the Qur’an: “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop God-consciousness” (Quran 2:183).

God-consciousness is the single aim of Ramadan, and reading is a vehicle that helps the fasting Muslim arrive at such a spiritual lofty station. The revelation of the Qur’an began to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the lunar month of Ramadan in 610 AD. And during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him), every year as per a report from one of his companions, “would review the Qur’an once every year in Ramadan...”

The Islamic Scholar Ibn Kathir explained why the angel Jibreel would review the Qur’an with the Prophet (peace be upon him). He writes that Jibreel “checked it to make sure that it was exactly as he had brought it down to him from Allah, may He be exalted, so that what was meant to remain would remain and what had been abrogated would not remain. This review was by way of verifying, ensuring and preserving.”

The reviewing – that is, reading – the Qur’an was for the purpose of preservation. And yet, built into this is a lesson for Muslims who are also encouraged to read and review the Qur’an in Ramadan – not only for preservation in the long line of those who have memorised the Qur’an in its original form, but also for purpose and meaning. Any book read once is a fresh new experience, but a book read more than once will provide the reader with further insight, new messages and depth of meaning. Muslims around the world know this to be true –  with every reading of the Qur’an, certain passages resonate more than others depending on one’s individual circumstances in life and a verse that has been read countless times provides a new perspective of faith and life.

I invite you to picture something: billions of Muslims around the world, with all of their differences in race, gender, age, nationality, culture and language, reading, listening and reviewing the same book during the same month of the year. How truly profound! Here we are, billions of readers who share one aim: to spend time with one book, and to complete the reading of it in the 29 to 30 days that make up the month of Ramadan, to engage with it, read between the lines and discover the linguistic and literal treasures therein.

In the last 5 to 10 years, there has been an increase in the demand of Ramadan-related books for children and adults. From child-friendly stories about the much-anticipated iftar (dusk meal) and books that encourage children to perform good deeds to books aimed at young adults plus that delve deep into the understanding of Allah’s 99 Names and Attributes, there is a hope that additional reading to the Qur’an will develop that aim to become more conscious of Allah.

For myself, there are a number of books I have read in the lead-up to Ramadan and during Ramadan that have led to a more prepared and spiritually fulfilling Ramadan. An example is the well-known book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey; my personal goal for Ramadan is to become effective in my worship and in my intention of becoming more aware of Allah in the routine of my daily life.

'Any book read once is a fresh new experience, but a book read more than once will provide the reader with further insight and depth of meaning'

Two of Stephen’s habits presented in his book – “Begin with the End in Mind” and “Put First Things First” – have been crucial in my pursuit of organising myself well so that I achieve focus for the month ahead. Knowing Ramadan is only 29 to 30 days, through reading I learned the importance of prioritisation – scheduling the most important things first that lead me to the consciousness of Allah and then, if there’s time, scheduling the smaller non-important tasks. This helps ensure that I am, in this month (which passes by ever so quickly) my most spiritually productive.

One would assume a non-faith-based book could have no place in what is a deeply spiritual Islamic month, but it just goes to show that reading a wide variety of books that align with your individual needs for the universal goal of spiritually journeying to Allah can fall under an array of genres!

I have also taken so much benefit from Islamic books that I have read in the Ramadans I have experienced since converting to Islam. From the Tafsir (Explanation) of the Quran by As-Sadi which provides a non-Arabic speaker like myself, with an English understanding of the words of Allah to the poem in the book The Exquisite Pearl – which explains a classical Arabic poem about the states and stations the heart arrives at as it journeys to Allah.

Reading of the Qur’an in Ramadan will always be a priority, as Muslims strive to emulate the actions of our beloved Prophet. But the idea of reading other books in Ramadan, to supplement that reading as a means to develop one’s awareness of Allah, is increasing over time.

I celebrate this increase, particularly by non-Arabic speaking members of the Muslim community. For in doing so, there has been a recognition of the importance of being pro-active believers who supplement their Qur’an reading (often in the Arabic language it was revealed in) and spiritual journey with other books to move their hearts to a greater level of recognition and submission to their Lord.

It beautifully aligns with the fact that Islam began with an invitation not to pray, or fast – but to “Read”.

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