Against the backdrop of VICPP team members observing the holiest days of their different faith traditions, VICPP Director of Communications Ayesha Gilani Taylor offers her perspective in a blog post as a Muslim observing Ramadan. Framed by the interfaith aspects of Ramadan, the Holy Quran, and Islam in general, she writes of the significance and history of the holy month, how it relates to other faiths and Scripture, and what it all means to her in her worship and work.
“Right now, there are at least 4.3 billion people across this Earth (as recorded in 2020) who identify with a religion that centers on worshiping the same Creator and similar principles. Many followers of those faiths are currently observing the most widely observed, holiest rituals of their respective religions. (Of course, not all people who identify with the same religion practice in the same ways because they are not a monolith.) That’s well over half of the human population. There is something profoundly unifying and humbling about this. So what does this all mean and how does it pertain to how Muslims observe Ramadan? I found the road map for my personal spiritual journey and soul purpose in the Quran.”
Read on, reader.
The other day, I was casually conversing with my Catholic colleague-turned-friend, Sheila. (Spoiler alert: all my VICPP teammates are colleagues-turned-friends. If you’ve had the pleasure of knowing these awesome humans personally, you get why.) Sheila and I were chatting about her plans for observance of Lent and mine for observance of Ramadan, when I mentioned that the Muslim holy Book, the Holy Quran, is believed by Muslims to have been first revealed in Ramadan. I went on to explain how it’s stated multiple times in the Quran that it was sent down as a clear proof to confirm the Holy Books that had been sent down before it. Sheila, like all my colleagues, is pretty knowledgeable about many things, especially religion, so when she mentioned that she hadn’t known that, I began to think about how many people don’t realize the extent of the interconnectedness of Islam. Outside of the circle of advocates and faith leaders I get to work with, this, the world’s fastest growing religion is one that people hear about in the media constantly, but for the wrong (and mostly false) reasons. For many Muslims, the Holy Quran is interfaith harmony. And given that this holiest of months, Ramadan, is when we Muslims believe that the Quran – as well as the Holy Books preceding it – were first revealed, what better time than now to bring it up?
For starters, the Quran mentions the earlier Books many times. Here’s just one mention:
“It is He (God) Who has sent down the Book (the Qur’an) to you (Prophet Muhammad) with truth, confirming what came before it. And He sent down the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel).”
The revered 14th century Islamic scholar known as Ibn Kathir stated that it was narrated that “Allah’s Messenger Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
‘The Suhuf (Tablets) of Ibrahim (Abraham) were revealed during the first night of Ramadan. The Taurat (Torah) was revealed during the sixth night of Ramadan. The Injeel (Gospel) was revealed during the thirteenth night of Ramadan. The Zabur (Psalms of David) were revealed on the eighteenth of Ramadan. And Allah revealed the Qur’an on the twenty-fourth night of Ramadan.’”
(Hadiths: Ahmad 4:107 and Musnad #177025).
It has also been said that the 14th century Muslim theologian known as Imam ibn al Qayyim said that Prophet Moses, peace be upon him (PBUH), received the largest revelation, the Torah. The Quran is believed by many Muslim scholars to have been sent down to confirm that which God had revealed before it in the above-mentioned Books, and thus didn’t need to be as detailed in recounting the stories that were already detailed in said previous Books. Scholars also believe that the Quran is said to have been composed by God in a format that is easy to memorize and so is not as thick as the Torah in the Torah’s original form.
For this (and many other) reason(s), the Holy Quran, the Torah, the Gospel, the Old Testament, and the Psalms of David are in their original forms studied by Muslim scholars as pieces of the same Divine Message. To me, the core messages of these Holy Books and the faiths of their followers are the embodiment of interfaith harmony. I believe that’s what God intended for all of humanity across all faiths and peoples. This looks like: respecting the beliefs and values of people whose traditions and religions differ from one’s own, understanding the differences, and uniting through compassion and shared values of love, hope, peace, life, and justice.
Personally, I especially love when our shared values manifest through the overlap of different faiths’ sacred rituals.
This year, in particular, Muslims are joined in fasting, feasting, focus, and steadfast devotion by our Christian and Jewish siblings in faith who are observing Holy Week, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, and Passover as Muslims approach the last ten days of Ramadan which are the holiest days of the Islamic year. In other words, right now, there are at least 4.3 billion people across this Earth (as recorded in 2020) who identify with a religion that centers on worshiping the same Creator and similar principles. Many followers of those faiths are currently observing the most widely observed, holiest rituals of their respective religions. (Of course, not all people who identify with the same religion practice in the same ways because they are not a monolith.) That’s well over half of the human population. There is something profoundly unifying and humbling about this. In my own belief and practice, such unity amongst humans is what God intended for his Creation. In all of His Books, he has told us that Loving His Creation is how we love and honor Him. Personally, that same interfaith connection is what lights the candle in my heart and gives me continued hope for us all to keep striving towards creating the beloved community.
“Ramadan is the springtime of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions.”
Rabbi Allen S. Maller, Times of Israel
There’s a hadith, which is an ethical instruction relayed through the recorded sayings and practices of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him (PBUH), which says the following:
“Verily, God, the exalted and glorious, will say on the Day of Resurrection:
‘O son of Adam, I was sick and you did not visit Me.’
He (Adam) will say: ‘O my Lord, how could I visit Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?’
Thereupon He will say. ‘Didn’t you know that a certain servant of Mine was sick, but you did not visit him, and were you not aware that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food but you did not feed Me.’
He (Adam) will say: ‘O my Lord, how could I feed Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?’
Thereupon He will say. ‘Didn’t you know that a certain servant of Mine asked you for food, but you did not feed him, and were you not aware that if you had fed him, you would have found him by My side? (The Lord will again say:) O son of Adam, I asked you for something to drink but you did not provide Me with any.’
He (Adam) will say: ‘O my Lord, how could I provide Thee with something to drink when Thou art the Lord of the worlds?’
Thereupon He will say. ‘A certain servant of Mine asked you for a drink, but you did not provide him with one, and had you provided him with a drink you would have found him near Me.’”
(Narrated by one of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) companions Abu Huraira, in Muslim Hadith #6232.)
If you’re Christian or familiar with Scripture, this probably sounds familiar. In fact, it is (as are numerous other hadiths) almost identical to one of the ethical teachings of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) in the New Testament in which a similar story was told:
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ’You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’
Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “
Surah Baqarah, verse 177 – My personal spiritual journey road map
So what does this all mean and how does it pertain to how many Muslims observe Ramadan? Chapter 2, Surah Baqarah, of the Quran says:
“Fasting was prescribed upon you the way it was prescribed to those before you so that you may attain taqwa, so that you may attain piety.”
Taqwa, God-consciousness, piety. How does one define piety and God-consciousness in the Islamic sense? What does that “perfection” of faith that many Muslims strive to attain in Ramadan — and throughout their lifetimes — look like? For me, it aligns with what it takes to be a decent human being overall. I found what I consider the definition of the type of Muslim and human being I strive to emulate, my road map for my personal spiritual journey and soul purpose, in the words of the Quran. Here is an excerpt which is found just a few verses before the above-referenced one:
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west.
But true righteousness is in one who believes in: God,
The Last Day (Day of Judgment/Resurrection),
The Book and the Prophets,
And gives well in spite of love for it
To relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler,
Those whose ask for help and for freeing slaves,
And who establishes prayer and gives Zakah (a portion of one’s income given in charity to the poor),
Those who fulfill their promise when they promise,
And those who are patient in poverty and hardship
And during battle.
Those are the ones who have been true,
And it is those who are the righteous.”
During Ramadan, many Muslims strive to embody the highest degree of will power, commitment, devotion, focus, and self-control. No matter from what walks of life we come, or of what our daily routines consist, this month it’s all put on the back burner to give way for prioritizing the Most High’s universal message to live righteously, selflessly, and God-consciously. Far and wide, Muslims who are healthy and well enough begin our fasts before sunrise after a pre-dawn meal we call suhoor, and break fast at the sunset hour with a meal called iftar. We focus on perfecting (or, I should say, bettering, for I believe God lovingly created humans as perfectly imperfect creatures) our adherence to our faith. We offer ritual prayer five (or more) times a day, read and meditate over the messages of the Holy Quran, congregate at Friday prayers. We work on trying to master our nafs, which can be loosely defined as ego or self in its lowest form. (Many scholars consider its Biblical Hebrew counterpart to be nephesh.) We try to be more intentional in almsgiving and giving Zakah, which is an obligatory portion of income that must be given each year to those who have less than we have. It is during this month that Muslims around the globe come together through a shared vision and focus.
In a fitting illustration of its beauty and of its unifying tenets of love, peace, and righteousness, this Ramadan is a time of spiritual rejuvenation and profound devotion for Muslims and for my siblings in faith. I think Rabbi Allen S. Maller, author of Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms, summed it up pretty well when he wrote in the Times of Israel that “Ramadan is the springtime of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions.”
To all who are observing their holiest of days in the coming days, I wish you success in your endeavors both worldly and spiritual.
Chag Sameach, Blessings of Lent, Good Friday Blessings, Happy Easter, and Ramadan Mubarak!
Stay tuned for more My Ramadan, My Islam blog posts by Ayesha. To be continued…
How do you observe your faith tradition’s holy days? How does your practice differ from the more commonly practiced faiths and rituals? What are your thoughts on my thoughts shared above? Have feedback?
Pray tell! I’d love to hear from you. Email me at: ayeshaGT@virginiainterfaithcenter.org