Ramadan is more than just the month of fasting or personal piety. It recalls the past, taking one to the very foundations of Islam, and prods one to mull over the significance of historic occasions such as the battle of Badr and the conquest of Makkah. It is the month, therefore, of celebration, thanksgiving and reflection.
If there is one month that can be designated the Islamic history month, it has to be Ramadan. Traditionally known as the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan is rooted in Islamic history. It is the month for striving against oneself and conquering one's will, but it is also the month marked by the most significant external struggles and triumphs in the history of Islam, namely the battle of Badr and the conquest of Makkah (Mecca).
Ramadan's significance derives primarily from the fact that it is the month when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad . The Quran records the event: "The month of Ramadan is when the Quran was sent down as a guidance for mankind, with explanations for guidance and as a standard". Muslims recall how Prophet Muhammad received the very first revelation - "Read in the name of your Lord..." - while meditating alone high up in the mountains around Makkah.
The verse that actually deals with fasting - "...fasting has been prescribed for you, just as it was prescribed for those before you..." - also reminds one of the past ("those before you"). So both the commencement of revelation and the order to fast takes one back to the very roots of Islam and highlights the past that is sometimes forgotten. The references to the past, are mentioned in the Quran as constant reminders.
The Battle of Badr took place on Ramadan 17, 2 AH (624 AD). For years Muslims had been persecuted in Makkah and were still pursued, harassed and attacked even when they had migrated to Madinah (Medina). After two years this conflict culminated in the Battle of Badr, named thus because of the locality where the battle took place. Badr is towards the south west of Madinah and lies between Madinah and Makkah.
The Quran refers to the day of the Battle of Badr as Yawm al-Furqan, the Day of Distinction between belief and disbelief. It is also interpreted as the Day of Testing for Muslims. Against all odds, the meager Muslims defeated the strong non-Muslim force on Ramadan 17. The nascent Muslim community survived this crucial encounter and thereafter gained continuous momentum and strength.
The second great Islamic event that took place in Ramadan was Fatah Makkah (the conquest of Makkah) on Ramadan 20, 8 AH (630 AD) when Muslims victoriously entered the city after being forced into exile for eight years and after 21 years of long struggle. This event marked the ultimate victory of the Islamic forces in Arabia and marked the beginning of a new era in the history of mankind.
The conquest of Makkah takes one even further back in time. Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and his son Ismael had purified and raised the foundation of Bait-Allah, the House of Allah, the Kaaba in Makkah, for the sole worship of God. Later the people degenerated into shirk (polytheism), associating partners with God. The Arabs started believing in hundreds of gods and goddesses, and kept stone idols in the Kaaba.
With the historical conquest of Makkah and the return of Islam to Arabia, the Kaaba was cleansed and purified. As he entered the Kaaba and smashed the idols, the Prophet recited, "And say, the Truth has come and falsehood gone, verily falsehood is bound to perish".
Ramadan is therefore more than just the month of fasting or personal piety. The month recalls the past, taking one to the very foundations of Islam, and prods one to mull over the significance of historic events.
Ihsan Aslam is exploring Public History at Ruskin College, Oxford. He can be contacted at: [email protected] or visited at: http://www.pakistanhistory.com
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