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The Qur’an

Most people think that Ramadan revolves around food, or the lack of. However the true significance of Ramadan is the Qur’an. While Muslims do fast from sunrise to sunset, everyday for a month, they are also expected to spend time reading the Qur’an and reflecting on its teachings.  Interestingly, the first word ever revealed from the Qur’an ‘ikra’ means ‘read’ in Arabic. The word Quran, itself is often translated as ‘The Recitation’ and is considered the literal words of God. 

It was in the month of Ramadan that revelation first started to be sent down to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) by the angel Gabriel and continued for 23 years. We believe The Prophet is the last of a line of messengers extending from the beginning of mankind sent to guide humanity. The Quran being the last message confirming those that came before it.

“This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt, containing guidance for those who are mindful of God. Who believe in the unseen, keep up the prayer, and give out of what We have provided for them;

those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter. “

(Quran, Chapter 2:2-4)

In my travels and work I have come across the Qur’an in many forms and in the most surprising places. From brides’ reading it before walking down the aisle, to the homes of Hijras in India. While there is diversity in Islamic schools of thought, the Qur’an is the one binding factor that unites everyone. Since we end Ramadan, here are a few photos of the Qur’an through my lens.

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Nasra is one of the pre-wedding functions of the Qureshi Muslim community in India. This custom is apparently observed in Malaysia as well. On the night before the wedding, the bride-to-be reads passages from the Qur’an in the presence of other women. I found it good that this tradition placed importance on women knowing their religious texts and encouraging literacy when for centuries, across religions, reading scripture was a male dominated domain. Mumbai, India, 2014

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At the home of a Hijra community in India.  The Hijras may include intersex, transgender and a spectrum of other sexualities and identities.  In Arabic they are sometimes referred to as ‘khuntha.’ Pakistan, Bangladesh and India all have communities of Hijras and are officially recognized as a third gender. Islam is observed by a large number of Hijras and I have met those who have converted as well.  Bhopal, India, 2016

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A Qur’an being sold at store selling bridal items to a Muslim clientele. Often the Qur’an is an important feature at wedding functions. The anglicized spelling ‘Koran’ is used here.  Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2017

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A copy of a Quran used by Cape Malays in South Africa.  Many of the Malay Muslims brought to South Africa from Indonesia by the Dutch were hafiz. So they were able to write down the Qur’an from memory and were responsible for first spreading the faith in that region.  Rijks Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2017

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The Qur’an kept on an elevation as the room gets cleaned on a lazy Sunday at a students hostel. IIUM (International Islamic University), Malaysia, 2015

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A copy of the  original Uthmani Quran which was written in the era of third Caliph Uthman. Initially the Qur’an was written and kept in different places. He was responsible for compiling it into a book. Saudi Arabia, 2016

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A Qur’an from the Ottoman Empire. On display at the Museum of Islamic Art. Doha, Qatar, 2017

The Qur’an explains to people the concept of God (as being eternal and not born), humans rights, laws, science and the cosmos, war and politics, economics and ethics. Most importantly the Qur’an confirms the divinity of the revelation before it including the teachings of Jesus, Moses and Abraham as well as the countless others that have been sent as guidance to all people through all time. The principle message is the concept of tawhid, which is the ‘Oneness of God’ and affirms Muhammad as being the final messenger with the Qur’an being the last revelation suitable for all time.

To understand the context and meaning of the Quran, commentaries include supporting hadith (sayings of the Prophet). These were later interpreted into law by various jurists. Today there exists several commentaries on the Qur’an by contemporary scholars both men and women, from various schools of thought.  Nouman Ali Khan does a nice web series with the commentary. I also watch some of them on YouTube.

To be able to fully comprehend the Qur’an without getting lost in translation, reading it in Arabic would be the best.  But there are many translation options easily available both online and in print. I do not understand Arabic, even though I can read the script and depend on translations myself.

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Quran.com developed by young Muslim IT professionals from around the world offers a range of translations and languages in which to access the Qur’an online. They also have a phone app. I would recommend the Abdul Haleem translation. It’s also good to compare two translations to get a clearer gist of things.

To understand it fully, one needs to read the Qur’an in its entirety and explore the historical narratives and commentaries of incidents mentioned. I remember reading it entirely in Arabic at age 14, and then reading it completely in English at 19.  By re-reading it every Ramadan, believers discover verses they may have not noticed before, or some concepts become clearer. I learn something new every Ramadan.

The Book is divided into 114 chapters (surah) of varying lengths.  The first chapter is a short 7 versed surah called ‘Al Fatiha’ (The Opening) and is considered the most important chapter in the Quran.  The verses may seem random and disjointed. And some points are repeated throughout the chapters. However that is part of its poetic style and it is considered the greatest literary work in classical Arabic.

This is writer Lesley Hazleton’s take on reading the Quran. Do watch!

Our daily five time prayers include verses from the Qur’an recited in Arabic. Its calligraphy also adorns the decoration in mosques and in our homes. The Taj Mahal has verses of the Qur’an inscribed on its walls.

As children, many of us are taught Arabic and are encouraged to memorize and understand the Qur’an. Someone who has completed its entire memorization is called a hafiz(a). Today there are millions who have memorized it around the world. So the Qur’an is not only preserved in book form, and online, but also in the memory and hearts of adherents.

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My English translation at home. Sri Lanka, 2017

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