The Meaning Of Ramadan: Part 1
Chief Imam Wallace Deen Muhammad
(Editor’s note: The following interview with Chief Imam Wallace Deen Muhammad was conducted by Wall F. Muhammad, the "Communicator," for Radio Station WBEE on Aug. I5, 1978. Following are excerpts from that interview.)
COMMUNICATOR: You mentioned earlier in one of your lectures about the reading of the whole Quran and the rewards and the great blessings that you can get from reading that?
CHIEF IMAM: Certainly, if we read just one verse, we get rewards and blessings. So how much more rewards and blessings if we read the whole Quran. And then it makes Muslims educated. No one can read the whole Quran and be a fool.
No one can read the whole Quran with his eyes open and his mind open to the guidance of God and be on an elementary level in school. Just reading the Holy Quran will make you a high school graduate. Many will become college graduates simply by reading the Quran. I don't know whether their degree will be in science or arts or what, but they will become graduates.
COMMUNICATOR: You mentioned before that every phase of life is in the Quran, and it's almost unbelievable—in that little Book, everything is in there?
CHIEF IMAM: Every serious issue for human beings is dealt with in that small Book. And God says there is not an issue that has been ignored in this Book.
COMMUNICATOR: So you have to read it. You mentioned earlier too that thousands of years from now, there will still be new revelations coming from this Book.
CHIEF IMAM: As long as human life remains in the form that it is in, then that's the Book until the final day of Judgment. It is designed to satisfy the needs, the social needs, the spiritual needs—the total needs of all the people.
COMMUNICATOR: Not just Bilalians, not just Muslim—all people?
CHIEF IMAM: Yes, that's right. It opens the way for the full cultivation of human life. It gives the guidance, the disciplines for the whole life. The knowledge of how to build a bridge is bridge-building knowledge. But we have to approach the building of the bridge with a certain mental attitude and moral attitude. And God gives us the direction for approaching the bridge, the building of a bridge with the right human mind so that when we build the bridge, the bridge doesn't become a detriment to society.
COMMUNICATOR: Chief Imam, during the month of Ramadan there is a nightly prayer service that is done in congregation every evening when all of the Muslims go and pray. What is that called and what is the significance and historical background about that?
CHIEF IMAM: Taraweh prayers. Taraweh prayers are prayers that are said, again, during the night. We eat during the night and also we say the special prayer during the night. It is a prayer for the blessings of God. In the month of Ramadan, God blesses one human being who in his 40 years of living, before he received God's revelation, had established his worth as a man deserving the special favor of God, the blessings of revelation.
Prophet Muhammad, (peace and blessings be upon him) was blessed by God and he was a man who longed to see society peaceful, decent morally— just, no mistreatment of any individual, and enlightened. He didn't like to see stupidity and pagan, vulgar display in the society. All of this was a terrible burden on his heart, and he, himself, never worshiped idols during his lifetime. He never prayed to any of the false deities, and he always stood for the highest and finest human principles. He had a leaning, a yearning for reconciliation or for nearness to God.
And Prophet Muhammad received revelation and the revelation came to him during the night. There is a verse in the Quran that says "rise," (to Prophet Muhammad) and whatever God says to Prophet Muhammad is to us too because God was setting the example in Prophet Muhammad for all people.
Again, the answer to Christ when Christ says, "I in you, you in me." Meaning that whatever I am, you should have the same in you. So the answer to that is that Prophet Muhammad who received guidance from God and everything that he was obligated to do to bring the full life for human beings on Earth, we are obligated to do the same. So when Allah says to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and all the righteous Servants) "rise, break the sleep, break the night's sleep and rise up during the night and pray. Surely the night is conducive to the clear framing of the word."
We know this, as students in college, etc., in high school; I knew it in grade school. Education was a strain on my mind, it always has been, and I try to seek the peaceful environment. I found that at night when everybody is gone to sleep and everything is quiet, it is easy to get the thoughts and put the ideas together; it is just easier to work in the night. Man works in the day, but the night is good for spiritual development, good for quiet that enables us to arrive at the right moral thoughts, etc.—that's if we are separated from the things that tear against our moral development.
So night is very important for Muslims, for all religious people because people who didn't have proper religion, people who were frightened into a kind of pseudo-religion or into an improper religion by the fears of night gave us the idea that night is filled with demons, with bad spirits, etc. So Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad the message of the Quran to dignify the night, to clean it of false charges. It's good for moral and spiritual development.
COMMUNICATOR: It goes right back to what you said about having that balance.
CHIEF IMAM: Balance, certainly. It is coming out of primitiveness, coming out of savage, ignorant, primitive mindedness, fearing the darkness and associating the darkness with demons and Satan. And if you associate the darkness with demons and Satan, then you see a black man looking dark, like dust. You will call him a demon or Satan, and that's what they did—that's what the ignorant people did.
COMMUNICATOR: So the Taraweh prayers started with Prophet Muhammad, did it not?
CHIEF IMAM: Certainly. The praying during the night in Ramadan was an order to Prophet Muhammad, and Prophet Muhammad practiced it. But I would say it was not totally a tradition started by Prophet Muhammad because as I said earlier, the Jews and the Christians—those devoted Jews and Christians who understood their scripture—they also practiced fasting and praying in the night and staying up long hours in the night waiting on God's blessings, the blessing of a Deliverer.
COMMUNICATOR: Now we know that here in America and even in most parts of the Muslim world smoking is frowned upon, and neither Prophet Muhammad nor his companions, smoked. But is smoking one of the things that is prohibited during the month of Ramadan along with eating and drinking during the day?
CHIEF IMAM: Strictly forbidden. As the taking of food, sex or any carnal indulgence. We can't discipline the carnal side of the life, that is the fleshly passions, the carnal side of the life, by simply not taking food into us. If we like to play table tennis, if a fanatic for table tennis plays table tennis all day long or gets into a good -game of table tennis, actually he is breaking the spirit of Ramadan because it takes his mind off of internal development and puts his mind on just physical exercise or the kind of satisfaction that comes from physical involvement.
So that's not the purpose of the fast, not that we can't do physical things. We can do physical things, but it shouldn't be for play, it shouldn't be lightheaded involvement. It should be in a serious involvement, and it shouldn't be to get direct pleasure from a physical involvement or a carnal fleshly involvement.
So we don't smoke, we don't take any food into our mouths, no liquids into our mouths, nothing into the body during the day and when the sun has set, then we can take food. We can do everything but break the spirit of the fast.
(To be continued)