By Margari Aziza Hill
Today is the second day of fasting in the month of Ramadan, with many of us reading the second of thirty equal portions (juz) of the Holy Qur’an. This section of the Qur’an is comprised of the chapter Al-Baqarah (The Cow) verses 142 to 252. In these verses, Allah made it obligatory upon every able bodied Muslim to abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations from sun up to sun down.
The Qur’an reveals:
The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days.
Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful. (Sahih International 2:185)
The Qur’an is a rich text with commandments, lessons, stories, and reminders. This portion of the Qur’an stands out as it outlines major themes in establishing a faith community, from righteous resistance, treatment of women, reliance upon God, dietary laws, and establishing justice.
In the opening of this section, the new Muslim community in Medina was directed to change the qiblah (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Mecca.
The Qur’an reveals:
The foolish among the people will say, “What has turned them away from their qiblah, which they used to face?” Say, “To Allah belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (Sahih International 2:142)
Similarly, the Black American Muslim community has largely arisen out of a shift in direction. We are part of a communal conversion experience. For many of us, this turning of direction is an act of reclaiming a part of ourselves that was lost.
The re-envisioned Roots (2016) provided a visceral reminder that many of our ancestors were Muslim. The story of Kunta Kinte echoed the stories of Omar Ibn Said, Prince Ibrahim Abdul Rahman, and Maroon communities in South America and the Caribbean. They are part of our historic memory.
I came to Islam through a processes that began in the early to mid-20th century. The Nation of Islam, the Ahmadiyyah community, jazz musicians, and the unexplored connection between Sunni Muslim immigrants from the Caribbean, contributed to the growth of Islam in Black American Muslim communities. Without their groundwork, I would have not seen the relevance of Islam in addressing the nihilism that was choking my development.
On this second day of fasting, as the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll begin to set in, I am reminded of those who struggled before me. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous. (Sahih International 2:183)
Taqwa, the word for righteous in this verse, comes from the idea of putting up a barrier. Fasting serves as a defense, to counter balance our harmful deeds. Of the many acts of devotion to Allah, fasting holds a special place in Islam. In a hadith qudsi (sacred narration) the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) relates that Allah said:
Every deed of son of Adam is his except fasting; it is mine, and I am the one who gives the rewards for it.
Scholars have debated why fasting is especially appreciated by Allah. The hunger is a reminder of the suffering of the poor and the deprivation refocuses our energy towards worshiping our Lord.
Today we struggle against new challenges, from state sanctioned violence, street violence, stress, overwork, and alienation. So many of us are in pain and we are in need of collective healing spaces.
Allah says in surah 2:186:
And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.
During this Ramadan, I needed to be reminded that our Lord is near. I think of the prayers of the oppressed, their songs of sorrow, praise, and transcending suffering. I think of all the prayers lifted up on those slave ships, in suffocating mines, in fields under the blazing sun, and along dark roads.
While my people continue to face the ways in which that oppression has reconstituted itself, in many ways, we can be the answer to their prayers. We all can be the answer to someone’s prayers. I pray that our good deeds and fasts are accepted and that our efforts are of benefit to those near and far and for generations to come.
Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and acting programming director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and Muslims Make it Plain. She is a volunteer at ICIE, an adjunct professor, blogger, editor and freelance writer with articles published in SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, and Spice Digest.