Reflecting Upon the Signs of God in the Month of Ramadan
By Joseph E. B. Lumbard
As over a billion Muslims celebrate Ramadan, the month of the Qur’an, it behooves us to reflect upon all the āyāt – verses or signs – of God. God enjoins us over and again to contemplate every āyah (verse) of the Holy Writ, as in Surah Muhammad: ‘Do they not contemplate the Qur’an? Or do hearts have their locks upon them?’ (47:24). In Surat al-Mu’minūn, He says: ‘Have they not contemplated the Word, or has there come unto them that which came not unto their forefathers?’ (23:68). In Surat al-Baqarah we are told: ‘Thus does God make clear unto you the signs (āyāt), that haply you may reflect’ (2:219).
Contemplating and reflecting upon these āyāt of revelation shows us that there are many other āyāt upon which God calls humanity to reflect – the āyāt, or signs, in the created order. Just as God has ‘revealed the Book in truth’ (2:176; 2:213), so too did He ‘create the heavens and the earth in truth’ (45:22; 6:73). Revelation and creation both come ‘in truth’ and convey to human beings the truth. Given their shared Source and shared message, the Qur’an is presented as a guide to help us reflect upon the āyāt of God within creation, as in verse 38:29, in which the Qur’an is referred to as ‘a blessed Book that We have sent down upon thee, that they may contemplate His signs and that those possessed of intellect may reflect.’
Indeed, the Qur’an presents all of creation as signs of God: ‘And whatsoever He created for you on the earth of diverse colors—truly in this is a sign for a people who reflect’ (16:13). Nothing exists but that it is a means by which we can better understand the glory of the Divine. A bird1 , trees, the stars2 , the change from night to day3 —God is present in each of these.
Every part of creation, no matter how big or small, is like a word or letter in an ongoing revelation. The Qur’an speaks of the heavens and the earth being filled with ‘signs for believers’4 , ‘signs for a people who reflect’5 , ‘signs for a people who hear’6 , ‘sign for those who know’7 , ‘signs for a people who understand’8 , ‘signs for a people who are reverent’9 , ‘signs for those possessed by intelligence’10 , ‘signs for the possessors of intellect’11 , ‘signs for those who possess insight’12 , and ‘signs for a people who are certain’13 . This continuing message makes it clear that when the human being is sound in heart and mind, he or she is able to reflect upon the world of nature in a manner that increases both faith and knowledge. In this vein God says, ‘We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and within themselves till it becomes clear to them that it is the truth’ (41:53). This reveals a third group of signs upon which we are called to reflect, those within our souls, as in 51:20-21: ‘And upon the earth are signs for those possessed of certainty, and within your souls. Do you not then behold?’
If we contemplate the āyāt of the Qur’an yet fail to contemplate the āyāt upon the horizons and within ourselves, we follow only part of the Qur’anic injunction to reflect upon God’s signs. We are thus among those regarding whom God asks rhetorically, ‘Who does greater wrong than one who has been reminded of the signs of his Lord, then turns away from them?’ (18:57; 32:22); and in another verse, ‘Who does greater wrong than one who denies the signs of God and turns away from them?’ (6:157)
Given the state of the natural environment today, one cannot but conclude that we have indeed turned away and forgotten how to reflect upon the signs of God in the created order. Numerous scientific studies indicate that the balance of the world’s ecosystems has been compromised by our irresponsible and excessive consumption. This very balance is something that we are entrusted to maintain, as when the Prophet Shu`ayb enjoins his tribe, ‘O my people! Observe fully the measure and the balance with justice and diminish not people’s goods, and behave not wickedly on the earth, working corruption’ (11:85). Having failed to maintain the balance, today the āyāt that we witness speak to us not only of God’s glory, but also of our own corruption (fasād). Of such corruption we have been warned: ‘Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of that which men’s hands have wrought, so that He may let them taste some of that which they have done, that haply they might return’ (30:41).
Despite the ominous tone of this verse, there is a sense of hope in that by tasting some of what we have done, we might take heed by turning again to reflect upon God’s āyāt on the horizons and within ourselves. At this junction in history, when the fate of future generations lies in our hands, we must take heed of the Qur’anic injunction to ‘walk not exultantly upon the earth’ (17:63) and be instead the ‘servants of the Compassionate whom God says are those who walk humbly upon the earth’ (25:63). Let us take the month of the Qur’an as a time to reflect upon all the āyāt of God and begin anew to live in harmony with them. ‘Has not the time come for those who believe to humble their hearts to the remembrance of God and that of the truth which has descended?’ (57:16)
- ‘Have they not considered the birds above them, spreading and folding up [their wings]? None holds them save the Compassionate. Truly He sees all things. (67:19); Have they not considered the birds, made subservient, in midair? None holds them save God. Truly in that are signs for a people who believe.’ (16:79) [↩]
- ‘And the stars and trees prostrate’ (55:6). Trees are used in symbolic manner throughout the Qur’an, as in 14:24-25: ‘Hast thou not considered how God sets forth a parable? A good word is as a good tree: its roots firm and its branches in the sky. It brings forth fruit in every season, by the leave of its Lord. And God sets forth parables for mankind, that haply they may remember.’ [↩]
- ‘Among His signs are the night and the day, the sun and the moon.’ (41:37); ‘Hast thou not considered that God makes the night pass into the day and makes the day pass into the night, and that He made the sun and the moon subservient’ (31:29); cf. 16:12; 35:13; 39:5; 36:37-40. [↩]
- cf. 6:99; 15:77; 16:79; 27:86; 29:24; 29:44; 30:37; 39:52 [↩]
- 13:3; 30:21; 39:42; 45:13; cf. 10:24 [↩]
- 10:67; 16:65; 30:23 [↩]
- 30:22 [↩]
- 2:164; 13:4; 16:12; 16:67; 30:24; 45:5 [↩]
- 10:6 [↩]
- 20:54, 20:128 [↩]
- 3:190 [↩]
- 3:13 [↩]
- 45:4; cf. 51:20 [↩]
Thank you for sharing your reflections and drawing attention to the environmental challenges we are facing, Prof Lumbard.
I was impressed by the Muslim declaration on global climate change, any particular thoughts on this? http://www.thegreenurbanista.com/2015/08/a-values-based-call-for-climate-action/