‘There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self,’ insisted Aldous Huxley, the English novelist best known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World.
In his exploration of the dilemmas confronting modern man – the rise of capitalism, the dehumanising demands of technology and progress and the cult of self-worship and instant gratification – Huxley hits on many truisms in his chilling forecasts to the modern world.
We are soon to see Muslims the world over observe the fasts of Ramadan. Ramadan, essentially, is the month in which believers are required to buckle down more consciously and improve their own ‘corner of the universe.’ The month is marked by heightened religious observance and also a keener sense of social cohesion, and provides a powerful energy for self-transformation. As the month progresses, many Muslims, repentant for the ills and misdeeds of their past, resolve never to return to such ways again. Men, women and whole societies actively purify themselves during the month. This experience becomes, for many, the turning point of the year; and, for some, the turning point of their lives. Furthermore, Ramadan yields to the believer an array of timely lessons to help steer them through what is fast becoming a chaotic and volatile world. We shall touch upon three such lessons.
Undoubtedly, the principle lesson of Ramadan is learning to be more God-conscious, which is related to the sense of ta‘zim – reverence or veneration. Ramadan is a call to renew our reverence of God by venerating the Divine commands and respecting their limits (hudud). The regime of fasting sets certain limits which, though designed to facilitate our detachment from the lower world, and also from the nafs (the ego), it is ultimately about offering believers an opportunity to revere and remember God rather more fully and faithfully.
Another of Ramadan’s recurring lessons is that of restraint. By temporarily denying themselves instant gratification while fasting, Muslims are taught self-restraint. Here we confront Islam as counter-culture. For what could be more unmodern than to keep the demands and cravings of the nafs in check. Modernity is about pandering to the nafs. “Free yourself”, “be yourself”, “indulge yourself”, is modernity’s holy trinity.
Our current climate is one where Muslims find themselves under constant scrutiny, criticism or attack. Hardly a day goes by, in the media or the world at large, without Islam being fair game. Yet for believers, the self-restraint exercised in Ramadan is the very same restraint we must demonstrate in the face of all such provocations. The Qur’an asserts: ‘You shall certainly hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Book before you, and from the idolaters. But if you are patient and God-conscious, these are weighty factors in all affairs.’
Ramadan also teaches us responsibility – particularly to the world’s poor and hungry. For by the end of a day’s fast, Muslims usually experience some sensation of hunger. Thus we are awakened, in a most direct manner, to the plight of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings who suffer hunger and starvation every day. This should compel us to extend to them our help and support. In a world filled with grotesque human inequalities, and soaked in the unholiness of poverty, we must each commit ourselves to eliminating this global injustice.
This year, the academic year commences a few weeks after Ramadan ends. As schools all over Britain gear up to the task of grounding their pupils in the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), Ramadan offers its own three R’s: reverence, restraint and responsibility. Internalising such lessons best prepares believers to engage the brave new world of the Monoculture and help bring about its healing.
 al-Qur’an 3:186