Ramadan is the month “in which the Holy Qur’an was sent down as a guide to mankind and as clear (signs) for guidance and judgment between right and wrong.” This month calls upon us, yet again, to reflect on our lives and judge for ourselves to what extent we have lived, and live, by Divine Guidance.

True, we observe fast and attend night prayers. But do we, in the 11 interposing months, remember that while fasting is “for a fixed number of days,” the spirit of self-discipline and the sense of mission that it is meant to instill in us are for the lifetime? And are we looking forward to this Ramadan as a new opportunity to recommit ourselves to a meaningful life, or as another yearly opportunity to relapse into a month of zombie days and gastronomic nights while deluding ourselves that we are pious?

The Qur’an is quite specific about what fasting is for. It is neither to punish the body with thirst and hunger nor to indulge it with fat and sloth. “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may have taqwa.” Authentic commentators have translated the comprehensive word “taqwa” as “self-restraint” in its widest sense of guarding one’s tongue, hand, and heart against evil and, hence denotes righteousness, piety, and good conduct.

Fasting and special prayers are an important part of Ramadan, defined as they are as our obligations to our Creator and Sustainer. Equally important are the duties He has placed on us as obligations to our fellow men and other living beings that share this planet with us and to the planet itself — the environment, water, air, vegetation, and other bounties of nature. Ramadan is the time when we must rededicate ourselves to one of the basic principles of Islam — “Render unto each his due”: To the One God His due — worship to Him alone, and to His creations their due — their rights.

The test is: Have we been becoming, with every passing Ramadan, more conscious of our obligations to render these dues? Living in a society we acquire obligations — as parents or children, wives or husbands, neighbors or colleagues, employers or employees, rulers or ruled, compatriots or aliens, superiors or subordinates.

Beginning a verse with “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces toward East or West,” the Qur’an defines righteousness as, among others, “… to spend your sustenance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask and for the freedom of slaves” and closes it with “(and) fulfill the contracts which ye have made… Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.”

An honest review will tell most of us that, the worst of our failures in every Ramadan has been our failure to “fulfill the contracts we have made” — specifically or by assumption — as citizens, public officials, employers, employed, or ordinary men and women.

We should remember that for the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions, Ramadan was a month of action, of fulfilling obligations — to their Lord and to their fellow creations. It cannot be anything less for us if we hope to be “the People of Truth, the God-fearing.”

May Allah help us make it so.