Recently, we talked about the concept of Qur’anic recitations done in a gathering and that they should not be criticized when done with the proper intention – that is – to understand and ponder upon the Qur’an.
It is important however, to really understand what this means – “to ponder upon the Qur’an.” One of the greatest criticisms we can make about our communities, and even about gatherings like the one we previously discussed, is that we will see dozens upon dozens of people, some who do not understand a single word of the Qur’an in its recitation – praising and getting excited when the reciter “busts out” in beautiful recitation. Though this is fine by itself, it can sometimes lead to the following situations:
One of my friends told me that at a recitation some time back, he went and asked a brother what he thought of the recitation. He responded: “Alhamdulillah it was so peaceful and calming. It brought joy and peace to my heart.”
When my friend spoke to another brother who knew some arabic, he responded: “Those verses were some of the scariest verses about the punishment of sinners in Hellfire.”
When he said this, I realized that the reciter could have been reciting Arabic poetry, and many of us would have the same response: “This book is magical!”. Imagine, that we are smiling at the verses in which Hellfire is being threatened upon those who rebel against God.
When this is happening in our community, that we have a situation where we are listening to the book of Allah in this way, with absolutely no contemplation or thought, no true khashya, but rather a superficial obsession with the beautiful sounds of a person’s voice, we should truly think of the ayah:
أَفَلا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَى قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَ
Will they not then ponder over the Qur’an, or is it that they have their locks on (their) hearts (which bar them from reason) [47:24]
As we look at this verse, it is important to recognize the way this ayah is constructed – with the particle أَم. When this particle is used, it breaks the sentence into two parts – two mutually exclusive possibilities. With regards to this phrase, this ayah is essentially saying EITHER they ponder upon the Qur’an…..OR there are locks upon their hearts. It doesn’t allow for other possibilities (at least in the ayah). We should realize that in context the ayah is talking about rejectors of the revelation, but at the same time, we must strive our utmost to ensure that even if we believe, we do not have the characteristics of those censured in the Qur’an.
We cannot afford to let this book become a center piece of our pseudo-spiritual gatherings (pseudo when we have no idea what it is telling us). We cannot afford, spiritually, intellectually, or in context to our state today, to allow the message, the purpose, and the mission of this book, be lost in beautiful voices and flowery scripts, without a single word understood or acted upon. It is time to ask ourselves, where the locks are upon our hearts – whether they are locks of desire, anger, negligence, or the daily dunya grind.
Many might say: “But there is baraka in the Qur’an, even without understanding.” This is correct. There is barakah in Alif, in Laam, and in Meem alone. But when we look at the names of the Qur’an, Barakah is not the central theme…Guidance is. Barakah is a benefit.
Noor (the light) – So the Muslim should never feel in darkness.
Shifaa (the healing) – So the Muslim should know this book has a cure for his afflictions.
Huda (the guidance) – So the Muslim should never feel misguided/lost.
Tanzil (that which is sent down [from the heaven]) – So the Muslim should be confident in its authority.
Kitab (the book) – So the Muslim should know it is permanently inscribed and unwavering.
Qur’an (the recitation) – So the Muslim should know this is a Word to be Proclaimed.
Fadl Allah (the bounty of God) – So the Muslim should know this a bounty and a Mercy from Him.
Furqan (the criterion) – The Muslim should base his decisions on it’s guidance without fear or doubt.
Some practical tips to understanding and benefiting from the Qur’an:
1. Sit with Wudu’ and a clear mind. Turn off the cellphone, computer, and TV.
2. Sit knowing that you are reading words that came from the highest heavens, to the lowest heaven, to the heart and speech of the Angel Gabriel, to the heart and hearing of the Prophet (saw), to his companions, to their descendants, through 1428 year of preservation, propagation, and recitation, to you. There are billions of people in this world who do not know this book, but you do.
3. If you don’t know Arabic, learn Arabic. We have so many online resources, books, and teachers right now, there is no excuse. From the Islamic American University, to Sunnipath, to Toronto’s Shariah Program, you can learn it from Antarctica if you needed to. If you cannot devote so much time (1-3 hours a week), there is a list of words which contain 80% of the basic Qur’anic vocabulary in a very concise fashion – learn a few of these a day. If you are a young college student, you shouldn’t settle for this, learn the language. Preferably, find a teacher in your area.
4. While getting to that point, read the Arabic, and after every page, read the translation. Ask yourself:
-What do I need to do to implement this in my life?
-What do the attributes of Allah that He mentions here have to do with me? What effect should they have in my life?
-How can I connect this verse with what I already know about Islam?
There are thousands more questions we can ask, but these are just some we can start with.
5. Read a fixed amount regularly without measurably increasing or decreasing that amount unless you decide to increase it permanently. This will keep you from burning out and will allow consistency.
6. Invest in a tafsir. It is important for the serious student of the Qur’an, that he/she invests in a solid explanation of the Qur’an. For English speakers, I suggest having the following together – because each one of them makes up for one another’s gaps:
-Ma’riful Qur’an – Mufti Muhammad Shafi. An amazing work in 9 volumes, about 1000 pages each. In depth analysis meant for the commonly educated person. Touches on community, spiritual, and asbab ul nuzul (reasons for revelation) as primary focus. Has a Hanafi Fiqh bent to it, but is still a very powerful tafsir to have. Can be found online in PDF form for free.
-Tafhim ul Qur’an – Maulana Abul Ala Maududi. A powerful work which can be found on www.englishtafsir.com. Touches on community, social, political aspects of the Qur’an’s message and the importance of actualizing the Deen in social life to cause change in society. Focus on Islam as it was sent as a means of civilizing human beings and the goal of the Muslims to establish the Shari’ah in every aspect of their lives. Has a strong historical grounding as well.
-Tafsir Ibn Kathir - I’m sure you have heard of this one. Essentially compiles numerous hadith which have to do with each verse and provides some commentary connecting the ayaat and the hadith together. There are a few online versions as well as a downloadable online tool.
These three for the English speaker, when placed together and read consistently, can give a person a well balanced understanding of the Qur’an’s meaning and message for the laymen.
7. With all of the focus on youth, many communities and organizations do not cater to the needs of older people and seniors with regards to Islamic education. We forget that no one should be deprived of the message, and every iota of ‘ilm is better for us and our relationship with Allah. So we should remember this when doing activities especially with regards to educating parents – because they are the best teachers of their children.
InshaAllah with this, we can start to fulfill the rights of the Qur’an upon us
of believing in it, learning it, understanding it, implementing it, and spreading it.
And Allah Knows Best.