A reciter of Quran recently came to our city and everyone gathered in the masjid to listen to his beautiful recitation. Where is this tradition found in Islam? Isn’t this a bid’ah? Why should we do this when we can be praying extra nawaafil?
1. Essentially, what this question is asking is – is it allowed for me to listen to another person reciting the Quran beautifully, while I sit in front of him and listen, only for the sake of listening? Let us look at the following Hadith:
The Prophet (SAW) said to Abdullah ibn Masood: “Recite for me the Qur’an.” He said: “O Messenger of Allah! Should I recite to you and it was revealed to you?” He said: “Yes, for I like to hear it from others.” “I recited Surat an-Nisaa’ until I reached the ayah, “How (will it be) then, when We bring from each nation a witness and We bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness against these people?” [An-Nisaa' 4:41] He then said: “Stop now.” I found that his eyes were tearful.” [Al Bukhari and Muslim]
So if one, two, or three people, had joined the Prophet, solely to listen to Abdullah ibn Mas’ood recite, would it become Islamically invalid? No. Whether two, three, or one hundred people joined him in listening, has no effect on the legality of this act. The question’s essence is – can we listen to the Quran as another person recites, outside of Salah, solely so we can listen to it – individually, or as a group?
This hadith is evidence that is permissible for us to sit and listen, even request, a person to recite the Quran for us, in order that we might benefit from from its words and ponder upon its meanings; whether collectively or as a single person. The fact that the Prophet (saw) himself enjoys listening to another person recite the Quran and asked a Companion to do so, solely to hear and reflect, should make it clear for us that we are allowed to do the same.
One should note however, that contrary to some gatherings where praise is given to a reciter, the Prophet’s listening was focused on the words and the message, as we see him crying at an ayah which talks about the Day of Judgment and his position as a witness upon his nation. It is proper that this be the environment and intent of the listener at such a gathering – that the recitation be a reminder for people of the message and power of the Quran and a chance to reflect on it – rather than to ponder upon the voice of a human being. As long as one goes into it with this intention, this is a good gathering to be in, wherein angels descend and the mercy of Allah (swt) is abundant, as described in numerous ahadith of the Prophet (saw).
2. Second, let us address the question of “Why should we do this when we can be praying extra nawaafil?”
Let us look at the following Hadith from the Prophet (saw), found in Baihaqi, narrated by Aysha (ra):
“Recitation of the Holy Quran done during Salah is better than the Recitation of the Holy Quran outside of the Salah, and recitation of the Holy Quran without the Salah is better than Tasbeeh & Takbeer and Tasbeeh [Dhikr], [Dhikr] is better than Sadaqah. And Sadaqah is better than fasting and fasting is a shield against Hellfire. (Baihaqi)
If we take this hadith, does it mean we should immediately forgo Sadaqah, voluntary fasting, and dhikr – to limit our voluntary worship only to reciting the Quran in our Fard and Nafl prayers?
No – rather Allah (swt) has placed numerous avenues of worship and Islamic practice, to meet the various deeds, abilities, and personal preferences of His slaves, after they fulfill their obligatory duties. So one should not compare acts of worship in this way in an attempt to make one seem less-valid. If we can show an act to be valid in the deen, then we should allow people to do it, rather than censure them for not doing another act instead.
Listening to the Quran itself, is an act of worship that brings the Mercy of Allah (swt), as is evidenced by the verse:
And when the Quran is recited, then listen to it and remain silent, that Mercy may be shown to you. (7:204)
As Imam Malik said: “Allah has divided worship amongst His slaves as he has divided rizq”. So there much latitude, after we fulfill the obligatory, in which of the allowed acts of worship we can do to gain nearness to Allah (swt).
Now that we have shown that there is nothing inherently unIslamic about such a gathering, let us look at the issue a little less formally/legally and look at a few issues.
3. We seem to forget a very simple fact. When the Prophet (saw) would receive revelation, he would recite it to the people, whether the people around him were in the dozens, or if it was only one or two members of his family. He (saw) would recite to the masses, or to a few, and they would listen in absolute attentiveness and contemplation. How can it be considered harmful for the Muslims to listen to a reciter recite today as long as we are not replacing obligatory acts or neglecting other aspects of our deen for it.
Afterall, this is a Quran! It is meant to be recited! To the masses. To the children. To the Muslims. To the non-Muslims. In every masjid, and hilltop, and corner of the Earth. In groups! In solitude. In every way and place that that we are allowed to.
We forget the nature of how the Huffaz were sent to the various tribes of the the Arabian Peninsula, bearing the Quran, and reciting it to the people in groups and masses that they might hear it and learn it. This Quran is the source of a movement, internally for a single individual, and also to move the masses into spiritual and social revival.
4. The Quran is the address of Allah (swt) to us. We are willing to gather to listen to human beings give us reminders, and speeches, and classes, written by their own hands – why should we consider it harmful to sit and listen to the Speech of Allah (swt), which the Prophet (saw) himself asked Abdullah ibn Mas’ood to recite? Is it not a mighty reminder for us to listen to Allah’s communique to us, and ponder upon its commands, prohibitions, stories, and the beliefs it builds in our hearts?
If one asks, why cannot we simply have it read straightforwardly, one should remember:
“Recite the Quran in slow, measured, tones.” (Quran 73:4)
In the narration of al-Baraa` Ibn ‘Aazib (may Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet said: Adorn your voices with the Quran. (Related in Abu Dawud. Authenticated by Al-Albaanee)
Imam Ahmad said, “The reciter should beautify his voice with the Quran and recite it with a sense of sadness and contemplation.”
We must remember to balance this however, by not making the Quran into a song, or have it resemble music.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Reciting the Quran in a melodious way whereby it resembles the melody of a song is disliked and is an innovation, a ruling clearly mentioned by Malik, al-Shafi’i, Ahmad bin Hanbal and other imams as well.”
5. Lastly, one should not make such a gathering a replacement for the obligatory acts, nor raise it to the status of Mustahab (Recommended). It is only at this point that we are in danger of creating an innovation. Rather, we should consider it permissible, as the Prophet enjoyed listening to others recite, and use such an opportunity if we so desire, to truly, deeply, spend some time pondering upon the Quran and its message to us.
And Allah knows best.