The relationship between us and the Qur’an is undoubtedly of great importance; therefore, it is strange that it is this relationship which we often neglect.
I have a theory as to why we tend not to focus on the Qur’an: we are drawn towards controversy. The Qur’an and its sciences have no such divisive opinions. Human beings love controversy. I believe the reason we tend to argue back and forth regarding the same issues such as moon-sighting or eating zabiha is because these issues allow us to take a little bit of textbook knowledge and preside over people. It gives our nafs (lower self) a sense of satisfaction to ‘beat’ our opponent in arguments. The Qur’an however has no such arguments, because in reality who can argue over the minutiae of the prestigious science of tajweed (the art of reciting the Qur’an)? Or the qira’at (styles of Qur’anic recitation)?
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says in the Qur’an that the Messenger ﷺ will have a complaint against his nation–meaning a complaint against us. This complaint will not be that the community prayed 20 rak`at instead of 8, or 8 instead of 10, it will be that the community missed the foundation of everything in the first place–the Qur’an.
“And the Messenger has said: ‘O my Lord, indeed my people took this Qur’an as [a thing] abandoned.’” (Qur’an, 25:30)
Let us think about this for a second. What is our relationship with the Qur’an? Have we decorated its covers and placed it on the highest shelf in our house, yet we haven’t placed it on the highest shelf in our hearts? Do we pick it up every Ramadan, only to put it back down until the next one? Do we recite the Qur’an without giving its letters their due right through mispronunciation and errors? Do we read it and seek to understand it, yet we feel it has no significance in our spiritual or daily life?
Going back to the first point–that we love controversy–why is it that most of what we argue over, if considered when looking at big picture, is really just one small piece of the puzzle? When parts of our community are arguing over some issue that isn’t from the fundamentals of our religion, why don’t we turn back to the Qur’an for guidance and remind ourselves of the fundamental principles? Allah (swt) says, “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided.” (Qur’an, 3:103)
Of the famous interpretations of this verse is that the ‘rope of Allah’ is the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an consistently reminds us of the big picture: the Day of Judgment. Why? Because the goal is not how many rak`at we pray taraweeh, it is the quality of those rak`at. It’s not whether the Masjid did `Eid on Thursday or Friday, it is the quality of the worship that was done in the previous month. It is the spiritual connection that we have with Allah, the Qur’an, and the Prophet ﷺ that matters. Of course, this isn’t to say that we go to the opposite extreme and abandon the obligations in the Qur’an–we must strike a balance based upon sound understanding. Once this balance is reached, the natural result is that the arguments themselves will fail to become a divisive factor in our communities.
Much of what we differ over is not from the fundamental aspects of our deen (religion or way of life) nor is it our job to argue over it. Though those issues may be important at some level, they are not a reason for us to neglect the fundamentals–unity and brotherhood–in order to be correct on the secondary issues.
The Qur’an’s Role in Spiritual Development
Argumentation and controversy over small issues is a problem that plagues our communities, but it’s not the problem per se. It is a symptom of a deeper, more serious issue within the self. The root is a lack of spirituality and spiritual purity within the self. When an individual argues, especially in issues of the deen, there is an underlying disease within the heart that is fueling the argumentation–the desire to prove the opponent wrong, to satisfy the ego and to prove one’s worth by belittling another. This is further beautified for the people by Satan when he convinces them that they are arguing for the ‘haqq’ (truth) because clearly the other person is on a false path—he’s just trying to ‘guide’ the other person. This attitude cultivates indifference towards our brothers and sisters, and leads to contempt and discord between people. The irony is that this is far from the Qur’anic directive. I believe that of the reasons this occurs is because there is a lack of spiritual connection with the Qur’an and the Divine Message embedded therein–an abandonment of the Qur’anic message. Allah (swt) says, “O mankind, there has come to you instruction from your Lord [this Qur’an], and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers.” (Qur’an, 10:57)
This is why not abandoning the Qur’an is so critical for our spiritual development–the Qur’an grounds us by reminding us constantly of Allah (swt), of the temporal nature of the life of this world, of death, of the Resurrection, of Judgment Day, of Paradise and of Hell. It puts everything into perspective. Something that is Mercy for the believers cannot become, by its very nature, something that is opposite of that. This is why ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) said: “If our hearts were truly pure, we would never get enough of the Words of our Lord, and I hate that one day passes with me not looking in the mushaf [Qur’an in book form].”1
We should preoccupy ourselves with the Qur’an, and not distract ourselves by arguing over issues that do not benefit us. The Qur’an is truly ‘soul food’–it is the food for our souls, the healing for our hearts and our conversation with the Divine. Our bodies were created from this Earth and Allah (swt) placed sustenance for our body in the Earth as well. Everything we eat eventually originates from the Earth. Our ruh (soul), however, is from Allah; as such, its sustenance must also come from its place of origin–Allah (swt). This is why the heart, when engaged with the Qur’an, feels tranquility and peace, and when it’s away from the Qur’an it slowly hardens up until it dies.
Ibn Qayyim notes that, “The keys to the life of the heart lie in reflecting upon the Qur‘an, being humble before Allah in secret, and leaving sins.”2 When a person turns away from the Qur’an, the heart starts to starve just as the body starves when it is not fed; as a result, life itself becomes depressing and incomplete, as the individual preoccupies themselves in other matters, seeking to fill that void within. Thus, argumentation and controversy become an avenue to satisfy the nafs.
Abandoning the Qur’an can range from not listening to it to not acting upon it to not referring to it as a source of guidance to not reflecting upon it and seeking it as a cure for our spiritual problems and diseases of the heart. All of this falls, as explained by Ibn Qayyim (ra), under the explanation of the ayah: “And the Messenger has said: “O My Lord, indeed my people have taken this Qur’an as [a thing] abandoned.” (Qur’an, 25:30)
When we inspect the Qur’an and the ayaat (verses) where it commands us and forbids us, we always find it coupled with a reminder to have taqwa (awareness) of Allah or to reflect on Him or a reminder of Paradise and Hell. The point is not just doing the action correctly; rather there are spiritual dimensions such as sincerity that are necessary. Their absence voids the good deed itself. All this is part of the Qur’anic tarbiyyah (development) which builds the spiritual connection a person has with Allah (swt) through those commandments and prohibitions. It allows a person to see the underlying goal of the directives–worshipping Allah (swt) and having a relationship with the Creator and functioning as a community based upon brotherhood. So when a person engages in argumentation, he forgets this additional role the Qur’an plays in terms of the inner aspects of worship. The Qur’an makes us focus on the important issues and ties us all together based upon our common goal–which is getting to Paradise and avoiding Hell. Our fiqh and minor `aqeedah differences remain important, but they are not central to our relationship with each other.
How Can We Actualize the Role of the Qur’an in Our Lives?
The root of our communal problems can be traced to an incorrect approach to knowledge. The point I’d like to highlight here briefly is that knowledge has a methodology by which a student seeks it. A student does not jump to the top of the ladder; he climbs up step by step, and the first step of the ladder is engaging the Qur’an. A medical student who aims to specialize in heart surgery does not begin by reading a textbook on surgery; rather he goes through the process of pre-med, medical school and specialization. We need to apply the same standard with our religious sciences and focus on developing our fundamentals. Imam Nawawi rahimahu allah (may Allah (swt) have mercy on him) says in his introduction to al-Majmoo’ Sharh ul-Muhadhhab (1/38) regarding the student of knowledge,
“So the first thing he should begin with is memorization of the mighty Qur‘an, which is the most important branch of knowledge. And the Salaf did not use to teach Hadeeth or Fiqh, except to one who memorized the Qur‘aan. So when he has memorized it, then let him beware of pre-occupying himself from it with Hadeeth, Fiqh or other things, to the extent that it leads him to forget anything of the Qur‘an, or makes that likely.”
This is the method that the best scholars and students of knowledge followed–they gave the Qur’an precedence before engaging in learning hadeeth or fiqh, much less advanced `aqeedah issues, while we tend to do the opposite. The point is not that we abandon seeking knowledge altogether; rather we should prioritize correctly the role of the different sciences of our religion so that we have a balance between what we seek to learn out of desire and what we need to learn as part of the essence of our religion; meaning, that we give the Qur’an precedence when it comes to seeking knowledge and make it our first priority to learn it. The Messenger ﷺ said, “Do not seek knowledge to compete with the scholars, nor to argue with the foolish people, nor to gain control of gatherings; for whoever does that – the Fire, the Fire!”3
The Qur’an is the foundation of everything in our religion. It is the Book that built the Companions and shaped their personalities and molded them into individuals that caused Allah (swt) to call them the best of nations for mankind. It was their relationship with the Qur’an, their reciting it at night and reflecting on it during the day, their understanding of its universals and application of it that allowed them to become who they were. The Prophet ﷺ raised them to be attached to the Qur’an and have a relationship with it that went beyond just reciting it–it was something that humbled them and made them the best of the best.
Just like them, we can begin by focusing on the Qur’an–memorizing it, reciting it, listening to it and seeking to understand it. We live in a time where this type of knowledge is easily accessible requiring minimal effort on the part of the student to learn. Yet, in the midst of the vast knowledge that is available to us at our fingertips, courtesy of the internet, we cannot lose sight of the true role that knowledge is supposed to play in our lives–it is meant to be a source of good for the individual, his family, his social sphere and the community at large.
“Indeed, those who recite the Book of Allah and establish prayer and spend [in His cause] out of what We have provided them, secretly and publicly, [can] expect a profit that will never perish – That He may give them in full their rewards and increase for them of His bounty. Indeed, He is Forgiving and Appreciative.” (Qur’an, 35:29-30)