Trans. by Ghada Khafagy
THOUGH AN UNLETTERED nation, when the Arabs received the Noble Quran they did so with attentive hearts. Before memorizing it, they first implemented it in their lives and their conduct. This came as a direct and enthusiastic response to the famous first injunction of the Most High in the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: Iqra’, Read!
This thoughtful reading of the Quran bore abundant fruit, entirely changing the lives of those first Muslims. The outcome was immediate and dramatic, both in the quality of their character and the observable expression of this in virtuous behavior, as well as in their outstanding human achievement and supremely confidant openness to the whole world, in spite of their having only the most basic tools of education and communication.
In time, however, Muslims slipped from this remarkable level of reading, understanding, and applying the teachings of the Quran in their lives. It began gradually because of a mix of multiple factors until it reached the dismally unprecedented nadir of Quranic illiteracy that we have witnessed in recent ages.
Despite the widespread means of printing and publishing that have made writing, reading, and listening to the Quran easy and broadly available, Muslims yet became disconnected from the Book of Allah in their day-to-day affairs. The vast majority of Muslims limited their engagement with the Quran to an occasional recitation and memorization of its words, focusing at best on the rules of recitation and the articulation of letters without any proper understanding or reflection on its meanings. Some recite it only to the sick seeking blessings and cure, or to those dying and in funerals. What the Muslim nation is going through today—this backwardness, continuous undoing on virtually every plane of human rivalry, resulting in an inability to act, and on and on—is a reflection, one way or another, of the way Muslim communities engage the Book of Allah.
In this exposé, I am seeking to address Muslims with the aim of showing them how to mend their relationship with the Quran. It highlights the reasons why many of us do not reflect upon the Quran, as Allah charges us to do, and our resultant failure to relate what we have read in its sign-verses (âyât) to our own lives.
These reasons are almost all linked to the corruption of our senses and cognitive faculties. By correcting these problems, we Muslims can again reap the reflective benefit of the Quran in our lives, which will permit the Quran to true our souls. This is the key to bettering our selves and enriching our lives, as personal worshipers and as a global Ummah, here and Hereafter.
Why Do We Read the Quran?
There is great reward in reciting the Quran, for Allah’s main purpose in revealing it is to give people divine words of guidance in their lives so as to contemplate and thereby remember their purpose on earth:
A most blessed Book have We sent down to you [O Prophet] so that they [who hear these tidings] may reflect on its verses. And so that those who are endowed with understanding may [heed its admonition and] be ever mindful [of its commandments]. Sûrat Ṣâd, 38:29
Will they not, then, reflect on the Quran? If it had been from other than Allah, they would, most surely, have found in it much discrepancy. Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:82
Will they not, then, reflect upon the Quran? Or is it rather that on some hearts there are their own locks? Sûrat Mu ḥammad, 47:24
The phrase “reflect upon the Quran” in these verses exhorts people to make the effort to comprehend the meaning, the significance, and the divine intent of the verses of the Quran for the purpose of implementing their teachings in one’s life. By doing so, we enable the Quran to guide us, correct our behavior, amend our moral values, and perfect the way we deal with ourselves and others.
Note that these verses stress the importance and obligation of giving serious consideration to what the Quran is saying, each one deliberating upon its admonitions according to his or her own perceptual, intellectual and psychological capacity (all of which aspects of thought a Muslim should be keen to increase in himself). In his commentary on this Quranic concept, the renowned commentator Ibn Kathîr reports that Al-Ḥasan Al-Ba ṣrî said: “By Allah! [The Quran’s] contemplation is not [in] memorizing its words while neglecting its injunctions. Sadly, some dare say that they have recited the entire Quran. Yet one detects nothing of its impact on their manners or in their deeds” (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, 4:34).
In his commentary on the words of the All-Powerful Divine: Will they not, then, reflect on the Quran? (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:82), Ibn Kathîr writes: “Allah u commands His servants to contemplate and reflect upon the Quran, forbidding them to ignore its verses and to not put forth sufficient effort to understand their explicit meanings,” as opposed to invented allegories. “Allah’s command [to reflect upon the Quran] is unambiguous—and when Allah u commands, that command must be obeyed. Therefore, contemplation is obligatory.” (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, 1:530)
Warning people against ignoring the contemplation of the Quran, Allah u states:
Rather, some among them are illiterate, having no knowledge of the Scripture other than vague fancies [or, this last may be rendered: having no knowledge of the Scripture save from hearsay].” Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:78
Ibn Al-Qayyim gives another interpretation of the Arabic word ‘أماني’ [‘vague fancies,’ or ‘hearsay,’ or ‘wishful thinking’]: “Allah has criticized those who tampered with the Scriptures [that preceded the Quran] (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:75), as well as the “unlettered ones who do not know the Scripture save by way of âmânî أماني ,” that is to say, except by way of its ‘mere recitation’”(Ibn Al-Qayyim, Badâ’iʿAl-Tafsîr, Amazing Points of Exegesis, 1:300). Indeed, many are the Muslim scholars who forewarn Muslims against ignoring the contemplation of the Quran and focusing only upon the recitation of its verses without reflecting on their meanings, objectives, lessons, and teachings, which we are divinely commanded to apply in our daily lives.
Check Your Priorities
To benefit from the Gracious Quran in our lives, we need to liberate our senses and cognitive faculties; namely, our senses of sight and hearing, as well as the perceptions of the heart and mind. They must be freed for Revelation from all that distracts and corrupts them. Allah says in the Quran:
Moreover, it is Allah [alone] who has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers knowing nothing [at all]. Yet He made for you [the faculties of] hearing, and sight, and hearts [that comprehend], so that you may [learn and] give thanks. Sûrat Al-Na ḥl, 16:78
These senses and cognitive faculties, with which Allah has blessed humans, are the means by which we receive the sign-verses of the Quran and reflect upon them. Yet our senses and faculties are continuously peppered with a complex mixture of unprompted provocations, images, bits of information and all that is part of man’s cultural, social, and created environment.
Human beings are creatures of habit. Thus we tend to yield to whatever we are accustomed. This is the reason we need training to learn to detect and sort out the things that are reaching our senses and cognitive faculties, for these are the ‘inspirations’ that shape our mindset and affect our decisions and attitudes. Unless we are selective about what we allow ourselves to see and hear, the main avenues of influence to our hearts and minds, we will not be able to optimize the spiritual and behavioral benefits available to us in the Glorious Quran.
To become successfully discerning in our thought and day-to-day experience, we need to stop and review our priorities in life. We should be prepared and willing to renounce arrogance, lethargy, and self-deception, and to confront ourselves with the truth confirmed by the following verse of the Quran, which Allah shall say on the Day of Judgment to the doomed:
Did you think, then, that We had created you in vain, and that you would not be returned to Us [for Judgment]? Sûrat Al-Mu’minûn, 23:115
In Part 2, we’ll look into Spiritual Detoxification and investigate some Habits to Cultivate.