FIRM IN THEIR belief that the Gracious Quran was a communication from God to His slaves on earth, our righteous ancestors (salaf) gave the Book of our Lord their utmost care (memorizing it, understanding it, and acting upon it). In this, they were emulating the example of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, whose life revolved around the Quran and whose character was patterned after it.
Governing the salaf ‘s reflection (tadabbur) on the Quran was a practical approach: Heeding the admonitions of the Quran and acting upon them.
Who are the “Companions of the Quran”?
Generations of scholars have stressed the importance of the approach of our pious salaf toward the Quran and that it was, in fact, an obligation.
- The renowned Tâbiʿî, Al-Ḥasan Al-Ba ṣri said:Only the true followers of the Quran reflect on its verses (Musannaf ʿAbd Al-Râziq, 5984).
- The noted muffassir (Quran commentator), Imam Al->abari, said:Tadabbur of the Quran is to reflect on the arguments and prescriptions of Allah included therein with a mind to take heed of their warnings and to act upon them (JâmiʿAl-Bayân fî Ta’wîl Al-Qur’ân, 23:153).
- Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim quoted one of the salafas saying:The Quran was sent down to regulate the conduct of Allah’s servants, so make your recitation of it an avenue to acting upon it, for the real companions of the Quran are those who act upon it, even if they do not commit it to memory.As for those who memorize the Quran but comprehend it not and so do not heed its admonitions, they are not of the companions of the Quran, no matter how good they are at its recitation. (Zâd Al-Maʿâd, 1:323)
Tadabbur – Making It Happen
As the foregoing pronouncements of our ʿulamâ’ (scholars) suggest, the one principal corollary of tadabbur of the Quran is the submission of the heart and the body of the contemplator to the Quran’s admonitions. Any tadabbur of the Quran that is not conducive to this state is meaningless. This is substantiated by Allah’s statement censuring the hypocrites and disbelievers for their failure to take heed of the Quran’s forewarnings:
Then do they not reflect on the word of Allah? Or are they in denial only because there has come to them from Allah what did not come to their forefathers of old? [Sûrat A-Mu’minûn, 23:68]
and also His statement:
Will they not, then, reflect upon the admonitions of the Quran? Or is it rather that on some hearts there are locks of their own [making]? [Sûrat Mu ḥammad, 47:24].
Tadabbur – Path to Islamic Character
Submission to the Will of the Divine as manifested in the verses of the Quran, then, is the paramount prerequisite of tadabbur. This is what sets the term ‘tadabbur’ apart from other related Quranic terms, such as ‘nadhar’ (thinking), ‘fahm’ (understanding), and others.
Although these terms may at times be synonymous with the term ‘tadabbur’ in either a linguistic or general sense, when allusion is made to tadabbur in the Quran, it almost always denotes a tadabbur that leads to heeding the Quran’s admonitions and aligning one’s thought and conduct with its guidance.
This nature of tadabbur is perfectly mirrored in the practical approach our salaf took toward the Quran. It is reported from a number of the Prophet’s Companions, including ʿUthmân ibn ʿAffân , ʿAbdullah ibn Masʿûd , and ʿUbay ibn Kaʿb , that they would take ten ayât of the Quran and study them intensely, with the goal of trying their best to bring their conduct in line with whatever dictates those ayât might contain. Then, and only then, would they move to the following ten ayât.
This graduated, piece-by-piece approach to the study of the Quran enabled these Companions, as they themselves put it, to:
Learn ʿilm (religious knowledge) and ʿamal (action) concurrently (A ḥmad).
Commenting on this report, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah remarks:
Reflection (tadabbur) becomes fruitful when it leads to the understanding of the Quran. Allah said: We have made it an Arabic Quran, so that you may understand [its prolific meaning] [Sûrat Al-Zukhruf, 43:3].
It is incumbent upon Allah’s messengers to convey, as plainly as possible, the Heavenly revelation which they receive from their Lord.
The messengers’ audiences, on the other hand, are obliged to accept and understand the divine message passed on to them by Allah’s messengers.
Understanding, however, comprises both knowledge and action. It therefore, follows that if one has knowledge of good and evil but this knowledge does not influence one’s thought and conduct, then one is unworthy of being labeled wise or a man of understanding (MajmûʿAl-Fatâwa, 15:108).
The Sahaba, the Tabi’in, and the Quran
The following illustrative and instructive examples underscore this practical approach to the Quran on the part of our righteous predecessors.
- Nâfiʿnarrated that ʿAbdullah Ibn ʿUmar said: “It took ʿUmar (Ibn Al-Kha ṭ ṭâb) twelve years to learn Sûrat Al-Baqarah. When he had concluded his lengthy study of the surah, ʿUmar celebrated with a gathering for which a number of camels were slaughtered” (Al-Bay ḥaqî in his Shuʿab Al-Imân, 3:346. See also: Tafsîr Al-Tabarî, 1:40).
- Bukhâri narrates that a man once entered the majlis(consultative assembly) of ʿUmar and addressed him thus: “O ʿUmar! By Allah! You neither spend on your subjects liberally nor judge between them fairly!”This riled ʿUmar , and he was about to punish the man, but then the Companion Al-¤ur ibn Qays , then present, addressed ʿUmar, saying: “O Commander of the Faithful! Allah has said to His Messenger: Take the course of pardoning others, O Prophet, and enjoin what is right. Yet turn away from the ignorant and belligerent, [Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:199] and this man is certainly one of the ignorant and belligerent.”Ibn ʿAbbâs , who also witnessed the incident, remarked: “By Allah! ʿUmar’s anger dissipated the instant he heard this ayah, for, indeed, he was renowned for his unqualified submission to the dictates of the Book of Allah.”
ʿUmar’s conduct is a practical example of the salaf ‘s profound deference to, and reverence for, the injunctions of the Quran, which, again, is the fruit of their profound tadabbur of the Quran.
This methodical, solemn, and unhurried study of the Quran was not limited to ʿUmar Ibn Al-Kha ṭ ṭâb . It was common to most of the celebrated Companions of the Prophet.
ʿAbdullah Ibn ʿUmar remarked:
Most of the well known Companions of the Prophet memorized no more than a surah or two of the Quran. They were busy acting upon the teachings contained in the surahs. Yet shall a time come when countless Muslims will commit the whole Quran to memory, but they shall heed not its guidance (Al-Âjurî, Akhlâq Ahl Al-Qur’ân, p.10).
Our Ummah’s Modern Plague
The following hadîth explains this slack, unprincipled approach to the Quran that Ibn ʿUmar reported would plague later generations of Muslims.
The Companion Ibn ʿAbbâs said: Once when a man from the outlands called upon ʿUmar, ʿUmar inquired after the welfare of his people. “O Commander of the Faithful! Many of them have learned the Quran by heart,” he said.
To this, I [Ibn ʿAbbâs] retorted: “By Allah! I do not like that they learn the Quran with such haste!” My comment irked ʿUmar, who chastised me, saying: “What is it that you dislike about the man’s statement?”
Shaken by ʿUmar’s stern rebuke, I replied: “I am sorry, and I seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent to Him if I have made a mistake or been inconsiderate!”
“Yet I insist that you tell me what you think is wrong with the man’s statement,” ʿUmar said. I said: “O Commander of the Faithful! I fear that this hurried manner of studying the Quran on the part of this man’s people might cause them to make mistakes. And if they make mistakes, they will engage in disputation. And disputation is bound to fill their hearts with mutual rancor, which will provoke them to fight one another.”
Whereupon ʿUmar said: “What a man! By Allah I have entertained the same thought, but I have suppressed it and hid it from the people until you have now made it public!” (Musannaf ʿAbd Al-Râziq, Chapter of Disputation Over the Quran, No. 20368).
To be continued, Inshâ’ Allah…