Let’s Examine Our Relationship with the Qur'an

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Highlights Topics: Quran, Ramadan Views: 2407

The Qur'an was revealed by Almighty Allah through Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to mankind to bring them out of the disorienting and debilitating darkness of falsehood, ignorance and superstitions to the light and radiance of truth, guidance and proper erudition. The Qur'an is the only means available to man by which he can communicate directly with his Creator, Master and Sustainer. No other alternative is left as all the previous Scriptures have been tampered with, corrupted or utterly lost.

This indeed is a hallmark of the Islamic message. Man needs no intermediaries of any kind -- conceptual or physical -- between him and his Master. The whole life affair is solely between man and Allah. Everything and everyone else stands for a secondary thing, playing second fiddle to that overwhelming relationship. Allah is only a Qur'anic verse (ayah), a contemplative thought, or a sincere supplication "away".

Man has been created but to worship and serve Allah (al-Dhariyat, 56). However, this by no means implies that man is to engross himself fully and exclusively in sheer religious rituals and spend most of his terrestrial time mainly in mosques or some other religious institutions and establishments. Indeed, such would be impractical, uninspiring and dull an affair. Rather, that means that man in his capacity as Allah’s vicegerent on earth is to live his life “to the fullest” but only according to the patterns and paradigms instituted by the Creator. Man is to live his life not according to his own will, but according to the will of the Creator and Cherisher of life. Each and every creation is to submit itself only to its Creator, rather than other creations. So imperfect, faulty and weak is man -- and indeed every other creation -- that he cannot be qualified for any of the tasks relating to the spiritual and existential lordship and self-sufficiency.

That said, Islam is not a religion in the sense Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., are. Islam is a complete way of life. It is a comprehensive lifestyle, culture and civilization. It is a form of total submission to the will, knowledge and guidance of Allah. Islam is not a religion of mere words, slogans, or symbols. It is not a religion of an abstract philosophy, or a set of pure religious rituals. Islam knows no distinction between the spiritual and material spheres of existence along the ideological and ontological lines. To assert something like that is to distort the Islamic message and to live in the wrong. Due to the unity and oneness of Allah (tawhid), Islam likewise propagates the unity and oneness of truth and of the meaning, purpose and providence of life and man.

Islam is a religion of sincere faith (iman), actions and deeds (‘amal salih). It is a religion of life accomplishments. Islam is life, and life, the way Allah created and predetermined it, echoes the quintessence and ethos of Islam. The word “islam” which denotes a total submission to Allah through one’s acts, words and thoughts, clearly attests to it. Hence, there is nothing more thrilling, spellbinding, wholesome and rewarding than living life in the name of and for the Creator of the universe. Submitting fully to and worshiping Allah alone means personal liberation, self-assertion and self-fulfillment in the truest senses of those words.

Islam therefore is to be lived, not practiced. True Muslims live Islam. Those who practice it are yet to experience the authentic beauty and sweetness of the Islamic faith.
That is why some people in the end become apostates. They get tired of, or fed up, with practicing some -- to them -- dry, rigid and meaningless rituals rooted in little, or no genuine, truth.

In point of fact, however, apostates were never Muslims as per the Qur'anic conception and interpretation of the term. They were never Muslims because true Muslims do not (cannot) become apostates. A person cannot renounce what he intrinsically is and what he primordially was meant to be. He can only give up and abandon his artificial self and artificial life patterns unnaturally imposed on him, which he regularly and constantly did in order to become better at them and make them an everyday part of his routine life. Positively, Islam cannot be an artificial, non-natural and simulated lifestyle and culture.

As a small digression, those who neither subscribe to nor follow the only message and guidance meant for mankind -- which was revealed to all the prophets of Allah during entire human history, Muhammad (pbuh) being the final messenger -- actually do not "live". They only exist, like the rest of life’s animate and inanimate realities. They slumber throughout and wake up only when departing this fleeting life. The idea of life is attached to them only metaphorically. And, hypothetically, those who live the only revealed message of Allah, Islam, but want to give it up, will need to "die" first, as such an option in the real world is not viable, in that true Islam means true life, and vice versa. Islam, it goes without saying, is not only about human existence, but also about each and every tier of the whole physical and metaphysical existence. It is its DNA, so to speak.

In its capacity as a divine book of guidance, inspiration, truth, clear signs, cure, mercy, glad tidings, and ultimate wisdom and knowledge encompassing everything necessary for the fulfillment of the ontological purpose of existence (al-Baqarah, 97, 185; Yunus, 57; al-Isra’, 82; al-Nahl, 89), the holy Qur'an accounts for everything Islam as a total code of life is. The Qur'an is a symbol of the Islamic message. The two have become inseparable, almost synonymous with each other.

Thus, the Qur'an signifies to Muslims the source of their identity, strength, consciousness and cultural as well as civilizational being. Without the Qur'an, there will be no Islam; nor will there be Muslims and Islamic culture and civilization. Without the Qur'an as a conduit of revealed wisdom and knowledge concerning the spiritual and ethical meaning and purpose of life, furthermore, little permanently wholesome will ever be possible for man to achieve. One thus may ask: what conceptual, substantial or moral good would remain with mankind if the towering contributions of God’s holy prophets and the direct and indirect contributions of numerous sages and leaders the prophets produced were taken away from them? The emphatic answer is: nothing, or extremely little, at best.

Nonetheless, it is a sad truth today that many Muslims' relationship with the Qur'an is fraught with a myriad of deficiencies. In a nutshell, the Qur'an has been either abandoned completely, or is erroneously dealt with.

In the former scenario, many people have nothing to do with the Qur'an and its content insofar as their private, family and professional lives are concerned. Their affiliation with Islam is based on some repetitive rituals and traditions which they inherited from their forefathers and which they blindly follow. Their Islam often revolves around "Islamic" symbolism, deadening formalism and baseless tales and superstitions. They are not interested in the Qur'an as they know that with it all they live for will suddenly be exposed and shaken to its core. The Qur'an is thus bound to bring more "damage" than "profit" to such people.

In the latter case, the Qur'an is regularly but hastily read or recited without duly understanding or contemplating its content. Moreover, its substance is yet misread, misinterpreted and misapplied. The Qur'an is often used as a means for justifying and supporting some preconceived ideas and judgments. People have also subjected the Qur'an to themselves, rather than subjecting themselves to it. They have rendered the Qur'an relative, and their selfish goals and concerns absolute. The Qur'an has partially been made the object of their one-dimensional and patchy -- often outright flawed -- intellectual, spiritual and cultural pursuits. The Qur'an is meant thereby to be superficially and partially comprehended and implemented, at best, and misused and even abused, at worst. However, the Prophet (pbuh) warned that there will be times when certain people will recite the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats, meaning it will not enter their hearts and they will not understand it. “They will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game's body” (Sahih al-Bukhari).

Some of the less heartrending states of affairs go along the lines of constantly reading the Qur'an for the sake of mere reading it. The Qur’an is also recorded and regularly played on numerous TV programs and during various official and unofficial ceremonies, in public and in private. Qur’an recitations by world’s most famous reciters could be heard virtually everywhere in most of the Muslim world: from the minarets of mosques, in shopping centers, schools, private houses, restaurants and coffee shops, and all forms of private and public transportation. Some reciters have become world celebrities as a result; many others dream and do their best to follow suit. Tilawah (reciting Qur'an) competitions are organized on a regular basis, both locally and internationally, and huge amounts of money are allocated for the purpose (all this takes place despite most universities and other institutions of higher learning, in their capacity as rare beacons of hope -- especially such as those endued with an Islamic spirit and disposition -- having been bereft of significant research and publication opportunities and funds). Countless schools and colleges dedicated to reciting and memorizing the Qur’an are established worldwide and many Qur’an reciters and hafizs (those who memorize the whole Qur’an) are produced annually.

The many outward benefits of all those activities notwithstanding, quantity and form, clearly, are emphasized at the expense of quality and substance, in complete opposition to the whole spirit of Islam and the Qur'an. It is true, at the same time, that there is a growing number of genuine exceptions, but unfortunately they are still few and far between. It stands to reason that the whole set of the mentioned prevalent religious trends stands for a segment of what could be dubbed an emerging Muslim pop(ular) culture some of whose main features and qualities revolve not only around the Qur’an, but also around the realms of Muslim fashion, entertainment, media and sport.

We often hear statements to the effect that one ought to read at least one juz' (the Qur'an has 30 juz' or portions, each juz' having about 20 pages) a day. That way, one ought to finish the entire Qur'an (khatm al-Qur’an) at least once a month. In the month of Ramadan, the month of the holy Qur'an, however, this relationship with the Qur'an is expected to intensify and one is expected to read even more.

If this is said in the context of one's truly fruitful relationship with the Qur'an, and as part of his most authentic personality, family and community-building processes, then the matter is remarkably brilliant and so, by all means encouraged. But if it is said in the context of one's one-dimensional, incorrect and only interest-based relationship with the Qur'an, then the matter becomes rather objectionable. It is bound to cause as much unintended bad as premeditated good both at the individual and societal levels of the Muslim cultural and civilizational presence. It is bound to further contribute to cementing and perpetuating all the negative aspects of the problematic relationship between the Qur'an and a great many weak Muslims.

As a result, there are many especially non-Arab Muslims who have read the Qur'an many times but are not aware of its fundamental meanings and messages. Others do not even care.

One then wonders: what type of Muslims are Muslims? What type of Islam do they follow? How could they barter the true, unambiguous, natural and logical message of Islam and the Qur'an for some irrational, meaningless and foreign spiritual, ethical and epistemological alternatives? Who are (were) the main culprits for the predicament, and under what circumstances did such an unprofitable trade come to pass?
These questions are compelling and spontaneously impose themselves considering that in Islam, no blind following and no beliefs and spiritual undertakings that are based on irrational evidence and reasoning, are accepted. Islam is a rational, balanced and open-minded religion, so, Muslims must be most rational and open-minded of all people. Since its inception, Islam declared an ideological war against those and other similar intellectual and spiritual crimes and felonies that can only paralyze and hold people back on their journey of civilization-making. Allah says: “And do not pursue (say, do or witness) that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart -- about all those (one) will be questioned” (al-Isra’, 36). Accordingly, any act of blind following or performance on the basis of utter ignorance, even in pure religious rites or ceremonies, is an abominable course of action as it disregards the projected tasks and knacks of the faculties given to man.

Therefore, a person who is a stranger to the inspiring and enlightening messages of the Qur'an can hardly claim to possess authentic Islamic faith; nor can he claim to be a true Muslim. The Qur'an is the only force that makes a person a believer and Muslim. A person does not do so independently and on his own accord. Nor is it that he bends and adjusts the content of the Qur'an turning it into an instrument of validation of his partly or completely un-Islamic beliefs and practices. People must stop being cultural or nominal Muslims. They must become enlightened, rational, wholehearted and “revolutionary” followers of Islam, benefitting not only themselves and their Muslim brethren, but also non-Muslims.

One of the most prominent qualities of the Qur'an is its being muhaymin (the guardian, witness and overseer) (al-Ma’idah, 48). The Qur’an thus inspires, guards and oversees, with human souls being affected, guarded and watched over most. The Qur'an is the source; human souls are the target and beneficiaries. Accepting as true, both in theory and practice, that the Qur’an is what Allah says it is, lies at the core of an essential Islamic tenet according to which every Muslim must believe in the holy prophets and their holy books (revelations) on top of which stand Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Qur’an. As the final revelation and eternal miracle to mankind, the Qur’an is to surpass in authority and influence all the previous miracles associated with earlier prophets – which is one of the underlying meanings of muhaymin. If such is not the case, the problem is not with the Qur’an, but with, and within, us. For example, if Prophet Musa (Moses) (pbuh) was given 9 signs or miracles (ayat) (al-Isra’, 101; al-Naml, 12), Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was given 6,236 signs (ayat), each sign (ayah) corresponding to a Qur’anic verse and so, for a sign and miracle.

It is owing to this that Allah at one point describes the Qur'an as "ruh" (soul, spirit, inspiration, command) (al-Shura, 52), which means that the Qur’an inspires and sustains an intellectual, moral and spiritual life with and in those who embrace it as their life companion and guide. Hence, in the same verse wherein the notion of the Qur'an as "ruh" has been mentioned, the notions of book (true knowledge), faith, guidance, enlightenment and the straight path have also been articulated, whereby the comprehensive nature of the Qur’anic impact on the phenomenon of existence at large is clearly spelled out. This applies as much to individuals and their personal life missions as to institutions, communities and nations and their collective missions. One of the best ways to behold the Qur’an as a miracle in action is to witness and experience what it does to our souls and our individual as well as societal life systems and organizations when it is invited and duly permitted to do so.

For obvious reasons, historically, the Qur’an functioned as an enduring catalyst of spiritual as well as intellectual literacy in the Muslim world. The literacy rate most of the time was remarkable. For instance, during some of the most prosperous Muslim epochs, many not only scholars, but also ordinary people across the vast Muslim territories were bilingual. They spoke, or were able to understand, Arabic as the language of the Qur’an, apart from their own native languages such as Turkish, Persian, Urdu, etc. Small wonder, then, that the enemies of Islam always strove to alienate Muslims from their Qur’an and the Arabic language – Arabs from the purity of their language in favor of some peculiar and hollow vernaculars or dialects, and non-Arabs from it altogether in favor of some equally peculiar and hollow alternatives served in the name of bogus forms of cultural refinement and classiness – knowing only too well that the Qur’an is the point where the case of Islam and Muslims can get hurt the most.

On the whole, it is utterly irrelevant how much one reads of the Qur’an. What is relevant is how he reads it, how much he comprehends of the Qur’an’s infinite wisdom and messages, and how successfully he translates and implements what he learned therefrom onto the complex and demanding arena of life. Reading the Qur’an in order to correctly understand and effectively apply it in life is what every Muslim’s struggle (personal jihad) should be, regardless of how fast or slow the process might be. People are born different with different intellectual and spiritual propensities and gifts, so, their performances and results will vary accordingly. What is appreciated most in the sight of Allah are the appropriateness and sincerity of intentions, dedication to the noble purpose and perseverance. In other words, what matters most are overall efforts and some spiritual intangible components and criteria, rather than sheer numbers, figures and some irrelevant quantifiable measures and standards. In certain situations, clearly, less will mean more.

Therefore, to emphasize and insist in the current Muslim intellectual and spiritual climate on dealing with the Qur’an only in terms of the numbers of recited sections (juz’) or chapters (surah) a day, or the numbers of khatm al-Qur’an (recitation of the whole Qur’an) a month or a year – especially with the general public and in non-Arab societies -- will be grossly inappropriate. In passing, all the traditions and accounts referring to the magnificent acts of reading, reciting and even memorizing the whole or substantial portions of the Qur’an aim at the propositions of the correct understanding, appreciation and implementation of the Qur’an in people’s day by day activities and interactions. Constantly reading, reciting and memorizing the Qur’an -- plus printing, promoting and distributing it – should represent mere righteous means, methods and strategies meant to encourage and facilitate even more dignified and righteous objectives. Some of those traditions are gravely misunderstood and are taken out of their contexts.

The ultimate goal of every Muslim should be to become a “walking Qur’an” just as the Prophet (pbuh) was, that is to say, that he should personify in his overall deportment and manners the Qur’anic worldview, values and teachings. In this way, the exemplary model of the Qur’an will be transported into the world of corporeal life systems and realities. The Qur’an will thus become alive, tackling head-on and solving the greatest challenges and conundrums that face man and his life systems and organizations. By not being reduced to just a theory, the Qur’an will also promote itself as a living miracle and workable blueprint for all the feasible civilizational enterprises of man.

Nonetheless, such is the nature of the Qur’an as Allah’s final and eternal miracle (mu’jizah) to people that it offers to its readers and students only as much as they really want and are prepared for. Hence, there are people who read the Qur’an a lot, but receive nothing or very little in return. That is so because in reality they never wanted more from the Qur’an. Some people, on the other hand, get much from the Qur’an only because they so wanted from the outset. On balance, it is only fair that people get what they sincerely wish and are equipped for.

It follows that since the human hearts are the repositories of the Qur’an (al-Shu’ara’, 194; al-Baqarah, 97), only they whose hearts have been purified could grasp and accommodate the purity and inviolability of the Qur’an’s divine wisdom and messages. A person’s benefits from the Qur’an will always be proportionate to the extent of the purity of his heart. The tongue and the mind are not the repositories of the Qur’an. They are but stations or degrees through which the Qur’an passes on its voyage to its final destination, the heart, leaving its suitable impact and marks at each of those stations. That is an implication of the following Qur’anic verses: “Indeed, it is a noble Qur'an, in a Register well-protected; none touch it except the purified. (It is) a revelation from the Lord of the worlds” (al-Waqi’ah, 77-80). Allah also says linking the contemplation of the Qur’an with human hearts: “Will they then not contemplate the Qur'an? Or are there locks upon (their) hearts?” (Muhammad, 24).

When reading or studying the Qur’an, every individual is to bear in mind that the Qur’an has been revealed through Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) directly to him. Every word is Allah’s direct speech (communication), or revelation, to him. Therefore, every individual should prepare himself for the scale of such a mode of communication primarily by removing any spiritual and mental obstacles that might stand between him and the Qur’an and thus hinder reception. He can try to imagine himself alone in the cave Hira’ (the venue of the first and most dramatic revelation to the Prophet (pbuh)) as a backdrop of the communication. He also needs to disengage himself from this physical world and try to connect up with the metaphysical plane, a world of a higher order of things and meanings, as much as possible.

After every verse -- or sets of shorter verses -- the person should stop and attempt to fathom what exactly Allah was conveying particularly to him, using translations, commentaries of the Qur’an and even appropriate secondary books and references as aid. The help of trustworthy scholars can likewise be sought. Undeniably, apart from general messages, there are specific Qur’anic messages for each and every one of us. We are to search for ourselves and our specific existential cases in the infinite sea of the Qur’anic wisdom. No rushed moving on to subsequent verses is to be undertaken until the previous ones have been adequately understood and acted upon. In the meantime, however, the person can embark on sporadic casual and superficial readings, in order to gratify his inner impulse which is bound to be intensified by some ubiquitous religious trends, but the former approach is to remain a priority irrespective of how slow, protracted and challenging it may be. The same style is to become integral to one’s life mission, for there is nothing better and more rewarding than being an everlasting student of the Qur’an.

For the above reasons the Qur’anic verses are called ayat -- plural of ayah -- which means “signs”. So, as a book of revealed signs, the Qur’an is to be meticulously read, explored, contemplated and put into practice. In tandem with the reading and exploring of the signs (ayat) of the natural and physical world, a Muslim armed with the Qur’an in his heart has everything at his disposal needed for unraveling some of the biggest mysteries of life, and for marching confidently towards the ultimate realization of his life mission and purpose. This integration between the ayat (signs) of the Qur’an and the ayat (signs) of the physical existence served to Muslims in the past as a conceptual framework for their cultural and civilizational awakening and progress. In the process, some of the most splendid chapters in the history of human civilizational output and ingenuity were written. And unquestionably, for contemporary Muslims and their mounting unprecedented challenges, too, the methods of integration between revelation and reason, science and religion, the matter and spirit, the body and soul, the heavens and earth – that is, between the ayat (signs) of the revealed Qur’an (al-qur’an al-tadwini) and the ayat (signs) of the physical existence or the ontological or cosmic “qur’an” (al-qur’an al-takwini) -- will always be most effective. However, there are no prescribed models of integration. What at all times will be needed are people’s willingness, motivation, open-mindedness, dedication, hard work, leadership and a culture of comprehensive excellence, with every age producing its own protagonists and modi operandi.

The above notion is somewhat encapsulated in the following account. ‘A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, narrated that one night the Prophet (pbuh) stood up in prayer and cried until his beard became wet. He prostrated and cried until he made the ground wet. He then laid down on his side and cried. When Bilal came to alert the Prophet (pbuh) for the Dawn (Fajr) prayer, he said: “O Messenger of Allah! What makes you cry, while Allah has forgiven you your previous and latter sins?” He said: “O Bilal! What prevents me from crying, when this night, this ayah (Qur’anic verse) was revealed to me: {‘Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs (ayat) for men of understanding’} (Alu ‘Imran, 190).” The Prophet (pbuh) then said: “Woe to he who recites it but does not contemplate it.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)


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