Lecture 2 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Sunday 26 April 2020 (2 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
In the previous lecture, we started our discussion about understanding the nature of the Quran according to the Quran. We tried to explain that in addition to its rich content and message of guidance, and its moral, ethical and jurisprudential commands and many other subjects covered therein, there is a very strong divine, spiritual aspect which makes it sacred. Therefore, even the words of the Holy Quran in printed form carries great respect.
This is what we learn from the Holy Quran directly:
– How we should interact with the Quran;
– What should be our relationship with the Holy Quran;
– Manners and etiquettes of the recitation of the Holy Quran
RECAP OF FIRST 3 ETIQUETTES IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE QURAN
On the topic of our relationship with the Holy Quran, we discussed 3 important points in the introductory lecture.
Firstly, the Holy Quran says that it cannot be touched except by the pure ones. Cleanliness is therefore one important condition, even for this external printed format of the Quran. It cannot be touched without cleanliness in the form of wudhu (ablution). And at the same time the inner Reality of the Quran cannot be accessed without spiritual purity.
The second point which we discussed in the introductory lecture was that the Holy Quran instructs us to read the Holy Quran in a particular manner known as Tarteel. This is referenced from Surah Muzzammil (chapter 73), verse 4, where we are instructed to read the Holy Quran in slow, rhythmic tones and we discussed the details of what that means.
The third point discussed in the introductory lecture was that we are recommended to read the Holy Quran as much as possible. This is again referenced from Surah Muzzammil, verse 20 (which is also the last verse of this Surah).
FOCUSED LISTENING AND SILENCE IN PRESENCE OF QURAN
I would now like to introduce the fourth point, again in light of the Holy Quran, where Almighty Allah (SWT) says in verse 204 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7):
وَإِذَا قُرِئَ الْقُرْآنُ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ وَأَنْصِتُوا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ
“And when the Quran is recited, then listen to it and remain silent, that mercy may be shown to you.”
The earlier points mentioned our responsibility when reading the Quran, whereas this fourth point highlights our responsibility when listening to the recitation of the Holy Quran. We are ordered in this verse to listen and remain silent when the Quran is read, instead of raising our voices.
This is very important to understand, as the type of listening referred to here is not just hearing. It is about listening with keen focus and attention. This type of listening entails trying to absorb and understand the message, which requires silence, to devote our undivided attention. This is again in line with the level of respect afforded to the Holy Quran.
Let me take a moment to rewind to a point I made in the introductory lecture on the divine, spiritual aspect of the Holy Quran. Again, if we simply regard the Holy Quran as a book containing messages of guidance and nothing beyond in terms of Divine Sanctity, then it makes no sense for us to remain silent when it is being recited.
This again highlights that the recitation of the Quran demands special respect. A further point to note in this regard is that even if the Quran is being recited by the people who may not even believe in it, we are still supposed to remain silent.
We have examples in history when the Kharijites, during the sermons of Imam Ali (a.s) in Masjid Kufa, would stand up and read a verse of the Holy Quran referring to the punishment of Almighty Allah (SWT), and in so doing wanted to use this verse to indicate that this verse of punishment is directed at Imam Ali (a.s).
Now, Imam Ali (a.s) knew that this was a Kharijite, and this person is reciting the Holy Quran to misuse it and abuse it for his own ulterior motives. Despite this devious intent of the Kharijite, history has recorded that Imam Ali (a.s) remained silent and listened to this person’s recitation. This is the high level of respect which Imam Ali (a.s) displayed towards the recitation of the Holy Quran, despite the person reciting having no good intentions.
BEAUTIFICATION OF THE QURAN WITH YOUR VOICE
The fifth point I wish to introduce is another unique point about the Holy Quran, namely that we should recite it in the most beautiful manner and voice. There is no verse which is directly commanding this requirement, but we have numerous Ahadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s) where they have commanded us to recite the Holy Quran in the most beautiful manner.
When you recite the Holy Quran in a beautiful tune, it shows an art of expression. Hence, when a Qari recites the Quran in a very beautiful voice, which attracts the hearts of the people and draws souls nearer to the Quran and influences our minds and melts our hearts, it is an art in its own right. This art is inspired from the Qari’s love of the Holy Quran. When a Qari recites the Holy Quran in a most beautiful manner, it is his expression of intense love for the Quran, in the form of beautiful Qira’ah.
There are many examples to demonstrate the point in this regard. When we look at calligraphy, we see how artistic skills are being manifested and sometimes years and years (if not a lifetime) are dedicated to writing the Holy Quran in a beautiful manner. Similarly, adorning the prayer chamber (Mihrab) or walls of a mosque with the artistic calligraphy of verses from the Holy Quran.
Especially, if you study the unique artistic style in different parts of the Islamic world, we see the extensive devotion committed to creating those masterpieces of art.
Unfortunately, many people misunderstand the philosophy behind this love and think that it’s all a waste and then criticize these artists for not rather spending their time in understanding the Holy Quran and promoting its message, instead of expressing their love in the form of beautiful writing on the walls of mosques. Of course, understanding, practicing and promoting the Holy Quran is our prime responsibility. There is absolutely no doubt about this.
However, there is nothing wrong if someone displays their passion for the words of Almighty Allah (SWT) through the expression of Qira’ah and calligraphy. This is not in contradiction with the message of the Holy Quran. It is a different angle to the Quran, and this is what I am trying to explain in the introductory lecture and again now.
It is only when a Qari draws himself into the love of Quran that he is capable of reciting it in the most beautiful manner. For the famous Qurrah we have seen visiting our shores over many years, we find that the Quran is everything for them. With this deep passion for Quran, we find that they can express their recitation so beautifully, which melts the heart.
RECITING THE QURAN WITH A BEAUTIFUL VOICE ADDS TO THE BEAUTY OF THE QURAN ITSELF
The above mentioned is not without any background of the Holy Quran itself. We have verse 1 of Surah Faatir (chapter 35 of the Holy Quran) where Almighty Allah (SWT) says:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ فَاطِرِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ جَاعِلِ الْمَلَائِكَةِ رُسُلًا أُولِي أَجْنِحَةٍ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ ۚ يَزِيدُ فِي الْخَلْقِ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“All praise is due to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker of the angels, messengers flying on wings, two, and three, and four; He increases in creation what He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things.”
Under the explanation of this verse, we find a Hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), where he says that we should beautify the Quran with our beautiful voices, because a beautiful voice and tune gives the Quran more beauty. Rasulullah (SAWA) then emphasized the excerpt from this verse which highlights that Almighty Allah (SWT) increases what He has created, as a result of this beautiful recitation.
What this means is that when someone recites the Holy Quran through his or her beautiful voice, then indirectly through this beautiful voice which is a gift from Almighty Allah (SWT) to this person, we find that He increases what He has created through this beautiful recitation.
MEMORIZATION OF QURAN
The sixth point I want to highlight is that of Hifz (memorization) of the Holy Quran. Again, there is no direct verse to highlight this point, but indirectly, there is verse 34 of Surah Ahzaab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran) addressing the wives of Rasulullah (SAWA):
وَاذْكُرْنَ مَا يُتْلَىٰ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَالْحِكْمَةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ لَطِيفًا خَبِيرًا
“And recite what is rehearsed to you in your homes, of the Signs of Allah and His Wisdom: for Allah understands the finest mysteries and is well-acquainted (with them).”
While this verse is directly addressing the wives of Rasulullah (SAWA), it is indirectly also a command to all of us to remember the verses of the Holy Quran. Again, there are numerous Hadith narrated from Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) instructing us that memorizing the Holy Quran is extremely recommended and highly appreciated in our religion.
In fact, the protection of verses of the Holy Quran in the early days of Islam was through its memorization. This culture has been maintained across the ages where you find many people across the world who have memorized the Holy Quran in various modes. Memorization of the Holy Quran is therefore another angle explaining our relationship with it and our respect to its Divine, spiritual nature.
In summary, we have thus far explained 6 points in connection with our relationship of the Holy Quran:
1. Taharah – spiritual cleanliness through wudhu (ablution) and purifying our actions;
2. Tarteel – recitation in slow, rhythmic tones;
3. Reading the Quran repeatedly;
4. Attentive listening and maintaining silence when the Quran is recited;
5. Reading in the most beautiful manner;
6. Hifz (memorization) of the Quran
These 6 points are more connected to the manners and etiquettes as it pertains to the external format of the Holy Quran. Example, we cannot touch the printed page of the Quran without wudhu, and we are supposed to read in a particular manner, etc.
SEEKING REFUGE WITH ALLAH FROM SATAN WHEN RECITING QURAN
At this point, I wish to add a two further important points which are expressed in the Holy Quran, regarding our relationship with the Holy Quran. These points which I am about to explain relate to the internal aspect of the Quran.
I wish to highlight verse 98 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16 of the Holy Quran):
فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
“So when you recite the Quran, seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Shaitan.”
This verse explains that we should seek refuge against the influence of Satan when reading the Quran. This command in respect of our relationship with the Quran can be understood in one of two ways.
First, from the apparent aspect, where we start the recitation of the Holy Quran with “Authu billahi minashaytanir rajeem”, which means “I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan”. So, this will be a command connected, quite literally, to reading and recitation of the Holy Quran.
Now, you will recall from the previous lecture, I said that verse 79 of Surah Waaqia (chapter 56 of the Holy Quran), also has levels, and that we cannot touch the external Quran without wudhu. Similarly, we said that the internal reality of the Quran cannot be captured without spiritual cleanliness.
لَا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ
“None shall touch it save the purified ones.”
We explained that the comprehensive and perfect achievement of this internal reality is not possible except for those who are perfectly purified. These are none other than those whom the Holy Quran has itself given witness to their absolute purity, namely the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Now, similarly, with the above verse 98 of Surah Nahl, the external meaning is to seek refuge in Allah (SWT) from Satan, but then there is also the internal meaning, which is probably more important in our relationship with the Holy Quran.
You see, Qira’ah of the Holy Quran is often taken as merely being the beautiful recitation of the Holy Quran. However, there is also the inner absorption of the Holy Quran which is a direct derivative from Qira’ah. This is the process of properly internalizing the message of the Holy Quran. According to the Holy Quran, this process is not possible if you do not seek refuge in Allah (SWT) from Satan.
What the Quran is saying is that if you wish to receive guidance from it, then you need to be out of Satan’s influence, else you will not be able to really benefit from the Quran. That Qira’ah of the Quran will merely be stuck in words and nothing further.
Refuge in Allah (SWT) from Satan means the internal and external Satan. External Satan, namely Iblees, who infiltrates and pollutes our minds and internal Satan being our desires and when we are stuck in our ego, prejudice and other negative desires of our lower self like arrogance. Qira’ah of Quran does not have any impact in this case! We should not wonder why the Quran did not help me when I read it?!
If you have a beautiful view in front you like the ocean or mountain whose view you want to enjoy, there are 2 conditions necessary to actually enjoy this view. Firstly, you need the capacity to view – that is you must have eyesight and not be blind. Secondly there must not be any obstacle or barrier between you and the actual beautiful scene that you would like to view.
Similarly, if you want to be benefit from the Quran, the Quran’s logic is that you first need capacity to understand the Quran and secondly you must not have any obstacle that prevents you from absorbing and understanding the Quran. Our desires that I mentioned are all barriers between us and the truth or Reality of the Quran.
So our “seeking refuge in Allah from the accursed satan” means we need to clean ourselves and increase our capacity to effectively read Quran otherwise we will derive little benefit from it.
Elsewhere in the Quran this point is further cemented when we read in Surah Surah Israa Verse 45:
وإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْءَانَ جَعَلْنَا بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَ الَّذِينَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالاَخِرَةِ حِجَاباً مَسْتُوراً
“And when you recite the Qur’an, We place between you, and those who do not believe in the Hereafter, a hidden barrier.”
When you read Quran, your heart, soul and very existence is enlightened by the Quran, but while you are reading, those who do not have faith have a barrier placed between them and the Quran itself. What you can see or hear or absorb they simply cannot see or hear or absorb because of this hidden barrier being placed there as a result of their disbelief, arrogance and polytheism!
This barrier cannot be seen with our physical eyes as it is hidden within our soul which is unhealthy and covered with rust and thus the Quran says about such people in Surah A’raf Verse 179:
لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لاَيَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لاَيُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ ءَاذَانٌ لاَيَسْمَعُونَ
“they have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear”
DEEP PONDERING UPON THE MESSAGE OF THE QURAN
The second additional point which makes the total number of points mentioned in this lecture to be the eighth overall point with respect to the etiquette in our relationship with the Quran is the criticality of pondering deeply over the message of the Quran.
This cannot be overemphasized.
We read in Surah Muhammad Verse 24:
أفَلا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أمْ عَلَی قُلُوبٍ أقْفَالُهَا
“Do they not then ponder deeply about the Qur’an or are their hearts locked up?”
This is a bit different from the issue of seeking refuge from Allah from satan when reading Quran. Besides seeking this refuge, we need to take the matter further and ponder deeply upon the Quran to absorb its message.
In the first six etiquettes we really focused on the Divinity and Sacredness of Quran regardless of pondering upon it and that was examination of the matter on one level while in these 2 additional points we are focussing on the internal aspect of the Quran where the role of the intellect in understanding the Quran which is also critical.
One of the scholars beautifully summarised the recitation of Quran into the following types which very much ties in with what we discussed. He summarises recitation of Quran as follows:
– courteous recitation of Quran;
– reflective or contemplative recitation of Quran;
– passionate recitation of Quran which reflects inner love of the reciter;
– humble recitation of Quran;
– intuitional recitation of Quran where streams of wisdom open for you
This last type of recitation is derived from Surah Ankabut Verse 69:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا
“And those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in Our ways”
ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS RAISED BY OUR VIEWERS:
In conclusion on this discussion I would like briefly to answer the questions of our listeners on our discussion.
In Surah Baqara Verse 2 Almighty Allah says the Quran is a guidance for the “God conscious”. However, you mentioned that the Quran is guidance for “mankind”. How do you reconcile this?
This issue will be discussed in more detail in a future lecture. However, briefly guidance has different levels. Almighty Allah provides “general” guidance to all. Like we read in Surah Insaan Verse 3:
إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا
“Surely We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (is up to him)”
Such guidance is for every human being.
Whereas the guidance referred to in Surah Baqarah Verse 2 is a particular type of guidance of a higher level which is not for everyone but only for those who qualify for it.
If Quran says that “none can touch it except the pure ones” then the question is can a non-believer touch or read the Quran for example for the purposed of research or should we not allow them?
The answer to this questioned is on multiple layers.
The philosophy of not allowing one to touch the Quran except in a state of purity is due to the Divine Sacredness of the Quran even in its physical format. That is why I have even witnessed great scholars like Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli that he never touched the physical wording of the Quran when he taught a tafsir class while he of course was in a state of wudu but would place a clean piece of paper over the words and then touch that clean piece of paper instead of the actual wording of the Quran. It shows that those who comprehend the sacredness of the Quran even fear touching it while being in a state of wudu!
Therefore, when saying you can’t touch the Quran while in a state of impurity, on one level it reflects a type of disrespect for the Quran or insult to the Quran which is impermissible.
Now if a non-believer wants to read the Quran to familiarise himself with its teachings, then it is certainly not impermissible.
So when people ask whether you can give the Quran as a gift to non-believers then you find many ulama saying it is not permissible. BUT at the same time they say that if the purpose is guidance or research then giving it as a gift is allowed as there is no disrespect towards the Quran that is expected in that situation.
So more specifically Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi says that “if giving the Quran into the hands of a non-believer will result in the disrespect of the Quran then it is Haraam or impermissible. But if there is a hope of guidance or propagation of Islam, then it is allowed and in some cases may even be compulsory (wajib).”
I would like to add something here and that is that purity has levels. Like a believer needing wudu to touch the Quran is one level.
But even a non-Muslim who wants to research or learn from the Quran requires a certain level of purity of soul to start with otherwise the Quran will not be beneficial to that person. If the purpose has a truth seeking soul free from prejudice, such a person will benefit from the Quran which is the one to whom we can give it.
Is listening and pondering upon the Quran preferred or reading the Quran?
Both are important and impact on your soul.
Should we read Quran as much as possible in Arabic or with translation which will slow us down?
Reading with its meaning is better even if it results in reading less in the process.
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