Lecture 1 in the Ramadaan series:
EXPLORING THE SHIA APPROACH TO THE QURAN
Thursday 17 May 2018 (1 Ramadaan 1439)
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
We are once again grateful to Almighty Allah (SWT) for providing us this opportunity to benefit from this great month. We cannot show sufficient gratitude to Him for having blessed us with this opportunity to enjoy this beautiful environment of Ramadaan.
In this month, the doors of mercy and forgiveness of Allah (SWT) are wide open for us and the doors of his wrath and anger are closed. In this month, there are plenty of Ibadah (acts of worship) and zikr (remembrance of Allah (SWT)) which are recommended to be performed.
In fact, everything in this month is Ibadah. We have discussed that sermon of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) numerous times, where he says that our breathing is equal to Tasbih and even our sleeping in this month is Ibadah. This gives us a glimpse of where we are currently!
RAMADAAN IS THE SPRING OF THE QURAN
We have one central theme in this month of mercy, and season of spirituality, and that is the Holy Quran. It is recorded in Hadith narrations that there is a spring for everything, and the spring of the Quran is the month of Ramadaan. Therefore, among Ibadah, one of the most important acts of worship is the recitation of the Holy Quran, with understanding, in order to be in the service of the Holy Quran.
The 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali Ridha (a.s) says that reading one verse of the Holy Quran in this month of Ramadaan is equivalent to reading the whole Quran in other months! We will try our best to benefit from the Holy Quran in this holy month, and to be in the service of the Holy Quran, through communal recitation every night, Insha Allah. Indeed, we should all share in the blessings of reading the Holy Quran.
The theme for this holy month of Ramadaan is to explore different angles and insights of the Holy Quran from the approach of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) towards the Holy Quran. What is the role and status of the Holy Quran in the light of the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s)?
Naturally, the Shia school of thought (as a whole) is founded on the teachings and principles of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Therefore, our understanding of the Holy Quran will be based on their understanding.
THE HOLY QURAN IS THE CRITERION!
The first point in this discussion is the position of the Holy Quran in Islam, in the eyes of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Now, if you look at some of these Hadith narrations from the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we understand the sublime status of the Holy Quran. There is a Hadith recorded in Shi’i resources from our beloved Rasulullah (SAWA) which is truly remarkable. This Hadith gives sufficient understanding about the role of the Holy Quran.
In this Hadith, Rasulullah (SAWA) says that the priority of the Holy Quran on any other discourse or dialogue is like the priority of Almighty Allah (SWT) on His creation! The Holy Quran (the book of Allah (SWT)) has the same superiority over any discourse or dialogue, the same way that Almighty Allah (SWT) is superior over all His creation! On every talk, on any word, this shows the status of the Holy Quran!
Indeed, we will explore Hadith of Ahlul Bait (a.s) throughout our discussions this month. What I want to relay tonight is that the Holy Quran is the CRITERION OF THOUGHT when one studies the approach of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). What this means is that the Quran is the benchmark if you want to measure any philosophy, ideology or theory. There are plenty of Hadith in this regard.
Another Hadith mentions that whenever you are confronted with confusion, or deception overtakes one like a pitch dark night, it is incumbent upon us to seek shelter by the Holy Quran. This is very important to note.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF HADITH IF QURAN IS THE CRITERION?
The criterion for the authenticity and validity of a thought is the Holy Quran. I am deliberately saying that the Holy Quran is the criteria, and not Hadith. However, this does not mean that Hadith does not carry importance. In fact, quite the contrary, but not on the level of the Holy Quran.
However, Hadith is still, at the end of the day, the words of the infallibles. That is our belief as Shia, that whatever was said by Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is indeed 100% correct. They are infallibles and therefore they cannot say anything which is incorrect. Despite this, we still believe, in the light of their teachings, that the Holy Quran is superior to Hadith.
Why is the Holy Quran preferred over Hadith if they are both infallible ie. impossible of being incorrect? There is one very important reason for this. The Holy Quran rules, but Hadith is ruled by the Quran.
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE QURAN AND AHLUL BAIT (A.S)?
It is recorded from the 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s), that the criteria for truth and falsehood is the Quran. The Hadith from Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) is as follows:
“If something comes to you from us, which matches with the Quran, you should accept it. However, if something is narrated from us which is contrary to the Quran, then this should be discarded by throwing it against the wall (as it cannot be from us).”
This is the extremely close relationship between the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the Holy Quran, in our understanding of the Shia approach towards the Quran.
In that overwhelmingly recorded Hadith from Rasulullah (SAWA), he said:
“I leave behind 2 precious things. The one is the Book of Allah, and the other is my Ahlul Bait (a.s). You will never be misguided if you hold fast onto both of them. They will not separate until they meet me at the pond of Kauthar on the Day of Judgement”.
Now, what does it mean that they will not separate? It means that it is not possible to find anything in the teachings of Ahlul Bait (a.s) which is not congruent with the Quran. Quran is Ahlul Bait (a.s), and Ahlul Bait (a.s) is the Quran, so they cannot separate or contradict.
We have a concept of Quran-e-Samit and Quran-e-Natiq ie. the silent Quran and the speaking Quran. The silent Quran is the one we are familiar with, meaning the one in book form. The speaking Quran is the Ahlul Bait (a.s). So, they cannot contradict.
The difference is that we know for sure, unequivocally, without any iota of doubt, that each word of the Holy Quran is the word of Almighty Allah (SWT). It is indeed the untampered word of Allah (SWT). Nothing has been added or deleted.
However, the same cannot be said about Hadith. We are not sure. There are weak Hadith, reliable Hadith, unreliable Hadith and Hadith for which authenticity is beyond question. Who knows whether the words are from Rasulullah (SAWA), the Ahlul Bait (a.s) or from the narrator? Similarly, there could be challenges in its meaning as well.
Therefore, the possibility of deviation or question is there with Hadith, but this is not possible with the Holy Quran. As a result, the standard to verify the authenticity of Hadith is its consistency with the Holy Quran. It is the Holy Quran which proves that a Hadith is correct if this congruency is there, otherwise it is not valid.
WHY IS THE DIVINE BOOK OF ALLAH (SWT) CALLED THE QURAN?
The Quran is the most central and most reliable source to Islam and the divine message of Allah (SWT). There is no more authentic resource than the Quran, and hence there is so much discussion revolving around the Quran.
Now that we have established the status and centrality of the Holy Quran from the perspective of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), I would like to delve into understanding the name Quran! Why is this divine book called the Quran?
Quran is an Arabic word. We will discuss the names of Quran. One of the interesting discussions which is very helpful in understanding the Quran is in fact the names of Quran. The most common name is Quran, and the word Quran means reading/recitation in the Arabic language. It is repeatedly used in the Quran itself.
We read in verse 18 of Surah Qiyamah (chapter 75 of the Holy Quran), that the word Quran is used in the meaning of recitation:
فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ
“Therefore when We have recited it, follow its recitation.”
Quran is like “Ghufran” in Arabic, which means forgiveness. This verse says that when we have recited it, we should follow its recitation. So, Quran means recitation and we will be surprised to note that the Quran has used its name 68 times!
The question is, why this name? Some say because it is a collection of reading, while others say it is an indirect hint towards the era of the revelation of the Quran, because during that era, very few people could read, and by naming the message of Allah (SWT) as the Quran, reading and recitation has brought the attention of the masses (who could not read) towards something which must be read.
A more deeper reflection on this naming of the book of Allah (SWT) as the Quran is that the message, contents and concept of the Quran are very, very high, but the Quran has brought them down to the level where you can read them! That is the reason why this holy book is called the Quran.
The concepts and philosophy which is presented in the Holy Quran is extraordinarily elevated, but the miracle of the Quran is that it is able to bring all those elevated concepts to the level of words, whereby we can comprehend the message of the Quran.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER NAMES OF THE QURAN?
Another name used for the Quran is “Furqan”, which means to distinguish between right and wrong. The Quran is called Furqan because it is the criterion of truth! We can understand what is right and what is wrong through the Quran.
A further name that the Quran uses for itself is “Kitab”. An example is verse 2 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2):
ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
“This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah”.
The word Kitab has been repeated 250 times in the Quran, but it does not always refer to the Quran. Sometimes, it refers to the holy books of Jews and Christians as well.
Another name which the Quran uses for itself is “Zikr”. Verse 9 of Surah Hijr (chapter 15) refers:
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
“Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.”
This refers to the Quran as a reminder.
We will expand on this in the coming nights when we explore the definition of Quran.
The main role of the Quran is to awaken us, to remind us and take us back to our pure nature.
Other words used in the Quran to describe itself is “Tanzil” (revelation from a higher level) and “Noor”. Noor is repeated 5 times in the Quran. In certain instances it refers to the Quran while at other time it refers to light.
Another word which the Quran uses for itself is Rooh (spirit).
These names are very important. It is not just data! Zikr (reminder), Tanzil (revelation from a higher level), Noor (takes away darkness).
Kalaamullah is used 3 times in the Quran to describe itself.
So, we have described 8 names used in the Quran to describe itself. These 8 names are:
Note, this is different to attributes of Quran, of which there are plenty!
Attributes of the Quran are terms such as Quran-ul-Majeed, Quran-ul-Hakim, Quran-ul-Arabi, Shifaa, Muhkam, etc. There are plenty of attributes of the Quran.
We will be in the service of the Holy Quran in this month of Ramadaan, exploring various topics.
THOUGHT-PROVOKING DISCUSSIONS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE SERIES
1. In summary, this introductory discussion explained the authenticity of the Quran, but we will delve into a different angle of its authenticity in the next lecture.
2. Thereafter, we will elaborate on the common discussion pertaining to how the Quran was revealed. Also, what does revelation mean, when we say that Angel Gibreel brought verses to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA)?
3. Furthermore, we will unpack the highly controversial topic of Tahrif, where we followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s) are falsely accused. Is the Quran protected from distortion and alteration, and did this actually happen?
4. We will also try to understand what do the different parts of the Quran mean, such as ayah (verse) and surah (chapter). Also, what does it mean if a Surah is Makki or Madani?
5. We will also try to understand the different types of ayah. There are ayah of the Quran referred to as Muhkamat, and others which are called Mutashabihat. Also, some ayah are called Naasigh, while others are called Mansuh. Some verses cancel each other. We will unpack all of this.
6. Another topic we will explore is the history of revelation.
7. Then, another critical discussion which we must cover is regarding the compilation of the Quran. Who compiled the Quran? This is an important part of Islamic history which needs to be placed in its proper perspective.
8. It is also important for us to discuss the various subjects covered in the Quran. What is the purpose and aim of the Quran?
This is a small list of the very interesting discussions to look forward to in the coming nights of Ramadaan!
To be continued…..
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