Lecture 1 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Saturday 25 April 2020 (1 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
In these great nights of the month of Ramadaan, Alhamdu Lillah, we are once again together spiritually, albeit not physically. Our hearts are close to each other through this modern technology, whereby we can benefit from each other, Insha Allah.
Our practice every year during the nights of Ramadaan is to focus on the Holy Quran, along various themes of commentary. This year, our discussion will take a slightly different dimension. We will not be doing a commentary of any particular Surah (chapter), nor will we be doing a commentary by Quranic subjects.
As announced, our topic is “Unpacking the most intriguing questions in the Quran”. In these sacred nights of Ramadaan, we would like to address various questions related to the Holy Quran. We will address the “what” ie. What is the Quranic view on various issues?
Secondly, we will address the “why” ie. Why is the Quranic view on various issues in apparent contradiction to our intellectual reasoning or in apparent contradiction to basic human rights, or in apparent contradiction to the Quran itself! This therefore warrants a proper response.
Then, we will also explore questions related to difficult terms in the Holy Quran which we cannot understand. A simple example is verse 35 of Surah Noor (chapter 24 of the Holy Quran), where Almighty Allah (SWT) says that He is Light of the Heavens and Earth. What does this term Noor and Light really mean in the Holy Quran?
We have prepared a list of such questions which are very important and hotly debated, with lots of controversy stemming from our contemporary life. This will form the basis for our nightly discussion, which is undefined, and therefore, I welcome you all to present your questions as it pertains to these discussions of the Holy Quran.
We may accommodate them in our existing discussions or dedicate a night to them, depending on the nature of the question. Hence, this year’s approach is very much interactive, which gives you a platform to express your enquiries and confusions about the Holy Quran. I encourage you all to post them through the various messaging platforms we use, and we will take it from there.
HOW IS THE QURAN DIFFERENT TO ANY OTHER BOOK?
Let us now open with the discussion of the Quran itself. The very first question I wish to address is whether the Holy Quran is a normal book like any other, or does the Quran reflect on itself in a unique manner?
There is no doubt, there are similarities between the Holy Quran and any other book. Example, the Holy Quran contains information, like any other book. Similarly, the Holy Quran has subjects, which is common with the purpose of any book.
Now, the subject of the Holy Quran is a question of its own! If we take any book, and ask what is its subject, we will determine that it is a book on physics, chemistry, history, biography, sociology, mathematics or whatever else may be the case. It is one of the most difficult questions to ask, namely what the subject of the Holy Quran is, because it is all encompassing.
Let me very quickly respond to this. While the Holy Quran is indeed comprehensive across numerous subjects, none of these can be categorized as its subject. The subject of the Holy Quran is Insaan – hudallin naas! The subject of the Holy Quran is human beings. All the subjects of the Holy Quran, be it historical, jurisprudence, etiquette or whatever the case may be, are all centred around it being revealed for humanity.
In fact, the Holy Quran is very clear about this from the start, where it says in verse 2 of Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Holy Quran) that this is a book of guidance for human beings:
ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
“This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah.”
Besides this, there is a very important and interesting aspect we will explore in this introductory discussion, and that is the unique nature of the Holy Quran.
WHY IS THE QURAN AFFORDED EXTRAORDINARY RESPECT?
The Quran is a book of guidance addressing mankind, but this book is not like any other book, as it is distinguished through being a divine scripture. As a result, our interaction with the Holy Quran is very different to any other book, in that we afford it extraordinary respect and sanctity.
Even in this external form of the Quran as a book, we do not simply place it on a bookshelf between other books. This divine aspect of the Holy Quran is very crucial to understand, because when we understand its divine and spiritual aspect, we will see issues in our mind becoming a lot clearer and easier to comprehend.
The Holy Quran speaks about itself in various forms as a guidance for mankind, through lessons from history, rules and laws, discussing various socio-political lessons from the lives of different Prophets (a.s). This is all there. However, besides this, the Quran claims that it is not simply a compilation of information and guidelines. It has a divine, spiritual aspect, and here I am not referring to the internal truth and reality of the Holy Quran.
Even this external book form of Quran has a divine aspect and sacred value. Hence, the Holy Quran teaches us manners and etiquettes governing our interaction with it. This is an interesting aspect I wish to unpack here ie. how does the Quran teach us on how we should treat it and interact with it?
Whilst compiling my research, I came across six very important issues regarding how we should treat and interact with the Quran. What should be our relationship with the Holy Quran?
WHY THE NEED FOR WUDHU WHEN READING THE QURAN?
The first is addressed in verse 79 of Surah Waaqia (chapter 56 of the Holy Quran), where Almighty Allah (SWT) says that only the pure ones shall touch the Quran:
لَا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ
“None shall touch it save the purified ones.”
Naturally, there are 2 levels of this verse. We should not touch this Quran without cleanliness and purity. What does “not touching the Quran” mean? The first meaning is that we cannot even touch this physical form of the Quran in book form, without wudhu (ablution). This makes the Quran to be totally different to any other book.
The reason I am starting this series by addressing this fundamental question about the distinguished nature of the Quran is because often when we raise enquiries about the Quran, it is based purely on the academic approach. While the Holy Quran is undoubtedly about rationality, we need to bear in mind that the Quran is a divine book.
Verses of the Holy Quran are the word of God (SWT). This is where many people are confused and have made the horrendous mistake by saying that the reality of revelation which our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) received was in essence the message and meaning, while the words of the Holy Quran are that of Rasulullah (SAWA) and not of Almighty Allah (SWT).
Of course, this is very much a horrendous mistake and not acceptable. The above verse makes it very clear. If the words of the Holy Quran were not divine from Almighty Allah (SWT) and were not important for us to be consumed with, then this verse does not make sense, as it is making reference to the written form of the Holy Quran requiring wudhu (ablution).
This verse is therefore an indicator of this very important reality that even the words of the Holy Quran is divinely spiritual on face value. Hence, we cannot touch it without spiritual cleanliness (wudhu). This is why all religious jurists unanimously declare that we cannot touch the Holy Quran without wudhu.
Similarly, the internal truth and reality is also not possible for us to comprehend until we have internal purity and cleanliness. Capturing the full truth and reality is not possible for us human beings because we do not have that perfection of cleanliness in our soul. Hence, this status is limited to those whom the Holy Quran directly gives witness to their purity, in verse 33 of Surah Ahzaab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran):
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
“Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying.”
The Ahlul Bait (a.s) are the ones who have been purified in this verse, and only they can comprehend the full internal spirit, truth and reality of the Holy Quran.
So, the external and internal Quran requires spiritual cleanliness before we can touch it. This is one very important aspect regarding the divinity of the Holy Quran.
WHY IS SO MUCH EMPHASIS DEDICATED TO READING THE QURAN IN ARABIC?
The second key point to unpack about the etiquettes and our relationship with the Holy Quran is highlighted in verse 4 of Surah Muzzammil (chapter 73 of the Holy Quran), where Almighty Allah addresses the issue pertaining to its recitation:
وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا
“And recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones.”
We are commanded in this verse to read the Quran is slow, rhythmic tones. This is called “Tarteel” in this verse. Why does Almighty Allah (SWT) say that we should not read the Quran fast, without pronouncing each word clearly? This is another angle to explore on the same nature of the Holy Quran which is often ignored.
In fact, there are very interesting Hadith narrated in reference to this verse. In the commentary of the Holy Quran titled “Majma’ al-Bayan” by the great 12th century scholar, Shaykh Tabarsi (r.a) narrates from one of the senior companions, ibn Abbas. Ibn Abbas reported that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) said that we should recite the Holy Quran in the form of Tarteel ie. slow, measured manner.
Rasulullah (SAWA) explained to ibn Abbas that Tarteel means to express the words of the Holy Quran completely and separately. We should guard against breaking it out completely (like particles of sand) nor should we mix it or sing it in the form of poetry. Rasulullah (SAWA) further explains that we should recite the Holy Quran in a manner such that our hearts move.
Rasulullah (SAWA) then also says that we should not read the verses of the Quran in a manner to simply reach the end of the Surah (chapter) and be done with the job! This is indeed a common problem facing us all, where instead of indulging in the Holy Quran and drowning ourselves in its ocean, we tend to often flip through to check how many pages are remaining of the Surah (chapter) to assess how long it will take to complete. None of us are immune to this weakness, which is against the spirit of Tarteel highlighted by Rasulullah (SAWA).
Similarly, there are Hadith recorded from Imam Ali (a.s) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) regarding this verse of reading in slow, rhythmic tones. Let me share a Hadith narrated from Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) in this regard, where he says that we should read the Quran slowly, taking pauses in between, and also beautify our voices.
Imam Sadiq (a.s) further highlights that when we reach a verse of the Quran which speaks about the punishment from Almighty Allah (SWT), we should pause to ask for His forgiveness and refuge. Imam Sadiq (a.s) then also highlights that when we reach a verse of the Quran which speaks about Jannah (Heaven), we should pause and seek for Paradise from Almighty Allah (SWT).
The point I want to make here is that we are not reading the Holy Quran like an academic book. We are not reading it like a research work. The Holy Quran is the divine message from Almighty Allah (SWT) and Tarteel means that we must ABSORB the Holy Quran.
WHY DO WE READ THE QURAN REPEATEDLY, UNLIKE ANY OTHER BOOK?
The third issue mentioned in the Holy Quran about our relationship with it is that we are commanded to read the Holy Quran as much as possible. If we once again reference Surah Muzzammil (chapter 73 of the Holy Quran), we read the following excerpt from the verse 20 (the last verse of this chapter):
فَاقْرَءُوا مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ ۚ
“Recite, then, of the Qur’an that which is easy for you.”
This verse explains that we should read from the Quran whatever is feasible for us. All the commentators of the Holy Quran and religious scholars have gone to great lengths to explain what this means. Some of them have interpreted this to refer to Salatul Layl (night prayers) because this is a key theme of Surah Muzzammil. That said, the verse is unambiguous in recommending that we should read the Holy Quran as much as possible and familiarize ourselves with it.
We need to use this month to build a relationship with the Holy Quran. It is the Holy Quran which removes rust from the heart. This is the divine nature which I am trying to draw your attention to. Again, if the Quran was only an academic book of guidance, then one would not read it more than a couple of times at most.
Besides being a book of guidance, the mere recitation of the Holy Quran enlightens our hearts. Therefore, the Holy Quran commands us to read it as much as possible, with one condition being that our hearts must be interested and energized at reading it.
There are 3 more issues we will discuss in the next lecture regarding our relationship with the Holy Quran which all again highlights the divine, spiritual nature of the Holy Quran.
Once again, your questions, comments, enquiries are highly encouraged to make this an interactive platform for learning and development during this auspicious month of Ramadaan.
We pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant us the Taufeeq to benefit from this month of the Holy Quran and for us to model our lives based upon its teachings.