How to Return to the Qur’an -Ruqaia Al-Alwani
Though an unlettered nation, when the Arabs received the Noble Quran they did so with attentive hearts. Before memorizing it, they first implemented it in their lives and their conduct. This came as a direct and enthusiastic response to the famous first injunction of the Most High in the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad ?: Iqra’, Read!
This thoughtful reading of the Quran bore abundant fruit, entirely changing the lives of those first Muslims. The outcome was immediate and dramatic, both in the quality of their character and the observable expression of this in virtuous behavior, as well as in their outstanding human achievement and supremely confidant openness to the whole world, in spite of their having only the most basic tools of education and communication.
In time, however, Muslims slipped from this remarkable level of reading, understanding, and applying the teachings of the Quran in their lives. It began gradually because of a mix of multiple factors until it reached the dismally unprecedented nadir of Quranic illiteracy that we have witnessed in recent ages.
Despite the widespread means of printing and publishing that have made writing, reading, and listening to the Quran easy and broadly available, Muslims yet became disconnected from the Book of Allah in their day-to-day affairs. The vast majority of Muslims limited their engagement with the Quran to an occasional recitation and memorization of its words, focusing at best on the rules of recitation and the articulation of letters without any proper understanding or reflection on its meanings. Some recite it only to the sick seeking blessings and cure, or to those dying and in funerals. What the Muslim nation is going through today—this backwardness, continuous undoing on virtually every plane of human rivalry, resulting in an inability to act, and on and on—is a reflection, one way or another, of the way Muslim communities engage the Book of Allah.
In this exposé, I am seeking to address Muslims with the aim of showing them how to mend their relationship with the Quran. It highlights the reasons why many of us do not reflect upon the Quran, as Allah charges us to do, and our resultant failure to relate what we have read in its sign-verses (âyât) to our own lives.
These reasons are almost all linked to the corruption of our senses and cognitive faculties. By correcting these problems, we Muslims can again reap the reflective benefit of the Quran in our lives, which will permit the Quran to true our souls. This is the key to bettering our selves and enriching our lives, as personal worshipers and as a global Ummah, here and Hereafter.
Why Do We Read the Quran?
There is great reward in reciting the Quran, for Allah’s main purpose in revealing it is to give people divine words of guidance in their lives so as to contemplate and thereby remember their purpose on earth:
A most blessed Book have We sent down to you [O Prophet] so that they [who hear these tidings] may reflect on its verses. And so that those who are endowed with understanding may [heed its admonition and] be ever mindful [of its commandments]. Sûrat ?âd, 38:29
Will they not, then, reflect on the Quran? If it had been from other than Allah, they would, most surely, have found in it much discrepancy. Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:82
Will they not, then, reflect upon the Quran? Or is it rather that on some hearts there are their own locks? Sûrat Mu?ammad, 47:24
The phrase “reflect upon the Quran” in these verses exhorts people to make the effort to comprehend the meaning, the significance, and the divine intent of the verses of the Quran for the purpose of implementing their teachings in one’s life. By doing so, we enable the Quran to guide us, correct our behavior, amend our moral values, and perfect the way we deal with ourselves and others.
Note that these verses stress the importance and obligation of giving serious consideration to what the Quran is saying, each one deliberating upon its admonitions according to his or her own perceptual, intellectual and psychological capacity (all of which aspects of thought a Muslim should be keen to increase in himself). In his commentary on this Quranic concept, the renowned commentator Ibn Kathîr reports that Al-?asan Al-Ba ?rî said: “By Allah! [The Quran’s] contemplation is not [in] memorizing its words while neglecting its injunctions. Sadly, some dare say that they have recited the entire Quran. Yet one detects nothing of its impact on their manners or in their deeds” (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, 4:34).
In his commentary on the words of the All-Powerful Divine: Will they not, then, reflect on the Quran? (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:82), Ibn Kathîr writes: “Allah u commands His servants to contemplate and reflect upon the Quran, forbidding them to ignore its verses and to not put forth sufficient effort to understand their explicit meanings,” as opposed to invented allegories. “Allah’s command [to reflect upon the Quran] is unambiguous—and when Allah u commands, that command must be obeyed. Therefore, contemplation is obligatory.” (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, 1:530)
Warning people against ignoring the contemplation of the Quran, Allah SWT states:
Rather, some among them are illiterate, having no knowledge of the Scripture other than vague fancies [or, this last may be rendered: having no knowledge of the Scripture save from hearsay].” Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:78
Ibn Al-Qayyim gives another interpretation of the Arabic word ‘?????’ [‘vague fancies,’ or ‘hearsay,’ or ‘wishful thinking’]: “Allah has criticized those who tampered with the Scriptures [that preceded the Quran] (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:75), as well as the “unlettered ones who do not know the Scripture save by way of âmânî ????? ,” that is to say, except by way of its ‘mere recitation’”(Ibn Al-Qayyim, Badâ’i?Al-Tafsîr, Amazing Points of Exegesis, 1:300). Indeed, many are the Muslim scholars who forewarn Muslims against ignoring the contemplation of the Quran and focusing only upon the recitation of its verses without reflecting on their meanings, objectives, lessons, and teachings, which we are divinely commanded to apply in our daily lives.
Check Your Priorities
To benefit from the Gracious Quran in our lives, we need to liberate our senses and cognitive faculties; namely, our senses of sight and hearing, as well as the perceptions of the heart and mind. They must be freed for Revelation from all that distracts and corrupts them. Allah says in the Quran:
Moreover, it is Allah [alone] who has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers knowing nothing [at all]. Yet He made for you [the faculties of] hearing, and sight, and hearts [that comprehend], so that you may [learn and] give thanks. Sûrat Al-Na ?l, 16:78
These senses and cognitive faculties, with which Allah has blessed humans, are the means by which we receive the sign-verses of the Quran and reflect upon them. Yet our senses and faculties are continuously peppered with a complex mixture of unprompted provocations, images, bits of information and all that is part of man’s cultural, social, and created environment.
Human beings are creatures of habit. Thus we tend to yield to whatever we are accustomed. This is the reason we need training to learn to detect and sort out the things that are reaching our senses and cognitive faculties, for these are the ‘inspirations’ that shape our mindset and affect our decisions and attitudes. Unless we are selective about what we allow ourselves to see and hear, the main avenues of influence to our hearts and minds, we will not be able to optimize the spiritual and behavioral benefits available to us in the Glorious Quran.
To become successfully discerning in our thought and day-to-day experience, we need to stop and review our priorities in life. We should be prepared and willing to renounce arrogance, lethargy, and self-deception, and to confront ourselves with the truth confirmed by the following verse of the Quran, which Allah shall say on the Day of Judgment to the doomed:
Did you think, then, that We had created you in vain, and that you would not be returned to Us [for Judgment]? Sûrat Al-Mu’minûn, 23:115
Poisons, in the context of biology, cause disturbances to the body when it absorbs a threshold quantity. But there are other poisons that affect the mind and soul. When they accumulate in us, they cause a state of spiritual paralysis. Allah u says:
Whomever Allah guides, then he is the one [rightly] guided. And whomever He sends astray, it is they who are the losers. For truly We created for Hell many of the jinn and humans. 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. Such as these are like cattle. Rather, they are more astray! It is these who are the heedless. Sûrat Al-A?râf, 7:178-179
Most of these poisons enter us by our own leave. They come about from our willingly extending our senses into that which Allah has forbidden. For all that Man sees and hears is stored in his spiritual subconscious, by one means or another. Increasing numbers of us, for example, now use their visual sense of sight to gaze at the divinely forbidden, the ?arâm. We may look, as well, at what Allah has bequeathed to others of possession, or talent, or beauty and envy them for it. This leads to the poisoning of one’s heart and mind. When such poisons aggregate within us, our senses and cognitive faculties become clouded or inoperative. As a result, we grow unable to comprehend the meanings of the Majestic Quran and cannot benefit from its guidance.
We can prevent these poisons from reaching our hearts and minds by discontinuing their source—halting our untoward glances, turning a deaf ear, and biting back the utterance of words that anger Allah SWT, especially in the early stages, but also at any subsequent time if the early stages have given way to habituated behavior.
This requires an exertion of will and perseverance. Ibn Al-Qayyim said that those who exercise regularly will strengthen their bodies and that the same principle applies to everything that man needs to strengthen, including his memory and mental abilities (Al-Tibb Al-Nabawî, Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet ?). Hence, the believer needs to put forth continuous effort to strengthen the quality of his senses and the effectiveness of his cognitive faculties, which he should do gradually until he attains the insight by which he may fully comprehend the signs of Allah u, in His Revelation and in all that He has created.
In another analogy, the heart and mind are like mirrors. The freer they are from flaw, the clearer they reflect the truth. Allah u states:
Indeed, those who are God-fearing remember [Allah’s covenant] when touched with a passing impulse from Satan—and at once they see things [as they truly are]. Sûrat Al-A?râf, 7:201
Even the eye’s mere glance that is ?arâm is a poisonous arrow of Iblîs directed at the heart, for there is a direct link between these two organs of sight. When the poison reaches the heart, it taints it and the heart hardens somewhat. Should this venom continue to aggregate through the senses in the heart, the heart will become like an opaque stone from which the signs of Allah, including His revealed verses, will glance off, thus turning its owner away from Allah and from contemplating His sign-verses. How, then, shall such a one benefit from the Quran allowing it to activate him and elevate his behavior and attitude.
Rid Yourself of These Poisons Today
No one can take the decision to decontaminate your heart and mind from its poisons but you. It is a decision, one that requires courage and resolve. Here are some of these poisons:
Arrogance: The most virulent of these poisons that the August Quran mentions and warns against is arrogance: This is the sin that prevents one from listening to the truth and accepting it, and it is the sin of Satan, for which Allah banished him from Paradise forever. One can comprehend neither the meanings, nor the significance, nor the purpose of the sign-verses of the Quran—divinely revealed intelligence to man from the Sole Creator—if in arrogance one turns away from Allah’s word and disobeys Him. Allah SWT states:
I shall turn away from My signs those who have grown arrogant in the land, without any right. For even if they were to see every [natural and revealed] sign [of Heavenly truth, still] they would not believe in it. Moreover, if they see the way of faith and right guidance, they do not take it as a way [of life]. Yet if they see the way of perversion, they take it as a way of life. That is because they have belied Our [revealed] signs and have been heedless of them. Sûrat Al-A?râf, 7:146
Therefore, turn to Allah with all your heart and ask Him to guide and help you. Do not despair because of your sins. Do not turn away for any reason, for Allah’s gates of mercy are always open.
Assemblies of blasphemy and indecency: Attending gatherings that indulge in sacrilege toward God and profane what He has made sacred, and wherein obscenity or vulgarity prevails—even if one never himself directly participates or utters a word in them—this has serious effects on the heart and mind, not to mention what potentially awaits one in the Hereafter. This goes for what we take in vicariously by electronic or other means.
The Noble Quran stresses the importance of staying away from gatherings of blasphemy where hypocrites and disbelievers mock the verses of Allah. The Quran deems those who merely sit or mingle with such people in these gatherings equal to those who actively partake of them. They bear the sin with the indulgent. Allah thus holds man responsible for whatever he hears. In Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, Allah SWT states:
Moreover, [recall that] He has already sent down to you a commandment in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah being belied and mocked at [by people], then do not sit with them until they take up some other discourse. [For], indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed, Allah shall gather the hypocrites and the disbelievers in Hellfire, all together. Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:140
Frequent listening to idle talk: We have already seen that the Quran holds man responsible for whatever he hears, thus urging him to exercise selective listening. The Quran goes further and praises those who choose to turn away from idle talk:
Moreover, when they hear vile talk, they turn away from it. Rather, they say [to those who malign them]: For us [shall be the recompense of] our deeds. And for you [shall be the recompense of] your deeds. Peace be upon you! We do not seek [to emulate] those who are ignorant [and belligerent]. Sûrat Al-Qa ?a?, 28:55
This divine praise means that selective listening is an act of choice. We can attain to its elite status by training the mind to block ‘unauthorized’ audible words, which is to say by way of our habituated dismissal of idle talk using the conscious mind which human beings within themselves can control.
Harmful and vain speech: From a religious perspective, speech can be classified into four categories: (1) The categorically harmful (such as backbiting and gossip); (2) the categorically beneficial (such as peace-making among people, inviting people to what is good, and enjoining what is right); (3) the equivocal, both harmful and beneficial; and (4) the categorically neutral, neither harmful nor beneficial, but which nonetheless may be greatly time-wasting (such as talking about food recipes and shopping).
One is to avoid the first. The second is good for both speaker and listener. The harmful should be filtered out of the third. And the fourth is to be gradually minimized. In all cases, one has to be alert and attentive to what one utters, monitoring one’s own self (nafs) and holding it accountable. Any error can be immediately corrected by repentance, asking Allah for forgiveness and resolving not to repeat it.
Overindulgence in the World: Following the temptations of the world without considering the consequences preoccupies man mentally, intellectually, and emotionally with matters that do not go beyond his physical needs. This self-absorption has intensified in modern life, where man has no chance for respite to reflect on the course of events. The negative affect of this on man’s spiritual life—his relationship with God, His Book (reading it, reflecting on its verses, and acting accordingly)—has been dramatic. Even in the blessed month of Ramadan when a Muslim should be focusing on his spiritual needs, one is overwhelmed by intense worldly distractions that appeal to man’s physical appetites. We must pause and think about where this is leading us. We also need to learn how to say “enough” and “no” to whatever prevents us from purifying our souls.
Take Spiritual Supplements: By spiritual supplements, I mean everything that would help man purify his senses and cognitive faculties, leading him to a state of spiritual elevation. The Glorious Quran has pointed out some of the means by which to achieve this. These include the following:
FREQUENT ‘LISTENING’ TO THE QURAN
We should be willing and eager to attentively listen to the verses of the Noble Quran. Allah SWT says:
And how many a [disbelieving] generation before them have We destroyed [for ungodliness]? They were far mightier than these [present disbelievers] in [their capability of] violent assault. Indeed, they searched vigorously through the earth [for gain and dominance]. Yet was there any asylum [at all] for them [from Allah]? Indeed, in this Quran there is, most surely, a reminder for whoever has a [living] heart or lends [an attentive] ear, with [full] presence [of mind]. (Sûrat Qâf, 50:36-37)
Attentive listening to the Quran entails comprehending its meanings, pondering over them and responding to its verses by applying their teachings in our lives. This type of listening directs the heart to Allah, Knower of the Unseen, and elevates the believer to the highest echelons of creation.
CLOSELY OBSERVING CREATION
Many verses in the Quran urge man to observe creation and deeply reflect upon his observations of the universe, of himself, and upon the history of past and present nations. The Quran directs our attention to the important link between our visual sense of sight and our insight, the senses of our cognitive faculties (the heart and mind). In the Quran, we read verses that start with words like ???? ???????, afalâ yan·urûn, Do they not look at….? (see Sûrat Al-Ghâshiyah, 88:17); and ????? awalam yaraw, Have they not looked upon….? (see Sûrat Al-Na ?l, 16:48), and ??? ????, alam taraw, Do you not see that….? (see Sûrat Luqmân, 31:20, and Sûrat Nû ?, 71:15), and the like. This observation is not that of mere seeing. According to the Quran, real blindness is not the blindness of the eye but that of the heart:
So have they [who deny faith] not journeyed through the lands [and seen enough of such ends, so as] to have [their] hearts [awakened] to understand with [them], and [their] ears opened so that they [may] truly hear with [them]. For it is not the eyes that become blind but the hearts within the breasts that go blind. Sûrat Al-?ajj, 22:46
The eye is a window that awakens the heart to see the perfection and excellence in creation. The heart then links this visible beauty to its Creative Maker. When the heart is awakened, once-ordinary scenes that previously never stirred one’s feelings become profoundly thought-provoking. This in turn increases one’s insight and deepens one’s perception. The entire universe becomes the masjid, or mosque, it was meant to be, a place in which the believing heart is ever overwhelmed with awe, glorifying the Creator, Highly Exalted is He. The words of the Gracious Quran at once have an immeasurably deeper impact on the believer; inspiring his feelings and thoughts, intensely influencing his life, and thoroughly transfiguring his deportment and transforming his behavior.
This observation also leads the believer to utilize creation in a way natural to it in order to serve humanity and all creation. It enables him to sustainably renovate the world, and achieve genuine advancement in human life in the context of his caring and responsible stewardship of the earth (see Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:30 and Sûrat Hûd, 11:61). The Quran consistently reminds man that it is important to his rational and psychic maturation to thoughtfully observe the heavens, the earth, human beings, nations, and history in order to develop his mind. The mind of man is always to be reflecting on creation, ever searching and trying to identify the rules and laws of the universe to bolster his belief, edify his mind, and enable him to better the condition of his fellow man and fellows in creation.
Let the Quran Change Your Life
The Book of Allah has great power to change man and his condition, to make him successful in every conceivable facet of this life, and everlastingly so in the Hereafter. But you must resolve, we Muslims must resolve, to begin to change a few things in our lives and to be consistent in them. Here are the top three things to commit to:
1. To do your best, always:
Blessed be…the One who created death and life to test you [and to reveal] which of you is best in deeds. Sûrat Al-Mulk, 67:2
2. To renew your intention and determination to let the Quran change your life.
3. To increase the time you dedicate to the Quran.
A word here on how you dedicate your time to the Quran: Do not let your first goal be to finish the sûrah or part you are reading. Your focus should be on how to perfect your recitation of the Noble Quran while reflecting on its verses and striving to understand their meanings in order to apply their teachings in your life.
As to your engagement with the Quran, here are five more attitudes to self-instill that will help you in your strife to let the Quran change you:
1. Be certain that the Quran is addressing you. Many people are under the thoughtless delusion that the Quran is meant for people of a previous time, not for us. This obstructs their hearts from properly understanding the Quran. The Quran addresses present and future generations even as it had addressed their ancestors, for human nature does not change (see Ibn Al-Qayyim, Madârij Al-Sâlikîn, 1:343)
2. Do not rush yourself when you recite the Quran. ?udhayfah RA said:
I prayed with the Messenger of Allah ? one night and he started reciting Sûrat al-Baqarah (2). I thought he would bow [in rukû?] when he reached the hundredth verse, but he continued. Then I thought he would perhaps recite the whole sûrah in a rak?ah. On completing the chapter, I thought he would bow, but he started Sûrat Âl ?Imrân (3) and recited it. Then he started Sûrat Al-Nisâ’ (4) and recited it. He recited in a leisurely manner. Whenever a verse included praise (of Allah), he praised Him [by saying sub ?ân’Allâh). Whenever a verse included supplication, he asked Allah. And whenever a verse included the Lord’s protection, he sought His protection. (Muslim)
3. Do not occupy your mind with negative thoughts, sorrows, or worries about things you cannot change.
4. Do not let your heart focus on people or worldly things without identifying your target. Your target should always be linked to success in the Hereafter.
5. Train yourself to speak goodness, or else keep silent.
And Allah knows best. n