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Published on September 15th, 2016 | by Sh. Yusuf al-Qaradawi

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Pondering Over the Meaning of the Quran

One of the inward manners that one should abide by when reading the Glorious Quran is pondering over the meaning of the Quranic words and verses. When reading the Glorious Quran, one is recommended to think of the meaning and significance of what he reads. Allah, Most High, has revealed the Glorious Quran in order to be reflected upon and understood. In this connection, the Glorious Quran says, “(Here is) a Book which We have sent down unto thee, full of blessings, that they may meditate on its Signs, and that men of understanding may receive admonition” (Al-Quran, 38:29). Furthermore, Allah, Most High, urges people to reflect on the Glorious Quran saying, “Do they not consider the Quran (with care)? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy” (Al-Quran, 4:82). “Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Quran, or are there locks on their hearts?” (Al-Quran, 47:24).

Apparently, reading the Glorious Quran slowly paves the way for contemplation, which is the avowed objective of reading the Glorious Quran.

In his Jami Al-Ilm, Ibn Abd Al-Barr reported on the authority of Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) who said, “There is no good in worship without consciousness, in knowledge without understanding, or in reading without contemplation.” Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “It is better to read Surat Az-Zalzalah and Al-Qariah with contemplation than to heedlessly read Surat Al-Baqarah and Al- Imran.” Zayd ibn Thabit (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “In my opinion, it is better to read the Glorious Quran in a month than to read it in fifteen days; to read it in fifteen days is better than to read it in ten days; and to read it in ten days is better than to read it in seven days as long as I ponder (over the meanings of the verses) and invoke (Allah).”

Apparently, reading the Glorious Quran slowly paves the way for contemplation, which is the avowed objective of reading the Glorious Quran. The Glorious Quran, according to M. S. Ar-Rafii, consists of words of light. Allah, Most High, says, “(This is) a book, with verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning), further explained in detail, from One who is Wise and Well-acquainted (with all things)” (Al-Quran, 11:1). The Glorious Quran is further described in a Prophetic hadith as follows: “(The Quran) comprises endless marvels… Whoever speaks depending on it, will be truthful; whoever passes judgment on basis of it, will be just; whoever acts according to it, will be rewarded (by Allah); and whoever calls to it, will be guided to the straight path.”

The Glorious Quran is full of signs, wisdom, rules, proofs, instructions, and miracles. Therefore, deep thinking and contemplation in reading the Quran is the only way to realize these contents. If a reciter of the Glorious Quran needs to repeat the Quranic verses to understand and reflect on them, he is recommended to do so. This was the custom of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), and the early Muslims. In this context, Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported, “One night, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) led us in the Vigil Prayer, in which he repeated the following Quranic verse during the whole prayer: “If Thou dost punish them, they are Thy servants; if Thou dost forgive them, Thou are the Exalted in power, the Wise” (Al-Quran, 5:118).

Allah, Most High, says, “Has not the time arrived for the believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors” (Al-Quran, 57:16).

Likewise, Tamim Ad-Dan prayed the whole night repeating the following verse: “What! Do those who seek after evil ways think that We shall hold them equal with those who believe and do righteous deeds, that equal will be their life and their death? Ill is the judgment that they make” (Al-Quran, 45:21). Ibrahim ibn Alqamah said, “I prayed beside Abdullah (Ibn Masud) when he recited from the beginning of Surat Ta-ha until he repeated the following verse thrice: ‘Say, O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge’” (Al-Quran, 20:114).

Speaking about his mother, Urwah ibn Az-Zubayr said, “Once, I entered upon Asma bint Abi Bakr when she was performing prayer reciting the Quranic verse that reads, ‘But Allah has been good to us, and has delivered us from the penalty of the Scorching Wind’ (Al-Quran, 52:27). Then I stayed for a long time and then I went to the market and returned home while she was still repeating the same verse.” Amir ibn Qays, similarly, once commenced the night prayer with Surat Ghafir until he reached the verse that reads, “Warn them of the Day that is (ever) drawing near when the hearts will (come) right up to the throats to choke (them)” (Al-Quran, 40:18), and repeated it until dawn.

The righteous successors like Said ibn Jubayr and Ar-Rabi ibn Khaytham were accustomed to do the same practice. Abu Sulayman Ad-Darani said, “I used to recite and ponder on a single Quranic verse in the night prayer for four or five days. Yet, if I did not stop reflecting upon that verse, I would not pass on to another verse.”

Weeping and Feeling Awe When Reciting the Quran

When reading the Glorious Quran, one should feel awe and weep. In the Glorious Quran, Allah, Most High, says, “Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, verily, thou would have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah” (Al-Quran, 59:21). If a person could not weep or feel awe when reading the Glorious Quran, he is recommended to exert himself to do so. This is required in case of reading or listening to the Glorious Quran. In this connection, Allah, Most High, says, “Has not the time arrived for the believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors” (Al-Quran, 57:16). Commenting on the above glorious verse, Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “After thirteen years of revealing the Glorious Quran, Allah, Most High, admonished the believers to feel awe when reading or listening to it, saying, “Has not the time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them).”

Likewise, Ibn Kathir commented on the same verse, said, “Allah, Most High, forbade the believers to imitate the People of the Book, the Jews and Christians, who altered the book of Allah, sought wealth by means of it, disregarded its laws, and replaced it with false sayings. Therefore, their hearts grew hard to the extent that they never accepted any admonition.” In this context, the Glorious Quran reproaches the People of the Book, saying, “But because of their breach of their Covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard: they change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the message that was sent them” (Al-Quran, 5:13).

Revering the Speaker: When reading the Glorious Quran, one should be mindful of the fact that what he reads is not the speech of a human; rather it is Allah’s.

Describing the Glorious Quran, Allah, Most High, says, “Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself (yet) repeating (its teaching in various aspects): the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the celebration of Allah’s praises” (Al-Quran, 39:23). Scholars are distinguished by their awe and weeping when listening to the Glorious Quran, as Allah, Most High, says, “(It is) a Quran which We have divided (into parts from time to time), in order that thou might recite it to men at intervals: We have revealed it by stages. Say: Whether ye believe in it or not, it is true that those who were given knowledge beforehand, when it is recited to them, fall down on their faces in humble prostration, and they say: Glory be to our Lord; truly has the promise of our Lord been fulfilled. They fall down on their faces in tears, and it increases their (earnest) humility” (Al-Quran, 17:106-109).

Moreover, He, Most High, praises a group of Christians who burst into tears when listening to the Glorious Quran, saying, “And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, thou will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray: ‘Our Lord! We believe; write us down among the witnesses. What cause can we have, not to believe in Allah and the truth, which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous!” (Al-Quran, 5:83-84). Abdullah ibn Masud said, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to me, ‘Recite (the Quran) to me.’ I said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger, shall I recite (the Quran) to you while it has been revealed to you?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So, I recited Surat An-Nisa, but when I recited the verse: ‘How (will it be) then when We bring from each nation a witness and We bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness against these people,’ he said, ‘Enough for the present,’ I looked at him and behold his eyes were overflowing with tears” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Saad ibn Abi Waqqas reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Recite the Glorious Quran and weep when reading it. Yet, if you could not weep, you should exert yourself to weep; and if your eyes could not burst into tears, your hearts should weep instead” (Ibn Majah). Weeping of the heart means awe and sadness. When reading the Glorious Quran, a person should reflect on what it contains of threats, warnings, covenants, etc., and then contemplate on his shortcomings in this regard. Inevitably, he will feel sad and weep. Otherwise, he should exert himself to do so.

Actions of the Heart that Should Precede Contemplation

In his Ihya, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali pointed out the actions of the heart that should exist before contemplation as follows:

Grasping the glory and superiority of the words: A reciter of the Glorious Quran should understand and grasp the glory of what he reads. He should ponder on Allah’s favor upon His servants when revealing understandable revelation to them.

Revering the Speaker

When reading the Glorious Quran, one should be mindful of the fact that what he reads is not the speech of a human; rather it is Allah’s. Keeping this fact in mind, Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahi used to fall unconscious when opening the Mushaf (the Glorious Book), saying, “It is the Speech of my Lord, it is the Speech of my Lord.” One, therefore, should ponder over the glory of the Speaker and His Attributes, Power, Throne, Creation, etc.

Consciousness of the heart: When reading the Glorious Quran, one should not be distracted from what he reads. In this light, the Quranic verse that reads, “Yahya! Take hold of the Book with might,” is explained as a command to read the book attentively. Some early Muslims, therefore, used to repeat the verse from which their hearts were distracted in order to read it attentively once more. Consciousness of the heart is the fruit of reverence for the Speaker of the Quran, i.e., Allah.

Obstacles That Hinder One’s Understanding

The person who wishes to ponder over the Glorious Quran should keep himself free of the obstacles that hinder his understanding of it. These obstacles, according Imam Al-Ghazali, are four:

Concerning oneself with the pronunciation of words rather than reflecting upon their meanings: The accursed Satan tries to trap reciters of the Glorious Quran thereby.

Blind imitation of, and enthusiasm for, a certain school of thought or belief: One who blindly imitates a certain school or a theory is confined to that school or theory as long as he does not free himself from blind enthusiasm. In this way, Satan could ensnare narrow-minded people and insinuate evil ideas in order to keep them far from the right way.

Committing sins and following vain desires: Sins darken the hearts and hinder the light of the Glorious Quran from illuminating them. The more vain desires one follows, the more difficulties in understanding the Quran he will face. In more than one verse, the Glorious Quran confirms this fact. For example, it says, “(This is) to be observed and commemorated by every devotee turning (to Allah)” (Al-Quran, 50: 8). “But only those receive admonition who turn (to Allah)” (Al-Quran, 40:13). “It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition” (Al-Quran, 13:19).

Believing that no one should explain the Quran except in the light of what is narrated on the authority of Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, and others, and that using one’s mind in explaining the Quran is a major sin: In this way, such people will not use their minds to contemplate or understand the meaning of the Glorious Quran.

Particularity

Amongst the inward morals of reciting the Quran is what Imam Al-Ghazali called takhsis (particularity), which means that when reading the Glorious Quran, one should regard it as addressing him in particular. In doing so, one should consider every Quranic glad tiding, warning, admonition, story, etc., to be meant for him. The Glorious Quran says, “There is, in their stories, instruction for men endued with understanding. It is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it, a detailed exposition of all things, and a guide and a mercy to any such as believe” (Al-Quran, 12:111).

The Glorious Quran addresses the Prophet (peace be upon him), saying, “All that We relate to thee of the stories of the messengers – with it We make firm thy heart: in them there cometh to thee the Truth, as well as an exhortation and a message of remembrance to those who believe” (Al-Quran, 11:112). When reading the above Quranic verse, a reciter of the Glorious Quran should admit that Quranic stories are meant to strengthen his own heart, although the address in the verse is directed to the Prophet (peace be upon him). No wonder, the Glorious Quran is decreed by its Revealer, Most High, to be the remedy, guidance, and mercy for all people. Allah, Most High, says, “Rehearse Allah’s favors on you, and the fact that He sent down to you the book and wisdom, for your instruction” (Al-Quran, 2:231). “We have revealed for you (O people!) a book in which is a message for you: will ye not then understand” (Al-Quran, 21:10). “(We sent them) with Clear Signs and Scriptures and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou may explain clearly to men what is sent for them” (Al-Quran, 16:44). “Thus does Allah set forth for men their lessons by similitudes” (Al-Quran, 47:3)” “And follow the Best of (the courses) revealed to you from your Lord” (Al-Quran, 39:55). “These are clear evidences to men, and a Guidance and Mercy to those of assured Faith” (Al-Quran, 45:20). “Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear Allah” (Al-Quran, 3:138).

Yet, even when the address in the Glorious Quran is of a general nature, the individual, in origin, is included in this address. In this context, the Glorious Quran eloquently states what the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is ordered to say to his people, “This Quran hath been revealed to me by inspiration that I may warn you and all whom it reaches” (Al-Quran, 6:19). Moreover, Muhammad ibn Kab Al-Qarazi said, “Whoever reads the Glorious Quran, will be as if he is addressed by Allah.”

Some scholars, furthermore, said, “This Quran is Allah’s messages to us; so we should reflect upon, abide by, and ponder on it.” Malik ibn Dinar used to call the people of the Quran, saying, “O people of the Quran, what has the Quran implanted in your hearts? The Quran is the spring of the believer, similarly as rain is the spring of the earth.” Qatadah said that no one recites the Glorious Quran but either wins or loses. The Glorious Quran disclosed this fact, saying, “We send down (stage by stage) in the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe. To the unjust it causes nothing but loss after loss” (Al-Quran, 17:82).

Influence

Amongst the inward morals of reciting the Glorious Quran is what Imam Al-Ghazali called “influence,” meaning that a person’s heart should be influenced when reciting the Glorious Quran. This influence varies according to the meaning of the verses one reads, i.e., one’s heart should be overwhelmed with fear, hope, or sadness in response to the subject-matter of the verses he reads. In this way, when one reads the following Quranic verse (Al-Quran, 20:82), “But, without doubt, I am (also) He that forgives again and again, to those who repent, believe, and do right, who, in fine, are ready to receive true guidance” — he should consider the four prerequisites of gaining Allah’s forgiveness, which are mentioned in the verse. Likewise, when reading Surat Al-Asr which reads, “By (the token of) time (through the ages)! Verily, Man is in loss except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy” — one should reflect upon these four conditions of exemption of loss. Moreover, when reading the Quranic verse (Al-Quran, 7:56) that says, “The mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good” — one should know that good-doing includes all the above-mentioned conditions of success and gaining Allah’s forgiveness.

Wuhayb ibn Al-Ward said, “We have contemplated the Prophetic hadiths and admonitions and discovered that nothing is more impressive nor makes the hearts more tender than reciting, understanding, and pondering on the Glorious Quran.” The influence of a believer’s heart, when reading the Glorious Quran, varies according to the context of the verses he reads. For instance, his heart should be overwhelmed with fear when he reads verses dealing with threats and punishment. When reading verses speaking about Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, his heart feels great delight. When reading verses, explaining Allah’s Names and Attributes, his heart is filled with the Glory and Majesty of Allah.

As mentioned above, in this connection, is the report on the authority of Abdullah ibn Masud who said, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to me, ‘Recite (the Quran) to me.’ I said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger, shall I recite (the Quran) to you while it has been revealed to you?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So, I recited Surat An-Nisa, but when I recited the verse: ‘How (will it be) then when We bring from each nation a witness and We bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness against these people,’ he said, ‘Enough for the present.’ I looked at him and beheld his eyes were overflowing with tears” (Bukhari and Muslim). It is no wonder that some righteous men fell dead or unconscious when reciting or listening to some Quranic verses dealing with the threats and torment in the Hereafter. When a reciter of the Glorious Quran reads the Quranic verse (Al-Quran, 60:4) that reads, “Our Lord! In Thee do we trust, and to Thee do we turn in repentance: to Thee is (our) final Goal” — and the verse (Al-Quran, 14:12) that says, “We [prophets] shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you [deniers of the truth] may cause us” — if he does not place his trust in Allah and observe patience, he should exert himself to abide by these virtues. Otherwise, he will incur curses upon himself when reading Quranic verses like the following: “Behold, the curse of Allah is on those who do wrong” (Al-Quran, 11:18). “Grievously odious is it in the sight of Allah that you say that which you do not” (Al-Quran, 61:3). “Yet they heed not and they turn away” (Al-Quran, 21:1). “Therefore shun those who turn away from Our Message and desire nothing but the life of this world” (Al-Quran, 53:29). “Those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong” (Al-Quran, 49:11).

Likewise, such a man will be included in the description of the following Quranic verses: “And there are among them illiterates who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires” (Al-Quran, 2:78); “And how many Signs in the heavens and the earth do they pass by? Yet they turn (their faces) away from them” (Al-Quran, 12:105). Therefore, it is said that one who does not abide by the morals of the Glorious Quran would be called by Allah: “What do you want from My Words as long as you ignore Me?”

The similitude of one who reads the Quran and insists on disobeying Allah is as a man who, having received a letter from his king bidding him to do something, insists on disobeying his king’s order while he continues to read his letter. One who abstains from doing good is referred to by the Quranic verse that reads, “But they threw it away behind their backs, and purchased with it some miserable gain, and vile was the bargain they made” (Al-Quran, 3:187). In this context, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Recite (and study) the Quran as long as your hearts are in agreement as to its meanings, but f you have differences as regards its meaning, stop reading it then” (Bukhari and Muslim). Allah, Most High, highlights the characteristics of His devout believers, saying, “When they (believers) hear His Signs (verses) rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord” (Al-Quran, 8:2).

The Highest Degree of Reading the Quran

In his well-reputed Ihya Ulum Ad-Din, Imam Al-Ghazali pointed out that a reciter of the Glorious Quran attains the highest degree of reading the Glorious Quran in the case when he imagines that he hears it from Allah, Most High, Himself. Degrees of reading the Glorious Quran, however, are three:

Reading the Glorious Quran while imagining that Allah, Most High, hears the recitation of it: In this case, a reciter of the Quran imagines that he reads it before Allah, Most High, while He looks at and hears him. The state of such a person is one who calls upon and invokes Allah, Most High.

Reading the Quran while imagining that Allah, Most High, sees and converses with him: In this case, a reciter of the Quran would listen to, glorify, and understand the One whom he imagines to be conversing with him.

Reading the Quran while imagining that Allah, Most High, recites it Himself: In this case, a reciter of the Glorious Quran does not see himself or his recitation, and sees that Allah is the One Who says it Himself.

The last is the degree of Al-Muqarrabun (the most favorite people of Allah); the second is the degree of As-hab Al-Yarnin (the Companions of the Right Hand). Commenting on the highest degree, Jafar ibn Muhammad As-Sadiq (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “By Allah! Allah appears for His creation in His Words, but they see not.” Once, he fell unconscious while praying and people asked him afterwards about the reason for this, and he declared, “I kept repeating a Quranic verse in my heart until I heard it from its Speaker (Most High) and, therefore, I could not keep conscious because of His Might.” In this connection, a righteous man said, “I have not tasted the sweetness of reading the Glorious Quran until I read it imagining that the Prophet (peace be upon him) recited it before his Companions; then I read it imagining that Gabriel (peace be upon him) recited it before the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him); then I was gifted with the highest degree, i.e., hearing it from its Speaker, whereupon I tasted the unparalleled sweetness of reading it to the extent that I could not keep away from it.”

By the same token, Uthman and Hudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with them both) said, “When hearts are purified, they will never become bored with reading the Quran.” Thabit Al-Banani, likewise, said, “I insisted on reading the Quran for twenty years, and then I enjoyed reading it for another twenty years.”

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About the Author

Sh. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is a leading Islamic scholar of contemporary world. He is the President of The International Union for Muslim Sholars (IUMS).



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