Understanding the Quran
Quran is last of the heavenly books revealed by God to the last of His messengers, Muhammad (sws). It is the book memorized and recited by millions of Muslims every day. It is also the book that has had a remarkable influence in shaping world’s religious, political and geographical structure. And it is also the book that forms basis of the religion of Islam and is its foremost source of knowledge. Interestingly, Quran is the only Book in the world recited by so many that no other book has ever been read as many times, but unfortunately, it is almost always read without understanding it and it also seems that no other book has been dealt this way ever! The aim of this paper is to understand the importance of understanding the Quran.
Allah says in the Holy Quran,
It is being addressed to the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and it is being said that this book has been revealed so those who have intellect ponder upon its verses.1 This clearly reveals a few aspects of the way one should study the Quran.
The Importance of Understanding the Quran
During the recitation and the study of Quran, one must earnestly try to understand the message contained in this book. Unfortunately, it is usually thought and professed that this book is only for the scholars to understand, and for them to interpret and apply it to the fields of Islamic knowledge. However, this is clearly in conflict with the Quran which stresses so much upon its reader to understand it.
The first addressees of Quran were Arabs and they are being told that the Quran is in their own language for them to be able to understand it. Quran did not limit its contents to Prophet Muhammad (sws), rather addressed the Believers, the Jews, the Christians and the Pagans at the time of Muhammad (sws) directly. The method of reciting the Quran practiced today – where a student recites Quran completely multiple times over without understanding a single word – is the exact opposite of how it should actually be studied! When a Muslim student learns Arabic, he is taught the pronunciation of Arabic letter and words without the meaning such that he is not able to understand his reading. Interestingly, this way of learning a language is reserved for no other language in the world but for Quranic Arabic!
The need for understanding the Quran cannot be overemphasized. The relationship between Al-Fatihah and the Quran also clearly shows one of the ways that Almighty had ordained Arabs to always understand Quran. Al-Fatihah is a humble prayer from a believer towards the Lord of the Worlds requesting Guidance, and Quran is the answer to this prayer that starts with "This is the book, without doubt, a guidance for the God fearing." Prayer follows the same pattern where one asks Allah for guidance and in turn some verses of the Qu’ran are recited as an answer from Him. For Arabs, where this Quran was revealed and where this prayer was introduced, the daily prayer provided a perfect opportunity for them to listen to the Quran as an answer of the Lord of the Worlds five times a day. And Arabic being their language, they would easily comprehend the message. For non-Arabs, obviously, they have to make an extra effort to understand either the Quran or learn Arabic. A party of non-Arabs was allowed by the Prophet (sws) to recite prayers in their own language for a limited time until they learnt Arabic.2 This was to allow them to understand the Quran until a time they were well-versed in Arabic. It is for the original Arabic speakers that the Quran said,
When the Quran is asking its reader to understand it, there is no reason whatsoever why one should not make an effort to do that. In fact, to overcome our weaknesses in Arabic language, we should turn to a focused study to understand its meaning and acquire knowledge from it.
Quran Addresses the Intellect
Secondly, one's intellect has to be applied in the understanding of this Book. This is something that the Quran itself has commanded us to do at many occasions. For instance, in Al-Baqarah, Quran talks about spending in the way of Allah and how Satan allures man into spending elsewhere for this worldly life. And then in the middle of this discussion, Allah says,
And the discussion then continues on. Clearly, it needs to be appreciated that the Quran really does reason with arguments and if one’s mind is not applied in the study of this Book, then the benefit will be very limited. In general, the Quran has used reasoning and has cited arguments in support of its claims whenever it has urged man to accept a belief. It warns those who do not apply the faculty of their reasoning and become slaves to emotions like hate and prejudice.3 For example, consider the following where those who do not use their intellect in the study of the Book are addressed as deaf and dumb.
Quran also records the following words of those thrown into the Hell:4
Pondering Upon the Quran
Quran being the word of God contains infinite wisdom in it. In order to really benefit from it, one is expected to ponder and reflect upon its verses; something that the Quran has suggested at numerous places. This requires one to deliberate upon the commandments with concentration, analyzing different aspects and understanding what each of these commandments is demanding from its reader. It is for this reason that the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sws) used to hold gatherings where they would reflect upon Quran’s verses and discuss related issues.5 Quran has itself declared:
The above is the situation of hypocrites who used to read the Quran but never tried to sincerely understand it as a word of God. Consequently, despite their recitation in their own language they were neither able to gain knowledge from Quran nor able to act according to its demands.6
Thus, reading of the Quran must be followed by one’s desire to understand it in depth and using it as a guide in one’s practical life. If understood and followed correctly, the Quran becomes a living guide for those who act upon it; this is Almighty’s way to show us the Right Path. It is also His way of directing our worldly matters.
Quran explains to those who ignore its commandments after having understood them their fate on the Day of Judgment: