بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Studying the Quran
When studying the Quran, the most important thing to remember is that God teaches the Quran (55:1-2, 75:19). Guidance comes from God based on our disposition towards His message. He guides whomever He wills, and sends astray whomever He wills (74:31, 6:125). God guides those who sincerely turn to Him in repentance (13:27, 42:13) and who hear and obey His message (24:51-54). Being guided is a favor from God (49:17). So we cannot “teach ourselves” the Quran or become experts by following a certain scholar, graduating from a particular Institute etc. We should rather turn to God to seek to be among those guided by Him (1:6-7). With this backdrop, here are some guidelines from the Quran that can be borne in mind when we study the Quran.
- Read the Quran consistently, cover to cover
- Seek shelter in God
- Language is not a barrier
- Stick to the words of God
- Follow the straightforward verses
- Keep it simple
- Understand in context
- Be patient, do not rush
- Approach the Quran without preconceptions
- Hear and obey
1. Read the Quran consistently, cover to cover.
Read in the name of your Lord who created.¶ Created the human being from an embryo.¶ Read and your Lord, the most honorable.¶ The One who teaches how to write.¶ He teaches the human being what he does not know. (96:1-5)
… read the Quran at dawn, indeed the reading of the Quran at dawn is witnessed. (17:78)
O you coverer.¶ Stay up at night only for a little while.¶ Half of it, or a little less,¶ or a bit more; and read the Quran from cover to cover.¶ We will soon reveal to you an important message. (73:1-5)
We should read the Quran consistently, cover to cover. Particularly at dawn or during the night, when we are free from other distractions. Reading cover to cover gives us full coverage of the Quran, without restricting our familiarity to specific verses or passages, and allowing us to approach the entire Quran without preconceptions.
This has also been the traditional practice, except that tradition focused on reading it for “credits” (ثواب) without the need to understand what we read. The Quran emphasizes understanding and deep reflection, meditation and contemplation (تدبر – tadabbur) when reading the Quran [38:29, 4:82, 23:68, 47:24].
2. Seek shelter in God
When reading the Quran, seek shelter in God from satan the rejected (16:98), to avoid distractions and to remain sincere and focused.
3. Language is not a barrier
Although the Quran is in Arabic, its message is accessible through translation in any language. It is God who guides, not the language or the translation. The level of expertise in Arabic is not the criterion for guidance from God. God tells us it is an Arabic Quran (41:3), and He tells us ….
Had We made it a Non-Arabic Quran, they would have surely said, its verses are not elucidated. Non-Arabic or Arabic, say, for those who are faithful, it is a guide and a healing. As for those who have no faith, there is deafness in their ears and they are blind. It is as though they are being called from a far away place. (41:44)
The unfaithful would claim that the verses of the Quran are not elucidated, were it not in Arabic. For the faithful, it is a guide regardless of the language it is in. The message is accessible in any simple, readable translation, without getting bogged down by the intricacies of language. There is no harm in trying to learn Arabic to appreciate the Quran in its original Arabic, but it is not a requirement to understand the Quran.
4. Stick to the words of God
The words of God never run out …
Say, if the sea were ink for my Lord’s words, the sea would run out before the words of my Lord run out, even if you double the ink supply. (18:109)
Keep away from the additional introductions, appendices, footnotes, interpretations, commentaries, exegeses, eisegesis, interpolations, extrapolations or opinions in the translations of the Quran, and stick to the direct words of God. These are extraneously added by translators, commentators or exegetes of the Quran. They often distract from and confound the message of the Quran. Sometimes they claim to provide the context of revelation (asbab an-nuzul) from external sources. But when needed, the context is evident in the verses themselves, and the purported external context provided usually trivializes the message of the verses.
Students of the Quran can share and discuss insights, observations and the fruits of our study with each other (9:122). But in the end, we can then only accept such information that we can directly verify for ourselves, without appealing to authority.
And do not accept anything that you have no knowledge thereof. Indeed you have the hearing, the eyesight and the mind and you are responsible for using them. (17:36)
5. Follow the straightforward verses.
He is the One who revealed the scripture to you, part of it contains straightforward verses; which are the essence of the book and others are allegorical. Consequently, those who have a disease in their hearts follow the allegorical parts, seeking disorder and they seek its explanation. And no one knows its explanation except God. Moreover, those who possess knowledge say, we believe in it, all of it is from our Lord. And no one takes heed except those who possess vision. (3:7)
The straightforward / directive (muhkam) verses elucidate the clear message of the Quran, and stipulate God’s commandments for us. They enable us to live in peaceful submission to God. We should obey these commandments without any hesitation (“we hear and we obey”). Even when they go against tradition, or consensus of scholars.
And we should not follow fanciful or esoteric interpretations, that are not obvious from a straightforward reading of the Quran. Take the gist of allegorical verses, without seeking to create interpretations (ta`weel).
6. Keep it simple.
God emphasizes repeatedly that the Quran is a clear (mubeen) and a fully detailed (mufassal) book (e.g., 12:1, 15:1, 43:2, 44:2, 16:89, 6:114, 12:111), easy to understand (54:17,22,32,40), with no crookedness therein (39:28). So first, we have to believe that the Quran is indeed clear, fully detailed and easy to understand. And we have to seek the evident, obvious, common sense meaning of the verses. We have to follow the simple, known meaning of the arabic words, unless there is a glaring contradiction between the established meaning of a word and its usage in the Quran. When the message is simple, clear and straightforward, there would be no need to resort to linguistic acrobatics, or go through convoluted hermeneutic hoops.
7. Understand in context.
The Quran is a self-consistent book, with no contradictions therein (4:82). Any verse has to be understood in the context of the whole Quran. And it should be consistent with the context of the surrounding verses. The surrounding verses, and other passages in the Quran of similar import will help us understand the meaning of any verse.
8. Be patient, do not rush.
If we have lingering questions about anything, we should be patient and wait until God reveals the answer through the Quran (5:101).
Therefore, the Exalted One is God, the true King. And do not rush the Quran before His inspiration comes to you and say; my Lord, increase my knowledge. (20:114)
Do not move your tongue to hasten it.¶ Indeed it is Us who collects it and makes it a Quran.¶ Then once We recite it to you, you shall then follow such a Quran.¶ Then indeed it is Us who explains it. (75:16-19)
9. Approach the Quran without preconceptions.
Seek what God wants to teaches us in the Quran, without preconceptions. And not try to force our interpretations onto the Quran, whether they stem from tradition, culture or our personal desires (which are tantamount to teaching God the religion).
Say, are you teaching God about your religion? And God knows everything in the skies and on the land. And God is All Knowledgeable of all things.¶ They act as though they are doing you a favor by offering peace. Say, you are not doing me a favor by offering peace. On the contrary, it is God who is doing you a favor by guiding you to the faith, if you are sincere. (49:16-17)
10. Hear and Obey
When we hear God’s commandments delivered through His messenger, our only response should be “we hear and we obey” (24:51). By obeying God’s messenger, we will be guided (24:54). When we learn that anything we do is not in accordance with God’s commandments, we should correct ourselves right away. When we learn that any of our practices or habits violate God’s commandments, we should refrain from doing them right away. When we learn that we did not practice a commandment that God ordained in the Quran, we should start upholding them right away. We should not make any attempt to rationalize or cling on to old practices that are contrary to what God teaches us through the Quran.
The only response of the faithful when they are invited to God and His messenger to rule amongst them is; we hear and we obey. And these are the successful ones.¶ And whoever obeys God and His messenger and reveres God and fears Him, then, these are the victors.¶ And they swear by God a solemn oath that had you ordered them, they would have definitely left, say; do not swear; obedience is a rule. Indeed, God is cognizant of what you do.¶ Say; obey God and obey the messenger, and if you turn away, then indeed he carries his load and you carry your loads, however, if you obey him, then you will be guided. And the messenger’s mission is to clearly deliver. (24:51-54)