Approaching the Qur’an

By  Prof. Shahul Hameed

Consultant to — India

The noble Qur’an is the word of Almighty Allah, which started to be revealed to humanity in the blessed month of Ramadan through His Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

The major themes of the noble Qur’an are

  • Allah’s transcendent sovereignty,
  • our mission as Allah’s vicegerents on earth, and
  • the guidance offered to humans out of Allah’s infinite mercy.

Knowledge can be divided into two broad categories: knowledge of the perceptible  world (Ash-Shahadah), and that of the imperceptible world (Al-Ghayb).

All our sciences give us knowledge of the world, nature, history, and arts; such  knowledge is called the knowledge of Ash-Shahadah. But humans can never acquire the knowledge of spiritual realities beyond the world of our senses unless Almighty Allah Himself reveals such knowledge. These belong to the world of Al-Ghayb.

We should always remember that Allah is not only the Creator, but He is also the Sustainer and the Disposer of all the affairs of the whole creation:

[Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Guardian and Disposer of all affairs. To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth, and those who reject the Signs of Allah, it is they who will be in loss.] (Az-Zumar 39:62-63)

This means that the whole of human progress through history, which humanity proudly claims as its achievement, would not have been possible if Allah had not helped  and guided it at every step. Allah says,

[But Allah has created you and your handiwork] (As-Saffat37:96)

While we, for all practical purposes, have been given the ability to make decisions and to work in  our own ways toward attaining freely chosen objectives, Almighty Allah is in control, and humans, as well as all other creatures, are never free from Allah’s overriding power and sovereignty:

[And you shall not will, unless (it be) that Allah, the Lord of the worlds, wills]  (At-Takwir 81:29)

From this we should realize that Allah guides us in our affairs in ways that are mysterious, and we are utterly helpless without His guidance , even in those things where we presume to be self-sufficient. Sadly, most people are unaware. This is Allah’s guidance acting, at one level, upon the affairs of the human race and controlling the course of history.

At another level, we have the noble Qur’an before us, and we (as individuals as well as communities) are asked to choose the divine guidance in the Qur’an to manage our day-to-day affairs. It is up to us to accept or reject this divine guidance, as there is no coercion in religion. But most of us are unaware, and this unawareness is a deficiency that can be rectified by means of humility, because this latter is the first step toward knowledge and wisdom. Also unawareness is often coupled with arrogance, which is a trait of Satan, and we are easy victims of the guiles of Satan. Thus the dangerous combination of unawareness and arrogance leads people to ignore divine guidance and to adopt whatever expedient courses available to them for the gratification of their immediate desires and for the attainment of their short-term goals.

Toward a Proper Approach to the Qur’an

The first step.We should earnestly pray to Allah for protection from Satan. Allah gives in the noble Qur’an repeated and emphatic warnings to humans about the risk of following the dark suggestions of Satan:

[O you who believe, enter into Islam wholeheartedly and follow not the footsteps of the evil one [Satan], for he is to you an avowed enemy.] (Al-Baqarah 2:208)

And because Satan is out there with his minions to mislead us, Almighty Allah particularly admonishes us to ask for His protection from Satan when seeking guidance from the Qur’an:

[When you do read the Qur’an, seek Allah’s protection from Satan, the rejected one.](An-Nahl 16:98)

Beseeching Almighty Allah for protection from the guiles of Satan means that humans must have full faith in Allah, the All-Merciful, as the Creator and Guardian Who can protect us from every harm.

The second step. We must sincerely believe that every word of the Qur’an is Allah’s speech and that Allah will guide those who seek His guidance to the truth. We should read the Qur’an with an earnest desire to increase faith so that we may belong to those who are described in the Qur’an by the following words:

[Believers are those who, whenever Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and whenever His revelations are recited to them increase their faith .](Al-Anfal 8:2)

The third step. We should remember Allah with gratitude for He guided us to the Qur’an. Only Allah — not any one else — could guide us to His noble book of guidance. For this reason, we should praise the One Who deserves praise, for He created and blessed us with all the bounties we enjoy, and — what is more — He guided us to the truth.

The fourth step. We must show readiness and determination to follow the teachings of the Qur’an. This should be an expression of an unquestioning resolve to surrender to the will of Allah as expressed in His book. This also indicates that we are prepared to do without all selfish interests, lust, greed, foolish pride, and arrogance — in short, any love for the fleeting pleasures of life. In other words, this is a changeover to a new life dedicated to Allah’s pleasure.

The fifth step. The Qur’an should be read with full awareness that now we are with Allah, listening to His words, which are meant to guide us along the straight path. So, when reading the Qur’an, we must take enough time for the verses to get a grip on our hearts and minds, so that the teachings contained therein can be imbibed to the greatest possible extent.

Levels of Reading the Qur’an

One may say that there are three levels of reading the Qur’an:

The first level: visual reading of the Qur’an.That is to read the Qur’an with eyes fixed on the words, and with the voice raised to such a level that makes it audible only to oneself.
The second level: pondering over the meanings of the verses. That is to contemplate the explanation of the verses and their interpretations, which is required to fully understand the ideas therein.
The third level: willingly opening hearts and minds to the verses. This is necessary for paving the way for an effective impact of the teachings in the Qur’an on our lives, to the extent of bringing about a change in attitudes and styles of behavior.

Once this is attained, a truthful prayer to Almighty Allah can be

[Praise be to Allah, Who has guided us to this! We would not have been guided, had not Allah guided us.](Al-A`raf7:43)

Indeed, the praise of Allah must be intense and most sincere, as it is Allah Who has bestowed upon us the noble Qur’an.

Gratitude and joy lead to trust, hope, and greater gifts. The One Who has bestowed the Qur’an upon us will surely help us in reading, understanding, and following it.

Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant for He was previously the Head of the Department of English, Farook College, Calicut University, and  the president of the Kerala Islamic Mission in Calicut , India.  He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.