By Iman Badawi
It is known as “al-Kitab” (the Book). It is so well known and highly revered that when any Muslim refers to “the Book,” it is understood to mean the Holy Qur’an. It is the book above all books because it is the complete and final revelation of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) to mankind. It is the best of speech, the way of guidance, the book of wisdom, and it will remain unchanged and protected until the Day of Judgement. Muslims usually decorate its pages and outside cover and always place it on the highest shelf in their homes to signify its elevated status. Most Muslims begin the most important ceremonies of their lives with the recitation of its blessed words. Yet when it is recited, few are those who listen to it carefully and even fewer are those who understand it. Yet still fewer are those who ponder its meanings and dedicate their life to its study. A human would never abstain from the elements that are necessary for nourishing his body, yet so many humans go for extended periods of time depriving themselves from that which nourishes the hearts and the minds—the Holy Qur’an.
Ibn Masood (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him), a famous companion of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: “None of you needs to ask himself [about anything] except for the Qur’an: If he loves the Qur’an, he loves Allah, and if he detests the Qur’an, he detests Allah and His Messenger ﷺ.”1 Hence, there is a direct correlation between one’s relationship with Allah and his relationship with the Qur’an. This is the case because the Qur’an is our source of knowledge about the truth of all matters, what Allah (swt) likes and dislikes, and the nature of His essence and actions. It is our connection to Allah (swt) and that is why He ordered us to recite it in each of our daily prayers. Therefore, he who abandons the Qur’an has, in fact, abandoned his connection and relationship with Allah (swt).
If a Muslim continues abandoning the Qur’an in his life, the faith in his heart begins to weaken, he becomes accustomed to disregarding Allah’s commands, and he begins to forget about Allah’s promise in the Hereafter and, instead, desires the pleasures of this temporal life. The connection with Allah (swt), that gives true life to the hearts of humans, becomes severed and the heart becomes a dark dungeon; the filth of sins veils it and no light of guidance penetrates it. This is why `Uthmaan ibn `Affan (ra) said: “If our hearts were really clean, we would never become satiated with the words of Allah.”2
The coming of a time when people would abandon the Qur’an was prophesied in the Holy Book itself. In Surat al-Furqan, Allah says: “And the Messenger has said, ‘O my Lord, indeed my people have taken this Qur`an as [a thing] abandoned,” (Qur’an, 25:30). The scholars of tafseer (interpretation of the Qur’an) had differed over the meaning of this verse, as to whom it refers to and the meaning of “taken this Qur’an as [a thing] abandoned”. Al-Qurtubi (rahimahu Allah, may Allah have mercy on him) says: “It has been said that the Messenger’s saying ‘O my Lord’ will be said on the Day of Judgement.”3
Some scholars considered this verse to refer to the polytheists of Mecca who would make noise and speak loudly while the Qur’an would be recited to drown out its sound. They did this out of fear that those who would hear the Qur’an would be affected by its magnificence and also out of ridicule and disdain towards it. Informing us of their attitude towards the Qur’an, Allah (swt) says: “And those who disbelieve say, ‘Do not listen to this Qur’an and speak noisily during [the recitation of it] that perhaps you will overcome.’ But We will surely cause those who disbelieve to taste a severe punishment, and We will surely recompense them for the worst of what they had been doing” (41:26-27).
Ibn Kathir (rahimahu Allah) states that this is one type, the worst form, of abandonment. Of the other forms, he says: “When he would recite the Qur’an to them, they would talk nonsense or speak about something else, so that they would not hear it. This is a form of forsaking it and not believing in it is also forsaking it, and neglecting pondering about it and understanding it is a form of forsaking it, and leaving behind the knowledge of it and complying with its orders and avoiding its prohibitions is from forsaking it, and turning away from it to any other thing such as poetry or sayings or singing or amusement or talking, or taking a path other than it is from forsaking it.”4
From the sayings of the scholars, it becomes evident that abandonment of the Qur’an is of different levels. The worst level of abandonment is to disbelieve in the Qur’an and prevent others from listening to it as did the pagan Arabs of Mecca in the Prophet’s time ﷺ.
The second level of abandonment is to not seek out its message, as is the case with so many human beings who go all through life not giving any priority to God and hence they do not make any attempt to discover His true revelation.
The third level of abandonment is committed by those who believe in the Qur’an, that is: Muslims who do not even listen to the Qur’an. Listening is put before reading because it is easier and doesn’t require any knowledge (of rules of recitation) on the part of the listener. This level of abandonment doesn’t imply that the Qur’an is never recited in the presence of those Muslims, but rather it means that when it is recited, they do not concentrate on listening to it, at the very least, out of respect. Those who have abandoned the Qur’an in this way may even continue their idle conversations during the recitation of the Qur’an, feeling no shame or modesty in front of Allah (swt). They may even joke or laugh aloud while the Qur’an is recited, in complete contradiction to the mood of humility and contemplation that Allah (swt) has ordered us to assume when His words are recited. Allah says: “So when the Qur’an is recited, then listen to it and pay attention that you may receive mercy” (Qur’an 7:204). Therefore another part of abandonment in this level is to be silent while the Qur’an is recited while allowing the mind to wander, not pondering over the meanings of its verses. An even worse level of abandonment would be listening to songs, music, poetry, or any other form of speech, instead of the Qur’an. The result of this has been mentioned in Ibn Masood’s saying: “Remembrance of Allah causes faith to grow in the heart like water causes onions to grow, and songs cause hypocrisy to grow in the heart just as water causes onions to grow.”5
The fourth level of abandonment is to abandon reading of the Qur’an. This includes those who make no effort to learn the Arabic alphabet and vowels so as to be able to the read the Qur’an. It also includes those who know how to read it, but make many mistakes out of carelessness, such as not pronouncing the letters properly while having the ability to do so, or not adhering to the most basic rules of tilaawah (rules of recitation), or reciting it so fast that one easily skips over certain vowels or the like. This doesn’t refer to those who will make mistakes while learning; there is no sin on those who error while struggling to correct themselves and, in fact, they receive a double reward if recitation of the Qur’an is difficult for them.6
Another aspect of this abandonment relates to some peoples’ usage of the Qur’an for worldly gain. Imran ibn Husain (ra) narrated that when he came upon a reader who was reciting the Qur’an and then asking for payment, he told the reader that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say: “When anyone recites the Qur’an, let him ask reward for it from Allah, for (in the future) there will come a people who will recite the Qur’an and ask reward for it from men.”7
The fifth level is abandonment of memorization of the Qur’an. This could refer to those who go through life memorizing only a small portion of the Qur’an, or those who memorize the Qur’an but allow themselves to forget it by not reviewing. As for those who don’t memorize anything of the Qur’an or very little, the following narration refers to them. Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) related that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said (what means): “One whose heart doesn’t contain anything from the Holy Qur’an, is like a deserted house.”8
In regard to those who do memorize, the following narration warns of the effort needed to preserve the Qur’an in one’s mind and heart. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (ra) related that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Preserve the Holy Qur’an in your hearts, by Allah in whose hand lays the life of Muhammad, it goes out of memory faster than a camel escapes from its rope.”9 This or any level of abandonment usually comes from ignorance of the virtue of every aspect surrounding the Qur’an. In addition, if the youth knew how much they will regret not having taken advantage of the “golden” years, the stage at which the mind can memorize more easily, they would not delay memorization of the Qur’an for one moment.
Abandonment of reflection is the sixth stage. This is mostly due to lack of understanding of the Arabic language. In an authentic hadith (narration), the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said (what means): “The Arab is the one who learns Arabic.” Obviously, Muslims of Arab decent do not have a monopoly on the Arabic language. Hence, negligence of the Arabic language is indicative of negligence towards understanding the Qur’an. It is not nationalistic or ethnic elitism that elevates the Arabic language, rather it is the fact that it is the language of Allah’s Holy Book. In fact, Allah (swt) informs us in the Qur’an that He made it an Arabic book so as to facilitate its understanding and memorization. Allah (swt) says in Surat Yusuf (what means): “Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you may understand” (Qur’an 12:2). So one who sticks to the Arabic language and struggles to learn it has gained a high level of affinity for and understanding of the Qur’an and one who is close to the Qur’an is close to Allah (swt).
The last and most dangerous level is the abandonment of practice. The essence of this type of abandonment is illustrated in the following narration in which the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “…the Qur’an is either an argument for you or against you.”10 Imam an-Nawawi (rahimahu Allah) states in regard to the meaning of this hadith: “[It means] that you will benefit from it if you recite it and act by it, otherwise it will be an argument against you.” This means that on the Day of Judgement, the Qur’an will be a proof or a testament against those who disobeyed Allah (swt) and did not follow the path He outlined in His Holy Book.
The very purpose of listening, reading, memorizing, and reflecting upon the Qur’an is to be able to practice it and hence this is the gravest level of abandonment. Those who don’t practice the Qur’an will be in ruin and this is true even on the level of nations and civilizations. `Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said (what means): “Allah will elevate some nations through this book and degrade others with it.”11 This level of abandonment, when applied to nations, means their ruling by other than the Qur’an. The most potent example of how the Qur’an elevates nations is the example of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and his companions. `A’isha (ra), the Prophet’s wife, described his character as being the Qur’an, itself. He embodied the perfect and complete practice of Qur’anic tenets in his life and his companions followed suit by emulating his character. Through their adherence to Allah’s Holy Book, in a matter of no more than 23 years, a group of 40 oppressed and poor men and woman grew to become the most powerful force in the Arabian Peninsula. Muslims of today need not ask why they are now living a humiliating reality, even while not lacking in numbers or wealth. They need not look further than the Qur’an for the solution.
The levels of abandonment are, indeed, mere stages in the degradation of the ummah (community) and its individual members. The levels of abandonment are categorized in this order because each level builds upon the other and makes the problem of abandonment deeper and deeper. One who cannot read will find difficulty memorizing and is more prone to make mistakes. And one who is not motivated by the desire to memorize the Qur’an will certainly not reflect upon it. And one who doesn’t reflect upon the Qur’an could not conceivably practice it as a complete way of life.
Allah (swt) says:
“And whosoever is blinded from remembrance of the Most Merciful – We appoint for him a devil and he is to him a companion. And indeed, the devils avert them from the way [of guidance], while they think that they are rightly guided.” (Qur’an, 43:36-37)