The Qur’an was always conveyed through speech. When it was sent down, it was not sent down as a physical book that was read by the Companions. The Messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) would recite it out loud and it would be heard and would move those who heard it. It had a penetrating effect, just in its language, style, and eloquence. There are many instances from the life of the Prophet ﷺ where we find examples of the Qur’an’s power over its listeners. The enemies of the Prophet ﷺ would even call it magic because of the powerful effect it had on the one who heard it, thereby unwittingly conceding the fact that it was something supernatural. When the Prophet ﷺ recited Surah an-Najm (Qur’an 53) in Makkah, the entire audience, believers and non-believers, fell into prostration in awe, overpowered by what they had heard. When `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah, who was one of the leaders of the polytheists in Makkah came to debate with the Prophet ﷺ and he ﷺ recited Surah Fussilat (Qur’an 41) in response, `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah left shaken and humbled by the verses. We have stories from the Companions who would tell us how the Qur’an affected their hearts. For example, Jubayr bin Mut’im said:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah recite ‘Surah Al Tur’ in the Maghrib prayer, and when he got to the verses “Were they created by nothing, or were they themselves the creators? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? No, but they have no firm Belief. Or are with them the treasures of your Lord? Or are they the tyrants with the authority to do as they like?” [Qur’an 52:35-37], my heart wanted to fly from my body out of awe.”1
These and many other such examples lead to the conclusion that clearly the Qur’an is supposed to have a powerful effect on the listener. It is meant to change us for the better, cause us to be humble before the Words of our Creator and move our hearts. But all that comes when we understand what the Qur’an is saying to us. So why is it that we cannot experience the Qur’anic narrative the way they did? Why do we not feel what Jubayr radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) felt in salah (prayer) when he heard the Qur’an being recited? What can we do to help ourselves taste at least some of what they tasted from the Qur’an? The fact is that most of us do not have the time to sit down full-time and dedicate ourselves to learning the Arabic language or the intricacies of balagha (rhetoric). It is not practical to forego our responsibilities and commitments and set out to master the Arabic language and detailed explanation (tafseer). However, there are certain practical steps after forming sincere intentions and du`aa (supplication) that we can take on a daily basis that can help us come closer to the Qur’an and its message.
- Make the Qur’an a part of our daily life. We can the take the time to understand the chapters we recite in our daily prayers. A lot of us know many of the short chapters from the 30th part of the Qur’an, so that is a good place to begin and work backwards. Take some time daily, even if it is 10-15 minutes, to sit down and engage the Qur’an. Read the translation, listen to or read some commentary on the chapter and try to memorize it as well. Take some time to reflect on the verses and what Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is saying and how it relates to you and your life. The next time you stand up and recite that chapter in prayer or hear someone reciting it, you will have a much deeper connection to it because of the time you invested in seeking to understand. You’ll be able to experience the Qur’an in a whole new way.
- Dedicate some time daily or weekly to learning Arabic. The keys to truly experiencing the Qur’an lie in learning the Arabic language. It opens a whole new dimension to the Qur’an and allows you to feel the profound subtleties that are embedded in the text. Even with a basic understanding of the language, you will experience the Qur’an on a completely different level. A lot of times we get scared away from learning it because we feel studying Arabic needs our full attention. We put it off until such a time that we think we’ll be ready to dedicate hours to it daily. The thing is, we don’t have to give up everything and dedicate ourselves to studying Arabic full time, nor is it practical to do so for the majority of people. Instead, with the many available resources today such as videos on YouTube or self-study books, a lot of progress can be achieved with putting in a small amount of time, even ten minutes a day. All it requires is dedication, focus, and consistency. A common pitfall usually is focusing on too much at the same time, which leads to getting overwhelmed and burning out. Instead, taking it easy, focusing on one resource, mastering it, and then moving on to another will be of much more benefit. Once we start to comprehend the language, the Qur’an will open itself up in a completely new dimension.
These are two practical steps that we can begin to implement in our lives to help us come closer to the Qur’an. It is not required of every one of us to become scholars, rather what is required of all of us is to experience the ayaat (verses, lit. signs) of the Qur’an. We are asked to make the effort to come closer to it in order that we can better ourselves, and as a result, better our families and communities. The Companions were not all memorizers of the Qur’an, nor were all of them scholars but what they had in common was that when they heard the Qur’an, it had an impact on them. It changed them into better people. It had a practical impact in their life, in their attitude, and it deepened their insight. It touched their hearts each time they heard it, even if it was the same verse they had listened to and knew from before. With some effort on our part, we too can start to try and experience the Qur’an as they did.
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir 4/309 [↩]