Islamic Studies Qur'an Seeking Knowledge Spiritual Purification With the Divine Youth

Listening with Your Heart

A lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad

Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIIIPart IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV


How can we benefit from the Qur’an? Ibn Qayim al-Jawziya mentioned a verse in Surat Qaf:

إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَذِكْرَىٰ لِمَن كَانَ لَهُ قَلْبٌ أَوْ أَلْقَى السَّمْعَ وَهُوَ شَهِيدٌ

“Indeed in that is a reminder for whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present [in mind]” (Qur’an, 50:37).

One of the names of the Qur’an is “reminder.” Why? Because human beings always forget, and the main thing that we forget is that our purpose is to worship Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He). Allah (swt) says that this Qur’an is a reminder for the one who has a heart, and the one who alqa-ssam’a. Alqa means to throw, thus “throws his ears,” meaning they’re listening really intently. Wa huwa shaheed can be translated to “and he is a witness.” These are the three requirements Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya mentioned in a book called Fawaa’id. He says that in this verse we find three requirements to benefit from the Quran, lectures, and from our learning experience in general. The First Requirement: The Heart The first one, as Allah (swt) says, is the one who has a heart. What does this mean, the heart? We know the heart is the essence to everything. That’s why we have a science in Islam called at-tasawwuf, to purify our hearts, which is related to tazkiyat al-nafs (purification of the soul) or ihsan (excellence in faith). And we find here that Allah (swt) said, “for whoever has a heart.” To really understand how your heart is the main variable conditioning your relationship with the Quran, listen to the following story: In the sixth year after the Prophethood of Muhammad ﷺ started, `Umar ibn al-Khattab radi allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) was not a Muslim. He became angry and decided, “I’m going to kill Muhammad.”

So he left his home with this big sword. His sword is huge, if you’ve been to Turkey maybe you’ve seen the sword of al-Farouk (i.e. `Umar). And so he went to kill the Prophet ﷺ. This is deep, what Sheikh Sha`rawy said about this.

`Umar went and he ran into Na`eem ibn `Abdullah, and Na`eem said to `Umar, “Where are you going?” `Umar said, “I’m going to kill Muhammad.” And he, Na`eem ibn `Abdullah, was Muslim. He said, “Why are you going to kill him? You need to go and kill your own family [first], they’re Muslim too. Your sister Fatima ibn al-Khattab is Muslim, and Zaid ibn al-Khattab, your cousin, who’s the husband of your sister, is Muslim.”

`Umar became incensed, and he went to the home of his sister Fatima where he heard the Qur’an being recited. And subhan’Allah (glory be to Allah), the ‘ulema (scholars) said that when `Umar heard the Quran he kicked down the door and [the people inside] heard `Umar coming. They used to say about him, “Umar was a door.” He was a big person. When he used to ride an animal his feet would hit the ground, he was that big. So they heard him coming. There were three people in the home including one of the sahabi(companions) who was teaching Fatima and Zaid the Qur’an. He hid himself.

`Umar (r) kicked down the door and he said to them, “What is this speech that you’re reading that makes no sense?” They said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I heard you in here doing something.” They said, “No.” Then he said, “Are you all Muslim?” When they said yes, `Umar grabbed Zaid, his cousin, and started to beat him down. Then he slapped his sister so hard that blood was drawn from her face. Fa qad raqqa qalbahu (then his heart softened). `Umar (r), when he saw the blood coming from her face, said to her, “Show me what you’ve been reading.”

When he saw what they were reading, and he read Surat Taha. As he reached the fourteenth verse, where Allah says,

إِنَّنِي أَنَا اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدْنِي وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِذِكْرِي

“Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance” (Qur’an, 20:14).

He became a Muslim. Why did the Qur’an affect `Umar the second time, but not the first time? What changed? It was his heart. The ‘ulema said that subhan’Allah when `Umar saw the blood coming from his sister’s lips he felt softness in his heart. So then he was ready for the Qur’an. That’s why when he heard the Qur’an the first time there was very little impact, but when he heard the Qur’an the second time he was impacted, as Imam al Sha`rawy, may Allah have mercy on him, said. So the heart is the main factor towards understanding the Qur’an. That’s why the Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed in the body there is a piece of flesh, if it’s good the whole body is good, and if it is corrupted the whole body is corrupted. Verily, it is the heart.” (Muslim) So when we come to the Qur’an, we should make sure our hearts are in check. I should check myself. This is a long series of discussions but, in general, internally we should feel, “I’m reading the speech of Allah. Between my hands is the miracle of the Prophethood of Rasulullah ﷺ.” When you hold the Quran, it’s as if you’re holding the same staff that Musa `alayhi assalaam (peace be upon him) threw down that became a snake. When you’re holding the Quran, it’s as if you’re holding in your hands the dead person that Isa (as) brought back to life, by the will of Allah. You are holding the miracle of the Prophethood of Rasul Allah ﷺ in your hands. So the first important factor is our hearts. The Second Requirement: Listening The second important thing is listening. Maybe some people say, “Listening? Subhan’Allah why do we have to talk about listening?” Go to any Friday khutbah (sermon) and see how many people don’t listen. If you go to many Friday khutbahs you find, astaghfir’Allah (I seek refuge from Allah), some people doing their 401k on their cell phone in the back of the masjid, exclaiming, “Sell! Sell! Sell now!” Selling stocks in the back of the masjid. Look at the announcements in our masjids. Have they changed over twenty years? “Please park in the yellow lines that go to the curb. You put your car between there, not on it, not sideways. Please wipe up the water from the wudhu (ablution) area. Please don’t, please this, please that.” Subhan’Allah, nobody listens. And Allah (swt) made listening a condition for obedience when He said,

سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا

“We hear and we obey.” (Qur’an, 2:285)

Before I can obey I have to hear. In another verse Allah says,

الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ

“Who listen to speech and follow the best of it.” (Quran 39:18)

Those who listen and follow. So listening is very important. And, subhan’Allah, Ibn Al Munaya said that there are four things you should do if you want to listen in the way that Allah mentioned in that verse of Surat Qaf. First, you should be tranquil, physically as well as spiritually. You should be tranquil with your body, spirit, limbs, and you should lower your gaze. Subhan’Allah he said to lower your gaze. Al-Adab(manners and etiquette) always precede knowledge. Look at Musa (as) in Surat Taha again, when Allah (swt) called Musa from the valley Tuwa. Musa (as) saw a fire and he went to it. What’s the first thing Allah (swt) said to him?

إِنِّي أَنَا رَبُّكَ فَاخْلَعْ نَعْلَيْكَ ۖ إِنَّكَ بِالْوَادِ الْمُقَدَّسِ طُوًى

“Indeed, I am your Lord, so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Tuwa,” (Quran 20:12).

Take off your shoes. Why? Al-Adab (etiquette). So we must have etiquette with Allah. As Ibn Al Qurtubi mentioned, in Surah Al Muddathir when Allah (swt) was talking to the Prophet (saw), He told him qum—stand up (Quran 74:2). “Stand up” has a few meanings. One of them means to be active in da’wah (calling to Islam), or to be active as a Muslim. But also stand up out of Al-Adab. That’s why the mother of Imam Maalik, `Aaliya (r), when she sent Maalik to Rabi al Raee, his first shaykh (scholar), she told him, “Learn from him his adab before you learn from him his knowledge.” `Abdullah ibn Mubarak said, “We are in more need of a little adab than we are in need of a lot of knowledge.” So the first criterion (of listening) is to be tranquil, and have tranquility all throughout the self. The second one is to pay attention, to force the self to focus. You know some people when it comes to listening they are like the limb on a tree: whenever the breeze blows they will move. Their thoughts control them like that. But Allah said about the believer, asluha thabit (they are firm) (Qur’an, 14:24). Focus and listen. The third one he mentioned is to gather the mind on what’s being said—to focus internally through hearing and cognition. The fourth one is to be excited and determined to act upon what you hear. How many of us, after this lecture, for the next two weeks we’ll touch the Qur’an? Now we should feel that, “Oh subhan’Allah, I should read the Quran.” This is a sign that I focused and took some benefit, and I listened. And he (Ibn Al Munaya) said, “And this is the listening that is loved by Allah (swt).” To repeat them: the first one is to be tranquil within the self; the second is to pay attention through hearing; the third one is to pay attention and gather the mind on what’s being said; and the fourth is to be excited to act upon what is heard. The Third Requirement: Witness The last thing Allah said (in the verse) is “and he is a witness.” Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya and others of the ‘ulema commented that this means a witness in the heart. The heart is alive, focusing. Let me give you an example of being a witness with the heart. When you pray, why do you pray `Asr and Dhuhr (the afternoon prayers) without any voice? This is the time to train your heart to be awake. Why do you pray the sunnah (the optional prayers) quietly? This is the time to listen with your heart. How many of us, subhan’Allah, when we pray our hearts are all over the field? All of us. Everyone of us struggles with it. This is the listening in the heart, internally. When the Imam is reciting, try to focus on what he’s saying. Someone might say, “I don’t understand Arabic.” Learn Arabic. Try to understand what’s being said. So, he is a witness in his heart. That’s why Allah (swt) said in Surat Yasin that this Qur’an has been sent to warn the one who is alive:

لِّيُنذِرَ مَن كَانَ حَيًّا

“To warn whoever is alive” (Quran 36:70).

The `ulema said that this means alive in their hearts. The heart is alive.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

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