Chapter 4: Rules of Reading
Prolonged companionship with the Qur'an must become one of your most cherished desires and occupations. Read it, therefore, as often and as much as you can. Spend as much time with it as you can find, especially the hours of night. In this manner were the souls of the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, and his Companions schooled in the way of Allah, to prepare them to shoulder the huge and weighty task that the Qur'an placed upon them.
There are a few guidelines and rules in this reward that you must bear in mind.
Every day you must read some of the Qur'an. In fact do not consider a day complete unless you have spent some time with the Qur'an. It is better to read regularly, even if it be only a small portion, than to read long parts, but only occasionally.
Allah likes things which are done regularly, even if little, said the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him (Bukhari, Muslim). He also warned especially that you must attend to the Qur'an regularly, otherwise you may easily lose your gains. The parable of the companion of the Qur'an is like a tethered camel; a man holds on to it so long as he attends to it, and it escapes if he lets it loose (Bukhari, Muslim).
There can be no fixed answer. It will vary from person to person, and from situation to situation. The guideline must be what Allah, after taking into account all human factors, has said: 'Read whatever you can with ease' (al-Muzzammil 73:20).
The practice of the Companions and those who followed them varied considerably. Some used to finish the whole Qur'an in two months, some in one month, some in ten days, some in one week, some even in one day. You should, however, bear in mind the following Hadith as the governing criteria:
One who reads the Qur'an in less than three days does not understand it (Abu Da'ud, Tirmidhi).
Once, when Ibn 'Umar upon being asked by the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, to read the Qur'an in one month insisted on doing so in less time, he told him: Read it in seven days and do not increase on this (Bukhari).
That the Qur'an is divided into 7 hizb (groups) and 30 juz' (parts) gives some indication of what is considered desirable.
In this respect al-Nawawi's advice is very sensible: One who can discover deeper meanings by contemplation should read less, similarly one who has to devote time in pursuits like education, affairs of government, or important tasks entrusted by Islam may read less (Kitab al-Adhkar).
The quantity of reading will very much depend on the purpose of reading. If you just want to spend time with the Qur'an, or get a quick overview, you may read much faster and, therefore, more. If you want to ponder and reflect, you may read much slower and, therefore, less. This is what al-Ghazali means when he quotes someone as saying 'I complete the reading of the Qur'an sometimes on every Friday, sometimes every month, sometimes every year. And (in one type of reading) I have been trying to complete it for the last thirty years but have not yet done so' (Ihya').
Under our present circumstances, I think, most of us should aim to finish a general reading of the whole Qur'an at least once every eight months. This should not take more than 5-15 minutes every day, depending on whether you understand the meaning directly or through a translation.
But, at least on a few occasions in your lifetime, you should also attempt to finish one reading in seven days. Or, in one month, especially in the month of Ramadan. Some time should also be devoted to reading slowly, with pondering and reflection, though not necessarily daily.
No time of the day or night is unsuitable for reading the Qur'an, nor is there any physical posture in which you may not do so. Allah says:
Remember the name of your Lord at morning and in the evening and part of the night (al-Dahr 76:25).
Those who remember God when they are standing, and when they are sitting and when they are lying (Al 'Imran 3:191).
Reading the Qur'an is certainly the best way to remember Him. The Companions and those who followed them, says al-Nawawi, used to read it during all hours of the day and night, whether they stayed in one place or were travelling.
Yet there are some specific times which are more desirable as they are recommended by the Qur'an and the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him; those moments are more rewarding and fruitful. So too there are certain recommended postures.
The most excellent time to read is at night, and the most desirable posture is to stand in Prayer. In Qne of the earliest Surahs, al-Muzzammil, as in numerous other places, the Qur'an tells us so (Al 'Imran 3: 113; al-Isra' 17: 79; al-Zumar 39: 9). It also explains why. Reading the Qur'an during night-Prayers enables your heart to remain with your reading and strengthens your will in surrendering yourself to Allah's guidance and fulfilling the mission He has entrusted to you.
To do so, however, requires that you should (a) memorize some portions of the Qur'an, and (b) remain awake for some time during the night. All of you may not therefore be able to do so all the time for various reasons; the Qur'an recognizes such limitations. It, therefore, permits you to read 'whatever you can do with ease' which means 'whatever portion', at 'whatever time', and in 'whatever position'.
The great need and immense benefits of reading the Qur'an in Prayer during the night however remain. Hence you should assign at least some time, however little, even a few minutes with some regular frequency, however long, say weekly or even monthly, for this purpose.
To keep as near as possible to the ideal way, it may be desirable if you read the Qur'an after or before Fajr and 'Isha' Prayers, or at dawn, or before going to bed. Reading the Qur'an at dawn is especially commended in the Qur'an (alIsra' 17: 78).
To read the Qur'an while sitting on a chair, resting against a pillow, lying in bed or on a couch is not desirable, but is not prohibited. But never do so without excuse, nor make it a habit. However, if one totally misses reading the Qur'an only because one cannot afford to sit in a proper posture, one loses something more precious.
You must read the Qur'an correctly. At least vowels and letters should be pronounced correctly, even if you are unable to learn the whole art of tajwid. The Arabic language is such that very slight mistakes in pronouncing vowels while reading may drastically alter the meaning, sometimes totally distorting it. On some occasions, you may be saying things which could amount to Kufr.
An hour a day of sustained learning for a month or so should be enough for an educated adult to acquire the minimum essential rudimentary skills in this respect.
No one can be absolved of trying sincerely to learn to read the Qur'an correctly. But while you are learning, the fact that you cannot do so should not be a reason to forsake your reading. A non-Arab may never master the art of correct reading. Or, you may have no opportunity to learn. The Prophet was aware of such difficulties when he told Jibra'il, 'I have been sent, Jibra'il, to a people who are unlettered, among whom are old women and old men, boys and girls, and men who have never read a book' (Tirmidhi). You should, therefore, remember his reassuring words in this respect, though do not make them an excuse to shun or slacken your efforts to learn.
One who is skilled in reading the Qur'an is with the noble, virtuous angels who bring down the revelation; one who falters while reading it and finds it hard to read correctly, will have a double reward (for reading and for exerting) (Bukhari, Muslim).
Next to reading the Qur'an correctly, it is desirable to learn the art of qira'ah in order to read it beautifully, in a sweet, pleasant, and melodious style and voice. There are many Hadith which point in this direction:
Beautify the Qur'an with your voices (Abd Da'ud).
God does not listen to anything as He does to a prophet with a good voice who recites the Qur'an aloud (Bukhari, Muslim). He who does not chant the Qur'an is not among us (Bukhari) .
But remember that the real beauty is the beauty that comes with the fear of God in one's heart:
His recitation and voice is most beautiful that when you hear him you think he fears God (Darimi).
Listen attentively, and fall silent, whenever the Qur'an is being recited.
This is what the Qur'an itself commands: 'When the Qur'an is read, listen attentively, and fall silent, so that you may be blessed with mercy' (al-A'raf 7: 204). Obviously when God is speaking you must fall silent, but the Arabic word used for 'listening' denotes not merely an act of 'physical hearing' but also a particular state of attention and acceptance.
Consequently, nothing contrary to this instruction should be done; talking or speaking while the Qur'an is being read; playing qira'ah cassettes and then using it as 'background music' to do other things; talking and whispering, while the Qur'an is being recited, and opening meetings and functions with the Qur'an recitation while no one is paying any attention to it.
Some Fuqaha' even forbid performing your Prayer while the Qur'an is being read loudly near you.
This rule also entails that one who is reading the Qur'an should lower his voice or read silently if his reading aloud places demands on those who are nearby which they will find inconvenient or impossible to meet. This is part of one's duty of being good to one's neighbours; moreover the 'listening' should not be imposed on others unless they so desire.
Asking others, especially those who can read it correctly and beautifully, to read the Qur'an and, then, to listen to it is also very desirable. The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, used to ask his Companions to read the Qur'an to him.
You should bear in mind what the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, has said in this regard:
Whoever listens to even one verse of the Qur'an will be given double the rewards; and for the one who reads, it will become light on the Day of Resurrection (Ahmad).
The time when you have completed reading the whole of the Qur'an, no matter how often you may do so, is a time for joy, celebration and prayer. Al-Nawawi mentions certain rules in this regard, drawn from the practices which were usually observed by the Companions and their followers. Although they are not obligatory, they are nevertheless very desirable; observe as many as often as you can.
One: It is better to begin reading on a Friday night and end on a Thursday night. Some preferred to begin at dawn on a Monday. Others picked different times, so that no moment is left without the blessing, and each bears witness on the Day of Judgement.
Two: Read the last portion in Prayer, especially if you finish while you are alone.
Three: Gather other people at the time of finishing, and supplicate together.
When Anas Ibn Malik, the Companion of the Prophet, used to complete the Qur'an reading, he gathered his family and supplicated (Abd Da'ud). Hakam Ibn 'Utaybah is reported to have said: 'Once I was sent for by Mujahid and 'Ubadah Ibn Abl Lubabah who said to me: We have invited you because we intend to finish the Qur'an, and the supplications at the time of finishing are answered.' In another version they are reported to have said: 'Mercy of God descends at the time of finishing the Qur'an.'
Four: Fast the day when you intend to complete the Qur'an reading.
Five: Begin the next reading of the Qur'an immediately after you have completed the last, i.e. read Surah al-Fatih, and a few verses of Surah al-Baqarah after you have finished Surah al-Nas. This will, in one sense, comply with the Hadith narrated by Anas Ibn Malik:
Among the better of deeds is to [arrive and] settle down and to depart [continue the journey].
When asked what this meant, he replied: 'To end the Qur'an and to begin it.'
Six: Supplicate and pray at the time of completion of the Qur'an. It is the time when your supplication is answered and when mercy descends from God. This practice has been very forcefully stressed.
One who reads the Qur'an and then supplicates, thousand angels say Amin! (Darimi).
Pray with humility, fearfulness, hope, softness and insistence. Pray for your person, but indeed pray for everything, particularly for the important collective affairs of the Ummah, for its dignity and honour, for the betterment of its rulers, for its safety from hostile forces, for co-operation and unity among Muslims on matters of goodness and taqwa, for their standing by the Truth.
Memorize as much of the Qur'an as you can.
The Qur'an is unique in demanding to be preserved in memory, the hifz.
The word hifz itself, though now used in the limited sense of memorizing, includes both understanding and practice. In fact there is no English word which can accurately reflect its true and full meaning.
Hifz is an essential way of making the Qur'an penetrate you. It is not a mechanical, ritual act; it is an act of high spiritual and devotional importance. Only through hifz can you read the Qur'an in Prayers and ponder over its meaning while you stand in the presence of the Speaker. But apart from that, it makes the Qur'an flow on your tongue, reside in your mind, dwell in your heart: it becomes your constant companion. Also as you memorize more you will find it easier to make your inner self participate in its reading and your mind study and understand its meaning.
The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, has stressed it in various ways:
Memorize the Qur'an, for God will not punish the heart which contains the Qur'an (Sharh al-Sunnah).
One who has nothing of the Qur'an inside him is like a desolate/ruined house (Tirmidhi).
So allocate part of your time for the Qur'an for this purpose. Go about it in a systematic way. Set your targets over a period of time. All those parts should form part of your list, which the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, used to recite during Prayer, or at particular hours of the day and night, or which he instructed his Companions to so recite, or whose excellence he expounded. Some other portions will attract you automatically as you read the Qur'an regularly, and you should proceed to retain them in your memory.