Chapter 7: Living the Qur'an
Reading the Qur'an will be of little benefit to you, it may even bring misery and harm, unless you, from the first moment, begin to change and reconstruct your life in total surrender to God who has given you the Qur'an. Without the will and striving to act, neither the states of heart and enraptures of the soul, nor the ecstasies of mood, nor intellectual enrichment will be of any use to you. If the Qurian does not have any impact upon your actions and if you do not obey what it enjoins and avoid what it prohibits, then you are not getting nearer to it.
On every page of the Qur'an is an invitation to surrender and submit, to act and change. At every step the reader is confronted to decide and commit himself. Those who do not submit to it are declared to be Kafir, zalim (wrongdoer) and fasiq (iniquitous) (al-Ma'idah 5: 11-7). Those who are given the Book of God but do not understand it nor act upon it are described as 'asses which carry loads', but neither know nor benefit from what they carry (al-Jumu'ah 62: 5). They are those against whom the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, will plead on the Day of Judgement:
O my Lord! Behold, [some of] my people have taken this Qur'an as a thing to be shunned (al-Furqan 25: 30).
To shun the Qur'an, to leave it, and to put it aside, means not to read it, not to understand it, not to live by it, to consider it a 'thing of the past', which has ceased to be relevant.
The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, is no less emphatic in stressing the necessity of obeying the Qur'an:
Many of the hypocrites in my Ummah will be from among the readers of the Qur'an (Ahmad).
He is not a true believer in the Qur'an who treats as halal (permissible) what it has made haram (prohibited) Read the Qur'an so that it enables you to desist [from what it prohibits]. If it does not enable you to desist you have not really read it (Tabarani).
For the Companions of the Prophet, to learn the Qur'an amounted to reading it, pondering over it, and acting by it. lt is narrated that:
Those who were engaged in reading the Qur'an told that people like 'Uthman Ibn 'Affan and Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud, once they had learnt ten verses from the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, did not go any further unless they had really 'learnt' whatever these verses contained by way of knowledge and practice [understood them and acted upon them]. They used to say that they learnt the Qur'an and knowledge together. That is how they sometimes spent years in learning only one Surah (al-Itqan fil 'Ulum al-Qur'an, Suyuti).
Al-Hasan al-Basri said: 'You have taken the night to be a camel that you ride on to pass through various stages of the Qur'an. Those before you considered it as messages from their Lord; they pondered over them at night and lived by them by day' (Ihya').
Reading the Qur'an should induce faith inside your heart; that faith should shape your lives. It is not a graduals piecemeal process, by which you first spend years reading the Qur'an, then understanding it and strengthening your faith, you only then act upon it. The whole is one unified process, all things take place simultaneously. As you hear or recite the words, they kindle faith inside you; as you have faith inside you, your life begins to change.
What you must remember is that to live by the Qur'an requires a major decision on your part: you have to completely alter the course of your life, irrespective of what may be the dominant thought-patterns around you, of what your society may be dictating, or what others may be doing. This decision requires major sacrifices. But unless you, as believers in the Qur'an being the word of God, are prepared to take the plunge, not much good will come out of the time you spend with the Qur'an.
From the very first moment, at the first step, it is made abundantly clear that the Qur'an is a guidance for those who are prepared to act to save themselves from the harm that comes from living against God's will, from earning His displeasure, and who fear the consequences-they are the al-muttaqi (al-Baqarah 2: 1-5). The Qur'an, does not recognize any polarity between between knowledge and action, between faith (Iman) and righteous deeds (al amal al salih).
An essential and important part of living by the Qur'an is to convey its message to people around you. Indeed the moment the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, received the first revelation he realized the immense task of bringing it to his people. And the second revelation came with the summons: 'Stand up and warn' (al-Muddaththir 74: 2). Then at various places it was made clear to the Prophet7 blessings and peace be on him, that to communicate the Qur'an, to make it heard, to explain it was to be his primary duty, his life mission (al-Anam 6: 19; al-Furqan 25: 1; al-Anam 6: 105; al-Mai'idah 5: 67; Maryam 19: 97; al-A'raf 7: 157).
Now we, as his followers, as people possessing the Book of God, are charged and entrusted with the same mission. To have the Qur'an obliges us to convey it; to hear the Qur'an is to make it heard. We must make it clear and known to mankind and not let it remain concealed: And when God took pledge from those who had been given the Book: 'You shall make it known to mankind, and not conceal it.' But they cast it behind their backs, and bartered it away for a small price how evil was their bargain (Al 'Imran 3: 187).
If there is a lamp in your heart and hand, it must spread its light. If there is fire inside you, it must radiate its warmth and glow.
Those who do not do so, for want of transient worldly gains, are in fact filling their bellies with fire: Those who conceal of what the Book of God has sent down on them, and barter it away for a little price they shall eat naught but the Fire in their bellies, God shall not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, neither purify them (al-Baqarah 2: 174).
And they deserve the curse of Allah: Those who conceal the clear messages and the guidance that We have sent down, after We have made them clear for mankind in the Book they shall be cursed by God and the cursers (al-Baqarah 2: 159).
Unless they discharge their duties: Save such as repent, and put themselves right, and make [the Book] known towards them I shall turn . . . (al-Baqarah 2: 160).
But, if they die in this condition, they will be cursed by all and everyone: But those who remain in [the state ofl disbelief, and die disbelieving upon them shall be the curse of God, and the angels, and of all men . . . (al-Baqarah 2: 161).
God will not even look at them: Those who barter away their covenant with God, and their pledges, for a little price, they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and God shall not speak to them, neither look at them on the Day of Resurrection, neither will He purify them ... (Al 'Imran 3: 77).
Look at yourself! Look at Muslims today! Why, despite the fact that the Qur'an is read by millions day and night, does it make no difference to our situation? Either we read it and do not understand it; or, if we understand it, we do not accept it nor act upon it; or, if we act upon it, we accept part of it and reject part of it; or, while we are engrossed in reading it and acting by only part of it, we are guilty of committing the worst crime and concealing it and not bringing its light to the world.
And some among them are illiterate common people, who have no knowledge of the Book, [believing] only wishful fancies, and they depend on nothing but conjecture. Woe, also, unto those who write [the meanings of] the Book with their own hands, then say, 'This is from God', that they may acquire thereby a little price . . . (al-Baqarah 2: 78-9).
What! Do you believe in part of the Book and disbelieve in part? What, then, shall be the reward of those of you who do that but ignominy in the life of this-world and, on the Day of Resurrection to be returned unto the most grievous suffering (al-Baqarah 2: 85).
Let there not be the slightest doubt in our minds that unless we commit ourselves to the most important responsibility of being witnesses unto the Qur'an, which devolves upon us by virtue of us having it and reading it, we shall never discharge what we owe to the Qur'an. The ignominy, dishonour, humiliation, backwardness that has become our lot is only because of the way we treat the Qur'an and the mission it entrusts to us.
By this Book God makes some peoples to rise and others to decline (Muslim).
Had they established the Tawrah, and the Injil, and what has been sent down to them from their Lord, they would have eaten from above them and from beneath their feet (al-Ma'idah 5: 66).
Nor shall we succeed in discovering and understanding the full and real meaning of the Qur'an, whatever Quranic scholarship we may attain, unless we obey the Qur'an. The Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, said to his Companions:
There will be such people among you that, when you will compare your Prayers with theirs, your Fasts with theirs, your good deeds with theirs, you will consider yours very inferior. They will read the Qur'an, yet it will not sink deeper than their throats (Bukhari).
To surrender and obey is not only to fulfil the real mission of the Qur'an, it is one of the surest keys to its understanding. You discover a meaning by obeying that you never discover by mere thinking. You, then, begin to 'see' the Qur'an. Writes Syed Mawdudi in memorable words one can hardly forget:
. . . but all that you may do to understand the Qur'an is not enough. If you want to identify with the spirit of the Qur'an, you must practically involve yourself with the struggle to fulfil its mission. For the Qur'an is not a book of abstract theories and cold ideas, which one can grasp while seated in a cosy armchair. Nor is it merely a religious book like other religious books, whose meanings can be grasped in seminaries and oratories.
On the contrary, it is a Book which contains a message, an invitation, which generates a movement. The moment it began to be sent down, it impelled a quiet and pious man to abandon his life of solitude and confront the world that was living in rebellion against God. It inspired him to raise his voice against falsehood, and pitted him in a grim struggle against the lords of disbelief, evil and iniquity. One after the other, from every home, it drew every pure and noble soul, and gathered them under the banner of truth. In every part of the country, it made all the mischievous and the corrupt to rise and wage war against the bearers of the truth.
This is the Book which launched a glorious movement, with the voice of a single individual, and continued to provide guidance to it for twenty-three years, till the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. At every stage during this long and heart-rending struggle between truth and falsehood, this Book showed its followers the ways to eradicate the old order and usher in the new.
Is it, then, possible to reach the heart of the Qur'an merely by reading its words, without ever stepping upon the battlefield of faith and disbelief, of Islam and Ignorance, without passing through any stage of that struggle? No, you can understand the Qur'an only when you take it up, begin to act upon it, and call mankind to God, and when every step you take is in obedience to its guidance.
Then, and only then, you will go through all the events and experiences which occurred during the course of its revelation. You will then pass through makka, and habash, and ta'if; you will face badr, uhud, hunayn and tabuk. You will encounter abd jahl and abd lahab; you will meet with hypocrites and jews; you will come face to face with those who instantly responded to this call as well as those who were drawn into Islam seeking some gain. You will come across all of these human models; you will deal with all of them. This is a path different from the so-called 'mystic path', which I name the 'Quranic path'. Such is this 'Quranic path' that, as you pass through its various stations and stages, certain Surahs and Ayahs will disclose their full message to you, and tell you that they were revealed precisely for this stage and station that you are passing through. You may miss some linguistic and grammatical subtleties, you may miss certain finer points in the rhetoric and semantics of the Qur'an, yet it is impossible that the Qur'an will fail to reveal its full and true spirit to you.
In the same way, no person can ever understand the legal injunctions, the moral teachings, and the political and economic directives of the Qur'an, unless and until he puts them into practice. Neither the individual who lives independently of the Qur'an nor the nation which runs its institutions in violation of its guidance can discover the spirit of the Qur'an (Tafhimul Qur'an, Vol. I, Lahore 1979, pp. 334).