Chapter 2: Basic Prerequisites
Certain basic states and attitudes of heart and mind are a necessary prerequisite to any fruitful relationship with the Qur'an. Develop them as much as you can. Make them part of your consciousness, keep them ever-alive and active. Integrate them in your actions. Let them penetrate the depth of your being. Without the help of these inner resources you will not receive your full measure of the Qur'an's blessings. They will be your indispensable companions, too, throughout your journey.
These inner resources are neither difficult nor impossible to find. Through constant awareness and reflection, through appropriate words and deeds, you can acquire and develop them. The more you do so, the closer you will be able to come to the Qur'an; the closer you come to the Qur'an, the greater will be your harvest.
First: Come to the Qur'an with a strong and deep faith that it is the word of Allah, your Creator and Lord.
Why should such a faith be a necessary prerequisite? No doubt such is the power and charm of the Qur'an that even if a man takes it up and starts reading it as he would an ordinary book, he will still benefit from it, should he read it with an open mind. But this book is no ordinary book; it opens with the emphatic statement: 'This is the Book [of God], there is no doubt in it' (al-Baqarah 2:2). Your purpose in reading and studying it is no ordinary purpose; you seek from it the guidance that will transform your whole being, bring you and keep you on the Straight Path: 'Guide us on the Straight Path' (al-Fatihah 1:5) is the cry of your heart to which the Qur'an is the response.
You may admire the Qur'an, even be informed by it, but you cannot be transformed by it unless its words soak in to awaken you, to grip you, to heal and change you. This cannot happen unless you take them for what they truly are the words of God.
Without this faith you cannot come to acquire all the other inner resources you will need to reach the heart of the Qur'an and absorb its message. Once it comes to reside in your heart, you cannot but be filled with the qualities and attitudes such as sincerity of purpose, awe and reverence, love and gratitude, trust and dependence, willingness to labour hard, conviction of its truth, surrender to its message, obedience to its commands, and vigilance against dangers which stalk to deprive you of its treasures.
Think of His majesty and glory and power, and you will feel awe and reverence and devotion for His words. Reflect on His sustenance and mercy and compassion, and you will be filled with gratitude and love and longing for His message. Know His wisdom and knowledge and kindness, and you will become willing and eager and ready to obey His commandments.
That is why the Qur'an reminds you of this important truth again and again: in the very beginning, in the opening verses of many Surahs, and frequently in between.
That is why even the Messenger, blessings and peace be on him, is instructed to proclaim his own faith: 'Say: I believe in whatever God has sent down in this Book' (al-Shura 42: 15). In his faith all believers must join him: 'The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him by His Lord, and all believers too' (al-Baqarah 2:285).
You must, therefore, always remain conscious that each word that you are reading, reciting, hearing, or trying to understand, has been sent for you by Allah.
Do you truly have this faith? You do not have to look far for an answer. Just examine your heart and behavior. If you have it, then, where is the desire and longing for companionship with the Qur'an, where is the labour and hard work to understand it, where is the surrender and obedience to its message?
How do we obtain this faith, and how can it be kept alive? Although there are many ways, I will mention only one here . The most effective way is reciting the Qur'an itself. This may look as if we are moving in a circle, but this is not really the case. For, as you read the Qur'an, you will surely recognize it as being the word of God. Your faith will then increase in intensity and depth: Believers are only those who, whenever God is mentioned, their hearts tremble with awe; and whenever His revelations are recited to them, they increase them in faith ... (al-Anfal 8: 2).
Second: Read the Qur'an with no purpose other than to receive guidance from your Lord, to come nearer to Him, and to seek His good pleasure.
What you get from the Qur'arn depends on what you come to it for. Your niyyah (intention and purpose) is crucial. Certainly the Qur'an has come to guide you, but you may also go astray by reading it should you approach it for impure purposes and wrong motives.
Thereby He causes many to go astray, and thereby He guides many; but thereby He causes none to go astray save the iniquitous (al-Baqarah 2:26).
The Qur'an is the word of Allah; it therefore requires as much exclusiveness of intention and purity of purpose as does worshipping and serving Him.
Do not read it merely for intellectual pursuit and pleasure; even though you must apply your intellect to the full to the task of understanding the Qur'an. So many people spend a lifetime in studying the language, style, history, geography, law and ethics of the Qur'an, and yet their lives remain untouched by its message. The Qur'an frequently refers to people who have knowledge but do not derive benefit from it.
Nor should you come to the Qur'an with the fixed intention of finding support for your own views, notions and doctrines. For if you do, you may, then, hear an echo of your own voice in it, and not that of God. It is this approach to the understanding and interpreting of the Qur'an that the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, has condemned. 'Whoever interprets the Qur'an by his personal opinion shall take his place in the Fire' (Tirmidhi).
Nothing could be more unfortunate than to use the Qur'an to secure, for your own person, worldly things such as name, esteem, status, fame or money. You may get them, but you will surely be bartering away a priceless treasure for nothing, indeed even incurring eternal loss and ruin. Indeed, the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, said: 'If anyone studies the Qur'an seeking thereby a living from people, he will rise on the Day of Resurrection with his face as a fleshless bone' (Baihaqi). He also said that one who learns, recites and teaches the Qur'an for worldly acclaim will be thrown into the Fire (Muslim).
You may also derive other lesser benefits, from the words of the Qur'an, such as the healing of bodily afflictions, psychological peace, and deliverance from poverty. There is no bar to having these, but, again, they should not become the be all and end all that you seek from the Qur'an nor the goal of your niyyah. For in achieving these you may lose a whole ocean that could have been yours.
Reading every single letter of the Qur'an carries with it great rewards. Remain conscious of all the rewards, and make them an objective of your niyyah, for they will provide you with those strong incentives required to spend your life with the Qur'an. But never forget that on understanding, absorbing and following the Qur'an you have been promised much larger rewards, in this-world and in the Hereafter. It is these which you must aim for.
Not only should your purpose be pure, but you should also, once you have the Qur'an with you—both the text and its living embodiment in the Sunnah—never go to any other source for guidance. For that would be like running after mirages. It would mean a lack of confidence, a denigration of the Qur'an. It would amount to divided loyalties.
Nothing brings you nearer to your Lord than the moments you spend with His words. For it is only in the Qur'an that you enjoy the unique blessing of hearing His 'voice' addressing you. So let an intense desire to come nearer to Allah be your one overwhelming motive while reading the Qur'an.
Finally, your niyyah should be directed to seeking only your Lord's pleasure by devoting your heart, mind and time to the guidance that He has sent to you. That is what you barter when you surrender yourself to Allah: 'There is such as would sell his own self in order to please God' (al-Baqarah 2:207).
Purpose and intentions are like the soul of a body, the inner capability of a seed. Many seeds look alike, but as they begin to grow and bear fruits, their differences become manifest. The purer and higher the motive, the greater the value and yield of your efforts.
So always ask yourself: Why am I reading the Qur'an? Tell yourself constantly why you should. This may be the best way to ensure the purity and exclusiveness of purpose and intention.
Third: Make yourself constantly alert with intense praise and gratitude to your Lord for having blessed you with His greatest gift the Qur'an and for having guided you to its reading and study.
Once you realize what a priceless treasure you hold in your hands, it is but natural for your heart to beat with joy and murmur, and for your tongue to join in: 'Thankful praise be to Allah, who has guided us to this; [otherwise] never could we have found guidance had not Allah not guided us' (al-A'raf 7: 43).
Of all the intimate blessings and favours He has bestowed upon you nothing can match the Qur'an. If every hair on your body becomes a tongue praising and thanking Him, if every drop of blood in your body turns into a joyful tear, even then your praise and thanks will not match His enormous generosity that is the Qur'an.
Even if the Qur'an had not been sent down for us, its perfection and beauty, its majesty and splendour would deserve all the praise at our command. But that this sublime and perfect gift, having the unique distinction of embodying our Lord's speech, has been given solely for our sake must intensify our praise beyond bounds.
Such intense praise inevitably turns into intense gratitude. And no word expresses this intense praise combined with overflowing gratitude and thanks as well as does al-hamd.
alhamdu li 'llahi 'I-ladhi hadana li hadha ...
Why thank Allah for having given us the Qur'an? Principally because He has, thus, guided you to meaning and purpose in life and brought you on the Straight Path. The way to honour and dignity in this-world has been opened for you. In the Qur'an, you can converse with Allah. Only by following the Qur'an in this-world can you attain forgiveness, Paradise and Allah's good pleasure in that-world.
Gratitude and joy lead to trust, hope and greater gifts. The One who has given you the Qur'an will surely help you in reading, understanding and following it. Thankfulness and joy generate an ever-fresh vigour which helps you to read the Qur'an always with a renewed zeal. The more you are grateful, the more Allah gives you of the riches that the Qur'an has to offer. Generosity evokes gratitude, gratitude makes you deserve more generosity an unending cycle. Such is God's promise: 'If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more' (Ibrahim 14: 7).
Having the Qur'an and not feeling immensely grateful for it can only mean two things: either you are ignorant of the blessings that the Qur'an contains, or you do not attach any importance to them. In either case you should be seriously worried about the state of your relationship with the Qur'an. The sentiment of gratitude that permeates every pore of your heart and mind, must also pour out in your words, which should be profuse and incessant. Thank Allah at every step of your journey: for having had time for the Qur'an, for reading it correctly, for memorizing it, ?or every meaning you discover in it, for having been enabled to follow it. Gratitude must also be transformed into deeds.
Fourth: Accept and trust, without the least doubt or hesitation, every knowledge and guidance that the Qur'an conveys to you.
You have the freedom to question whether the Qur'an is the word of Allah or not, and to reject its claim if you are not satisfied. But once you have accepted it as His word, you have no basis whatever to doubt even a single word of it. For to do so would negate what you have accepted. There must be total surrender and abandonment to the Qur'anic teachings. Your own beliefs, opinions, judgements, notions, whims should not be allowed to override any part of it.
The Qur'an condemns those who receive the Book as an inheritance and then behave as bewildered and puzzled, doubting and sceptical 'believers'.
Those whom the Book has been given as an inheritance after them [the early people], behold they are in doubt about it, disquieting (al-Shura 42: 14).
The Qur'an also repeatedly emphasizes that every measure was taken to ensure that it came down and was conveyed without any adulteration. And affirms:
With the Truth We have sent it down and with the Truth it has come down (al-Isra' 17: 105).
And perfect are the words of your Lord in Truth and Justice (al-An'am 6: 115).
Accepting and trusting the Qur'an as true, and wholly true, does not mean blind faith, closed minds, unenquiring intellects.
You have every right to enquire, reflect, question and understand what it contains; but what you cannot fully comprehend is not necessarily irrational or untrue. In a mine where you believe that every stone is a priceless gem and it may have proved to be so you will not throw away the few whose worth your eyes fail to detect or which the tools available to you are inadequate or unable to evaluate.
Nor can part of the Qur'an be discarded as being out of date and old-fashioned, an old wives' tale. If God is Lord of all times, His message must be equally valid fourteen centuries later.
To accept some part of the Qur'an and to reject some is to reject all of it. There is no room for partial acceptance in your relationship with the Qur'an; there cannot logically be (al Baqarah 2: 85).There are many diseases of the heart and mind which may prevent you from accepting the Qur'anic message and surrendering to it. They have all been described in the Qur'an. Among them are envy, prejudice, gratification of one's desires and the blind following of the ways and customs of society. But the greatest are pride and arrogance, a sense of self-sufficiency (kibr and istighna') which prevent you from giving up your own opinions, recognizing the word of God, and accepting it with humility.
I shall turn away from My revelations all those who wax proud in the earth, without any right; though they see every sign, they do not believe in it, and though they see the way of rectitude, they do not take it for a way, and if they see the way of error, they take it for a way (al-A'raf 7: 146).
And those who deny Our revelations and wax proud against them the gates of heaven shall not be opened to them, nor shall they enter Paradise until a camel passes through a needle's eye (al-A'raf 7: 40).
Fifth: Bring the will, resolve and readiness to obey whatever the Qur'an says, and change your life, attitudes and behaviour-inwardly and outwardly-as desired by it.
Unless you are prepared and begin to act to shape your thoughts and actions according to the messages you receive from the Qur'an, all your dedication and labour may be to no avail. Mere intellectual exercises and ecstatic experiences will never bring you anywhere near the real treasures of the Qur'an.
Failing to obey the Qur'an and to change your life-because of human frailties and temptations, natural difficulties and external impediments is one matter; failing to do so because you have no intention or make no effort to do so is quite another. You may, then attain fame as a scholar of the Qur'an, but it will never reveal its true meaning to you.
The Qur'an reserves one of its most severe condemnations for those who profess faith in the Book of God, but when they are summoned to act or when situations arise for decision-making, they ignore its call or turn away from it. They have been declared to be Kafir, fasiq (iniquitous), zalim (wrongdoer).
Sixth: Always remain aware that, as you embark upon reading the Qur'an, Satan will create every possible hazard and obstacle to stalk you on your way to the great riches of the Qur'an.
The Qur'an is the only sure guide to the Straight Path to God; to walk that path is man's destiny. When Adam was created he was made aware of the hurdles and obstacles man would have to surmount in order to fulfil his destiny. All his weaknesses were laid bare, especially his weakness of will and resolve and his forgetfulness (Ta Ha 20: 115). It was also made plain how Satan would try to obstruct him at every step of his journey:
I shall surely sit in ambush for them all along Thy Straight Path; I shall, then, come on them from between their hands and from behind them, from their right and their left. Thou wilt not find most of them thankful (al-A'raf 7: 16-17).
Obviously the Qur'an the 'Guidance from Me' is your most powerful ally and help as you battle all your life against Satan and strive to live by God's guidance. Hence, from the very first step when you decide to read the Qur'an till the last when you try to live by it, he will confront you with many tricks and guiles, illusions and deceptions, obstacles and impediments which you will have to surmount.Satan may pollute your intention, make you remain unmindful of the Qur'an's meaning and message, create doubts in your mind, erect barriers between your soul and the world of Allah, entangle you in peripheral rather than central teachings, tempt you away from obeying the Qur'an, or simply make you neglect and postpone the task of reading it. All of these dangers are fully explained in the Qur'an itself.Take just one very simple thing. Reading the Qur'an every day, while understanding it, sounds very easy. But try, and you will find how difficult it becomes: time slips away, other important things come up. Concentrating mind and attention become something you wish to avoid: why not just read quickly for barakah.It is with the consciousness of these perils and dangers that your tongue should, in obedience to the Qur'an 'When you recite the Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the rejected' (al-Nahl 16: 98) say:
a'udhu billahi mina 'sh-Shaytani 'r-rajim
Seventh: Trust, exclusively and totally, in Allah to lead you to the full rewards of reading the Qur'an.
Just as it has been Allah's infinite mercy that has brought His words to you in the Qur'an and brought you to it, so it can be only His mercy that can help in your crucial task. You need weighty and precious provisions, and these are not easy to procure. You face immense dangers, which are difficult to overcome. Whom can you look to but Him to hold you by the hand and guide you on your way. Your desire and effort are the necessary means; but His enabling grace and support are the only sure guarantees that you will be able to tread your way with success and profit. In Him alone you should trust as true believers. To Him alone you must turn for everything in life. And what thing is more important than the Qur'an? Also, never be proud of what you are doing for the Qur'an, of what you have achieved. Always be conscious of your inadequacies and limitations in the face of a task which has no parallel. So approach the Qur'an with humility, with a sense of utter dependence upon Allah, seeking His help and support at every step. It is in this spirit of trust, praise and gratitude, that you should let your tongue and heart, in mutual harmony, begin the recitation:
Bismi illahi 'r-Rahmani 'r-Rahim
In the name of Allah, the Most-merciful, the Mercy-giving
This is the verse which appears at the head of all but one of the 114 Surahs of the Qur'an. And also pray, asking His protection:
Our Lord! Let not our hearts swerve [from the Truth] after Thou hast guided us; and bestow upon us Thy mercy, indeed Thou alone art the Bestower (Al 'Imran 3: 8).