The Qur'an is the word of the Ever-living God; it has been
sent down to guide man for all times to come. No book can
be like it. As you come to the Qur'an, Allah speaks to you.
To read the Qur'an is to hear Him, even to converse with
Him, and to walk in His ways. It is the encounter of life with
the Life-giver. 'God - there is no god but He, the Ever-living,
the Self-subsisting (by whom all subsist). He has sent down
upon you the Book with the Truth ... as a guidance unto
mankind ...' (Al 'Imran 3: 2-3).
For those who heard it for the first time from the lips of
the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, the Qur'an was
a living reality. They had absolutely no doubt that, through
him, Allah was speaking to them. Their hearts and minds
were therefore seized by it. Their eyes overflowed with tears
and their bodies shivered. They found each word of it deeply
relevant to their concerns and experiences, and integrated
it fully into their lives. They were completely transformed
by it both as individuals and as a corporate body - into a
totally new, alive and life-giving entity. Those who grazed
sheep, herded camels and traded petty merchandise became
the leaders of mankind.
Today we have the same Qur'an with us. Millions of copies of
it are in circulation. Day and night, it is ceaselessly recited. In
homes, in mosques, and from pulpits. Voluminous exegetical
works exist expounding its meaning. Words pour out
incessantly to explain its teachings and to exhort us to live
by it. Yet eyes remain dry, hearts remain unmoved, minds
remain untouched, lives remain unchanged. Ignominy and
degradation appear to have become the lot of the followers
of the Qur'an. Why? Because we no longer read the Qur'an
as a living reality. It is a sacred book, but it tells us something
of the past only, concerning Muslims and Kafirs, Jews and
Christians, the faithful and the hypocrites, who 'once upon a
time used to be'.
Can the Qur'an, again, be a living, relevant force, as
powerful for us now, 1400 years away, as it was then? This is
the most crucial question that we must answer if we wish to
shape our destiny afresh under the guidance of the Qur'an.
There appear, however, to be some difficulties. Not least of
which has to do with the fact that the Qur'an was revealed at
a certain point in time. Since then we have travelled a long
way, made gigantic leaps in technological know-how, and
seen considerable social changes take place in human society.
Moreover, most of the followers of the*rfnan today do not
know Arabic, and many who do hav¢,4ttle idea of the 'living'
language of the Qur'an. They cannot t3e expected to absorb its
idiom and metaphor, so essential to exploring and absorbing
the depths of the Quranic meaning.
Yet its guidance, by its own claim, has an eternal relevance
for all people, being the word of the Eternal God.
For the truth of this claim, it seems to me, it must be
possible for us to receive, experience, and understand the
Qur'an as its first recipients did, at least in some measure
and to some degree. We seem to almost have a right to this
possibility of receiving God's guidance in its fullness and
with all its riches and joys. In other words, despite the
historical incidence of the revelation in a particular language
at a particular time and place, we should be capable of
receiving the Qur'an now (because its message is eternal),
capable of making its message as much a real part of our
lives as it was for the first believers and with the same urgent
and profound relevance for all our present concerns and
But how do we do this? To put it very forthrightly, only by
entering the world of the Qur'an as if Allah were speaking to
us through it now and today, and by fulfilling the necessary
conditions for such an encounter.
Firstly, then, we must realize what the Qur'an as the word of
God is and means to us, and bring all the reverence, love,
longing, and will to act that this realization demands.
Secondly, we must read it as it asks to be read, as Allah's
Messenger instructed us, as he and his Companions read it.
Thirdly, we must bring each word of the Qur'an to bear upon
our own realities and concerns by transcending the barriers of
time, culture and change.
For its first addressees, the Qur'an was a contemporvry
event. Its language and style, its eloquence and rationale,
its idiom and metaphor, its symbols and parables, its
moments and events were all rooted in their own setting.
These people were both witnesses to and, in a sense, par-
ticipants in the whole act of revelation as it unfolded over a
period of their own time. We do not have the same privilege;
yet, in some measure, the same ought to be true for us.
By understanding and obeying the Qur'an in our own setting,
we will find it, as far as possible, as much a contemporary
event for ourselves as it was then. For the essence of man has
not changed; it is immutable. Only man's externalities—the
forms, the modes, the technologies - have changed. The
pagans of Makka may be no more, nor the Jews of Yathrib,
nor the Christians of Najran, nor even the 'faithful' and the
'unfaithful' of the community at Madina; but the same
characters exist all around us. We are human beings exactly as
the first recipients were, even though many find it extremely
difficult to grapple with the deep implications of this very
Once you realize these truths and follow them, once you
come to the Qur'an as the first believers did, it may reveal
to you as it did to them, make partners of you as it did of
them. And only then, instead of being a mere revered book,
a sacred fossil, or a source of magic-like blessing, it will
change into a mighty force, impinging, stiring, moving and
guiding us to deeper and higher achievements, just as it did
The New World that Awaits You
As you come to the Qur'an, you come to a new world.
No other venture in your life can be so momentous and
crucial, so blissful and rewarding, as your journey to and
through the Qur'an.
It is a journey that will take you through the endless joys
and riches of the words that your Creator and Lord has sent
to you and all mankind. Here you will find a world of untold
treasures of knowledge and wisdom to guide you on the
pathways of life, to mould your thoughts anWactions. In it you
will find deep insights to enrich you a3htetr you along the
right course. From it you will rec<tive a radiant light to
illumine the deeper reaches of your soul. Here you will
encounter profound emotions, a warmth to melt your heart
and bring tears running down your cheeks.
It is crucial for you because, as you travel through the
Qur'an, at every step you will be summoned to choose, and
to commit to Allah. To read the Qur'an is nothing less than
to live the Qur'an willingly, sincerely, devotedly, and totally.
The outcome of your entire life depends on how you heed
the call given by God. The journey is therefore decisive for
your existence, for mankind, for the future of human
A hundred new worlds lie in its verses.
Whole centuries are involved in its moments.
Know, then, that it is the Qur'an, and only the Qur'an,
which can lead you on and on to success and glory in
this-world and in the world-to-come.
What is the Qur'an?
It is beyond man's power to comprehend, or to describe,
the greatness and importance of what the Qur'an holds for
him. Yet, to begin with, you must have some idea of what it
is and what it means to you, such that you are inspired to
immerse the whole of your self in the Qur'an, in total commit-
ment, complete dedication and ceaseless pursuit, as it
The Qur'an is Allah's greatest blessing for you. It is the
fulfilment of His promise to Adam and his descendants:
'There shall come to you guidance from Me, and whosoever
follows My gu,idance no fear shall be on them, neither shall
they sorrow' (al-Baqarah 2: 38). It is the only weapon to
help your frail existence as you struggle against the forces
of evil and temptation in this-world. It is the only means to
overpower your fear and anxiety. It is the only 'light' (nur),
as you grope in the darkness, with which to find your way
to success and salvation. It is the only healing (shifa') for
your inner sicknesses, as well as the social ills that may
surround you. It is the constant reminder (dhikr) of your
true nature and destiny, of your station, your duties, your
rewards, your perils.
It was brought down by one who is powerful and trust-
worthy in the heavens - the angel Jibra'il. Its first abode was
that pure and sublime heart, the like of which man has never
had - the heart of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and
peace be on him.
More than anything, it is the only way to come nearer and
closer to your Creator. It tells you of Him, of His attributes,
of how He rules over the cosmos and history, of how He
relates Himself to you, and how you should relate to Him,
to yourself, to your fellow men and to-every other existence.
The rewards that await you here are surely many, increasing
manifold in the Hereafter, but what awaits you at the end
of the road, promises Allah in the Hadlth qudsi, 'the eye
has seen not, nor the ear heard, nor the heart of man ever
conceived', and, adds Abu Hurayrah: read if you wish [in
al-Sajdah 32: 17]: 'No human being can imagine what joys
are being kept hidden for them in reward for all that they
did' (Bukhari, Muslim).
Most important to remember is that what you read in the
Qur'an is the word of Allah, the Lord of the worlds, which He
has conveyed to you in a human language, only because of His
mercy and care and providence for you. 'The Most-merciful,
He has taught the Qur'an' (al-Rahman 55: 1-2). 'A mercy
from your Lord' (al-Dukhan 44: 6). The majesty of the
Qur'an, too, is so overpowering that no human being can
comprehend it. So much so that, says Allah: 'If We had sent
down this Qur'an upon a mountain, you svwld have seen it
humbled, split asunder out of the fear of Ahah' (al-Hashr
This act of Divine mercy and majesty is enough to awe
and overwhelm you, to inspire you to ever-greater heights
of gratitude, yearning and endeavour to enter the world of
the Qur'an. Indeed, no treasure is more valuable and
precious for you than the Qur'an, as Allah says of His
O men! There has come to you an exhortation from
your Lord, healing for what is in the hearts, and a
guidance, and a mercy for believers. Say: In [this]
bounty of Allah, and in His mercy - in it let them
rejoice. It is better than whatever they amass (Yunus
Hazards and Perils
Rejoice you must, in the mercy and blessing and generosity
of Allah. Seek you must, for the treasures that await your
search herein. But the Qur'an opens its doors only to those
who knock with a sense of yearning, a sincerity of purpose
and an exclusive attention that befit its importance and
majesty. And only those are allowed to gather its treasures,
while they walk through it, who are prepared to abandon
themselves completely to its guidance and do their utmost
to absorb it.
It may quite possibly happen therefore that you may read
the Qur'an endlessly, turn its pages laboriously, recite its
words beautifully, study it most scholarly, and still fail to
make an encounter with it that enriches and transforms your
whole person. For, all those who read the Qur'an do not
profit from it as they should. Some remain unblessed; some
are even cursed.
The journey has its own hazards, as it must, just as it has
its own precious and limitless rewards. Many never turn to
it, though the Book always lies near at hand, and many are
turned away from its gates. Many read it often, but come
back empty-handed; while many others who read it never
really enter its world. Some do not find, but are lost. They
fail to hear God even among His own words; instead, they
hear their own voices or those other than God's. Still others,
though they hear God, fail to find inside themselves the will,
the resolve and the courage to respond and live by His call.
Some lose even what they had and, instead of collecting
priceless gems, they return with back-breaking loads of
stones which will hurt them for ever and ever.
What a tragic misfortune it would be if you came to the
Qur'an and went away empty-handed - soul untouched,
heart unmoved, life unchanged; 'they went out as they came
The Qur'an's blessings are limitless, but the measure of
your taking from it depends entirely upon the capacity and
the suitability of the receptacle you bring to it. So, at the
very outset, make yourself more deeply aware of what the
Qur'an means to you and what it demands of you; and make
a solemn determination to recite the Qur'an in an appropriate
manner, so that you may be counted among 'Those whom
We have given the Book, they recite it as it ought to be
recited; it is they who believe in it' (al-Baqarah 2: 121).
Tilawah is the word that the Qur'an uses to describe the
act of its reading. No single word in English can convey its
full meaning. 'To follow' is closest to its primary meaning.
To read is only secondary, for in reading too, words follow
each other, one closely behind the other, in an orderly and
meaningful sequence. If one word does not follow the other,
or if the sequence and order is not observed, the meaning
So, primarily, tilawah means, move closely behind, to go
forward, to flow in a sequense, tet go in pursuit, to take as
a guide, leader, master, a model, to accept the authority, to
espouse the cause, to act upon, walk after, practise a way
of life, to understand, to follow the train of thought - or to
follow. Reading the Qur'an, understanding the Qur'an,
following the Qur'an - that is how those who have any right
to claim faith in it relate themselves to it.
Tilawah or recitation is an act in which your whole person,
soul, heart, mind, tongue and body—participates. In short
your whole existence becomes involved. In reading the Qur'an,
mind and body, reason and feeling lose their distinction; they
become fused. As the tongue recites and words flow from the
lips, the mind ponders, the heart reflects, the soul absorbs,
tears well up in the eyes, the heart quakes and trembles, the
skin shivers and softens just as the heart does, there no longer
remains any duality between the two, even your hair may stand
on end. And 'so he walks in a light from his Lord ... that is
God's guidance, whereby He guides whomsoever He will'
(al-Zumar 39: 22-3).
To read the Qur'an thus, as it deserves to be read, is not
a light task; but nor is it too difficult or impossible. Otherwise
the Qur'an could not have been meant for laymen like us,
nor could it be the mercy and the guidance that it surely is.
But obviously it does entail much travail of heart and mind,
soul and intellect, spirit and body, and requires that certain
conditions be observed and obligations be fulfilled - some
inwardly, some outwardly. You should know them all, now,
and endeavour to observe them before you enter the glorious
world of the Qur'an.
Only then will you reap the full harvest of blessings that
await you in the Qur'an. Only then will the Qur'an open its
doors to you. Only then will it let you dwell inside it and
dwell inside you. Nine months spent in the womb of your
mother have transformed a drop of water into 'you' -
hearing, seeing and thinking. Can you imagine what a
lifetime spent with the Qur'an - seeking, hearing, seeing,
thinking, striving - can do for you? It can make you into an
entirely new 'being' - before whom even angels will feel
proud to kneel.
Ascending at every step taken within the Qur'an and every
moment spent therein, you will reach towering heights. You
will be gripped by the power and beauty that breathe and
move within the Qur'an.
From Abdullah Ibn 'Amr Ibn al-'As: The Prophet,
Allah's blessings and peace be on him, said, 'The
companion of the Qur'an will be told: recite and ascend,
ascend with facility as you used to recite with facility in
the world. Your final abode is the height you reach at
the last verse you recite' (Abd Da'ud, Tirmidhi,