Ramadan, Quran, and Muslims (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

In their daily prayers millions of Muslims recite the verses of the Quran several times a day throughout the world.

In Ramadan, recitation of the entire Quran is completed in hundreds of thousands of mosques around the world. And hundreds of millions of Muslims listen to the Quran recitation in this month.

In several mosques in Ramadan, the recitation of the entire Quran is completed in three nights in the last days of the month of Ramadan. (This is called Shabina. I personally participated in it for many years at AMU) I have heard (but not participated) that the entire Quran is recited in one night! The Imam(s) must be reciting the Quran very fast indeed to finish the whole Quran in one night of Ramadan before the Su’hoor.

There is even a live broadcast of the recitation of the Quran during Tarawee‘h prayer from the holy city of Mecca to many Muslim countries.

As in many material things in which Muslims race with one another by imitating others why not have a race for Quranic recitation? Nothing to worry. Muslims are highly “creative” people.

Highly esteemed Qaris from all over the world compete for the first prize in this religious equivalent of the Emmy sans music ceremony. Competing in good deeds, as the Quran demands, has now been reduced to competing for the most appealing recitation and best tajweed (phonetics). Quranic recitation tapes and CDs were already popular in the real world. Now we have the virtual world of Cyberspace offering that service round the clock.

The Quran is recited on land, water, and air. Millions of Muslims listen to Quranic tapes and CDs at home or while traveling by cars, ships or airplanes. Too bad, space is out of reach of Muslims. Otherwise, they will also use it for earning heavenly rewards. After all what may be more rewarding than listening to the Quran in space closer to heaven?

Muslims may not have to wait too long for that though. The West may be offering us that opportunity – of course for a high price. Commercial space planes may be flying in the not too distant a future allowing super rich Muslims the chance for earning additional rewards (miles) for the Hereafter.

Collectively, Muslims have become fond of deriving pleasure by listening to the Quran. Understanding it is the least worry on their minds. One wonders was this the way our Prophet (PBUH) and our Sahaba (R) used to behave?

Brothers and Sisters! Is there any other book that has been completely memorized by as many people and for as long as the Quran? Is there any other book that is recited by (or listened to) by so many millions of people?

But how many of the hundreds of millions of Muslims who read (or recite) the Quran also understand the Quran?

Even one percent of 1.2 billion Muslims is a large number of Muslims. Are there 12 million Muslims who truly understand the Quran?

And let us clear one misconception here – about the Arabs and the common notion that they can understand the Quran better than others because they know the Arabic language.

This is a myth. Let us explain this by some examples. I assume most of us know Urdu. Now just because we know Urdu, does it mean we can understand Iqbal or Ghalib?

Does it mean that those who know English can understand Whitehead, Russell, Bergson, Emerson, or Thoreau or other famous thinkers and writers. Or is it possible that most Americans (or most of the British) understand these authors because their mother tongue is English? Or do most Germans understand Kant or Nietzsche?

Learning to read a book does not necessarily mean that we understand it. Knowledge of the language of a book is only a necessary condition for understanding it. It is not a sufficient condition. Books of famous writers are read and understood by very few people. Yet, many claim to understand without truly understanding these books. And there are always blind followers and pretenders in every department of life including religion.

What is the situation as far as Islam is concerned? What should be the status of our famous Islamic scholars and Imams of the past and their works? Should we follow them blindly, accept their explanations given in their Tafseers without any critical examination? Should we freeze the Quran in their time and space? I do not think our past Imams and Fuqahaa ever wished that. As a way of life, Islam is open and dynamic not closed and static.

So, should we use our minds and the modern knowledge to expand and enhance what our past Imams and Fuqahaa understood in their times? Are we allowed, in principle, to rectify and correct, where possible, their (mis)understanding of the Quran? Obviously, this is a difficult process requiring much effort and time.

We all know that human beings are prone to take the path of least resistance. So, when one is told that simply reciting the verses of the Quran (without understanding them) will be sufficient to go to Heaven, then why would one struggle to understand the Quran?

When one is told that just reciting a word of the Quran (without understanding) will give him or her 10 rewards in the hereafter, then why would one struggle to understand its meaning? Remember! Understanding requires mental struggle. Reciting does not.

When one is told that simply running one’s finger on the words of the Quran will bring rewards in the hereafter, then why would one put any effort in understanding the root meanings of those words?

When one is promised a free ride to heaven why would one pay for it in terms of time, money, effort, and even life? When one can go to Heaven easily, then why would one want to go through a long and difficult mental (and physical) struggle to get to it? If there is a short cut then who wants to take a long and arduous path to Heaven?

Presence of all these short cuts in our so-called (man-made) sacred books has made us mentally stagnant. Our mental creative energy has vanished. It is a pity that we depend on others even for our basic necessities of life. Muslims have become accustomed to living on crumbs in spite of the fact that they own the richest resources of the world. What can be more humiliating than this?

The result is we act like cry babies. We have become a community of procrastinators. In effect, we are reduced to nothing but dust so much so that a feeble wind is able to blow us around. Iqbal puts it more succinctly when says:

Bujhee  ishk  ki aag  andher  haiMusalmaan naheen raakh ka dher hai

But there is hope. There is always a hope. Muslims should never feel helpless or hopeless. The Book of Allah is there to help them at every step but …

But it can only help those who want to live by it and not those who simply want to read or recite it for earning some easy rewards in the hereafter.

The Quran is for the living and not for the dead. Li tunzera mun kaane hayyan, it loudly proclaims.

Living by the Quran means that we have to first understand it. And in order to understand it, we have to use our minds. And in order to use our minds we have to spend time and effort. This is the law of requital. Without proper input one cannot get proper output.

How much time and effort we normally spend in trying to understand the Quran compared to other things in our life? Also, we must remember that the Allah’s instruction to understand the Quran is incumbent on everyone. Islamic scholarship is a requirement for every Muslim. Seeking knowledge of the Quran (and the Universe) is a duty of every Muslim and not just a select few.

So, we have to ask our own hearts – each and every one of us – honestly and sincerely, are we trying to understand the Quran? Allama Iqbal says:

Ai Musalmaan apne dil se pooch Mulla se na pooch

Do we really take the Quran seriously? — Seriously enough to live by it and to die for it. Or, do we pay mostly a lip service to the Quran for the sake of earning sawaab in the hereafter? What do our hearts have to say?

Allah says that the Quran is more valuable than anything we can accumulate. Do we really take the Quran as the most valuable thing in our lives? Or does our busy life in acquiring material things or vying for fame and fortune push the Quran on the backside so much so that many of us wait until the time of our death for someone else to recite the Quran for the sake of our salvation in the hereafter?

So, how can we give the Quran the most important place in our hearts that it truly deserves? The only way the Quran will find any place in our hearts– let alone the most important place – will be to make a sincere pledge to start a genuine effort towards the understanding of the Quran.

But how to understand the Quran so that our mental cognitive potential is activated by that understanding and we slowly but surely start on a journey to becoming masters of our own destiny?

Let us not simply imitate the past and become its puppets or pet parrots. Imitation destroys our potential and damages our selves. Let us focus and concentrate our mental energy to explore and to critically understand the Quran. Allah has said in the Quran that do not accept My verses blindly. This is a very serious task. So, it requires a very serious thought. But it is good for our minds because our minds will become more creative by this process. This will lift us from our present collective misery and lead us to a life of dignity and honor.

Allah says in the Qur’an that if all the trees on the planet became pens and all its oceans became ink, the words of Allah (and the meanings contained in them) would not be exhausted (31:27, 18:109).  That means there is no end to knowledge. Allah enjoins on every one of us (those who call themselves Muslims) to use our reason, intellect, and the up-to-date human knowledge to directly try to understand and explore the meanings of His revelations (especially see verse 25:73).  We will never be able to exhaust the meanings of Allah’s words but we are asked, nevertheless, to keep striving continuously.

That is why it is all the more important not to give up and stop this process by saying that our great scholars of the past have already explored all there was to be explored and they have understood all there was to be understood.  They were great scholars and great people. But their greatness in scholarship was due to their efforts and the time they spent in the cause of understanding the Quran and preaching its pristine message. They did not want this process to stop.

So, we must do our part and move this thought process further. We should not simply refer to them and become catalogers. This passive approach on our part will not absolve us from our duty to ponder directly in the Qur’an as required by Allah.

Afalaa utadabbaroon al-Quran? (4:82)” Do they not do tadabbur in the Quran? So says Allah in the Quran. Tadabbur means highly concentrated goal-oriented critical thinking like the way scientists do when challenged to find something new or when they embark upon solving a difficult problem.

Obviously it is our choice to do this critical thinking. Allah cannot force us to think. As a choice, how much intense thinking do we do in the Quran everyday and how much we do in other things? We may not think about it that way but we do make choices everyday in our lives. How much of our thinking goes into business, money, building or buying a house and other material things; or preparing for exams or job interviews; and how much into understanding the Quran?

We face the consequences of our choices everyday. Then how can we escape the consequence of the choice we make regarding the Book of Allah? We certainly will be held accountable for all our deeds – good or bad – in front of Allah on the Day of Judgment.

And what may be a better deed than trying to understand the Quran and making a sincere effort to living our collective life by it?

Brothers and sisters! Let us make that pledge today. Why wait until tomorrow which may never come?

Wo qaum nahin laayeqe hungaamay-e farda

Jis  qaum  ki  taqdir  mein  imroz  nahin hai

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