There is something that has been bothering me for quite some time now and it is the realization that so many Muslims (especially youth) are not engaging with the Quran as they should be.

Instead of reading and trying to understand it many people feel that the Quran is too complex, too long, too repetitive, too sacred, scary, even dangerous and so avoid the exercise altogether.

Some have even been cautioned by others about reading it and trying to form their own understandings. This should certainly not be the case. I will tell you at the outset that I am not an Islamic scholar, nor have I formally studied the Quranic sciences but that is not a pre-requisite for reading and engaging with the Quran and benefitting from it, as I shall demonstrate below.

God says:

{This is a scripture in which there is no doubt, containing guidance for those who are mindful of Allah, who believe in the unseen, keep up the prayer, and give out of what We have provided for them; those who believe in the revelation sent to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have full faith in the Hereafter. Such people are following their Lord’s guidance and it is they who will prosper.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 2-5)

So the first thing we are told is that this Quran is the truth and being as such contains guidance and in other instances healing for mankind. The Quran was not sent down exclusively for any particular group of people, scholars or otherwise. It was sent down for everyone and it is comprehensible along a wide spectrum of levels (from simple to very complex/deep; from partial to holistic). You do not need to understand it in its most complex senses and meanings to derive benefit from it for your life. Your reading of it will necessarily speak to your circumstances and that is not something that anyone else on earth can do for you no matter how learned they are.

Conditions to Consider While Reading the Quran

But there are some conditions for this guidance that are set out before you commence reading and hope to gain any benefit.

First, you must be mindful of God. This has multiple meanings. Minding God and knowing that He is ever present is the beginning of wisdom. It automatically gets you considering right and wrong at the most fundamental and private level. If you believe that He sees you all the time and in every state then you will at least try to behave accordingly. Guarding your senses from evil/wrong doing and trying to do what is righteous or best become an objective of your being.

Second, and that naturally means that you believe in the Unseen, not only in your Lord but everything He explains or promises that you cannot immediately perceive. Think of it this way, we believe in many scientific phenomena that we will never see but that some scientist or a group of scientists have explained or theorized, then what of the actual truths that the All-Knowing God tells us?

Third, is to keep up your prayers. Praying is your most intimate expression of closeness to God. It is the time when you realize that you are part of a much bigger picture, an infinite one. That your existence extends beyond the mere physical and that your life extends beyond this known world. It is an expression of your not only believing in what is to come but wanting desperately to tip the scale in favor of your desired ultimate destination, namely Paradise. But at a higher level it is something much more than your desire to achieve this gain, albeit critically significant. It is the time when you are having a conversation with God and that in itself becomes a most pleasurable experience.

The ultimate reward in the Hereafter will be to glimpse God’s Face, I believe you must have truly enjoyed His company in this life to even hope for such a magnificent reward. Prayer is a magnificent act of worship that has many rewards in this life and the next.

Fourth, to gain guidance from the Quran is to give freely and generously out of what God has given you. God provides every good that you have and it is best to think of what you have as a trust. You are guardian over that trust for yourself and others for whom you are naturally responsible but also for others that God may put in your path throughout your life.

Keep in mind that this provision does not only come in material form. It consists of material wealth as well as intangibles like knowledge, power, position, love, and all kinds of talents. Accepting these provisions as a trust keep you humble for there is no real guarantee other than God’s that you will continue to have such bounty. So be generous with others. God is great in rewards!

Fifth, is that we believe in this Revelation and in those that were revealed before it. This is an oft-repeated theme in the Quran. This revelation came to confirm what was sent down before it. And in this there are many important lessons. First, it confirms that Allah is the source of all monotheistic revelations and He expects us to respect and honor that truth. Second, it unifies all faiths and makes belief in them incumbent on every Muslim. Third, it ought to remove any notions of privilege of any one people over another. Fourth, it encourages us to learn from the wisdom and experiences of others. These are just some possibilities.

Sixth, is that we must have a sure faith of the Hereafter. This should be logical at this point. If you do not believe in the Hereafter then what are you doing all the above for?

Sincerity is a key premise in our journey together. To reiterate this Book offers guidance for those who are mindful of God, believe in the unseen, are consistent in prayers, give out of what they were given and believe in the revelations. Of course some will argue that there can be many motivations for praying (public show) and giving charity (makes us feel good) but that is not our concern here.

Believing in the Hereafter promotes personal accountability and comfort. Comfort that in the final analysis you are guaranteed that justice will be served both for yourself and for all others. And if you’ve focused well enough so far, you will recognize that this journey is about love and mercy and by God’s will we will be among His loved ones.

The last condition that I want to discuss here is only implicit at this point and it is that the Quran must be read with your heart. It is your heart that will engage with and comprehend the text.

How to Engage with the Quran?

To become engaged with the Quran means to interact with the text, have a conversation with the Author, question and discover. The Quran is a dynamic moving text unlike any other. I guarantee that you will derive different meanings from it every time you read it at different intervals throughout your life. Your heart will perceive what you read differently depending on your capabilities, needs, comprehension and openness.

It is your “heart” that perceives. This is a fundamental premise of successfully reading and engaging with this marvelous book. Your mind can take in the information, rationalize, organize, prioritize, …etc. but your heart is the center of faith, guidance and comprehension (just as it can be the center of quite the opposite conditions if left untrained/purified). God says:

{He has written faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself…} (Al-Mujadilah 58: 22)

{And if any believes in Allah, (Allah) guides his heart aright.} (At-Tghabun 64: 11)

{Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.} (Ar-Ra’d 13: 28)

{Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts which are in their breasts.} (Al-Hajj 22: 46)

Understanding the role of your heart in engaging with the Quran is critically important. This is a book that must be taken in its entirety. The mind simply cannot pick, choose, and interpret any way it wills. When this happens you may find yourself becoming agitated with certain verses where you just can’t get your head around the meaning or justification.

This is normal if you are not reading with your heart and if you have not committed yourself to reading the text in its entirety. If there are verses that you are ‘uncomfortable’ with, keep reading/researching, ask questions (to the right people), and get to the bottom of your concerns. And if you are not satisfied and your heart is not as ease with the first explanation you receive ask again and again until you are at rest.

By asking the right person, I am suggesting that you not only ask someone learned but also someone who is familiar with your world and culture (this is a topic what we may take up in the future). Also keep in mind, for those of you reading translations of the Arabic text, that the best translation also involves interpretation. You may want to ascertain what the Arabic text says and all the potential meanings before reaching conclusions.

When you engage with the Quran, opening your mind and heart, you will discover that this Book is all about justice, mercy, wisdom and good (as elaborated by Ibn Al Qayim in referring to the shariah of which the Quran is the major part). Anything that veers from these principles has likely been misunderstood either because it has not been contextualized, has been mistakenly generalized, or involves personal bias among other possibilities.

The Quran is something with which I sincerely hope that you will develop a relationship that extends throughout your entire life. With the development of this relationship over time you will find that it speaks to different times and events in your life always encouraging you to take the path that is easier, kinder and more just both toward yourself and those involved in your life. God says:

{He knows that some of you will be sick, some of you travelling through the land seeking Allah’s bounty, some of you fighting in Allah’s way: recite as much as is easy for you, keep up the prayer, pay the prescribed alms, and make God a good loan.} (Al-Muzzammil 73: 20)

So even in reading and developing this relationship ease and comfort are advised.

On a more personal note, I first committed myself to reading the Quran in its entirety when I was 19. It took me one year to read it cover to cover with all the exegesis. I have since completed it several times, sometimes to seek guidance and sometimes for the cheer joy of indulging in its wonders. I am an ordinary person who wants other ordinary people to realize the treasure we have in the words and wisdom of God.

You may find yourself drawn to some chapters more than others perhaps for the meanings, perhaps for their lyrical qualities, or ease of recitation. You may read it in times of hardship, or Ramadan, or before bed, or in the early hours of the morning. Whatever your commitment and reasons, keep this Book close to your heart and turn to it for answers, relief, and companionship.

By Basma Abdelgafar