The Qur’ān: My Companion, My Guide, My Love
by Muhammad Mubarak
In the Name of The One God, The Most Gracious and The Infinitely Merciful.
Peace and Blessings bestowed onto our Beloved Prophet Sayyidina Muhammad (ṣ), his family, his companions and all those who follow his footsteps till the end of time.
In the Prophet’s (ṣ) last sermon that was delivered during his ḥajj in the plains of ‘Arafah, he emphasised many crucial points and lessons for us to follow, for us to obey and for us to pass on to the coming generations. These messages are relevant across the temporality of human existence without any expiry date attached to them. Among these messages, the Prophet (ṣ) guarantees success (najāḥ) and happiness (sa‘ādah) to those who hold firmly onto the two treasuries that he left for us as our ultimate guidance. These two treasures are from the Divine Treasury which neither decreases nor increases. The first treasure is the secrets of the divine treasure that is contained in the Qur’ān and the second is the accompanying secrets of the Qur’ān’s earthly complete and perfect manifestations which reside in the sublime nature, perfect character and the total and absolute embodiment of the Qur’ān, the secrets and reality of our Beloved Prophet (ṣ).
In this short reflection, we would like to discuss some dimensions of these treasures, with special emphasis on the spiritual and symbolic significance of the Qur’ān.
Firstly, the Qur’ān can have a personality. What we mean here is that the Qur’ān is dynamic and can have a personalised personality that fits the personality of the reader. Secondly, the title of this reflection indicates that every single person has the potential to develop an intimate, individualised and special relation with the Qur’ān. Thirdly, from the many relations that we can have with the Qur’ān, based on the multiple names that the Qur’ān is called, including as a guide (hudān), the Qur’ān is a trusted companion and a soother of the hearts.
The bottom line is, let us make our relationship with the Qur’ān as closely-knitted as it can ever possibly be, as the Malay saying goes, air dicincang tidak akan putus (literally: it is not possible to separate running water into its divisible parts), which points towards the impossibility of separation.
We want to make this attachment to the Qur’ān long-lasting and permanent, to the point that even death cannot separate us from the companionship of the Qur’ān. As pointed by the Prophet (ṣ), “Recite the Qur’ān, for it comes on the Day of Resurrection as an intercessor for its companions” (Imām Muslim). In the following lines, we will explore and discuss these three possible relationships with the Qur’ān and how we can continuously build them as a follow-up to the bond we are building with the Qur’ān in this month of Ramaḍān.
The Qur’ān and I: Developing a Personal Relationship
This idea of establishing an intimate relationship with the Qur’ān is not foreign to the Intellectual Traditions of Islam. For the purpose of this reflection, we will quote only one examples from the huge corpus of Islamic Intellectual Heritage. Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī (d. 1274 CE) in his book fīhi mā fīhi, a book that contains his poetic expression of Divine Love, Mawlānā Rūmī describes the Qur’ān as a bride who covers her face with layers of veils. She does not remove her veil to anyone except to the one she loves. If the lover snatched away the veils from her forcefully without gentleness and love she will continue to protect her inner essence despite the physical removal of the veils. But once she feels the genuine love and gentle touch to her sweet appearance and delicate skin, the bride will uncover her veils willingly and show to her lover her complete beauty. Mawlānā Rūmī says,
The Koran is like a bride. Although you pull the veil away from her face, she does not show herself to you. When you investigate the Koran, but receive no joy or mystical unveiling, it is because your pulling at the veil has caused you to be rejected. The Koran has deceived you and shown itself as ugly. It says, “I am not that beautiful bride.” It is able to show itself in any form it desires. But if you stop pulling at its veil and seek its good pleasure; if you water its field, serve it from afar and strive in that which pleases it, then it will show you its face without any need for you to draw aside its veil. (The Sufi Path of Love, p. 273)
Mawlānā Rūmī continues with his description by claiming that as the bride unveils her inner secrets to her lover, these secrets must not be divulged to the undeserving. These secrets are wisdoms and wisdom is the lost property of a believer, so he should keep it wherever he finds it.
Each one of us will experience the Divine Vibrations of the Qur’ān differently because we, as individuals are attracted to certain genres of verses more than other genres. This does not mean that we are selective in our beliefs of the Qur’ān. We believe in the entirety of the Qur’ān without any exceptions, but some verses speak to us more intimately than others. This only strengthen the argument on the diversity that exists in the Qur’ān; everyone can find something that he or she deeply enjoys from their personal relationship with the Qur’ān. Depending on the level of our imān (belief) and yaqīn (certainty), the unveiling of the secrets and beauty of the bride will befit the capacity of the lover. Mawlānā says,
I advise my disciples that when brides of meaning [inner meanings of Qur’ānic verses] show their faces to you within yourselves, and when the mysteries are unveiled to you, beware! Beware, lest you speak of them to “others”! Do not describe them! And do not tell the words that you hear from me to everyone. As the Prophet said, “Impart no wisdom to the unworthy, or you do it injustice; and withhold none from the worthy, or you do them injustice.” Imagine that you should gain a witness or a beloved and she conceals herself within your house, saying, “Display me to no one, for I belong to you!” Would it ever be fitting and permissible to take her about the bazaars and say to everyone, “Come, behold this beautiful woman!”? That beloved would never be pleased for this to happen to her, and indeed, she would become angry with you. (The Sufi Path of Love, p. 309)
The above sayings of Mawlānā Rūmī have a couple of significant implications for us in our quest to develop a personal relationship with the Qur’ān. Firstly, all of us have been given the necessary faculties to contemplate the different layers of meanings of the Qur’ān. Apart from studying the classical and contemporary tafāsīr, the Qur’ān gives personalised answers to the queries that we have. The Qur’ān reveals its inner secrets to us when we have established a personal relationship with it, secrets that provide tranquillity to a disturbed heart. Secondly, it is extremely important for us to have a teacher whom we can refer to when we acquire certain understandings and received inspirations from the verses of the Qur’ān. Our teachers are our “sparring” partners for us to relate the inner dimensions of the Qur’ān when they are revealed to us. We do not discuss these secrets in the public domain, but with teachers who are trained in the science of tafsīr. They will guide us towards placing these messages within the larger intent of the verses and objectives of the Qur’ān. Publicly displaying the fruits of our contemplation can be detrimental in our spiritual development with the Qur’ān. There are a few other important messages from the quotes above but we will stop here and continue with the topic at hand.
There may be some people who question the possibility of establishing a personal relationship with the Qur’ān. In other words, how could the Divine Word be taken as something that is living, or taking the characteristics and nature of humanity? The answer to the above question must come from the most authoritative sources, of which there are none other than the Qur’ān and the Prophetic traditions. If we understand the content of the Qur’ān and the traditions of the Prophet (ṣ) in relation to the Qur’ān, the answer to the above question is an obvious yes. The Qur’ān has informed us that it has many names that describe its various dimensions, roles and relations. Each of the names describes an aspect of the Qur’ān. For example, the name qur’ān that describes a dimension of the Divine Word points towards its role as an extraordinary book which is read and recited over and over again. The word qur’ān is mentioned 70 times in the Qur’ān. It is definitely not an ordinary book (al-kitāb), which is another name of the Qur’ān. It claims to be the most extraordinary of all books: a claim with which millions of people around the globe fully agree.
Any book that touches the hearts and minds of its readers and inspires them to do many things is bound to be kept as a personal copy by countless people and to be read again and again. Having a personalised copy of the Qur’ān was a common practice of the older generations. Many of these personalised Qur’āns are kept in museums. Unfortunately, many people who visited and saw the displays missed the spiritual message that was intended. One of these occurrences of the Qur’ān describing itself as qur’ān is in relation to the act of tadabbur, reflecting and contemplating the meanings and secrets. In ṣūrah al-Nisā’ (4:82) the Qur’ān describes the function of qur’ān as,
“Do you not reflect and contemplate on the Qur’ān?” (Al-Nisā’, 4:82).
Based on this characteristic, the Qur’ān can definitely be our personal guide and love. But there are conditions attached prior to the Qur’ān transforming into our personal guide. The condition is we must take the first step to know the Quran, before love between the Qur’ān and us can develop. As another Malay saying goes, kalau tak kenal maka tak cinta (literally: if you don’t know, you won’t love it.) Nevertheless, this condition can be achieved if we start our acquaintance with the Qur’ān as early in life as possible. This acquaintance will then develop into friendship and move towards companionship.
In addition, there must be an environment that encourages the reading and studying of the Qur’ān that emphasises the development of this personalised relationship with the Qur’ān. The month of Ramaḍan is the perfect moment for parents to start creating this environment in their homes and establishing family norms that are centred around the Qur’ān. Qur’ān recitation can be established as a family routine in addition to the usual activity of eating together.
For those of us who have just started learning the Qur’ān, do not despair due to our ignorance or heedlessness in the past. Stop procrastinating and start now. Do not feel shy or be ashamed of learning the Qur’ān when we are at an advanced age. No one can ever complete the study of the Qur’ān within their terrestrial lifespan.
For those who have young children, start now and make reading the Qur’ān a family commitment. Ensure that our children are exposed to the Qur’ān as early as possible, even during pregnancy. No music is better than the melody that comes from reciting the Qur’ān. Change from getting children to sleep with Mozart music or other types of music to making the recitation of the Qur’ān as the companion of your children when they are sleeping. The Qur’ān must be the first curriculum that parents introduce to their children. Ensuring that their children are able to read the Qur’ān must the highest priority of any parents. For parents who are capable of starting memorisation programme for their children, start them early. Memorisation is the cornerstone and fundamental building block for all other types of cognitive development. Do not be misled into thinking that memorisation will reduce a child’s critical and creative thinking; memorisation is the key to critical and creative thinking. This was, is and will continue to be the most fundamental way that Muslims learn the Qur’ān. This way has proven to produce scholars par excellence who are polymaths within our Intellectual Tradition. Scholars of religious and intellectual sciences were usually described and identified as the same person. The majority of them started their education with learning to recite and memorise the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān became their companion, guide and love and made their life and thoughts fundamentally Qur’ānic.
Owning and reading a book that we like and regarding it with great value is only the beginning of a process of developing a special relationship with it. The more we like the book, and the greater the value we think it has, the richer the relationship that we can have with it, and the more long-lasting the relationship will be. This observation could not be truer than in the case of the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān is the most unique book and it is the best-seller of all time. So anyone interested in knowing more about its content is advised to own and read it. In the case of the Qur’ān, although owning and reading it in its original Arabic even without understanding has a value of its own, reading it with understanding is much more preferable. This is what is meant by tadabbur: to read and understand with comprehension. Another meaning of this word is contemplation. Even more rewarding is putting its teachings into practice.
However, let us give everyone who is in some form or at some stage of relationship with the Qur’ān his or her due. A person who reads the Arabic Qur’ān correctly in accordance with the rules that have been traditionally established for the science of Qur’ānic recitation is clearly in a state of relationship with it even though the reader may not understand it, as is the case with many Muslims whose native tongue is not Arabic, and this relationship is mutual. Even at this stage of the relationship between the Arabic Qur’ān and its non-Arabic speaking reader, we can see a deepening interrelation between them.
Through reading its verses in Arabic, the Qur’ān is known to have moved the souls of many of its readers. This shows that the Qur’ān is alive; it is not just an inanimate object that consists of papers with Arabic words and verses written on them. Beyond its external appearance that everyone can see, there is its living dimension that some people find difficult to see. But for those who can see it, it is clear that the Qur’ān responds in kind to man’s initiative to enter into a relationship with the Qur’ān.
Why is it possible to have a personal relationship with the Qur’ān? It is possible because it is responsive to man’s initiatives and approaches towards it. How responsive and in what way it is responsive would depend on the state of the soul of its reader. The response of the Qur’ān to its reader is proportionate to how well the intention of its reader is. The Qur’ān is able to respond to the intention of its reader because there is a mysterious link between the Qur’ān and the souls of human beings. This mysterious link is there because the Qur’ān is not authored by a human being. Rather, it is a Divine Message in human language, the Word of God ad-verbatim. The mystery begins to be unveiled once we, as readers take the initiative to unveil our own soul or self. The core element in this human initiative is part of what the Qur’ān calls faith (imān). Faith in it is what the Qur’ān is asking from us. It is as if the Qur’ān is telling us that “if only you believe in me I will reveal more and more of myself until you become more impressed with me, you become more fascinated with me, and you love me more and more. But if you do not have faith in me how can I be of any help and use to you?”
Why is it possible for a person who does not know Arabic to find solace and peace in reading the Arabic Qur’ān, especially when reciting it melodiously? This is part of the miracle (mu‘jizah) of the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān is the Words of Allāh that are both written and oral. But the Qur’ān was first heard and then written. The Qur’ānic sound is part of its miracle. There have been cases of individuals embracing Islam after having heard its recitation or entering it through the door of Qur’ānic calligraphy. The Qur’ānic sound can have a powerful impact on the human soul. The Qur’ān, ṣūrah Al-A‘rāf (7:204) says:
“So, when the Qur’ān is recited, listen to it with attention, and hold your peace [be silent] that you may receive mercy.”
The Qur’ān: My Guide, My Companion, and My Love
If we believe in the Qur’ān then we can develop a wide range of relationships with it depending on our individual capacity and ability that God has given us. The relationship can be spiritual, intellectual and emotional. In this reflection, my emphasis is on our relationship with the Qur’ān as our guide, our companion, and our love. This relationship is based on several names, qualities and functions of the Qur’ān. One of the functions of the Qur’ān is as guidance (hudan) which is related to the attribute of al-hadī meaning the Guide. The Qur’ān is and explicitly claims to be the most comprehensive guide for human life and thought. In the Opening Chapter (al-Fātiḥah) of the Qur’ān, we human beings plead to God to guide us on the straight path (ṣūrah 1, verse 6). God answers our prayers immediately in the second verse of the following ṣūrah (al-Baqarah). He tells us: “This is the Book in which there is no doubt; a guidance for the God-fearing.” The Qur’ān is sent to mankind as a guide in all aspects of life and thought. While one of the roles of the Qur’ān is as a guide in our life, have we on our part truly accepted it as our guide in our beliefs, our thoughts, and our actions? A question that requires us to individually contemplate on.
Let us return to the title of the reflection and asked: what does it mean for the Qur’ān to be our companion? Since the Qur’ān has a personality it is possible for us to speak of having it as our companion? Why do we need companions? There is an analogy between our need for companionship in relations to other human beings and our need for companionship in relation to the Qur’ān. Companionship is a relationship that consists of various levels. In a companionship there is mutual help and advice, and an inner transformation of ourselves. Companions are transformed by the quality of their companionship. The highest level of companionship we can develop is a companion that will never leave us even at the point of death. Higher than that would be a companion who will pray and intercede for us on Judgement Day and continue interceding for us until we are forgiven. This level of companionship can be attained with the Qur’ān as how the Prophet (ṣ) has described in the ḥadīth we quoted in the introduction. Fate puts us in a different era, a thousand years away from the time of the Prophet (ṣ) physically. Despite the physical separation in time and space we can still live close to the Prophet (ṣ) and experience his presence in our daily life. He said he left behind two things for his followers: the Book of God (i.e. the Qur’ān) and his Sunnah. This means that thanks to these two things we will always be close to him as long as we live close to the Qur’ān and we realize his Sunnah. Remember the Prophet (ṣ) is the total embodiment of the Qur’ān. No understanding, spiritual realisation can be achieved from the Qur’ān if we neglect the importance, the role and the reality of our Prophet (ṣ).
What does it mean for the Qur’ān to be our love? Some of the important signs for our love of the Qur’ān:
1) When we cannot live to be separated from the Qur’ān
2) When we feel not well if we do not read its verses even for a day; like how we feel so sick or totally lost and handicapped when our phone is lost because we cannot open our Whatsapp or Facebook to check and update our status. We wonder how we have placed our priorities.
3) When we feel sad and regretful if we think that we are not faithful to the Qur’ān’s teachings. We cannot truly love the Qur’ān without God and the Prophet (ṣ) loving us. But how to make God loves us? The Qur’ān’s answer to this question is very clear:
Say [O Muhammad to mankind]: “If you love Allāh then follow me; then Allāh will love you and forgive you of your sins. And Allāh is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” In other words, if we want Allāh to love us then we must live with the Qur’ān as our guide, our companion and our love. (Āli-‘Imrān, 3:31)
Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī (d. 1111 CE) in his book The Forty Principles of the Religion (Al-Arba‘īn fī Uṣūl al-Dīn), gave a couple of steps that we can take in order to begin our companionship journey with the Qur’ān. The journey according to al-Ghazzālī starts by understanding the outer and inner manners on how the recitation of the Qur’ān is to be done. For the purpose of this reflection, we will just list the outer aspects, and leave the discussions on the inner aspects to another occasion. The first, according to Imam al-Ghazālī is to recite the Qur’ān with respect and a posture of veneration and that sanctity attaches to the heart and a posture of sanctity attaches to our outer form. A posture of sanctity here means (i) to sit with our head bowed, (ii) being in the state of ritual purity, (iii) facing the qiblah, (iv) not reclining or lying down while reading and (v) reading slowly with proper articulation of the words without mumbling or rushing through. Second is to yearn at certain times of the day for the greatest level of virtue in reciting it. This means that we put aside a certain period of the day for the purpose of reciting the Qur’ān and reflecting on it. According to our Imām, the best is reciting it in prayers at night as the heart is clearer at night because it is empty from worldly disturbances. Lastly, we strive towards finishing the recitation of the entire Qur’ān once every month. This requires consistency and perseverance to achieve.
Let me end this reflection with a Prophetic saying compiled in the 40 ḥadīs on the virtues of the Qur’ān by Al-Imām Syed Abdul al-Raḥmān Bin ‘Abdullah Balfaqih. This ḥadīs appears as the first ḥadīth in the collection which indicates the wholesomeness and completeness of the ḥadīth in encapsulating the virtues of the Qur’ān as according to the understanding and unveiling that the compiler has experienced.
From Sayyidina ‘Ali bin Abī Ṭalib, he said, the Prophet (ṣ) said: The Qur’ān is better than everything else besides Allāh, and the excellence of the Qur’ān over all other types of discourse or speech is like the excellence of Allāh over His creations. Whoever magnifies, venerates, holds the Qur’ān in high esteem has indeed magnified and venerated Allāh. Whoever does not venerate the Qur’ān has indeed belittled the right of Allāh. The sanctity of the Qur’ān in the Divine Presence is as the sanctity of the parent over their child. The Qur’ān is an intercessor (shāfi‘), who is granted all types of intercession that is asked for (mushafa‘), the advocate (maḥal) who is well-trusted. Whoever the Qur’ān intercedes for, will be granted the intercession. Whoever the Qur’ān advocates for is considered truthful. Whoever places it in-front of themselves, it (the Qur’ān) will lead them to paradise. Whoever places it behind themselves, it (the Qur’ān) will lead them to hellfire. Truly the carriers (memorisers, leaners, specialists, focuses) of Qur’ān (ḥamalah) they are the ones where the Mercy of Allāh is rubbing shoulders with them (al-maḥfūfūn). They are those who are dress with the Light of Allāh (al-mulbasūn nūr Allāh). They are those who are learning the Qur’ān. Whoever shows enmity to them shows enmity to Allāh. Whoever takes them as their patron, friends, allies (wālāhum), truly have taken Allāh as their patron, friends and ally (wālā).
Allāh says, Oh carriers of the Book of Allāh, respond to Allāh by venerating the Book of Allāh. Allāh will increase love for you and will make you be the beloved of creations. For the one who listens to the Qur’ān, they will be repelled the evils of this world. For the one who is reciting the Qur’ān, the disasters of the hereafter will be repelled from them. And I swear the one who is listening to one verse of the book of Allāh is better for them than a vast amount of gold and the one who recites one verse of the Qur’ān, it is better for them than everything that is under the sky. And there is truly in the Quran, a ṣūrah that is the called the great one (or the magnificent one) in the Divine Presence. And the one who has it (ṣāḥibuha) (or the one who listen to it, the one who practice it, the one who memorise it, the one who teaches it), is called the noble one in the Divine Presence. And the one who has it will intercede on the day of resurrection than more people that are encompass in the two great tribal umbrellas (of the Arabs) that comes from (the tribes of) Rabī‘ah and Muḍar. And this ṣūrah is YāSīn.
May Allah and His Rasūl grant us all the ability to build personal relations with the Qur’ān. May Allah and His Rasūl provide us with imān, health, wealth, knowledge and wisdom.
Wallāhu wa Rasūluhu ‘alam
Wa bi’Llāh al-tawfīq wa’l-hidāyah, wa bihi nasta‘īn
Muhammad Mubarak Habib Mohamed
13th Ramāḍan 1438H
8th June 2017
Bandar Seri Begawan
Negara Brunei Darussalam