The External Etiquettes of the Quran
There are ten external rules for the recitation of the Quran:
1. Condition of the Reciter: It consists of the Quran reader being in a state of wudu’, with politeness and quietness, either standing or sitting, facing the qiblah, with the head cast down, neither sitting cross legged nor leaning against anything nor sitting in a haughty manner. He should sit as he would when sitting in front of his teacher. The best way of reading Quran is during prayer while standing in a masjid. If, however, he reads it without wudu while reclining on his side, he also has excellence, but this excellence is of a lower grade. Allah Ta’ala said, “Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth,” (3:191). Thus Allah has praised all three conditions. He has however, mentioned first the condition of standing in remembrance of God, then the condition of sitting, and then the remembrance of God lying on one’s side. ‘Ali (ra) said, “One who reads the Quran standing in salah will obtain the reward of one hundred good deeds for reading each letter. One who reads the Quran sitting in salah will obtain the reward of fifty good deeds for reading each letter. One who reads the Quran outside ritual prayer but being in a state of wudu will obtain the reward of twenty five good deeds. One who reads the Quran without being in a state of wudu will obtain the reward of ten good deeds.” That reading of the Quran which constitutes part of keeping vigil at night (qiyam bil-layl) is more excellent than reading it during daytime, for at night the mind is most free from other matters. Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (ra) said, “To make many prostrations during the daytime, and to pray a long while at night is the most excellent.”
2. Quantity of Recitation: Quran readers have formed different habits of considering how much they read. Some of them read the entire Quran right through in a day and night, some do this twice, and some even go so far as to do this thrice. Some Quran readers read the Quran in its entirety once a month. The best thing in determining how much of the Quran to read is to rely upon the words of Allah’s Messenger (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), “One who has read the entire Quran in less than three days has not understood it.” This is because swift reading prevents the reader from reading it in a slow and distinct manner (tartil). Hazrat ‘Ayesha (ra) said of a man who recited the Quran hastily, “This man neither recites the Quran, nor remains silent.” The Prophet (S) ordered ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (ra) to read the Quran once in every seven days. Likewise a group of the Sahabah, including Uthman, Zaydh bin Thabit, Ibn Mas’ud and Ubayy bin Ka’b (ra), used to complete the recitation of the Quran every Friday.
a. To read the Quran once in a day and night. This is disliked by a group of religious scholars
b. Reading the entire Quran once every month by reading one of its thirty parts every day. This seems to be an excessive reduction in the amount of reading, just as the first grade is excessive in over-reading. Then there are two moderate grades, which consist of
c. Reading the entire Quran once in a week
d. Reading it twice or nearly thrice in a week. If twice a week, it is preferable to complete one reading of the entire Quran at night and the other at daytime. One should complete one reading at daytime on Monday in Fajr prayer or after them, and complete the other reading at night on Friday night in the first two raka’at of the Maghrib prayer or after them. This is most preferable because it welcomes the first part of the day and of the night with the completion of the Quran. The angels bless the Quran reader until dawn if his completion occurs at night, and until evening if his completion occurs during the day. Thus the blessings of the two khatms prevail throughout the day and the night.
If the Quran reader is one of the devotees traversing the sufi path by performing good acts of the body (al ‘abidun as salikun at tariq al ‘amal), he should not do less than read the entire Quran twice a week. But if the reader is one of those who is traversing the sufi path by performing actions of the soul (as-salikun bi ‘amal al qalb) and by different types of reflection, or one of those who are engaged in spreading useful knowledge, then there is nothing wrong in reducing the reading of the entire Quran to once a week. If the Quran reader is making penetrating reflections on different meanings of the Quran it is sufficient for him to complete its reading once in a month, since he is much in need of repeating and reflecting many times.
3. The mode of dividing the Quran [into several parts for convenience of recitation]: As for him who intends to recite the Quran once in a week, he will divide it into seven divisions. The Sahabah (ra) certainly divided the Quran into several divisions. Thus it is related that Uthman (ra) used to read from Surah Baqara and reach Surah Ma’ida on Friday night, from surah Al An’am to Surah Hud on Saturday night, and from Surah Yusuf to Surah Maryam on Sunday night, from Surah Taha to Surah Ta Sin Meem on Monday night, from surah Ankaboot to Surah Saad on Tuesday night, from surah Zumar to surah Ar-Rahman on Wednesday night, and he used to complete the reading on Thursday night. Ibn Mas’ud used to divide the Quran into seven parts but not in this order. It is said the divisions of the Quran are seven in number. The first consists of three surahs, the second of five surahs, the third of seven surahs, the fourth of nine surahs, the fifth of eleven surahs, the sixth of thirteen surahs, and the seventh which is known as al-mufassal (divided into several pieces) starts from the Surah of Qaf and ends with the Quran. This is how the Sahabah (ra) divided the Quran for the convenience of reading, and they used to read it accordingly. On this theme is to be found a Hadith related from Rasulullah (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), “This [i.e. the division of the Quran into seven parts] is prior to the execution of its divisions into five parts, ten parts, and thirty parts. Any division other than this is something newly introduced.”
4. The writing of the Quran: It is praiseworthy to make the writing of the Quran beautiful and to make its letters clear and distinct. There is no sin in dotting letters and writing different marks with read and other colors, because these colors adorn the Quran, make its letters distinct, and avert its reader from making mistakes and incorrect reading. Al Hasan and Ibn Sirin however, used to disapprove of division of the Quran into fifths, tenths and thirtieth parts. It is related that ash-Shabi and Ibrahim disliked the dotting of the letters with red color and the taking of salary for this job. They used to say, “Keep the Quran free of any superfluous things.” Concerning these scholars our conjecture is that they disliked the opening of this door, fearing that it would lead to the creation of superfluous things in the Quran. They wanted to close this door completely and encourage the protection of the Quran from any change that may penetrate into it. Since the opening of this door has not in practice led to any forbidden thing, and since it has been established by the Islamic community that it is something by which added acquaintance with the Quran may be achieved; there is no sin in it. The fact that it is a new thing introduced in Islam does not mean that it should be forbidden, for many a newly introduced thing is good. For example, concerning the establishment of congregation in the case of Taraweeh prayer it is said that it is one of the practices newly introduced in Islam by Umar (ra), but that it is a good innovation (bid’ah hasanah). A condemnable innovation (bid’a madhmuma) is only that which opposes an old established sunnah (as sunnah al qadima) or which tends to bring about a change in it. A certain religious scholar used to say, “I shall read from the mushaf in which letters are dotted, but shall not dot them myself.” Azwa’i said, on the authority of Yahya ibn Abi Kathir, “The Quran was kept free of dots and marks in the mushaf. The first thing people have introduced in it is the dotting at the letter ba and the letter ta, maintaining that there is no sin in this, for this illuminates the Quran. After this people have introduced big dots at the end of verses, maintaining that there is no sin in this, for by this the beginning of a verse can be known. After this, people introduced marks showing the ends of surahs and marks showing their beginnings. Abu Bakr al Hadhli said, “I asked al Hasan concerning the dotting of mushafs with red color. He enquired, What is the dotting of them? I replied, People place vowel marks according to the grammatical rules of Arabic. He said, As for the ‘irab of the Quran, there is no sin in it.” Khalid al Hidhdha said, “I visited Ibn Sirin and saw him reading from a dotted mushaf. He of course, used to dislike dots.” It is said that Hajjaj is the one who introduced the system of dots, he brought the Quran readers of Basra and Kufa to his court and they enumerated the words of the Quran, its verses and letters, made its parts equal, and divided it into 30 parts and other parts also.
5. Quality of Recitation: To read the Quran in a slow and distinct manner (tartil). This manner of reading is mustahabb in the case of the Quran because, as we soon shall discuss, the purpose of reading the Quran is reflection on its meaning (tafakkur), and to read in a slow and distinct manner assists this. For this reason, when Umm Salama (ra) was asked regarding the recitation of Rasulullah (S), she immediately began to describe the recitation as clear and distinct with respect to every letter. ‘Abdallah in Abbas (ra) said, “That I read Surah Baqarah and Surah Al ‘Imran in a slow and distinct manner while pondering over them is better for me than to read the entire Quran at speed.” He also said, “That I read Surah Al-Zalzala and Surah Al-Qari’ah reflecting over them, it is better for me than to read Surah Baqarah and Surah Al ‘Imran at speed.” Mujahid ibn Jubayr was asked concerning two men who started salah and stood for the same duration. One of them read only Surah Baqarah and the other read the entire Quran. He replied, “They are equal with respect to merit.” Know that reading the Quran in a slow and distinct manner is praiseworthy not merely because it assists pondering (tadabbur) over it, because for a non-Arab who does not understand the meaning of the Quran it is also praiseworthy to read it in a slow and distinct manner with pauses between the sentences. This is because it is nearer to the reverence and respect which the Quran deserves, and stronger in its impression on the soul than reciting with haste.
6. Weeping: Weeping while reciting the Quran is mustahabb. Rasulullah (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) commanded, “Recite the Quran and weep. If you do not weep naturally, then assume a weeping attitude.” The Prophet (S) declared, “One who does not recite the Quran with a sweet tone is not one of us.” Salih al-Murri said, “I read the Quran to Rasulullah (S) in my sleep. He asked me, ‘Salih, this is only the reading of the Quran, but where is the weeping?’” Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (ra) said, “When you read the ayat of sajdah that starts with the word Subhana (i.e. 17:107-109), then do not hasten to make sajdah until you weep. If the eyes of any of you do not weep, then his mind should weep (be filled with grief and fear of Allah). The method of forcing oneself to weep consists in bringing grief to the mind. From this grief, weeping will be produced. Rasulullah (S) said, “Surely the Quran was revealed with grief. So when you read it you should force yourself to be aggrieved.” The method of bringing grief to the mind is through reflecting on the threats, warnings, covenants and promises which are contained in the Quran. Then one will reflect on his own shortcomings in respect of the commandments of the Quran, and its threats of punishment. Thus he will necessarily be aggrieved and will weep. Should he not feel grief and weep as do those who have purified souls, he should weep for his lack of grief and tears, because this is the greatest of all misfortunes.
7. Fulfilling the Rights of the Quranic Verses: When the reciter reads a verse necessitating prostration before Allah, he will make prostration. Likewise, if he hears the verse of prostration by another person he will prostrate himself when the reciter prostrates. He will prostrate only when he is physically and ritually clean. There are fourteen verses of prostration in the Quran. (According to the Hanafi school, they are 7:206, 13:15, 16:49, 17:107, 19:58, 22:18, 25:60, 27:25, 32:15, 38:39, 41:37, 55:62, 84:21, 96:19). The minimum requirement of prostration is that the he makes sajdah by putting his forehead on the ground (without uttering Allahu Akbar and without any supplication). Its perfect form is for him to utter Allahu Akbar, then make sajdah, and while in sajdah to make supplication which is appropriate to the ayaat he recited.
For example, if he read “They fall down prostrate and celebrate the praises of their Lord and are not arrogant,” (32:15) then he will supplicate: Allahumma aj’alni min as-sajidina li wajhika, al musabbihina bi hamdika, wa ‘audhubika an akuna minal mustakbirina ‘an amrika, aw ‘ala awliyaa-ika. Oh Allah, make me one of those who prostrate themselves before You for Your pleasure and who glorify You with Your praise. I seek your protection from being one of those who are arrogant against Your command or against Your friends.
On reading the ayat, “They weep while they prostrate themselves, and this adds to their humility,” (17:109), then he will supplicate: Allahumma aj’alni min al bakina ilayka, al kashi’ina laka. Oh Allah, make me one of those who weep for fear of You, and who are humble towards You. In this way, the Quran reader will supplicate while making every prostration.
In the case of prostration due to recitation of the Quran, it is necessary to fulfill those stipulations which are meant for ritual prayer, such as covering ones private parts, facing the qiblah, and cleanliness of clothing and body against ritual impurity (hadath) and physical filth (khubuth). A man who is not clean while hearing the recitation of the verse will perform sajdah once he becomes clean. It is said that, in the perfect form of sajdah tilawah, one will say Allahu Akbar, lift his hands level to his shoulders, thereby making all other things unlawful to himself. Then he will again utter Allahu akbar while inclining towards sajdah. Then he will make sajdah, and utter Allahu Akbar while lifting the head from prostration, and then will make the salah from the right and then to the left as he withdraws from sajdah. Some authorites have added to this the recitation of the tashahhud, however there is no basis for these views except Qiyas with the prostration of salah. This Qiyas however, is far from being sound because what has occurred in the Quran is only the command of prostration, and so this command should be obeyed by prostration only. The utterance of Allahu Akbar while inclining towards prostration is nearer to the beginning and so this should be done. All other things are far from what can be supported by Islamic Jurisprudence. The follower of the Imam in congregation should prostrate himself when his Imam prostrates. A man, if he be a follower of an Imam, will not prostrate himself because of his own recitation.
8. Supplication before, after and during Recitation:
At the start of his recitation, the reader will supplicate: ‘Audhu billahi as-sami al-alimi, minash shaytan ar rajeem. Rabbi ‘audhubika min hamazati ash shayatin, wa ‘audhubika rabbi ‘an yahdurun. I seek the protection of Allah, the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing, against the rejected Shaytan. My Lord, I seek refuge with You from the incitements of Shaytan, and I seek refuge with you My Lord, lest they should approach me. He should also supplicate by reading Surah Falaq.
On the completion of the recitation, the reader should supplicate: Sadaqa Allahu Ta’ala wa ballagha rasulullahi salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallama, Allahumma anfa’na bihi wa baarik lana fihi. Alhmdulillahi rabbi al-‘alameen, wa astaghfirullaha al-hayya al-qayyuma. Allah Ta’ala has spoken the truth, and His Messenger (S) has conveyed it to us. Allah, benefit us with the Quran and bless us in it. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all of the Worlds. I seek the forgiveness of Allah, the Ever Living, the Self-Subsisting and All-Sustaining.
During the recitation, when a verse is read regarding the glorification of Allah, he will glorify and magnify Him. When he reads a verse on supplication to Allah and forgiveness, he will supplicate and seek forgiveness. If he reads a verse telling of any hopeful matter he will pray to Allah for it. But if he reads a verse on a frightening matter, he will seek the protection of Allah from it. He will do these with his tongue or with his mind. Thus, in place of glorification of Allah, he will say, SubhanaAllah. In place of seeking refuge with God he will say, Na’udhubillah. And in place of making petition to God he will say, Allahumma ‘arzuqna, Allahumma arhimna.
Hudhayfa said, “Once I performed my salah behind Rasulullah (S). He started recitation with Surah Baqarah. On reading every verse on divine mercy he prayed to Allah for it. On reading every verse on punishment he sought refuge with Allah. On reading every verse on the purification of Allah (tanzih) he glorified Him. On completion of the reading of the surah he supplicated by reading that which he (S) used to read on completing the reading of the entire Quran. This supplication is: Allahumma arhimni bil Quran, wa aj’alhu li imaman w anuran wa hudan wa rahmatan. Allahumma dhakkirni minhu ma nasitu, wa ‘allimni minhu ma jahiltu, wa arzuqni tilawatahu ana al-layli wa atrafa an-nahari, wa aj’alhu li hujjatan ya Rabbal ‘alamin. Oh Allah, bestow mercy upon me through the Quran and make it for me a leader, a light, a guide and a mercy. Oh Allah, remind me of that which I have forgotten, teach me the chosen parts of the Quran of which I am ignorant, grant me its recitation in the hours of the night and different parts of the day, and make it a point in my favor, oh Lord of the Worlds.
9. Reading of the Quran out loud: There is no doubt that it is necessary to read the Quran loud enough so that the reader can hear it himself because reading means distinguishing clearly between sounds; thus sound is necessary, and the smallest degree of it is that which he can hear himself. If he cannot hear himself in salah, his prayer is not correct. As for reading so loud that he can be heard by others, it is to be considered praiseworthy in one respect and undesirable in another.
The proofs that silent reading of the Quran is praiseworthy are as follows. It is related that the Prophet (S) said, “The excellence of silent reading of the Quran compared with reading it aloud is like the excellence of secret charity compared with public charity.” In other words, one who reads the Quran out loud is like one who gives charity publicly while one who reads the Quran silently is like one who gives charity secretly. In a generally received tradition Raslullah (S) said, “A secret good act is more excellent than a public good act by seventy times.” Likewise is the saying of the Prophet (S): “The best measure of sustenance is that which is sufficient, and the best mode of invocation of Allah is that which is secret.” In a Hadith one finds the Prophet (S) warned, “Some of you will not read the Quran out loud near others during the time between Maghrib and Isha.” One night in Masjid an-Nabawi, Sa’id al Musayyab heard Umar bin Abdul Aziz reading the Quran out loud in his ritual prayer and he was a man of sweet voice. Sa’id ordered his slave, “Go to this devotee and ask him to lower his voice.” The slave said to Sa’id, “The mosque is not reserved for us only, that devotee also has a share in it.” Sa’id himself then raised his voice saying, “Devotee, if you intend to obtain the pleasure of Allah ta’ala by your salah, then lower your voice. If, however, you intend to obtain the pleasure of people, you should know that they will never be sufficient in respect of anything against Allah.” ‘Umar remained silent and shortened the raka’t of his salah. On making salaam, he took his shoes and departed. At that time he was the governor of Madina.
The proofs that reading the Quran out loud is praiseworthy are as follows. It is related that the Prophet (S) once heard a group of his companions reading the Quran out loud in the nafl prayer performed after midnight and approved of this. The Prophet (S) also said, “If one of you keeps vigil at night performing nafl prayers, he should read the Quran out loud because the angels as well as those who are staying at his house listen to his Quran reading and pray with him.” Once the Prophet (S) passed by three of his companions who were engaged in different modes of Quran reading. He passed by Abu Bakr who was reading the Quran silently. The Prophet (S) asked him concerning the reason for this. He replied, “I am reading silently because the One to Whom I am whispering can hear me.” The Prophet passed by Umar (ra) who was reading the Quran outloud. He asked him the reason for this. Umar replied, “By reading out loud I am awakening those who are asleep and also threatening Shaytan.” The Prophet passed by Bilal who was reading some verses from one surah and other verses from other surahs. The Prophet (S) asked him the reason. He replied, “I am mingling some good things with other good things.” The Prophet (S) said that each had done good and right.
The method of reconciliation among these apparently conflicting hadith is that the silent reading of the Quran is furthest from riyaa and affectation, and hence it is better than reading out loud in the case for the reciter who is afraid of these for himself. If however, he has no fear of these and if loud recitation does not disturb another devotee, then reading with a loud voice is better. This is because of the following reasons:
a. Because it involves more effort
b. Because its benefit is also linked up with others, a good which involves other people is better than a good which cleaves to its agents only
c. Because loud reading awakens the mind of the Quran reader, unites his care for reflection on the meaning of the Quran, and turns his ear to it
d. Because loud reading repels sleep by raising the voice
e. Because it adds to his energy for Quran reading and lessens his laziness
f. Because waking a sleeping man can be expected from loud reading in which case the Quran reader will be the cause of the man’s revival from laziness which lead him to sleep
g. And because sometimes having seen the loud reader, a workless idle man gets energized because of his energy and is encouraged to serve Allah
When one of these intentions is present, loud reading of the Quran is better than silent reading. Should all these intentions join together, the reward of Quran reading would multiply. Because of many intentions good acts of the pious grow, and the rewards they obtain multiply. If in a single act there are ten intentions, ten rewards are to be obtained from it. For this reason we say that reading from mushafs is better than reading the Quran from memory. This is because to the action of reading is added looking at the mushaf, thinking about it, and carrying it, so the reward of Quran reading will increase because of the addition of these. It is said that reading the entire Quran once from the mushaf is equal in value to reading it in its entirety seven times from memory, because looking at a mushaf is also an act of ‘ibadat. Uthman (ra) tore two mushafs by reading much from them. Many Sahabah would read from the mushafs and they were unhappy when a day in which they did not look at mushafs passed. A certain Egyptian Faqih visted ash-Shafi’ when he had in front of him a mushaf. Ash-Shafi’ said to him, “Excessive study of jurisprudence has prevented you from reading the Quran. As for me, I perform the Fajr prayer in darkness and then put the mushaf in front of me; I do not shut it until there is daylight.”
10. To Recite the Quran Beautifully: This means to recite the Quran in a slow and distinct manner, by controlling the voice, though not with that excessive stretch which changes the prose order. This is sunnah. The Prophet (S) said, “Adorn the Quran with your voices.” He (s) said, “Allah does not listen to anything as much as He does to man’s sweet voice at reading Quran. He (S) said, “One who does not recite the Quran with a sweet voice is not one of us.” Some authorities have said that by the word “yataghanna” the Prophet (S) meant: to feel independent. While others have said that he meant by it: reciting melodiously and by controlling the tones of the voice. This latter view is nearest to the truth in the opinion of philologist. It is related that once at night after Isha salah, the Prophet (S) was waiting for ‘Ayesha to come to the house from the masjid. She came late, and the Prophet (S) asked her, “What has prevented you from returning earlier?” She replied,” Rasulullah (S), I was listening to the Quran recitation of a man, I have never heard any voice sweeter than his. “ The Prophet (S) stood up, went to the masjid, and listened to his Quran recitation for a long time. On returning to the house he (S) said, “This man is Salim, a freed slave of Abu Hudhayfa. Praise be to Allah who has made a man like him in my community!” One night the Prophet (S) also listened to the recitation of ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ood and with him were Abu Bakr and Umar (ra). They stood still for a long time listening. Then the Prophet (S) said, “One who wants to read the Quran as fresh as it was revealed should read it following the reading of Ibn Um ‘Abd.” The Prophet (S) asked Ibn Mas’ud, “Read the Quran to me.” He replied, “Rasulullah, I should read it to you, and it is to you that it was revealed!” The Prophet (S) said, “I should like to hear it from others.” Then Ibn Mas’ud went on reading, and the eyes of Rasulullah (S) were shedding tears. The Prophet (S) listened to the recitation of Abu Musa and remarked, “This man is blessed with the sweet voice of the Prophet David (as).” This remark reached the ear of Abu Musa who then said, “Rasulullah, had I known that you were listening I would have adorned it fully.” Haytham saw the Prophet (S) in a dream and then related, “He asked me, are you that Haytham who adorns the Quran with your voice? I replied yes. He prayed for me saying, May Allah grant you a good recompense!” It is related in a hadith: When several companions of the Messenger of Allah (S) assembled, they used to order one of them to read a surah of the Quran. Umar used to request Abu Musa (ra), “Remind us of our Lord.” So he used to read the Quran until about the middle of the time allowed for ritual prayer. Someone used to say, “The Commander of the Believers, salah, salah!” He replied, “Are we not already in prayer?” indicating to the words of Allah, “The remembrance of Allah is the greatest.” The Prophet (S) said, “For one who listens to the recitation of a verse from the Book of Allah it will be a means of light on the Day of Judgement. It is mentioned in a hadith that for him the reward of ten good deeds will be recorded. Since the reward of listening to the Quran recitation is great, and since it is the reciter who is the cause of it, he will partake in the reward except if the motive of his recitation is riyaa and affectation.
-Ihya Uloom ad-Deen, volume 1, Chapter on the Excellence of the Quran