The Internal Etiquettes of the Quran

There are 10 internal rules related to the recitation of the Quran:

1. Understanding the magnification of the divine speech:  and its elevated nature, and the bounty of Allah ta’ala and His kindness towards His creatures in descending from the throne of His majesty to level of their understanding. The Quran reader should consider how Allah showed kindness towards men in delivering to their understanding the meanings of His speech which is His eternal attribute existing with His essence. He should also consider how that attribute is revealed to them in the form of letters and sounds which are attributes of human beings, because man is unable to reach the stage of understanding the attributes of Allah except through his own attributes. If the innermost majesty of His speech were not concealed in the garment of letters, neither His throne nor even the subsoil would have remained fixed as a result of hearing His speech, and all that is between these two would have been reduced to nothing because of the greatness of His authority and the majesty of His light. If Allah had not strengthened Musa (as,) he would not have been able to hear His words, in the way the mountain could not bear the beginnings of His manifestation so that it broke into bits. It is not possible to make the magnification of divine speech intelligible to men except through examples on the levels of their understanding. For this reason a certain ‘arif explained the divine speech by saying, “Every letter of the words of Allah in the Preserved Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz) is greater than the mountain of Qaf, and if the angels join together to bear a single letter they will not be able to do so until Israfil who is the angel entrusted with the Preserved Tablet comes to it and lifts it, and he becomes able to bear it by the permission of Allah and by His mercy, not by his own power and ability but that Allah has bestowed upon him the power to do this and employed him in this task.”

A certain wise man has very carefully explained the manner of Allah’s kindness in delivering the meanings of His speech, despite its exalted nature, to man’s understanding and His strengthening him despite his imperfect status. This wise man has set forth the following parable: A wise man invited a certain king to the Shari’ah of Prophets (as). The king questioned him concerning several matters related to tawheed. The wise man answered in such a way that the king was able to understand. Then the king asked him, “Tell me, concerning that which the Prophets bring when a claim is made by them that it is not the speech of a human being but the speech of Allah, how can man understand it?” The wise man replied, “We have seen that when a man seeks to make some lower animals and birds understand what he wants them to do, such as to proceed, to delay, to come forth and to turn back, and when he sees that the discriminating sense of these lower animals falls short of understanding his speech which proceeds from the lights of his intellects and which has beauty, adornment and flowering of order – then he descends to the level of the discriminating sense of the lower animals and delivers his intentions to these animals through sounds made suitable to them, such as calling and whistling, and through sounds near to their own sounds so that they may be able to understand him. In a like manner, human beings are unable to understand the speech of Allah to its innermost depth and to the perfection of its attributes. So it, in sounds which human beings are used to among themselves and through which they have heard divine wisdom, has become like the sound of calling and whistling which the lower animals have heard from men. This did not prevent the meanings of divine wisdom hidden in those attributes from making the speech noble because of the nobility of divine wisdom, and magnified because of the magnification of it. The sounds have become like the body and the dwelling place for divine wisdom, and divine wisdom has become the soul and spirit for the sounds. Just as human bodies are honored and respected because they are the dwelling place for the soul, so the sounds of divine speech are considered noble because of the divine wisdom that exits in them. The divine speech has an exalted status, a high grade, a subduing authority, and is an executor of judgment in respect of truth and falsehood. It is the just judge, the pleasing witness, and one which commands and prohibits. Falsehood has no power to stand up in front of divine speech filled with wisdom, just as a shadow is unable to stand up in front of the sun-rays. Human beings have no power to penetrate into the depth of divine wisdom, just as they have no power to penetrate with their eyes into the light of the sun itself. They, however, attain from the light of the sun itself only that which their eyes can bear and which enables them to seek information about their needs. Divine speech then is like a veiled king whose face is unknown but whose decree is carried out, like the sun which is mighty and obvious but the essence of which is hidden, and like shining stars by which one, although not acquainted with their course, goes in the right way. It is, then, the key to precious treasures, a drink of life from which, if anyone drinks, he does not die. And a medicine from which, if anyone takes a dose, he does not fall ill.” The words of the wise man are a fragment of what it is needed for one to understand the meaning of divine speech. More than this is not appropriate to the science of practical religion (‘ilm al-mu’amala) so one should be content with this.

2. Understanding the magnification of the Speaker: At the start of Quran recitation, the reciter should bring to his mind magnification of the One who speaks, and should realize that what he is reading is not the speech of a human being. And that in the recitation of the speech of Allah ta’ala there is an extreme danger, because Allah said, “Only those who are clean can touch it,” (56:79). Just as the external side of the leather of mushaf and its pages are protected against the external skin of a person who touches it except when he is pure, both physically and ritually, so also is its internal meaning veiled by the authority of its greatness and might from the internal aspect of the reciter’s mind, except when it is pure from all defilement and is illuminated by the light of magnification and reverence. Just as every hand is not fit for touching the leather of the mushaf, so also every tongue is not fit to recite its letters, nor every mind fit to understand its meanings. It is due to such magnification that ‘Ikrama ibn Abi Jahl, when he opened the mushaf for reading, used to fall faint saying, “This is the speech of my Lord, This is the speech of my Lord!” Thus the magnification of the speech is in effect the magnification of the Speaker. Magnification of the Speaker will never come to the mind of the reader unless he reflects on His attributes, His majesty and His works. Thus when the idea of the throne of Allah, of the heavens, of the earth, and of all that is between these two such as the jinn, man or other moving creatures and trees come to his mind, and he knows with certainty:

a. that the Creator of all of these, who has power over them and who sustains them, is the One Who has no partner

b. that all, being within the grip of His power, move between His bounty and mercy and between His revenge and assault – if He bestows favor upon them this is through His bounty and if He punishes them this is by His justice.

c. that He is the One who says, “These people will go to Paradise and I do not hesitate to do this, and these people will go to Hell and I do not hesitate to do this.” And this is the end of magnification and elevation

Then reflection on these and other similar things will bring to the mind of the Quran reader the magnification of the Speaker first, and then the magnification of the speech.

3. To pay attention and abandon the inner utterances of the soul (hadith an-nafs): In the explanation of the verse, “Yahya, hold fast to the book” (19:12), it is said that “hold fast” means to read with serious endeavor and diligence. Holding the Book with serious endeavor consists in one’s being isolated with it when reading it and turning all one’s attention to it and away from other things. A certain ‘arif was asked, “When you read the Quran does your soul make inner utterances concerning any matter?” He replied, “Is there anything preferable to the Quran so that my soul may make inner utterances concerning it?” A certain righteous father (ba’d as-salaf), if he read a verse without giving the full attention of his mind to it, used to read it a second time. This attribute is generated from the preceding attribute which is magnification of the Speaker, because a person who magnifies the speech which he is reciting draws a good omen from it, has warm relations with it and is not inattentive to it. In the Quran is present that with which the soul can have warm relations, if the reciter is fit for it. How can it seek an intimate connection with the thought of anything other than the Quran seeing that the reciter is in a pleasant place and a place relieved of cares, and one who is relieved of cares in a pleasant place does not think of another place? It is said that in the Quran are to be found fields, gardens, closets, brides, brocades, meadows and khans. All meem’s are the fields of the Quran, all ra’s are the gardens, all ha’s are its closets, all surahs starting with the glorification of Allah are its brides, all surahs starting with the letters ha meem are its brocades, and all other parts of it are its khans. When the Quran reader enters into the fields of the Quran, plucks different types of fruits from its gardens, enters into its closets, views the brides, wears the brocades, is relieved of cares, and dwells in the khans, then all these absorb him wholly and keep him from things other than these; consequently his mind cannot be inattentive, nor can his thought be separated.

4. Pondering over the verses recited: This is more than attention of the mind, because sometimes a man who is reading the Quran is not thinking about anything else but is confining himself to listening to it, whereas he is not pondering over it. The purpose of reading the Quran is to ponder over it. For this reason it is sunnah to read the Quran in a slow and distinct manner (tartil). Reading the Quran in this manner outwardly is sunnah in order that pondering over it inwardly may be strengthened. Ali bin Abi Talib (ra) said, “There is no good in a devotional act which is not understood by its agent, nor in Quran reading which is not pondered over.” Since pondering over verses is only strengthened by repetition, the reciter should repeat them, except when he is performing ritual prayer following an imam. In this case if he is still engaged in pondering on a verse recited by the imam whereas the imam has passed onto another verse, he will be a sinner. He is like a man whose astonishment at a sentence uttered by a person whispering to him keeps him from understanding the remaining part of what that person says. Likewise the follower will be a sinner if he is engaged in the glorification of Allah in the bowing (tasbih ar-ruku) but is still thinking on a verse read by the imam. This is an evil suggestion given by Shaytan. It is related from ‘Amir ibn ‘Abd Qays that he said, “Evil suggestions overwhelm me in ritual prayer.” He was asked, “Concerning worldly matters?” He replied, “I would prefer to be pierced by spear-heads to that. But my mind is engaged in thought about standing in front of Allah on the Day of Judgment, and about how I shall depart from there.” He considered this an evil suggestion, despite it being a religious thought. It was really an evil suggestion, because it kept him from understanding the salat in which he was engaged. Shaytan is only able to deceive a man like him by engaging him in an important religious thought but thereby preventing him from that which is the best. When the words of ‘Amir were mentioned to al-Hasan he said, “If you are truthful in relating his words, Allah has not ordered that for us.” It is related that one night the Prophet (S) read “Bismillahir Rahman-ir Raheem” and repeated it twenty times. Certainly he (S) repeated it in order to ponder over its meanings. It is related from Abu Dharr that he said, “One night Rasulullah (S) kept vigil at night along with us. He kept vigil repeating a single verse which is, ‘If You punish them surely they are Your servants, and if You forgive them, surely You are the Mighty, the Wise,’ (5:118).” Tamim ad-Dari kept vigil one night with this verse: “Do those who commit evil deeds imagine that We shall make them as those who believe and do good deeds in life and in death? How evil is that which they judge!” (45:21). Sa’id ibn Jubayr kept vigil one night repeatedly reciting the verse, “Separate yourself from the righteous this day, Oh you guilty ones!” (36:59). A certain righteous father said, “I start reading a surah and then some wonderful meanings which I view in it keeps me from completing it until the dawn appears.” A certain pious man used to say, “I do not reckon that there is any reward for reading a verse which I do not understand and to which my mind does not give attention when I read it.” It is related from Abu Sulayman ad-Darani that he said, “I certainly recite a verse and then remain with it thinking for four or five nights. Unless I cut off my thinking on it I do not pass on to another verse.” It is related from a certain righteous father that he remained in the surah of Hud for six months, continuously repeating it and pondering over it. A certain ‘arif said, “I completed the reading of the entire Quran sometimes every Friday, sometimes every month, and sometimes every year. For the last thirty years I have been trying to complete the reading of the entire Quran with a deep understanding of its meanings but have not yet been able to do so.” These differences are according to different depths of his pondering over the Quran and of his discovery of its meanings. This ‘arif also used to say: “I have put myself in the place of servants in the matter of devotion. I perform acts of devotion on four different courses:  by the day, by the week, by the month and by the year.”

5. Understanding the Meanings of the Verses Recited: This is to seek from the meaning of every verse recited, explanations which befit it, since the Quran encompasses the discussion of the attributes of Allah ta’ala, discussion of His works, the discussion of the circumstances of the Prophets (as), the discussion of those who considered them false and of how they were destroyed, the description of Allah’s commandments and threats, and the description of Heaven and Hell.

As for the attributes of Allah, they are put for example, in His words “Like Him there is nothing, He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing,” (42:11). And in His words, “He is the Sovereign, the Most Holy, the Source of Peace, the Bestower of Security, the Protector, the Mighty, the Subduer, the Exalted” (59:23). The Quran reader should reflect upon the meanings of these names and attributes of Allah so that deep connotations may be disclosed to him. Underneath them are hidden meanings which can only be disclosed to those especially favored by Allah to understand them. It is to this that Ali (ra) indicated by his words, “Rasulullah (S) did not hide from me anything which he concealed from people, except that Allah bestows upon a man understanding of His book.” The Quran reader should be greedy in seeking this understanding. Ibn Mas’ood said, “One who wants to acquire the core principles of the knowledge of the ancients and the moderns should deeply study the Quran.”

The greatest of all forms of knowledge of the Quran is under the names of Allah and His attributes, most people could only know about them certain matters suitable to their understanding and could not obtain knowledge of their depths.

As for the works of Allah ta’ala, they are discussed for example, in His discussion of the creation of the heavens, the earth, and other things. The Quran reciter should understand from them the attributes of Allah ta’ala since the existence of a work proves the existence of its Agent, and the greatness of the former proves the greatness of the latter. So he should view in the act the Agent and not the act. One who knows the True One sees Him in everything since everything originates from Him, returns to Him, subsists by Him, and belongs to Him. Thus He is all in reality. He who does not see Him in everything which he sees, is as if he does not know Him. One who knows Him knows that everything besides Allah is false, and that “everything will perish except Himself,” (28:88). The meaning of this is not that everything will be falsehood in a second condition; rather it is falsehood now if its essence is considered in respect of itself, but is not falsehood if its existence is considered in respect of the fact that it exists through Allah Ta’ala and His power. So it has existence by way of following Allah and is sheer falsehood by way of independence from Allah. This is one of the principles of knowledge achieved through mystical intuition. For this reason, when the Quran reader reads the words of Allah which ask, “Have you considered that which you sow?” “Have you reflected on the sperm drop that you emit?” “Have you reflected on the water that you drink?” “Have you reflected on the fire that you kindle?” should not confine his thoughts to water, fire, seeds and sperm drops. Rather he should reflect on the sperm drop and know first that it is a small quantity of water like substance the parts of which resemble one another. Then he should consider how it is gradually divided into flesh, bones, nerves and veins and how its limbs take different features-head, hands, legs, liver, heart and others. Then he should consider those noble attributes that make themselves manifest in it-hearing, seeing, thinking and others. Then he should consider the condemnable attributes that appear in it-anger, pride, ignorance, lying and quarrelling, as Allah ta’ala said, “Has not man considered that We have created him from a mere sperm drop? Then he clearly disputes the existence of His Creator!” Then the Quran reader will reflect on these wonders so that he may ascend from them to a higher wonder of these wonders which is the attribute from which these wonders have proceeded. He will persistently be considering the making so that he will see the Maker.

As for the circumstances of the Prophets (as), when the Quran reader hears how they were considered false, beaten, and some of them were even killed, he should understand from this Allah’s attribute of independence from His messengers and from those to whom they were sent, and that if He destroyed all of them this will not affect anything in His kingdom. When he hears of Allah’s help to the Messengers in the end, he should understand the power of Allah and His will to further the truth.

As for the circumstances of the deniers of Allah, e.g. the people of ‘Ad,  the people of Thamud, and the evil that happened to them, the Quran readers understanding of these should result in a feeling of fear of Allah’s assault and His revenge; and he should give special consideration to his own portion of tehse and remember that if he is inattentive to his religious duties and ill mannered and is deceived by the delay of punishment which is accorded to him, divine revenge may overtake him and the sentence of punishment may be executed.

Likewise, when the Quran reader hears the descriptions of Heaven and Hell and all other things in the Quran, e.g. promises and threats, hope and fear, he should try to understand the meanings proper to each case. It is not possible to enquire about that which will be understood from this description, for that has no end, but everyone gets from it that measure of valid understanding which is vouchsafed to him. “There is nothing green nor dry but is recorded in a Clear Book,” (6:59). “Tell people: If the ocean became ink for transcribing the words of my Lord, surely the ocean would be exhausted before the words of my Lord came to an end, even though We augmented it with the like of it,” (18:109). It is for this reason that Ali (ra) said, “If I will, I can load seventy camels with the tafseer of Surah Baqarah.” The purpose of what we have discussed above is only to indicate the method of understanding Quranic verses so that the door of it may be opened to the reciter. To fathom it is not the coveted thing in this respect. One who has no understanding of what is in the Quran, even though this understanding is of the smallest degree, is included in the words of Allah, “Some of them appear to listen to you, but when they go forth from your presence they ask those who have been given knowledge, What has he been talking about just now? These are they whose minds Allah has sealed up,” (47:16). It is said by an ‘arif, “A novice cannot be a perfect novice until he finds in the Quran everything that he wants and until he can distinguish between decreasing and increasing benefits from reading it, and feels sufficient with his Master as opposed to people.

6. Getting rid of obstacles to the understanding of the Quran: Most people are hindered from understanding the meanings of the Quran for reasons and veils let down on their minds by Shaytan so that the wonders of the secrets of the Quran have become obscure to them. The Prophet (S) said, “Had it not been the case that Shayateen hover around the minds of the sons of Adam, they would have been able to look at the invisible world.” Everything which is beyond the senses and which can only be apprehended by the light of spiritual insight (nur al-basira) belongs to the invisible world.

The veils obstructing the understanding of the Quran are four in number:

a. The first is the direction of all care to the exact pronunciation of the letters, by producing them from their right places in the mouth and tongue. This is done by a Shaytan entrusted with Quran readers in order to turn them away from understanding the meanings of the words of Allah. This Shaytan always induces them to echo the letters of divine speech making them imagine that they have not come out from the right places. When the thought of a Quran reader is thus confined to the right places for pronouncing the letters of the Quran, how can its meanings be fully clear to him? The greatest laughing stock of shaytan is one who obeys him in a deception like this.

b. The second veil is the Quran reader’s being a purely dogmatic follower (muqallid) of a school of thought (madhab) which is derived from an authority, and on which he has remained very firm with a strong mental zeal by merely following what he has heard, without arriving at it by spiritual insight and mystical vision (mushahada). This is a person whose belief has shackled him from going beyond it. So it is not possible that any idea other than that in which he has believed should come to his mind. Thus his consideration is limited to what he has heard. If a distant flash of lightning of knowledge is seen and one of the meanings of a Quranic verse which is opposite to the meaning he heard from an authority appears to him, then the Shaytan of purely following a school of thought dogmatically attacks him severely saying, “How can this new meaning come to your mind, seeing that it is contradictory to the meaning in which your forefathers believed?” So he considers the new meaning a deception from Shaytan, and he remains at a distance from it and guards himself against the like of it. For a reason similar to this the sufis have said that knowledge is a veil between man and Allah, and by this knowledge they have meant those aqaa’id which most people have been firmly holding either by dogmatically following an authority or by mere reliance on casuistic sentences written by zealots of schools of thought and delivered to them. As for the real knowledge which is the uncovering of the actual condition of the thing known and which is a vision by the light of spiritual insight, how can it be a veil, seeing that it is the ultimate object of desire? Pure dogmatic following of an authority is sometimes false in itself and is therefore an obstacle to the understanding of the meaning of the Quran. An example of this is a man who has a purely dogmatic belief that Allah’s istiwa on the throne means His being settled on it physically. Then in the case of the divine name Al-Quddus, for example, there comes to his mind the meaning that He is pure from all that is ascribable to His creation; but that purely dogmatic belief of his does not make it possible for this meaning to be firmly implanted in his mind. Had it become strengthened in his mind it would have led to a second meaning and a third, which would be interconnected. But he hastens to drive this meaning away from his mind, because it contradicts his false belief which is held purely dogmatically. Sometimes purely dogmatic following of an authority is true, but it too becomes an obstacle to understanding the meanings of the Quran and to the unveiling of them. The truth in which man is obliged to believe has stages and grades, and it has an external beginning and an internal end. Concentration of a man’s nature on the external aspect prevents him from reaching the internal end. This constitutes a veil as we have discussed in connection with the distinction between the external and internal knowledge made in The Book of the Articles of Faith (the second volume of the Ihya).

c. The third veil is man’s insistence upon sin, or his being characterized by pride, or his being, in general afflicted with worldly passion which he follows. These cause darkness of the soul and its rust and are comparable to dirt accumulating upon a mirror. So they prevent the truth from reflecting upon the soul. They constitute the greatest of all veils of the soul, and it is by them that most people are veiled from the meanings of the Quran. When worldly desires greatly accumulate in the soul, the meanings of divine speech are greatly veiled. When wordly burdens on the soul are made light, reflection on its meaning becomes near. Thus the soul is like a mirror, desires are like rust, the meanings of the Quran are like forms which are visible in a mirror, and training the soul by removing worldly desires is like polishing of the mirror. For this reason, the Prophet (S) said, “If my community considers gold and silver coins as something great, the awe of Islam will be pulled away from it. If it abandons the promoting of good and prohibiting of evil it will be deprived of the blessings of revelation.” Fudayl commented, “That is, they will be deprived of the understanding of the Quran.” Allah ta’ala has made turning to him in repentance (inaba) a stipulation for the understanding of the Quran and for the receipt of admonition. Thus He said, “A matter for contemplation and a source of admonition for every servant that turns to Us,” (50:8). Allah ta’ala also said, “None pays heed save he who turns to Allah,” (4:13). Allah ta’ala further said, “It is only those gifted with understanding who take heed,” (13:19 ). The man who has preferred the deception of this world to the delight of the Hereafter is not among those gifted with understanding, and this is why deep meanings of the Book are not revealed to him.

d. The fourth veil is present when a man has read the outward tafseer of the Quran and has formed the belief that the Quranic sentences have only those meanings which have come down by tradition from Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, and other exegetes from the tab’iun. And that meanings going beyond them are interpretations of the Quran by personal opinion (tafseer bi-r-ra’y). And that “He who has explained the Quran by his personal opinion has taken his place in Hell.” This too, is one of the great veils. We shall soon discuss the meaning of explanation of the Quran by personal opinion, in the fourth chapter of this book. We shall also argue there the views that this belief contradicts the words of Ali (ra), “Except that Allah bestows understanding of the Quran upon a man,” and that if the correct meaning of the Quran were only that which has come down by tradition from the leading exegetes, people would not have disagreed on it.

7. To render the teachings of the Quran specific: This means the Quran reader will suppose that every part of the Quran is intended for him. If he hears any command or prohibition contained in a Quranic verse he will suppose that he is the man commanded or will suppose that he is the man to whom the prohibition applies. If he hears any promise of reward or any threat of punishment, he will make the same assumption. If he hears stories of the ancients and the Prophets he will know that they are not intended for chatting in the evening. What is intended is that they should be considered from their manifold descriptions, and from which should be derived the lesson which is needed. The narration of every story in the Quran is only intended to provide some benefit to the Prophet (s) and his community. This is why Allah referred to it as “that whereby We make your mind firm,” (11:120). The Quran reader should suppose that Allah has made his mind firm by narrating in it the stories of the prophets, their patience while suffering, and their firmness in religion while waiting for help from Allah. How can he not suppose this, seeing that the Quran was revealed to the Messenger of Allah not only for him especially, but a spiritual cure, guidance, a mercy and a light for all of the worlds?

For this reason Allah ta’ala commanded all to be grateful to Him for His favor in sending down the Book. Thus He commanded, “Keep in your mind the favor that Allah has bestowed upon you and that which He has sent down to you of the Book and wisdom, through which He exhorts you,” (2:231). Allah also said, “We have sent down to you a Book which contains admonitions for you, will you not then understand?” (21:10). “We have sent down this Reminder to you that you may expound to the people Our commandments which have been sent down to them through you,” (16:44). “Thus does Allah set forth to people their true conditions,” (47:3). “Follow the highest of the commandments that have been sent down to you from your Lord,” (39:55). “These teachings are manifest proofs for people and a guidance and a mercy for a people who have sure faith,” (45:20). “This Quran is an exposition for the people, a guidance and admonition for the God Fearing,” (3:138). Since Allah’s message is intended for all people, it is intended for individuals as well. Thus this Quran reader, an individual, is intended. He has nothing to do with other people. Thus he should suppose that he is the one for whom the message is intended. Allah ta’ala said, “This Quran is revealed to me so that through it I may warn you and whomever it reaches,” (6:19). Muhammad ibn al-Qurzi said, “One whome the Quran reaches is as if spoken to by Allah.” If the Quran reader supposes that every part of the Quran is intended for him he will not take up mere study of it as his duty, rather he will read it just as a slave reads the writing of his master who has written to him so that he may think on it and act according to it. For this reason, a certain religious scholar said, “This Quran consists of treatises which have come to us from our Lord bearing His covenants. We ponder over them in ritual prayers, busy ourselves with them in quiet places, and execute them in acts of obedience to Allah and in following the sunnah of the Prophet (S).” Malik ibn Dinar used to say, “The Quran is not planted in your minds, Oh people concerned with it. Surely it is that which should cause the flowering of the believer in spring just as rain is that which causes the flowering of the earth in spring.” Qatada said, “No one sits in the company of the Quran without standing up, having been harmed or benefited by it.” Allah ta’ala said, “That (i.e. the Quran) is a (spiritual) cure and a mercy for the believers, but it only impels the wrongdoers into great ruin,” (17:34).

8. To feel the Quran: This means that the mind of the Quran reader will be affected by different feelings according to the different verses recited. Thus in accordance with what his mind understands, he will be in a state of grief, fear, hope, and so on. Whenever the Quran reader’s knowledge of the meaning of verses recited is perfect, his fear will be the most predominant of all the states of the soul. The quality of making the mind straightened and sorrowful predominates Quranic verses. Thus the mention of divine forgiveness and divine mercy is always seen to be accompanied by stipulations which the reader falls short of attaining. An example of this is the words of Allah, “Verily I am Most Forgiving,” (20:82). Then Allah made this to be followed by four stipulations, “Towards him who repents, believes, does good deeds, and then is rightly guided,” (20:82). Another example is the speech of Allah, “I swear by time, surely man suffers continuous loss, except those who believe, do good deeds, exhort one another to hold fast to the truth and exhort one another to patience,” (103:1-3). Here, Allah has mentioned four stipulations but when He is content, He has pointed out a stipulation which covers all the stipulations mentioned above. Thus He said, “Surely, the mercy of Allah is near to those who carry out their duty to the utmost,” (7:56). The stipulation of carrying out one’s duty to the utmost includes all stipulations. Such method as this will be found by one who examines the Quran from its beginning to the end. The man who understands this in his Quran recitation will be in a mental state of fear and grief. For this reason Hasan said, “I swear by Allah, a man who in the morning recites the Quran, believing in it, will find that his grief increases and his joy decreases, his weeping increases and his laughter decreases, and his weariness and work increase while his rest and relaxation decrease.” Wuhayb ibn al-Ward said, “We have considered traditions and sermons but have not found anything which moves the heart more nor anything which drags grief to the mind more strongly than reading the Quran, understanding it, and pondering over it.

A man, then, is affected by Quran recitation by being characterized by the quality of the verse recited. Thus when reading a verse which warns and restricts divine forgiveness to those who fulfill certain stipulations, he will make himself so small as if for fear he is about to die. When a verse on promise of forgiveness is recited he will rejoice as if he flies for joy. When Allah, His attributes and names are mentioned, he will bow his head in submission to His majesty and in awareness of His greatness. When he reads a verse on the infidels’ belief in an impossible thing for Allah, he will lower his voice and be broken hearted in bashfulness because of the evil of what they have believed. When Jannah is described he will produce in his mind a yearning for it, but when Jahannam is described he will tremble for fear of it.

Rasulullah (S) once said to Ibn Mas’ud, “Read the Quran to me,” He said, “I started reading Surah an-Nisa and when I reached the verse, ‘How will it be when We shall bring a witness from every people, and shall bring you (i.e. Muhammad) as a witness against thee?’ (4:41), I saw his eyes shedding tears. Then he said, “Stop now.” This is because thinking about the event which is referred to in this verse engrossed his mind fully. Among the fearers of Allah there are some who fell faint when reading verses about warnings. Some of them even died when hearing Quranic verses. Mental states like these will exclude the Quran reader from being a mere narrator. When he says, “Assuredly I fear, if I were to disobey my Lord, the punishment of an awful day,” (6:15) but is not really afraid of punishment, then he is a mere narrator of the verse. When he says, “In you do we put our trust, to You do we turn in repentance, and to You is the final return,” (6:4) but has no mental states of trust and turning in repentance, then he is a mere narrator of the words of this verse. When he says, “We will surely continue steadfast under your persecution,” (14:12) then his state should be that of steadfastness or firmness in it so that he will find the sweetness of recitation. If he is not distinguished by these qualities and if his mind does not frequently experience these states, his part in Quran recitation will only be the movement of the tongue which is of no use and which, moreover, brings an explicit curse on himself as mentioned in:

a. “Take notice, the curse of Allah is upon the wrongdoers!” (11:18)
b. “Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you should say that which you do not do,” (61:3)
c. “Yet they are heedless and turn away,” (21:1)
d. “So turn away from him who turns away from the remembrance of Us, and seeks nothing except the life of this world,” (53:29)
e. “Those who do not repent are those who are wrongdoers,” (49:11)

The Quran reader will also be included in the meanings of:

a. “Some of them are illiterate; they do not know the Book except amaniyya (i.e. bare recitation of it)” (2:78).
b. “How many signs there are in the heavens and in the earth which they pass by, turning away from them!” (12:105). The Quran reader will be included in this verse because it is the Quran which explains these signs in the heavens and the earth and when he passes by them without being affected by them he is in effect turning away from them. For this reason it is said, “When a man who is not endowed with character traits taught by the Quran reads it, Allah ta’ala asks, ‘What is your relationship with My speech, seeing that you are turning away from Me? Leave aside My speech if you do not turn to Me in repentance.’”

A sinner, when he reads the Quran repeatedly, is like one who merely reads the writing of a king several times every day; the king has written to him in order to make his kingdom prosperous, whereas he is engaged in ruining it and is content with mere study of what is written. His abandonment of the study of it while at the same time opposition to the king’s order would seem to be jesting with him, and would incur the hatred of the king. For this reason, Yusuf ibn Asbat said, “I certainly intend to read the Quran, but when I remember that which is in it I fear Allah’s hatred and abandon it in favor of glorification of Him and praying for His forgiveness.” Those who turn away from acting according to the Quran are intended in the words of Allah, “They threw it away behind their backs and bartered it for a paltry price,” (3:187). For this reason Rasulullah (S) said, “Read the Quran so long as your minds are in agreement with it and your feelings are receptive to it. When you are in disagreement with it you are not really reading it.” There is a variation in another hadith, “When you are in disagreement with it, stand up and stop reading it.” Allah ta’ala said, “Believers are only those whose hearts are smitten with awe when Allah’s name is mentioned and whose faith is strengthened when His signs are recited to them and who put their trust in their Lord,” (8:2). The Prophet (S) said, “The best man in respect to reading the Quran is he whom, when you hear him reading it, you see his fear of Allah.” Rasulullah (S) said, “One cannot find a man to read the Quran who is more desireable than one who fears Allah.”

Quran reading, then, is intended to bring to the mind these states and to make one act in accordance with the Quran. Otherwise, the labor spent in moving the tongue with the sounds of the Quran is light. For this reason a certain reciter said, “I read the Quran to my Shaykh. After the completion of this reading when I returned to him in order to read it a second time, he rebuked me saying, ‘You have made the reading of the Quran to me a set duty; go and read it to Allah. Consider what the duties are that He commands you to perform and what are the things He prohibits you from.” It is in this that the Sahabah were engaged in all conditions and actions. Rasulullah (S) died leaving twenty thousand Sahabah, only six of whom memorized the Quran in its entirety; even in the case of two of these there is disagreement. Most of the Sahabah used to memorize one surah or two. Anyone who could memorize Surah Baqarah and Surah Al-An’aam was considered one of their scholars. One of the Sahabah once came to the Prophet to learn the Quran. In the course of learning Surah Al-Zalzalah, when he reached the words “Whoever will have done the smallest particle of good will see it, and whoever will have done the smallest particle of evil will also see it,” (99:8) he said, “This will suffice me” and returned home. The Prophet (S) said, “This man returned being one who has acquired the understanding of religion.” (266). Assuredly a rare thing is that state which Allah bestows by favor upon a believers mind just after his understanding of a verse. As for the mere movement of the tongue in recitation, it is of little benefit. Rather, one who recites the Quran with the tongue but turns away from acting in accordance to it is fit to be intended in the words of Allah: “Anyone who turns away from My Reminder will have a hard life, and on the Day of Judgment, We shall raise him blind.” (268). And also in the words of Allah, “Thus it is, Our signs came to you and you forgot them, In a like manner you will be forgotten on this day,” (268). “You forgot them” means you abandoned them, did not look at them, and did not care about them, since to fall short of an affair is said to have forgotten it.

Recitation of the Quran in its real sense is an activity in which the tongue, the intellect, and the mind all take part. The part which the tongue plays consists in correct pronunciation of letters in a slow and distinct manner. The part played by the intellect lies in explaining the meanings. The part which the mind plays is to accept the exhortation given and to feel as a result of being checked against forbidden things and obeying the commandments. Thus the tongue is the exhorter, the intellect is the translator, and the mind is that which accepts the exhortation.

9. The Reciter gradually rising to a state in which he feels that he is hearing the speech of Allah from Allah, and not from himself:

The grades of Quran reading are three in number.

a. The lowest grade is when a man supposes that he is reading the Quran to Allah, standing in front of Him, and He is looking at him and listening to what he is reading. In this case his mental condition is one of begging to Allah, praising and entreating Him and supplicating to Him.

b. The second grade is when a man views with his mind that Allah is seeing him, addressing him with his kindness, and secretly conversing with him with his gifts and beneficence. So his station is one of modesty, magnification, listening and understanding.

c. The third grade is when a man feels that he is seeing the Speaker (i.e. Allah Ta’ala) in the speech (i.e. the Quran) and His attributes in its sentences. He does not think of himself, nor of his Quran reading, nor the relation of divine gifts to him as the one upon whom they are bestowed. Rather he confines his care to the Speaker and concentrates his thought on Him as if he were engrossed in the vision of the Speaker, being divested of thought of anything other than Him. This is the grade of those drawn near to Allah (al-muqarrabun) while the grades preceding it constitute the grades of the People on the Right (ashab al yameen); all grades other than these three form the grades of inattentive people (al-ghafilun).

It is of the highest grade of Quran reading that Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (ra) reported when he said, “I swear by Allah, certainly Allah has revealed Himself to men in His speech, but they do not see Him.” Once Ja’far experienced an ecstatic state in his ritual prayer so that he fell faint; when he recovered he was told what happened and was asked by people concerning its cause; he replied, “I was constantly repeating in my mind the Quranic verse which I was reciting in that salah, until I heard it from its Speaker, and then my body could not remain steady because I saw His power.” It is at a grade like this that the sweetnes of the Quran reading and the pleasure of secret conversation with Allah become intense. For this reason a certain wise man said, “I used to read the Quran but did not find the sweetness of it until I recited it as if I were hearing it from Rasulullah (S) reciting to his companions. Then rising to a stage higher than this I used to recite the Quran as if I were hearing it from the Angel Jibrael (as) who was delivering it to Rasulullah (S). Then Allah brought me to another stage- I now hear it from its Speaker, at this stage I found in the Quran such intense pleasure and delight I could not restrain myself. Uthman and Hudayfah (ra) said, “If men’s souls are purified from evil qualities they will not be fully satisfied with Quran reading; rather some thirst for it will always remain. They said this only because it is by purification from evil qualities that the soul rises to the stage of viewing the Speaker in His speech and His attributes in its sentences. For this reason, Thabit al-Bunani said, “For twenty years I struggled against my lower soul in order to attain the Quran at its highest grade, and then for twenty years I enjoyed the delight of it.” By viewing the Speaker alone, besides all else, a man fully obeys the words of Allah, “Then Flee to Allah” (51:50) and His words, “Do not set up any other god along with Allah,” (53:32). One who does not see Allah in everything sees something other than Him, and if there is something other than Allah to which a man gives attention, this attention involves an element of hiddin shirk (ash shirk al-khafi). Rather, pure monotheism (at-tawheed al-khalis) consists in seeing only Allah in everything.

10. The Reciter getting rid of any sense of his ability and power, and his looking at himself with the eye of satisfaction and purification: When the Quran reader recites verses on promise to, and praise of the pious, he will not view himself as one of these; rather he will view those who have the most certain faith and those who are the most truthful in religion and will hope that Allah Ta’ala will join him with them. When he recites verses on divine hatred and divine reproach of the disobedient and those falling short of religious duties, he will view himself here and, fearing and pitying, will suppose that he is the man addressed and intended in these verses. For this reason, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (ra) used to say in his prayer, “Allah, I seek forgiveness of You for my injustice and infidelity.” He was asked, “What is the meaning of infidelity here?” In reply he recited the words of Allah, “Surely man is very unjust and ungrateful,” (14:34). Yusuf ibn Asbat was asked, “What do you pray for when you read the Quran? He replied, “What I pray for is that I seek the forgiveness of Allah for my shortcoming in reciting the Quran seventy times.” Since he saw himself as one with shortcomings in reciting the Quran, this became the cause of his nearness to Allah. For the man who views his distance from Allah when in a state of nearness to Him, is shown by Him kindness in his state of fear of Him, so that his fear leads him to another degree of nearness beyond the existing one. But he who views his nearness to Allah while in fact being distant from Him is deceived by a sense of security against Allah which takes him even further from Allah and lower than his present position. Whenever a man sees himself with the eye of satisfaction he becomes veiled from Allah by himself. When, however, he crosses the limit of looking at himself and does not see in his Quran reading anything except Allah Ta’ala, then the secret of the invisible world is revealed to him directly. Abu Sulayman ad-Darani (ra) said, “Ibn Thawban promised his brother to break his fast with him at sunset. But he delayed until dawn. The next day his brother met him and complained, ‘You promised me to break your fast with me and then you broke the promise. ‘ He replied, ‘Had I not made a promise to you I would not have informed you of what prevented me from going to you. What prevented me was that on performing the Isha prayer I said to myself that I should perform the Witr prayer before going to you, since I did not feel secure against the possibility of being overtaken by death. When I became engaged in the dua-e-Qunut of the Witr prayer, I felt as if I was being lifted into a green meadow where there were different types of flowers from Paradise. I was constantly looking at them until the day-break.’” These mystical intuitions can only occur after one gets rid of one’s self and does not look at one’s self with a sense of satisfaction and purification, nor one’s passion. Then these intuitions become specific in accordance with the mental state of the man receiving them. Thus when he recites verses on hope, and his mental state is dominated by a good omen from them, the image of Paradise comes to him through mystical intuition, as in the case of Ibn Thawban just mentioned, and he views it as if he sees with his eyes. But if fear dominates him as a result of reading the verses of punishment, then Hell is shown to him through intuition so that he sees its different types of punishment. This is because the speech of Allah ta’ala includes those verses which are kind and witty as well as those which are violent and forceful, and those which inspire hope as well as those which are frightening. And this is in accordance with Allah’s attributes, since among His attributes are mercy and kindness as well as revenge and violence. Then, in accordance with the Quran readers view of Quranic sentences and of divine attributes, his mind alternates in different mental states and according to each of these mental states, the mind is prepared for a mystical intuition appropriate to it and approaching it, since it is impossible that the mental state of the listener will be different from it (i.e. the Quran) which he heard, for in it are the speech of the One pleased, the speech of the One angry, the speech of the Beneficent, the speech of the Avenger, the speech of the Most Powerful, the Arrogant Who need not care for anyone, and the speech of the Compassionate, the Sympathizer, Who does not neglect anyone.

-Ihya Uloom ad-Deen, volume 1, Chapter on the Excellence of the Quran

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