بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The month of Ramadan brings with it a load of reminders and emphasis on tilāwah/reciting the Qur’an. This is established by the ḥadīth where Jibrīl would visit the Prophet ﷺ during Ramadan and go through the Qur’an with him, as well as the connection the Qur’an has with this blessed month:
شَهۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِى أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِ
‘The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for mankind, and as clear signs that show the right way and distinguish between right and wrong…’ (2:185)
Tilāwah (recitation) of the Qur’an has its many virtues, and many can be cited if one was to go about doing so. However, there is another dimension to the Qur’an that seems to be missed and neglected on a huge scale: contemplation over its meaning.
The focus in communities and circles with a subcontinental background has been majorly on recitation (tilāwah) rather than tadabbur (contemplation). Tajwīd (the laws of Qur’an recitation) is taught and emphasised sparingly, but explanation or emphasis on learning or even reading its translation at least, is non-existent except in some quarters. I have heard arguments such as, ‘Reading the translation is dangerous; a normal person will be misled’, and ‘We hold circles of Qur’an study (Darse Qur’an) but no one turns up; there’s no desire among the people to learn.’ In my opinion, these arguments are just scaremongering or excuses to not do something. People are happier to narrate fabricated aḥādīth, wild dreams and utopian stories of their Akābir (predecessors) rather than give proper researched lessons on the Qur’an and its meaning. They’d rather connect the people to their elders than reconnect them to the Qur’an. In fact, I have heard of people actually holding circles of Malfūẓāt study, where they pick one anecdote of a Shaykh and expound upon that. So much for studying the lessons of the Qur’an! Allah himself says:
يُضِلُّ بِهِۦ كَثِيرًا وَيَهۡدِى بِهِۦ كَثِيرًاۚ وَمَا يُضِلُّ بِهِۦۤ إِلَّا ٱلۡفَـٰسِقِينَ
Through it He makes many go astray and leads many to the right path. But it is only the rebels He makes go astray. (2:26)
Why not take the meaning of this āyah as it is, and let people read the translations or tafsīrs of the Qur’an? Why the need to be scared of people going astray? On the contrary, there have been numerous people who have converted to Islam after having read through the translation of the Qur’an. How does that figure then?
As for contemplation upon the words of the Qur’an, it is emphasised in many āyahs:
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَى قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا
Will they not contemplate the Quran? Do they have locks on their hearts? (47:24)
كِتَابٌ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
This is a blessed Scripture which We sent down to you [Muhammad], for people to contemplate over its ayahs, and for those with understanding to take heed. (38:29)
وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ
We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed? (54:17)
Along with the emphasis evident from the āyahs above, in many others Allah mentions the many effects His āyahs have: melting, shaking and changing hearts, being a means of cure and guidance, etc. Although it is well within divine capacity and the great blessings the Qur’an contains that these could be achieved by mere recitation, it is optimistic by a long stretch to rely merely on recitation without understanding. After all, the Qur’an’s immediate addressees are the Arabs who would have understood its meaning to a large extent and felt its effect thereby.
Another way to look at this is that the nature of the Qur’an is speech. Speech or words are there to be understood, not merely recited. Otherwise, there remains little difference between the relationship of previous nations with their scriptures and us. Allāh criticised those who did not understand the books sent to them, instead relying on the stories and utopian fabrications fed to them by their corrupt scholars, thinking that these were from the scripture whereas in reality, they weren’t. The root of all this was of course their shortcoming in not understanding the book in the first place:
وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا أَمَانِيَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَظُنُّونَ
Some of them are uneducated and know the Scripture only through wishful thinking. They rely on guesswork. (2:78)
The beauty and effect of the Qur’an can only be truly appreciated and felt if it is understood. The realms of meaning in the Qur’an are far deeper than those of its recitations.
Shaykh Saud Al-Shuraym, in his Khuṭbah on the 2nd of Ramadan 1439 made the point clearly:
‘Indeed some fasting people’s connection with the book of Allah is a monotonous one: it doesn’t exceed a babble and rapid recitation, without knowing what they read, nor understanding what they recite. Their aim is the end of the Sūrah; and thus they fall foul of the criticism of Allah concerning a people: Some of them are uneducated, and know the Scripture only through wishful thinking. They rely on guesswork. (2:78) Meaning that they only know it through recitation; it doesn’t go beyond their throats. Sometimes they may vary their tones in their recitation of it or may recite it affectedly, but all that distracts them from the ease of recitation and the beauty of contemplation.’
Deficiencies in Tajwīd and Tadabbur
Forget even good recitation, I’d go so far as to say that in the UK at this moment in time, there’s a huge deficiency when it comes to both Tajwīd and tadabbur. This is highlighted especially in Ramadan, when the Qur’an is recited in full in most Masājid, read by the supposed ‘people of the Qur’an’. Yes, I understand that during the summer months, there are time constraints with regards Tarāwīḥ, and this causes many to speed through recitation. However, proper pronunciation is sacrificed, as well as many other major rules of Tajwīd. The chances of the one leading, actually contemplating upon its meaning whilst reading are far-fetched; and the speed at which he recites deprives those behind him of that chance too. This is of course assuming that those who lead actually understand the Qur’an. In many cases, those who have memorised the Qur’an do not understand any of it, and so contemplating on it would be impossible anyway. Believe it or not, there is a great difference in the recitation of one who recites whilst understanding and contemplating upon the meaning of the Qur’an, and the recitation of one who doesn’t. The effect of the recitation on the heart is different; the tone changes according to the meaning of the ayah, and the pauses and stops match the meaning. The reality however, is that tones and stops are unsynchronised, making it painful to the trained ear.
While I said the problem is highlighted in Ramadan, it actually exists throughout the year, but isn’t addressed so much. Many of the Imams that lead us in Ṣalāh do not recite the Qur’an correctly, making major errors in the very basics of Tajwīd. It is embarrassing that they have been reciting with the same major errors for years, without even the slightest effort to improve. Moreover, some of these Imams have prominent posts in teaching books of Ḥadīth and Tafsīr; some have discipleship in Taṣawwuf as well, and they give speeches internationally. One wonders where their priorities lie.
The need to understand and reconnect ourselves to the Qur’an and its meanings is something we need to take seriously. Otherwise, we are almost guilty of falling foul of the warnings of the Prophet ﷺ who prophesised that there shall come a nation who will ‘read the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats’ (Al-Bukhārī and Muslim). An-Nawawī quotes Al-Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ when explaining this, saying that their hearts will not understand it, nor will they benefit from their recitation of it. Their only share of it will be their recitation of it using their mouths and throats.
There are many books on the meanings of the Qur’an now available in English, as well as translations. Many YouTube series are also available; it just needs time and dedication to start making use of these resources. And what better time to start than the month of the Qur’an itself: the month of Ramadan?
In order to allow for more time focussing on Tajwīd and Tadabbur during Tarāwīḥ, there’s always the option of spreading the recitation across the month, as opposed to reciting 1.25 juz’ a day for twenty days, as is the case in many Masjids even today. One juz’ could be read daily instead, and the deficit of a juz’ can be made up when the nights are longer, by reading slightly more than a juz’ over say, ten days instead.
This also means that during the last ten nights, when there is greater emphasis on spending the night in worship, more time is actually spent in prayer than it currently is. In the current method, only one juz’ is recited during the last ten nights, or even less depending on the night set for the completion, all of which defies logic.
The community focus on recitation without understanding is further highlighted when one looks at the way Hifz/Tahfiz classes are run, and the way the whole concept is upheld. There is a huge emphasis on memorising the Qur’an, so much so that the desire among numerous parents is to get their child to memorise the Qur’an. It is seen as the height and pinnacle of Islamic education. This understanding is not helped by the innumerable amounts of Ḥifẓ completion ceremonies held across the country, throughout the year, with much fanfare and keynote speeches from famous speakers. These speakers drive the concept home by mentioning the virtues of the Ḥāfiẓ, reinforcing the immature understanding the laypeople have of the Qur’an.
I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify that many of the virtues mentioned at these speeches - which form the basis of this understanding among the community - are misinterpreted. The Arabic terms used in many of them are Ṣāḥibul-Qur’an or Ḥāmillul-Qur’an, which can be translated as ‘Companion of the Qur’an or ‘Bearer of the Qur’an’. Even the term Ḥāfiẓul-Qur’an – widely understood to mean ‘Memoriser of the Qur’an’ – is more aptly translated as ‘Guardian of the Qur’an’. If we were to look at all these and similar virtues together, it becomes clear that merely memorising the Qur’an will not qualify one to be worthy of these virtues - although there is nothing beyond the Mercy of Allah. The Qur’an is more than just words and letters; its meaning and application is just as important, and it is only logical that one who encompasses all three of these dimensions qualifies for such great rewards and virtues, as opposed to one who merely memorises it without understanding any of it.
I’ve addressed and proposed solutions to these problems in one of my previous articles, which can be read here.
May Allah strengthen our bond with the Qur’an, grant us all the ability to recite it correctly, understand it well and embody its teachings. Āmīn
 وإن صِلَةَ بعض الصائِمين بكتابِ ربِّهم صِلَةٌ رَتِيبة، لا تعدُو كونَها تمتَماتٍ يهُذُّون بها آياتِ القُرآن هَذًّا، لا يدرُون ما قرأوا، ولا يفهَمُون ما تلَوا، همُّ أحدِهم آخر السُّورة، فيقَعُ في عِلَل مَن عابَهم الله بقولِه: ﴿وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا أَمَانِيَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَظُنُّونَ﴾ [البقرة: 78].
أي: لا يعلَمُونَه إلا تلاوةً لا تُجاوِزُ تراقِيَهم، فلربما تفنَّنُوا فيه باللَّحن، وتشدَّقُوا بالنُّطق، فألهَاهُم هذا وذاك عن سُهولة القراءة، وحُسن التدبُّر.
 قال القاضي فيه تأويلان أحدهما معناه لا تفقهه قلوبهم ولا ينتفعون بما تلوا منه ولا لهم حظ سوى تلاوة الفم والحنجرة والحلق إذ بهما تقطيع الحروف