Relating to the Qur'an
We cannot just open the Quran and start interpreting
it as if we are starting on ground zero.
Posted: 5 Safar 1422, 29 April 2001
The Quran is the living miracle of Prophet Muhammad .
From beginning till end it contains nothing but the Word of Allah as revealed to Prophet
Muhammad , through angel Jibreel (Gabriel) alayhis-salam. It tells us
where we are coming from and where we are going. It tells us what will happen after death.
It shows the Straight Path that will lead to the place of eternal bliss called Paradise.
And it warns us about following the crooked paths that lead to the place of eternal doom
called Hell. It gives moral code for individuals as well as states. It gives the Law or
Shariah for them as well. It addresses both the heart and the intellect. It educates; it
inspires; it heals. It shows the Path and it gives us the energy and motivation to follow
it. No one can go wrong who makes it his guide. No one can succeed who ignores its
The companions were the first group of people who followed it as it must be followed.
They were transformed from being the lowest of the low to being the highest of the high.
They established personal standards of piety and virtue that no other group of people
since then can match. They established a society based on justice, fairness and goodness
that no other society can match.
The Quran is guidance for all humanity
but not everyone who reads it will get guidance from it. Quran reserves its guidance
for those who sincerely seek it and approach it in the proper way and the right attitude.
Then came their successors who deserted this Quran, says Shaikh Yusuf
Qardawi in his book Kaifa nataamal maal Quran-ul-Azeem (How
Should We Interact With the Great Quran). They preserved its words but lost
its injunctions. They understood it poorly. They did not put first what this Book puts
first. They did not put last what this Book puts last. They did not give eminence to what
this Book gives eminence to. They did not belittle what this Book belittles
no way for deliverance of this Ummah from its loss, backwardness and ruin except by
turning back to this Quran. We must make this Quran as the guide and the
leader (to find our way out of our current misery).
This turning back to the Quran requires many steps.
- We must learn to read it in its original Arabic and we must teach our children to
do the same. This learning to read is part of the knowledge referred to in the oft-quoted
Hadith that specifies that seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim male and female.
- We should memorize it as much as possible.
- We must recite it regularly. Not a day should go by in our life in which we forget to
read the Quran.
- We must understand its message and ponder over its teachings.
- We must mold our life based on its commands.
- We must invite the entire humanity to the path of the Quran.
The Quran is guidance for all humanity but not everyone who reads it will get
guidance from it. Quran reserves its guidance for those who sincerely seek it and
approach it in the proper way and the right attitude. Many who have ignored these basic
requirements have gone astray in their study of the Quran.
Interpreting the Quran requires expertise in several areas. First, one must have
a firm command over classical Arabic language including its vocabulary, grammar,
metaphors, and idioms.
Second, one must know the history of the Quran including where and when a verse
was revealed; what other verses deal with the same subject; which of those, if any,
supercede others. We must remember that the Quran is the first resource for its own
Third, one must have good command over the Hadith literature, as it was the
Prophets job to explain the Quran to us and no other interpretation of a
Quranic verse is acceptable in the presence of an authentic Hadith that explains it.
Fourth, one must have knowledge of the comments of the Companions and their successors.
After Quran and Hadith, they are the third most important resource in interpreting
Fifth, one must have knowledge of the rich tafseer literature produced by the most
reputed scholars of this Ummah.
Sixth, one must have sound knowledge of Shariah since no interpretation of the
Quran is acceptable that violates accepted Shariah principles.
Seventh, one must be leading a life of taqwa and piety, as the Quran does not
open doors to its understanding on those who are not serious in following it.
We cannot just open the Quran and start interpreting it as if we are starting on
ground zero. Anyone taking this road must be reminded of this grave warning: Sayyidna
Abdullah bin Abbas, Radi-Allahu anhu, reported that Prophet Muhammad
said, Whoever says something in interpreting the Quran based on his own
opinion should find his place in the Fire. [Tirmidhi Hadith No. 4023]
Unfortunately, today a lot of well meaning people are doing just this. They start, say,
a Quranic study group, and start giving lectures on Quran. If the person is a
good speaker, he might also get warm reception from an audience that confuses eloquence
with scholarship. Soon, they start giving expert opinions about Shariah and Quran
without having even the minimum qualification for it. Many a time, the audience
participates equally excitedly, discussing the Words of Allah and delicate issues of
Shariah with the same assumed expertise that is normally reserved for discussion of latest
This casual attitude must be contrasted with that of the Companions. They not only new
the language of the Quran better then anyone else, they were witnesses to its very
revelation. Yet, they did not dare interpret it without first learning it, verse by verse,
from Prophet Muhammad himself. And even then they exercised extreme caution in
making comments about the Quran. Sayyidna Abu Bakr, Radi-Allahu anhu, said:
Which land will give me protection and which sky will give me cover if I say
something in interpreting the Quran without knowledge. Similarly, Yazid bin
Yazid reports: We used to ask Sayyidna Saeed bin Al-Musayeb, Radi-Allahu anhu,
regarding Halal and Haram. And he was the most knowledgeable person regarding it. But
whenever we asked him to give tafsir for a verse he would keep quite as if he had not
They knew that Quran declares that is has been made easy for remembrance, but
they did not misinterpret it as a license to give personal opinions in areas of belief or
law. Their caution stemmed from their realization that to say that a verse means such and
such, is to attribute a statement to Allah!
It is our duty to study the Quran. But the only proper way of doing it is by
seeking a reliable Tafsir and/or a qualified teacher.