Friday, May 27, 2005

al-Ghazali on reading the Quran

The respected Persian Islamic scholar, al-Ghazali (1058-1111, born and died in Iran), wrote a prominent book series called the Revival of Religious Sciences (Ihya'a 'ulum al-din). In the book, al-Ghazali integrates the principles of Sufism into the Islamic teachings and Shari'a. In one of this series' books, he talks about the etiquette for reading the Quran. Here's an extra brief point summary based on the book (provided by Sunni Path):

  1. One should understand the magnificent nature of the Qur'an. This is a divine gift from Allah, and a tremendous favor. One should bring to mind the favor of Allah and be thankful.
  2. Magnification of the Speaker. Bring to mind the magnification of the One who is addressing us. The reciter will then remain conscious of the fact that this Book is the speech of Allah. So when one recites, it is not like reading any book, rather the very speech of Allah. Allah is speaking to the reciter through his recitation.
  3. Paying attention to the Qur'an: One may avoid whisperings of the self. "Oh Yahya, take the book firmly," which may be understood as ... take the words contained in it with seriousness and sincerity.
  4. Pondering over the verses. How? Recite it according to the Sunna with tarteel, a slow, measured, distinct manner. Tajweed helps in inward reflection. There's a hadith from Nasai and ibn Majah that the Prophet, peace be upon him, prayed at night reciting one ayah repeatedly: "in tuaddhibhum fa 'innahum 'ibaaduk." If You punish them, then they are Your servants, and if You forgive them, surely You are the Mighty, the Wise. (5:118)
  5. Seek to understand the meanings. 1) in the linguistic sense - study a translation if you do not know Arabic, 2) and the deeper meanings found in tafsirs, 3) and with reflection. Studying 'aqida helps, for example, reading verses about the power of Allah, and about His qadr. Don't interpret it with your own opinion; go look it up in a tafsir.
  6. Remove obstacles to understanding the Qur'an. There are four veils according to Imam Ghazali:
    • Being overly concerned with outward recitation (this is one of the tricks of Shaytan to turn you away from reflecting on meanings). Find a middle path.
    • Superimposing one's ideas/perspectives/beliefs on the guidance of the Qur'an (ex: someone is a feminist, socialist, economist - reading the Qur'an according to his or her own perspective - preventing true spiritual benefit from the Qur'an.) Take guidance from the Qur'an itself with an open mind.
    • Sin, both outward and inward. Sin creates darkness in the soul and clouds the mirror of the heart, so it doesn't reflect the light of Divine guidance. How to polish the heart? With sincere and consistent repentance, and leaving sin. Keep doing this and striving until you leave those sins. This is a process: cleaning the heart and approaching Allah Most High.
    • One finds sufficiency on finding how meanings relate to you from tafsir. However, this is an interpretation; these tafsirs shouldn't take the place of personal reflection and application.

  7. Take everything in the Qur'an as guidance for yourself because it is for all creation. When it talks about the oppressors, sinners, etc. look at your life, act on what's implied relative to your life. "Fastaqim kama umirta," be steadfast as you were commanded. Imagine how the Prophet, peace be upon him, applied the Qur'an to his life - his hair turned gray! His companions asked why his hair had turned white. He, peace be upon him, said, "Sura Hud and its sisters made my hair white." He was upright and truthful in following the Qur'an. He took every address to apply to himself personally.
  8. Feel the Qur'an when talking about Paradise, Hell, or anything, put yourself in tune with the Qur'an.
  9. Rise in degrees of recitation. There are three grades of recitation. Any recitation is a tremendous grade.
    • The lowest grade: one supposes one is reading the Qur'an to Allah, as if one is standing before Allah, in His Divine Presence, and Allah is listening to one's recitation. This is an inward state of begging, entreating, and supplicating.
    • The middle grade: When one beholds Allah and sees for themself that Allah is addressing us with His favor. He is bestowing His gifts, His mercy through the Qur'an. There is a sense of shame, modesty (haya) and magnification (ta'dhim). One seeks to understand and be more serious. Now it is from Allah to you! There's also a feeling of ecstasy, thankfulness, and joy! One piece of dust like you is being addressed by the Lord of every speck of dust!
    • The highest grade: When one beholds the Speaker Himself and His Attributes. One does not see his own actions, but completely engrosses himself in beholding Allah Most High Himself. Then next, he sees the address of Allah Most High, then sees his own recitation.

  10. Recite the Qur'an while knowing that there is no might or power except with Allah. Qul bifaDlillahi wa biraHmatihi... say by the Grace of Allah and His Mercy; in that let them rejoice - better than what they amass - whether (worldly or spiritual amassing). Thank Allah upon good deeds. In addition, one always beholds one's shortcoming in reciting it. And reminding ourselves that we are not being thankful enough, look even the Prophet's hair turned gray...The soul is what turns to Allah.the body is just dust. We have infinite fear, and infinite hope in Allah... so turn to Allah and hope for His Pleasure.


Arash said...

Brain washing at work! How can one even start to think critically about the book after having been hammered with such elaborate nonsense sanctifying it? And let's not forget the whole "handling guidelines" on the proper ways to touch the Quran! And they start on kids as young as 3. No wonder Islam has a high retaining power...

Mohamed said...

You can think critically of it as you wish. For us, believing that its the word of God, we think of it and read it differently.

Anonymous said...

part me teared at some sections of what you wrote, parts of me just wanted to jump at what you wrote and make a comment like the previous arash one (way milder). I dont know what to follow..... how miserable I am!! really!

Arash said...

No Mohamed, one simply cannot think critically, cannot start to doubt, cannot consider the possibility of invalidity of the Quran if one is infused with awe and fear of the book. Had I received a similar diet of propaganda at home like what they teach in the schools of the Islamic Republic, I would be one of those Muslim reformers trying to excuse away the shortcomings of Islam by blaming "our culture" and the "forged hadiths". You know, the whole "the Quran is my only authority" crowd. And let me plug this cartoon while I'm at it.

Mohamed said...

The cartoon you plugged is irrelevant to the topic actually, as well as the points you make (and by the way, the point you mentioned earlier about the 'handling guidelines' were not even mentioned in the points refered to by alGhazali, so you're totally confusing issues). I'm telling you to think critically as you wish. But I don't (it doesn't matter to me that you don't like that). I just read it as a sacred text, and try to understand the many beautiful and deep meanings in it. If you don't like that fact, if you don't like that I have faith in the words of God, that's fine, but I made a choice to think that way, and you shouldn't force me to think your way! Why do you insist that I should think your way, otherwise I'm being brain washed and have no choice of my own! Do not pack and stereotype me with the others that might've offended you, because you don't know me. And just like I am accepting your freedom in any belief or in disbelief, you should also accept my freedom in believing in whatever I please.

Arash said...

I'm not addressing you in particular, Mohamed. I'm stating the obvious, that by infusing fear and awe in its disciples, and especially from a very young age, Islam brain washes individuals into submission. Surely a younger person taught all these pointers about how the Quran is this and that -before actually getting a chance to analyze it at a mature age and from a neutral standpoint- would be paralyzed at even the sight of a slight to the sanctity of the Quran. I know I was. Now, someone, such as yourself, may seek strength from the Quran, having associated it from the get go to a power supreme. But, that's, in my opinion, a very void and meaningless feeling. I understand that, however. What I cannot stand is being pushed back by the forces of this power-machine into the dark ages. We cannot tolerate the backward decrees of Islam in the name of tolerance and political correctness. Once it's in the public realm, it's a fair shot. Having read your weblog for sometime now, I know that you agree with my sentiment about the negative influences of religion. But, unfortunately, Islam doesn't produce many likeminded Muslims. Perhaps, this sanctimonious mind-set can have something to do with it.

Anonymous said...


Grow up!

lamiaz said...

Love it, love it, love it...

Sayf said...

Many of the enemies of Islam reading the Qur'an in a negative reading way and they become blind from the great richness of the Qur'an.

Suriyana AM said...

Assalamualaikum, Mohamed. This is a good write up. Thanks for sharing.
I am from Singapore and I was brought up in a multicultural, multi religious environment. We are taught to accomodate and tolerate different views but our Muslim society, though small, is strong in fundamentals. I don't think we are backward.
I am still learning how to recite Al Quran with tahtil and tajweed and I find peace within myself while reciting Al Quran. Definitely a good way to keep my sanity and putting things in perspective in this busy city.

I will definitely come back to visit your blog.

To each his own.
When it's time to go back,
I leave alone.

I have lots of choices
and I choose siratul mustaqim.

MIM said...

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

That was a good read, jazak allah khair for posting.


Fakhir said...

Yes it was a good read.

Learn How To Read Quran Online