Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
Understanding the Qur’an.
What is needed?
Syed H. Akhtar
Before we take it upon ourselves to gain
knowledge from the Qur’an, certain conditions are to be met, and
certain limitations understood.
What I am referring to, is more than the simple
commandments like, prohibiting stealing, lying, etc.
- Who is qualified to teach (the knowledge about) the Qur’an?
In Surah Jumua, chapter 62, verse 2, it is
written: “It is He, Who has sent amongst the unlettered, an
Apostle from among themselves, to rehearse (recite) to them His
signs (Ayah of Qur’an), to sanctify (purify) them, and to instruct
them (teach-Yu’allimuhum) them in the Scripture and (teach them)
wisdom; although they had been before in manifest error.” (Allama
From the above verse, it is clear that Prophet
Muhammad pbuh&p was qualified (appointed by Allah swt) to impart
knowledge of the Qur’an to mankind. The sequence of wording in the
verse is important.
Firstly, recitation to memorize and
preserve the verse or verses; secondly to purify the listener
(purification brings humility, and opens the heart for receiving
knowledge); thirdly, teach (impart) the knowledge; and
finally impart wisdom.
If people by themselves were sufficient to gain
knowledge of the Qur’an, then a Prophet of God was not needed to
teach them. The book by itself was enough.
- Information versus Knowledge. Recitation of Qur’an
whether in Arabic or in English, or in any language understood
by the reader is mere information. To deduce new information or
to come to a correct conclusion about a certain topic of the
Qur’an is actually gaining knowledge from the Qur’an.
- The subject matter about a topic is distributed in more than
one place. A study of all the verses about a given topic is
- The context of a given verse, statement, or an injunction is
needed for correct understanding. Two similar statements in two
different places, under different circumstances may have
different implications. Thus authentic Hadith or tradition
associate with that portion of Qur’an needs to be known.
Prophetic sources available to help understand
Qur’an. The Qur’an is a living book and it is a guide to all the
people for all times. Therefore, there must be some way of obtaining
the prophetic knowledge of the Qur’an to help and guide the Muslims,
or any seeker of knowledge after prophet pbuh&p left us.
Indeed, he made provision for that. The famous
Hadith, which is acknowledged by all schools of Islam, says: “I am
the City of knowledge, and Ali is the Gate.” In other words, the
repository of knowledge of Qur’an (Divinely bestowed knowledge, ‘Ilm
e Laduni’) was available through Hazrath Ali, his cousin,
son-In-law, and his successor.
To be sure, he said the following, as recorded in
Sahih Bukhari, Suyuti’s Itqaan a follows: “Verily, the Holy Qur’an
has been revealed on seven letters (levels of understanding based
upon knowledge), of which there is no letter which has not a
manifest (exoteric meaning) and a latent (esoteric) meaning; and Ali
bin Abu Talib, with him is the manifest and the latent (of it).”
Hazrat Ali was known to be the most knowledgeable
person of his time. Never a knowledge seeker came to him with a
question, that he did not return satisfied with the answer or
explanation. Nahjul Balagha is the book of collection of sermons,
letters, and sayings of Hazrath Ali, which is considered next only
to the Qur’an in knowledge, eloquence, and beauty.
Hazrath Ali made this famous statement when
departure from this world was near, “Ask me before I leave,”
Hazrat Ali transferred his knowledge to his son,
the succeeding Imam, who in turn transferred to his successor; so on
and so forth. Thus, the knowledge of Qur’an possessed and in part
expounded by the Prophet was transmitted to Imam Ali A.S. and
subsequently given to other eleven purified Imams from his progeny.
This is the guiding light for us to help understand a very small
portion of the infinite knowledge contained in the Qur’an.
In Surah Buruj, v21, 22 Allah says: “Nay, this
is a glorious Qur’an, (inscribed) in a tablet Guarded (Lauhin
“Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain,
verily, thou would have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for
fear of God. Such are the similitudes which we propound to men, that
they may reflect.” S. 59: v. 21.
“Do they not then earnestly seek to understand
the Qur’an …” S. 47: v 24.
Thus, it is up to an individual to search for the
knowledge in the Qur’an, with humility, earnestness, and tap on
authentic teachings by sources designated by the Prophet pbuh&p.