The other issue is that of gaining familiarity with the language of the Qur’an and the recitation of it. There are some people who think that the Qur’an is to be read merely for the purpose of obtaining spiritual reward (thawab) without need of understanding anything of its contents. They continuously recite the Qur’an, but if they are even once asked) “Do you understand the meaning of what you are reading?” they cannot answer. To recite the Qur’an is essential and good, being regarded as the first step necessary for comprehending its contents; and not merely as a means for gaining Divine reward.
The comprehension of the meaning of the Qur’an has certain peculiarities to which due attention must be paid. While other books are read for the purpose of acquiring the knowledge of novel ideas that merely involve reason and the rational faculties of the reader’s mind, the Qur’an must be studied with the intention of educating oneself. The Qur’an itself clarifies this point:
﴾A book We have sent down to thee, blessed, that men possessed of mind may ponder its signs end so remember. (38:29)﴿
One of the functions of the Qur’an is to instruct and to teach. For this purpose, the Qur’an addresses human reason and speaks in logical and demonstrative terms. There is also another language that the Qur’an makes use of. But this language is not used to appeal to the faculty of reason, but to the heart. This is the language of feeling. Whosoever wants to acquaint himself with the Qur’an, should be familiar with both of the languages and be able to make use of both of them simultaneously. It is a grave mistake to separate one from the other.
That which is termed here as the heart, is the great source of profound feeling that resides within all human beings. This is sometimes also called “the sense of being”, i.e. the feeling of relationship between human existence and the Absolute Being.
One who knows the language of the heart, when he addresses the human being in this language, can move the inner depths of his being. It is not merely the mind and the intellect alone which is affected, but his whole being, which is profoundly influenced. This sort of influence can perhaps be illustrated by the example of music. The various forms of music share the common quality which is stimulation of human feelings. Music appeals to the human soul and immerses it into a specific world of feeling.
The nature of feelings, excited by different kinds of music, of course, varies. Certain types of music may be associated with the passions of valour and bravery. In the past, on the battlefield, the effects of martial music were evident. Sometimes its effects were so strong that the frightened soldiers who would not dare come out of their bunkers, were made to march in fervour despite fierce attacks from enemy’s ranks.
It is possible that certain other kinds of music may excite sensual feelings and invite the listener to succumb to sensual vices. The results of such music are noticeable in the moral waywardness of our own times. Perhaps no other thing could have so effectively broken down the walls of morality and chastity to the extent of this kind of music. Other kinds of instinctive feelings and passions, whether aroused by means of music or by some other means, can be controlled when addressed in the language that appeals to them.
One of the most sublime instincts and emotions present in all human beings is the urge for religion and the natural quest for God. It is in the same heavenly echoes that the Qur’an speaks to the Divine instincts of mankind. The Qur’an itself recommends that its verses be recited in fine and beautiful rhythms; for it is in those heavenly rhythms that it speaks to the Divine nature of man.
The Qur’an, describing itself, maintains that it speaks in two languages. Sometimes it introduces itself as the Book of meditation, logic and demonstration; at other times as the Book of feeling and love. In other words, it does not merely seek to nourish the intellect and thought, but also nurtures the human soul.
The Qur’an lays great emphasis on its own specific quality of music, a music which more than any other music, is effective in arousing the profound and sublime feelings of the human heart. The Qur’an directs the believers to devote a few hours of the night to reciting its verses, and to recite them during their ritual prayers when their attention is turned towards God. Addressing the Prophet, the Qur’an says:
﴾O thou enwrapped in thy robes, keep vigil the night, except a little (a half of it, or diminish a little, or add a little) and chant the Qur’an very distinctly. (73:1 -4)﴿
It asks the Prophet (pbuh&hh) to recite the Qur’an while standing for the prayers. Tartiil means to recite neither too hastily that words cannot be distinguished, nor too slowly that their connection be lost. It commands the Prophet (pbuh&hh) to recite its verses rhythmically, and at the same time to cogitate upon their meaning.
Again, in a later verse of the same surah, the Prophet is reminded that he needs enough sleep to effectively perform the daily chores of business or jihad in the path of God; nevertheless, he should not forget to seclude himself for worship.
It were the same rhythms of the Qur’an that became the singular source of spiritual joy and strength, and the means of producing inner purity and sincerity among Muslims. It was the same music of the Qur’an which, in a very short period of time, converted the barbarous tribes of the Arabian peninsula, into a steadfast nation of committed believers, who could grapple with the greatest powers of the age and overthrow them.
The Muslims did not merely view the Qur’an as a book of moral advice and instruction alone, but also, as a spiritual and ideological tonic. They recited the Qur’an with devotion of heart during their intimate nightly supplications, and during the day, they derived from it the strength to attack the unbelievers like roaring lions. The Qur’an had just such an expectation of those who had found their faith. Addressing the Prophet, it says:
﴾Obey not the unbelievers, but struggle against them with it [the Qur’an] striving mightily. (25:52)﴿
The Qur’an advises the Prophet (pbuh&hh) not to pay heed to the words of the infidels and to stand firmly against them equipped with the weapon of the Qur’an. It assures him that the ultimate victory shall be his. The life of the Prophet (pbuh&hh) itself is a positive proof of this assurance. He stood all alone against enemies without any support except the Qur’an, and the same Qur’an meant everything to him.
It produced warriors for him, furnished arms and forces, until, ultimately, the enemies were totally subdued. The Qur’an drew towards him individuals from the enemy’s camp, and caused them to submit before the Messenger of God. In this way the Divine pledge was fulfilled.
When the Qur’an calls its language “the language of the heart,” it means the heart which it seeks to purify, enlighten and stimulate. This language is other than the language of music that occasionally arouses sensual feelings. It is also different from the language of martial music that arouses the spirit of heroism in the hearts of soldiers and strengthens and enhances their enthusiasm. Rather, it is the language which converted the Arab Bedouins into inspired mujahidin, for whom it was said:
They carried their visions on their swords.
Those people carried their vision, their ideology, their religion and spiritual discoveries on their swords, and used them in the defence of those ideals and ideas. The notions of private and personal interest were alien to them. Though they were not innocent and infallible, and they did commit mistakes, yet they were those who rightly fitted the description:
Standing in prayer during nights,
fasting during daytime.
Every moment of day and night, they were in contact with the depths of Being. Their nights were passed in worship, and days in jihad.
It is on account of this characteristic, that the Qur’an is a book of the heart and the soul. Its appeal overwhelms the soul and brings tears flowing from the eyes and makes the heart tremble. It stresses this point and considers it true even of the “People of the Book”:
﴾Those to whom We gave the Book before this believe in it, and, when it is recited to them, they say, ‘We believe in it; surely it is the Truth from our Lord; even before it we were of those who surrender. (28:52-53)﴿
It describes a group of people who undergo a state of veneration and awe when the Qur’an is recited before them. They affirm faith in all the contents of the Book, declare everything in it to be nothing but truth and their veneration of it continues to increase. In another verse, the Qur’an affirms that among the Ahl al-Kitab (The People of the Book), the Christians are closer to the Muslims than the idolaters and Jews. Then a group of Christians who believed and became Muslims on hearing the Qur’an are described in these words:
﴾And when they hear what has been sent down to the Messenger, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears, because of the truth they recognize. They say, “Our Lord we believe; so do Thou write us down among the witnesses. (5:83)﴿
In another place, while describing the believers, the Qur’an says:
﴾God has sent down the fairest discourse as a book, consimilar in its oft repeated parts, whereat shiver the skins of those who fear their Lord; then their skins and their hearts soften to the remembrance of God … (39:23)﴿
In these, as well as in many other verses (such as 19:58, 61:1, etc.), the Qur’an tells us that it is not merely a book of knowledge and analysis; but at the same time that it makes use of logical arguments that appeal to the intellect, it also speaks to the finer sensibilities of the human soul.
* Book: Understanding the Uniqueness of the Quran. By Martyr Murtada Mutahhari