Reading the Quran Contemplatively


Muslim scholars have defined the purpose of reciting the Holy Quran as contemplating its meaning, inner wisdom and then acting in accordance with what it demands.

For the stimulation of thought, there is nothing better than reading the Quran, since it is the word of the Almighty who infinitely knows the intricacies of the human condition. In other words, the Holy Quran holds a mirror to each person, enabling him to recognize himself just the way he is. Every Muslim must therefore frequently recite the Quran and reflect on what it exactly is that the Almighty requests with each verse.

Since each word of the Quran comprises immeasurable secrets, a contemplative read of a single verse in this manner is preferable to a careless read of the Quran entire. Only a purified heart and a refined soul gained through delicate contemplation, high morals and righteous deeds can grant one access to the truth of those mysteries.

Allah, glory unto Him, states:

“A surah (chapter) which We have revealed and made obligatory and in which We have revealed clear communications that you may be mindful.” (an-Nur, 1)

“A Book We have revealed to you abounding in good that they may ponder over its verses, and that those endowed with understanding may be mindful.” (Sad, 29)

“Do they not then reflect on the Quran or are there locks on the hearts?” (Muhammad, 24)

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was once asked about the best tone of voice and manner of recitation (qiraah) for reading the Quran.

“The recitation by he, whose voice, upon hearing it, makes you feel he fears Allah”, he replied. (Darimi, Fadail’ul-Quran, 34)

Reading the Quran is one of the foremost activities exposed to the whispers of Shaytan, for a person who reads the Quran and reflects on its promises, warnings, clear signs and explanations will offer righteous deeds with greater enthusiasm. He will refrain from the impermissible and the doubtful with greater dedication. As reading the Quran is among the most virtuous of all the righteous deeds, Shaytan leaves no stone unturned in trying to keep people away from the Word of Allah, glory unto Him. It has therefore been commanded to seek refuge in the Almighty before beginning to read the Quran, by saying « أَعُوذُ بِاللّٰهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ ». As the verse declares:

“So when you recite the Quran, seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Shaytan.” (an-Nahl, 98)

How did the Prophet of Allah read the Quran?

The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- used to recite the Holy Quran slowly, with a depth of feeling. He would contemplate the meanings of each verse, immediately putting into practice their commands. Upon reciting a verse commanding to glorify (tasbih) the Almighty, he would say subhan’Allah, negating the Creator of all deficiencies. Upon reciting a verse suggesting prayer, he would pray the Almighty. Reading a verse speaking of seeking refuge in the Almighty, seek refuge is what he would do.[1]

At times he would focus on single verse so intently that he would pray and contemplate it until daybreak.

Abu Dharr –Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts:

“The Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- once kept on repeating the following verse at ritual prayer until morning:

اِنْ تُعَذِّبْهُمْ فَاِنَّهُمْ عِبَادُكَۚ وَاِنْ تَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ

فَاِنَّكَ اَنْتَ الْعَز۪يزُ الْحَك۪يمُ

‘Should You punish them, then surely they are Your servants; and should You forgive them, then surely You are the Mighty, the Wise.’ (al-Maida, 118)” (Nasai, Iftitah, 79; Ahmed, V, 156)

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, after reading the above verse, once added the following:

“My Lord! Surely they have led many men astray; then whoever follows me, he is surely of me, and whoever disobeys me, You surely are Forgiving, Merciful.” (Ibrahim, 36)

Immediately afterward, he lifted his hands aloft and began pleading, “My Allah…My followers, my followers!” shedding tears at the same time.

Allah, glory unto Him, thereupon commanded Jibril –upon him peace- to, “Go and ask why Muhammad is crying, so humans know the reason, although Your Lord of course knows why he is.”

Jibril –upon him peace- returned, informing the Almighty that His Messenger was crying over concerns for his followers. Allah, glory unto Him, then once again commanded the Archangel to, “Go to Muhammad and give him Our glad tidings that ‘We shall please him regarding his followers and never distress him.” (Muslim, Iman, 346)

Such was the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- compassion and keenness for his followers. We need to thoroughly reflect on the above and honestly assess our degree of love for the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- and how much we are able to practice his sunnah as a testimony of that love.

Abdullah ibn Masud –Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates:

“One day the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- asked me, ‘Can you read me some Quran?’

‘How can I read you some Quran when it is you to whom the Quran is revealed?’ I responded.

‘I like hearing the Quran from others, too’ said the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). Thereupon I began reciting chapter an-Nisa. When I came to the verse that says:

‘How will it be, then, when We bring from every people a witness and bring you as a witness against these?’ (an-Nisa, 41), he said:

‘That will suffice for now…’

When I fixed my eyes on him, I saw tears flowing freely from both his eyes.” (Bukhari, Tafsir, 4/9; Muslim, Musafirin, 247)

Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- recounts a scene that provides a glimpse of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- sensitivity of heart and depth of contemplation:

“One night, the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- said to me, ‘If you allow me, Aisha, I wish to spend the night worshiping my Lord.’

‘I would surely love to be with you’, I said, ‘but would love even more anything that makes you happy.’

He then got up, took a thorough ablution and began his ritual prayer. He was crying…So much that it soaked his clothes, beard and even the ground on which he fell prostrate. Still in that condition, Bilal came to call him to the ritual prayer of fajr. Seeing him overflowing with tears, Bilal wondered:

‘Why do you cry, Messenger of Allah, when Allah has forgiven your past and future sins?’

‘Shouldn’t I be a thankful servant to his Lord?’ replied he. ‘Such verses were revealed to me this evening that shame on him who reads them without contemplating.’ He then disclosed the revelation:

‘Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand. Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! You have not created this in vain! Glory be to You; save us then from the chastisement of the fire!’ (Ali Imran, 190-191)” (Ibn Hibban, Sahih, II, 386; Alusi, Ruh’ul-Maani, IV, 157)

The night in which these verses were revealed, the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- shed tears of pearl until daybreak, as if to make the stars in the sky jealous. Tears shed by believers when contemplating the manifestations of Divine Might and Splendor will, with the blessing of the Almighty, adorn passing nights, radiate the dark grave and reappear as dews in the gardens of Paradise.

In expression of the necessity and rewards of reading the Quran in a thoughtful and inquiring manner, the Blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) has said:

If a group of people gather in a house among the houses of Allah, read the book of Allah and talk about it amongst each other, serenity will descend onto them, they will be encompassed with mercy and be surrounded by angels. And Allah, glory unto Him, will mention those people in His presence.” (Muslim, Dhikr, 38; Abu Dawud, Witr, 14/1455; Tirmidhi, Qiraah, 10/2945)

One who completes reading the entire Quran in less than three days cannot properly understand it and properly contemplate on it.” (Abu Dawud, Witr, 8/1390; Tirmidhi, Qiraah, 11/2949; Darimi, Salat, 173)

Recite the Quran in a way that it will hold you back from evil! If it does not hold you back from evil, then you have not really read it.” (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Zuhd, p. 401/1649)

[1]     See, Muslim, Musâfirîn, 203; Nasâî, Qıyâmu’l-Layl, 25/1662.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Contemplation in Islam, Erkam Public.