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 guidance.
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 There is 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.
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 interpretation.
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 the Quran.
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 current affairs.
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 heard us.
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.