Rote or reason?

Published June 12, 2020
The writer is a freelance contributor.
The writer is a freelance contributor.

IF a patient recites the prescription given by his physician instead of practically acting on it, then will he be cured? Do tall buildings get constructed if workmen keep on singing the architect’s plans instead of embarking on the project taking the necessary actions? Will you reach your destination if you keep on rehearsing the directions, instead of getting into the driving seat, turning on the ignition switch, putting the car into gear and stepping on the accelerator?

The answer to these questions is an obvious no. It is common sense that things do not get done if we keep on reading the instructions instead of acting on them. But regrettably, with many Muslims, when it comes to the God-given instruction manual, the opposite is the case. When it comes to the Quran, our persuasions are more to do with rote and less to do with reason.

Take a look at the life of the common believer and you will discover that he has a ceremonial attachment to the Quran. Since childhood he is ‘programmed’ to revere and respect the scripture, not to touch it without ablution, to keep it in a cover of silk and brocade and place it somewhere high above.

But what are the actual contents of the Book? What is the meaning behind the words that are to be recited? How do the instructions feature in daily life? Regarding all this, you are likely to receive an excuse of ignorance. A ritualistic association is all that we observe when it comes to Muslims and the Quran.

We must understand the actual content of the Quran.

This dire situation is due to people’s ignorance of the true concept of ibadah, which spells out what our relationship with our Creator is to be. ‘Ibadah’ comes from the Arabic ‘abd’ literallyslave. Ibadah means to serve Allah, and to follow His revealed laws in every sphere of life, as stated: “I have only created jinns and mankind that they may serve Me” (51:56). But as we are unaware of the meaning, and recite ceremoniously, under the impression that a recital (devoid of meaning) somehow results in a blessing, we end up serving other masters than the One to whom subservience was truly due. Though we may appear religious and profess our devotion, our ignorance and illiteracy pertaining to the meaning of the Quran makes us serve other beings. Thus our ibadah is devoid of its true spirit.

It is sad but true that a vast majority of us stand up for prayers very regularly but do not comprehend a single word of the instructions being recited during those prayers! Our prayers are thus mechanical and ritualistic, having little or no bearing on our character transformation. Approaching the five daily prayers in a state where the mind does not comprehend the instructions being uttered is also cautioned against: “O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say. …” (4:43).

Therefore to make the five daily prayers meaningful, the need is for us to remedy this situation. Instead of reading the Quran in a parrot-like fashion, we need to spend time in studying and analysing the Book. So that we know what is it that we utter in our supplications, and recognise the instructions we are to rehearse five times a day and follow in our lives.

Let us be honest. We cannot follow something if we do not understand it. So there is nothing stopping us from freeing ourselves of distraction, to sit down comfortably to go through the entire Book chapter by chapter.

The Quran requires our time. We would do the same for our favourite paperback novel, or any other book of our interest, so why is it that we do not give time to the Book which is concerned with our day-to-day lives and upon which our salvation depends?

Translations of the Quran are plentiful, if one is not conversant with Arabic. Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s poetic version is internationally acclaimed. Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall follows the Arabic idiom closely. Muhammad Asad’s rendering has focused more on the meanings inherent in classical exegesis and comes with an insightful commentary. So the choice is our own. If we are serious about reading the Quran, then we should choose a translation that appeals to us without worrying too much.

Another important activity to facilitate our learning is that of note-taking. Our reading should not be for the purpose of merely ‘finishing’ the Book but for learning and knowing its meaning. For this we need to use the pen.

We should underline important passages, circle difficult words, and flag the incomprehensible. Using the pen and making notes on Quranic study is thus an inseparable component of any worthwhile engagement with the text, for let us not forget that God is He “Who teacheth by the pen” (96:4).

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Twitter @KashifShahzada

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2020

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