Avoiding Misinterpretations of the Quran

The Quran is a fundamental source of Islamic knowledge. The Hadith which includes the sayings and recorded actions of the Prophet (ﷺ) among other things, closely follow the Quran as the second fundamental source of Islamic knowledge. Early scholars have done a great service to Islam to meticulously collect and authenticate the Hadith. They actually developed a science of Hadith authentication that is not found in any other literature religious or otherwise, specially from that long ago. Furthermore, early scholars also wrote Tafseer (exegesis or the explanation) of the Quran. Classical Tafseer also rely on the Hadith and Athaar (sayings of the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ).

In other words, simply picking up an Oxford printing of the translation of the Quran into English by an Western Orientalist author does not convey the real meaning of the Quran to anyone.

To understand and interpret the message of the Quran accurately, one has to find out what the Arabic words meant (i.e. the linguistic and cultural context of the people of Quraish tribe in Mecca at that time), the reasons of revelation (the historical context within which the verses were revealed), what the Prophet (ﷺ) said about the revelation and how the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) understood it (recorded in the books of Hadith) and how the early scholars explained it (recorded in the books of classical Tafseer).

Trying to interpret the Quran any other way would result in misinterpretations. It makes no sense to base our understanding of the Quran on the explanation of people who neither know the Arabic language nor rely on the classical Tafseer and authentic Hadith collections. Yet we see a lot of people doing just that. May Allah protect us all from misguidance.

In the next chapter, I’ll write in more detail about the importance of relying on Hadith to arrive at the correct understanding of the Quran and hence getting an accurate picture of Islam as a whole.

And Allah knows best.

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How to develop a relationship with the Quran

Developing a relationship with the Quran is very important for every single Muslim. A properly meaningful relationship with the Quran requires learning to read it, learning enough Arabic to understand it in its original Arabic without relying on a translation and reading it on a regular basis and reflecting upon what has been read. Furthermore, it requires that what is read and learned from the Quran is implemented in our own lives because that is truly what it’s for. Finally, it also requires that we relay what we have learned to others in a manner that is prescribed in the Quran itself as well as the Sunnah/Hadith.

Yet it is not prioritized as such by many people. Many Muslims simply don’t read the Quran regularly. And those that do read it, read it without really reflecting on what is being said. This is a direct consequence of not knowing Arabic. The miraculous verses of the Quran do not have any affect on the reader if they are not even making an effort to understand what it says. Reading with understanding is not optional. Reading the Quran without understanding is like reading a novel or a newspaper in a foreign language that one doesn’t understand.

A lot of Muslims simply read the Quran to get the reward of reading. Although, it is true that there is a reward for reading the Quran (it is one of the great forms of worship in Islam), the purpose of the Quran is totally missed by simply reading. The purpose of the revelation of the Quran is to serve as the source of guidance for mankind. But that guidance is not attained by simply reading it without understanding it. Quranic guidance is attained from reading and reflecting on the verses.

Often the reading is not even done properly. Many Muslims simply read the Quran without pronouncing the words correctly and it ends up not making sense or the meanings are changed. In that respect even the reward from merely reading the Quran is lost. Therefore it is important to learn to read it properly as well. Another reason is for our daily prayers. If we are not able to read the Quran properly, our prayers are deficient as well.

Therefore, learning to read the Quran properly and reading it with understanding (knowing enough Arabic to understand what we read in the Quran) are absolutely essential first steps to creating and maintaining relationship with the Quran. Without reading with understanding, a true and meaningful relationship with the Quran is not possible. Next, implementing what is learned from the Quran in our lives. Finally, relaying that knowledge to others in the prescribed manner to the best of our ability. If we do these, then we can expect to reap the benefits of the guidance that is promised from the Quran not to mention the eternal reward that is promised in the hereafter for people of the Quran, with the permission of Allah.

And Allah knows best.

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The reasons for studying the Quran & Tafseer

The reason for studying the Quran & its correct interpretation (the Tafseer) is obvious: the Quran is one of the two fundamental textual sources of Islamic knowledge. The other fundamental textual source is the Hadith literature which will discuss in the next chapter. Being the main source for knowledge it behooves us as Muslims and specially as students of knowledge to learn as much from the Quran and its authentic Tafseer or the correct interpretation as possible. For that end, learning Arabic is a fundamental requirement, as was discussed in the last chapter.

Learning the Quran has many aspects.

There are many areas of study when it comes to the Quran. Learning to read the Quran properly is from the knowledge of Tajweed (proper recitation with the correct pronunciation rules). Learning the meanings of words comes from the knowledge of the Arabic of the Quraish tribes in Mecca in Arabia at the time when the Quran was revealed. Learning the reasons of revelations is derived from the Hadith concerning the Asbaab un Nuzool to provide the correct historical context and the events that occurred at the time and the people that the verses may have been addressing and so on around the time of the revelation. Learning the true meanings and application of the text of the Quran comes from the many authentic traditions found in the Hadith where the Prophet (ﷺ) himself explained the meanings of the verses revealed to the companions who recorded, related and passed down the information to be collected later on in the Hadith collections. All of these areas of study serve to provide a complete understanding of the Quran. Failing to take any of these into account could potentially result in a deficient or partial or even incorrect understanding of the Quran.

And Allah knows best.

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Learning Arabic with the right intention

Having the right intention is vital in everything in Islam. So it goes without saying that, we should have the right intention when learning Arabic. Learning Arabic forms the foundation of a good Islamic education so an impure intention threatens to undermine everything we learn based on the study of Arabic if our intention is not purely for Allah alone. Every student of knowledge should correct their intention from the very start of their journey that they are seeking knowledge for the sake of Allah alone. Learning Arabic for the purpose of gaining a worldly benefit will undermine the amazing reward that is in store for the students.

A wrong intention could also be a cause for regret or punishment in the hereafter depending on what was intended. If the intention happened to be to learn Arabic, for example, to be able to talk to people from an Arab country or to find a better job in the Middle East, then the reward for learning Arabic for the sake of understanding the Quran and Islam will not be attained. But if the intention was to show off to people how good a scholar one is and to try to gain a position based on the piety that people associate with knowing Arabic, that in fact could cause the person to be punished in the hereafter.

Therefore we need to purify our intention before we ever start learning Arabic (or learning anything for that matter). And we should check our intention often and correct it if we find it straying away from purely for understanding the Quran and Islam for the pleasure of Allah. And re-evaluate the intention and correct it after the fact as well. This will ensure that our reward is guaranteed and we don’t end up deserving punishment on the Day of Judgement. May Allah protect us all from an evil end.

And Allah knows best.

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Learning the Arabic basics first

Arabic is a very rich language. In order to really learn the language properly, it is important to build on top of a strong and healthy foundation. The building blocks of Arabic must be very well understood from the start for an easier learning experience.

From the very beginning, the Arabic alphabet needs to be mastered in every aspect i.e. reading, writing, pronouncing. It also means recognizing the letters in its various written forms: connected with other letters or disconnected.

Next the Arabic grammar is usually learned along with simple conversational sentences so the learning makes more sense. Reading, writing and comprehension go hand in hand at this stage. The rules of the Arabic grammar are very systematic in nature for the most part with a very few exceptions. Although there are a lot of rules, they can all be learned relatively easy with the help of Allah.

While learning the Arabic grammar, it is also helpful and even necessary to expand the Arabic vocabulary. Keep an Arabic notebook and learn a few new words everyday. Try to use them in sentences to make it stick. Write them out. Read out loud. If you have a native Arabic speaker teacher or a friend, you can seek assistance in learning the correct pronunciation of the words. Practice. Practice. Practice.

A lot of Arabic texts use the Quran and Hadith to teach examples of really good Arabic. So inshaaAllah you’ll get good exposure to the Quran and Hadith, which is really what we ultimately seek to understand. So it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with reciting the Quran if you are able to recognize letters and read Arabic.

Advanced Arabic classes teach Arabic morphology or Nahw & Sarf. This is the stage when you really begin to appreciate the beauty of Arabic. Arabic is hard, but the journey to learn it is worth it.

May Allah make it easy for all of the Muslims to learn Arabic for the purpose of understanding the Quran and Hadith.

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Why is it necessary to learn Arabic

Learning Arabic is a necessity for Muslims. This is because the Quran and the Sunnah, which form two of the most fundamental sources of Islamic knowledge are in the Arabic language. Of course, these primary sources of Islamic knowledge have already been translated into virtually every language there is. But the reality is that you only get the full and correct understanding of Quran and Sunnah in the Arabic language. Translation loses its essence.

Therefore, in order to understand the religion properly, the Arabic language is a pre-requisite. In other words, a person’s understanding of Islam is not complete if they rely solely on translations. Not only does it not suffice to read the translation for a complete understanding, but it is very likely to misunderstand Islam when all of our knowledge base is based on translated text. This is specially true if the person who did the translation does not himself or herself know Arabic that well. So now you have a very twisted understanding from what was originally intended.

Most Muslims have taken this very lightly and think that it is totally optional to learn Arabic. We should realize that we are only limiting ourselves when we assume that learning Arabic for the purpose of understanding the Quran and Hadith is not required. Every able Muslim should make every possible effort to learn the Arabic language for the sake of seeking a more complete and authentic understanding of Islam.

There are many people teaching Arabic at various mosques or schools around the world. Concerned Muslims do find a way to organize Arabic classes in their locality if at all possible. Additionally, with the internet and social media, there are numerous resources for learning the Arabic language available online these days. Interested Muslims can and should take advantage of the many opportunities for learning Arabic online. If it’s important to you, you will find a way. Learning Arabic is the most important basic knowledge areas that every Muslim should invest in.

And Allah knows best.

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Motivation to learn and serve Islam

To learn Islam and to serve Islam is to love Islam. The most precious thing we have as Muslims is the religion of Islam. It is every Muslim’s duty to learn Islam as much as they possibly can. And after learning it, to serve the religion in any capacity they can. To really thank Allah for the ultimate blessing of guidance to the faith of Islam, we as Muslims must serve Islam any which way we can. The religion of Islam has been misrepresented by so-called Muslims of late and the press has had a lot of opportunity to intentionally or unintentionally portray Islam in a negative light. Therefore, there is an even greater need for Muslims to step up and serve the religion by being good Muslims and examples of the character of the Prophet (ﷺ) for others to see and learn from.

To serve Islam could be to teach other Muslims about various aspects of Islam, to teach the Quran and Hadith to others, to implement Islam into our daily lives and behave like true Muslims for everyone to see, to write about Islam for everyone to read, to answer questions people have about Islam, to dispel misconceptions about Islam in any way possible, to learn and teach Arabic to non-Arabs solely for the purpose of understanding the Quran and, last but not least, to invite non-Muslims into Islam.

I often wonder what I ever did to deserve such a huge blessing? I also wonder if I hadn’t been born Muslim, would I have found Islam coming from another religion, say Hinduism. Hinduism was most likely my ancestors’ religion before Islam was introduced to Southern India where my ancestors are originally from. Therefore I am totally grateful to Allah for guiding my ancestors to Islam from whom I have come to inherit it. And I would love to meet and hug that one ancestor who first accepted Islam way back when. I’d tell him or her how I love them so for leaving Hinduism and embracing Islam for it must have been a challenge to switch religions.

And Allah knows best.

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More on Learning Arabic

If you’re not a native Arabic speaker, how do you go about learning the Arabic language for the purpose of understanding the Quran and Hadith and other Islamic literature in its original Arabic? This is a tough question to answer because everyone has a different background and everyone is different in the way that they learn languages. It was rather easy for me for a couple of reasons: I am a native Urdu speaker and Urdu is a language that borrows a lot from the Arabic language from its alphabet to actual words from the language. Also, a lot of the Islamic cultural backdrop of the languages is similar so it’s not shockingly different for an Urdu speaker to discover Arabic as it may be for Westerners for example.

By far the two most important ingredients for anyone’s success in learning Arabic (or any other language for that matter) is their motivation and the amount of effort they put into it. Obviously these two go hand in hand. The more motivated you are, the more effort you’re willing to put into it. And the more effort you put into it, you will naturally become better faster and be even more motivated to do so. Whatever the case maybe, anyone can learn Arabic if they put their mind to it. Do it for the sake of Allah and each step of your journey will carry reward for you for the hereafter.

For every Muslim, it is extremely important to try their best to learn the Arabic language. It is akin to learning English for anyone trying go to University in USA/Canada or finding work there. Without learning the language, you are simply missing out on a world of opportunities and you might not even realize it. Don’t miss out on learning Islam properly. Learn Arabic and get a more in depth experience. Read Quran & understand in its original Arabic inshaaAllah!

Having said that, it is never too late to learn Arabic. No matter how old you are or what your background might be, the best way to do it is to learn from the bottom up. You want a strong foundation, so learn the alphabet really well. Learn how to read, pronounce and recognize letters. Once you’ve mastered that, learn how to join letters to make words, read, write and pronouncing well. The natural next step after that is to learn basic grammar rules to get a feeling of the language. This can be a bit daunting, because Arabic grammar is truly fascinating and therefore could be complicated for some. So don’t get bogged down by the intricacies of Arabic grammar but simultaneously build your Arabic vocabulary and practice with everyday phrases. The key to learning any language is to use it as much as possible on a daily basis. There are tons of resources available for learning Arabic these days. Use as many resources as you can get your hands on from audio/video, books, TV, YouTube and web sites to get benefit from various resources. Try to get a few Arab acquaintances to help you out. Arabic classes with native Arabic speakers, online or offline, may be even more helpful.

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Arabic Learning Resources

So you’re finally convinced that you need to put some serious effort into learning Arabic for the purpose of understanding the Quran for the sake of Allah alone? Great, I’ve got just the resources for you to benefit from. Actually, links to resources you can readily download and start reaping the benefits from right away.

Learning Arabic isn’t super hard. It’s relatively easy. Particularly the Arabic you need to understand the Quran. The Arabic in the Quran is classical Arabic from the time of the Prophet (ﷺ). In the Quran, Allah says that He has made the Quran easy to understand. For everyone. Arabs, non-Arabs, Muslims, and non-Muslims alike. And this has exactly been my own experience. Once you put your mind to it, you can learn the Arabic that lets you grasp about 80% of the Quran fairly quickly. The somewhat more difficult passages/words are very few and do require some additional study and care, but it can be done within a short period of time, with the help of Allah.

Arabic language learning builds upon itself. Each level of study represents a building block. If you develop a good foundation in Arabic, inshaaAllah you will benefit from it the rest of your life. Spend enough time learning the Arabic alphabet from a qualified teacher. This will ensure you get the right pronunciation and recognize and articulate each letter properly.

Here’s my personal recommendation for the sequence of study for Arabic: if you’re an absolute beginner, start at the very beginning. If you can already read Arabic, skip to the next steps accordingly.

1) The Arabic Alphabet
2) How to join the letters to form words

These are the foundations of the Arabic language. Learn these well to build the rest of your Arabic language learning on a strong foundation. I recommend using Imam Zia’s Quran & Arabic for Absolute Beginners course (available on YouTube for FREE) for this purpose. It’s a good refresher even if you already know most of this material.

3) About the Sentence Structure and Grammar

The best course for learning Arabic, Grammar and Vocabulary, based on my experience, is the Madina Arabic Course which follows the famous books/workbooks etc. The best class for this course that is taught in English is on YouTube:

You can download the books here:

Courses

4) Learning to read with Tajweed

Tajweed is the proper way of reciting the Quran according to the correct rules. The Best course that I know of for learning Tajweed is available on YouTube:

5) The vocabulary of the Quran

There are some wonderful resources available for learning the words used in the Quran. Take a look at these:

http://kalamullah.com/word-for-word-meaning-of-quran.html

http://kalamullah.com/vocabulary-of-quran.html

http://kalamullah.com/language-of-quran.html

6) The meanings and Tafseer

Finally, bringing all of the above together, we strive to learn the meanings and the Tafseer of the Quran. One of the most accessible and best ones of the classical Tafseer is by Ibn Katheer Rahimahullah:

http://kalamullah.com/tafsir-ibn-kathir.html

If you find this blog useful, be sure to not have all the fun by your lonesome self but share with all the people you care about, like and subscribe to my blog. That way you won’t miss updates to the blog. JazakAllah Khair!

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Reading the Quran Daily With Understanding

I advise myself and you all to make reading Quran daily with understanding a part of life. Even if it’s just a little bit daily, do read it. Regularly. And read it with understanding. Just as we feed our bodies daily with food, Alhamdulillah, we need to feed our souls. Therefore, don’t delay and start today. Reading the Quran daily with understanding will help us be connected with our Creator & our Sustainer Allah. The goal is to establish a lifelong relationship with the Quran so we are familiar with the Quran enough to go to it first for answers, guidance, comfort and to make sense of this life.

In order to do this successfully, we definitely need to know enough Arabic to understand the Quran properly. Start today on the journey to learn Arabic. Everything we do in order to get closer to the book of Allah, the Quran, we are rewarded for it. I shall provide a list of ready to use resources for learning Arabic in an upcoming blog post.

Quran is not read like other books (not like a story book or a science book). The Quran is read with an intention to listen and obey. To seek to understand. To find answers to our questions. To seek comfort knowing that the Quran is the actual speech of Allah, our Creator, Sustainer God.

Seeking knowledge is a great form of worship. What is a life that is lived without learning the purpose of our own existence but groping in the darkness of ignorance? All the answers to what ails individuals and society are present in the Quran. We should refer to the Quran for answers to our deepest questions such as “Who created me?” Or “Why was I created?” are answered in the Quran. If we refer to other sources for answers to these questions, then we will definitely go astray. May Allah protect us all from misguidance.

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