God has arranged the human heart like a fiery stone: its warmth inspires the soul to a new state. Its aesthetic world of sublime inner echoes is called the world of consciousness. The recitation of the Holy Qur’an touches the hearts of its readers in this way. The wonderful supernatural power of the Qur’an is that it removes the worries of the mind and gives comfort to the soul. The Qur’an affects human life through more than its textual meanings. In this article, I refute arguments that discourage reciting the Quran without knowing its meaning.
Historically, Enlightenment thinkers emphasized vision over sound, considering it the most powerful of our senses. Yet in the late nineteenth century, their encounters with the Eastern world, and with Qur’anic recitation, called for some corrections. European civilization, which believed that Beethoven’s music had a resonance with divinity, later began to study the Qur’an as recited in Egypt and other Eastern lands. According to Steven Corner’s work on Sensibility, or the sensitive power of sensory organs, “vision does not necessarily make us more sensitive as it constantly broadcasts what’s needed and what is not needed in our eyes.” In contrast, hearing is mostly used to communicate internally. Unlike other sensory experiences, the act of speaking through the tongue makes us want to recite the verses of the Quran again and again. In some cases they may not have any specific motivations. Briefly, what is transmitted through words is more sensitive.
Consider Immanuel Kant’s principle that morality is the product of man’s universal reason and, as such, rituals have no importance in the formation of moral personality. This view is rejected by anthropologists such as Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, and Charles Hrischkind who oppose Kantian ideology. From their point of view, practices serve as the center of personality formation. Through the example of his mother’s experience, Talal Asad describes the benefits of meaningless recitation in motherhood. As we place the external world and its material objects at the forefront of our thoughts, they will merge into the bushes of our inner realities. Thus Talal Asad says that life becomes enlightened when the Qur’an becomes part of one’s soul. In contrast, a superficial, naive relationship with the Word of God creates such a state of affairs in the believer. Reciting the Qur’an and listening to it can be the cause of great inspiration. This idea is also reflected in the prophetic Hadith: “If one listens attentively to the recitation of the Holy Qur’an, it will become a light to him.”
The interaction of vocal sounds and emotional affect is not limited to human beings, but can be seen in other creatures as well. It is a well known tradition that camels often react strongly to hearing the Arabic songs of their riders, energizing them to run faster under heavy loads. We may see someone laugh when they tell a joke even though they do not understand exactly what the subject is. But if they ask others what it is, it no longer makes them laugh. When words are transformed into meanings, logic must be established so that they can have no further influence. We need to understand some dimensions of meaning from this.
The structure of the Holy Qur’an is arranged according to the sound recording. The rules of recitation of the Qur’an teaches to stop reciting at the waqf (intermittently) instead of reciting two verses continually even if they are related to each other. Moreover, following these rules is considered a sacred act (Sunnah). Additionally, we find that some verses at the beginnings of particular Surahs are just letters, and scholars have explained that the meaning and interpretation of them is the Knowledge of Allah, unknown to us. But as anyone – especially those trained in the arts – can attest, the inner melody emanating from such verses forms an entirely different experience. This is why the recitation of the Holy Qur’an should be done with care. Although a fast recitation is not forbidden, it should be in complete compliance with the science and propriety that dictates recitation.
Another characteristic of the Holy Qur’an is that it constantly begets the remembrance of Allah through His names. This motivates him to remain in divine remembrance forever. Imam Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him) says in Ihya’-Ulum-al-Din that the act of weeping is especially sacred (Sunnah) when reciting the Holy Qur’an. When the Holy Qur’an is recited in a way that pleases the listener, the eyes weep and the heart finds pleasure in its sweetness. The boredom of simply reading other scriptures does not arise in the person who recites the Qur’an.
The language of the Holy Qur’an is the main factor behind this beautiful world where the voice of the Qur’an is heard. Its Arabic language, which opens up a huge window of ideas before us, deserves to be exalted for whatever reason. All the rules of recitation, such as where and how each letter should be pronounced, are very clearly stated. Currently, the aesthetics of languages are seen as a major area of study, with only the Arabic language being unique. In the first centuries, Orientalists focused on the great charismatic character of the Prophet, whereas Muslim countries focused on conveying the sanctity of the Qur’an. In his essay on poetry and language, the German Orientalist Navid Kermani observes the marvel that of the Arabic language, that is associated with a common identity beyond the vernacular, even among conflicting Arab tribes.
The Qur’an is neither prose nor verse. The lack of representation between the binaries of prose and verse tangibly suggests the divine beauty of the Holy Quran. One of the main allegations against the Qur’an described it as mere poetry. Yet, even Labid – the greatest poet in Arabia and a master of poetry such as Jinniyyah – converted to Islam, rejecting such allegations. Waleed bin Mughera, a prominent Qurashite scholar says:
Arabic literature is rich. I have a general understanding of all its peaks. I know their strengths and weaknesses. But the verses of the Qur’an symbolize indescribable beauty. Those words make a noise and explode in the mind. They are better than the words I have ever heard.
Therefore, the Qur’an is not poetry in which listeners may indulge in their own personal interpretations; rather, just the act of reading it is enough to receive the Almighty’s blessings, even without understanding its fullest meaning. The Qur’an is an oasis of knowledge that flows from the eternal Kalam of Allah.
About the Author: Basith Hamza is a Master Student at Jamia Markaz, Calicut, Kerala. Being a Founder Editor at Katib Media Collective and Haadee Institute, he is also a profuse writer having penned articles in English and Malayalam portals such as Eurasiareview journal, Risala Weekly, Campusalive, Rushd Magazine, Pravasi Vayana. He holds BA Economics from IGNOU and an Alimiyyah degree from Jamia Madeenathunnoor. You can find him on Twitter here.