a) Think of Who is talking to you
When you begin reciting the Qur’ān, Imām al-Ghazālī (raḥimahullāh) advised that you should bring the Greatness of the One who is addressing you to the forefront of your mind. The words you are reciting did not originate from a human being; they are the words of the Lord of the worlds.
b) Allah is talking to you
Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) said, “If you want to benefit from the Qur’ān, gather your heart when it is recited, focus your hearing, and act like you are being directly addressed by Allah, as it is an address from Him to you upon the tongue of His Messenger ﷺ. Allah said, ‘Indeed there is a reminder in that for whoever has a heart or whoever listens attentively with his heart present’(50:37).”
Imām al-Ghazālī (raḥimahullāh) said, “One is to assume that he is the one who is being addressed in every statement in the Qur’ān. Hence if he hears a command or prohibition, he assumes that he is the one who is being commanded and prohibited.
If he hears a promise or threat, he does the same. If he hears the stories of the past and those of prophets, he realises that entertainment is not the objective, but rather, it is for him to take lessons, and to extract from its content what he needs.”
Try to personalise the Qur’ān to your situation whilst reciting it. Relate it to your own life and your own experiences. Ask yourself: what is Allah telling me? What is Allah asking me to do? How can I apply it to my life?
The āyah also alludes to the importance of having a healthy and sound heart. The Qur’ān can only benefit you if it finds a suitable recipient to enter: a pure heart. Your heart must be purified from shirk, sins, and the diseases of the heart (e.g. envy, pride, hatred, hypocrisy).
“Those before you saw the Qur’ān as a correspondence from their Lord; they would ponder upon it at night and review it in the day.” (al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī raḥimahullāh)
Think deeply about the words you are reciting and try to visualise the meaning they are conveying. For instance, when reading about the descriptions of Hell-fire in Juz ʿAmma, make the imagery come alive in your mind. To achieve this, repeat the āyāt wherever necessary.
d) Feel the emotion and repeat the āyah
The Qur’ān was sent down for us to derive guidance from it and to increase our īmān in Allah, the Prophet ﷺ and the hereafter. Allah says, “And when His āyāt are recited to them, it increases them in īmān” (8:2).
Accordingly, when reciting an āyah about Paradise, feel your longing for the Paradise increasing. On feeling this effect in your heart, continue to repeat this āyah.
Similarly, when reciting an āyah about Hell-fire, feel fear in your heart. On feeling this effect, keep repeating the āyah. Let it move you to the point of crying over it.
Similarly, when reading an āyah about the greatness of Allah, feel shyness and awe before Him. Keep repeating this āyah until you feel the effect of it in your heart.
Try to recall the last time you heard Sūrah Yusuf in tarāwīḥ. Did you hear sniffling and people rummaging in their pockets for tissues when the imām recited the latter āyāt of the story? Even though our īmān is weak and we find it easier to cry at the stories which tug at our hearts, the principle is the same.
Whether your recitation includes a touching story or an āyah about the creative power of Allah, let it move you emotionally. Let it pierce your heart.
Mālik b. Dīnār (raḥimahullāh) used to recite the āyah ‘Had We sent down this Qur’ān to a mountain, you would have seen it humbled, burst apart from the awe for Allah…’ (59:21), and then say, “I swear to you, no slave truly believes in the Qur’ān except that his heart bursts open.”
e) Interact with the āyāt.
Strive to emulate the Messenger of Allah ﷺ by interacting with the āyāt you are reciting during voluntary prayers. When you come across an āyah about mercy, stop and ask Allah for His mercy. When you come across an āyah about punishment, stop and ask Allah’s protection. When you come across an āyah where you can make a duʿā’, stop and ask Allah.
ʿAwf b. Mālik (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said, “I stood up to pray along with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ one night. He got up and recited Sūrah al-Baqarah. When he came to an āyah of mercy, he stopped and made duʿā’, and when he came to an āyah of punishment, he stopped and asked for Allah’s protection” (Abū Dāwūd).
Masrūq (raḥimahullāh) said, “ʿĀ’ishah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhā) recited the āyah:
فَمَنَّ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْنَا وَوَقَانَا عَذَابَ السَّمُومِ
إِنَّا كُنَّا مِن قَبْلُ نَدْعُوهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْبَرُّ الرَّحِيمُ
‘But Allah was gracious to us and protected us from the punishment of the scorching fire. We used to pray to Him before. He is surely the Most Kind, the Very Merciful’ (52:27).
Then she said, ‘O Allah, be gracious to us and protect us from the punishment of the scorching fire.’” Aʿmash, one of the narrators, was asked if she said this in her ṣalāh. He replied, “Yes” (Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr).
ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) had two black lines on his face due to weeping excessively. Once, whilst he was patrolling Madinah at night, he passed by a house and heard a man reciting in his ṣalāh, “By Mount Tūr” (52:1), until he reached, “Indeed, the punishment of your Lord will certainly take place— none will avert it” (52-7:8).
He said, “By the Lord of the Kaʿbah, this oath is the truth!” He stepped down from his donkey and leaned on the wall. He remained there for a short time, and then returned home. For the next month, he remained ill. People would visit him, and not know the cause of his illness.
“Whoever loves the Qur’ān loves Allah and His Messenger ﷺ.” (ʿAbdullāh b. Masʿūd raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu)
f) Study the Qur’ān.
To achieve the above (points a-e), you will have to make an effort to study and understand the the meanings and message of the Qur’ān.
Some ways you can do this are:
• Learn Arabic. This will open the door to understanding the meaning of the Qur’ān.
• Learn the meaning of the Qur’ān. There are many classes, books, apps and videos dedicated to this subject. Even reading a simple translation is better than not reading one at all.
• Attend Qur’ān classes. Increase your knowledge of the Qur’ān by studying it along with the other sciences of the dīn.
• Listen to reliable tafsīr (explanation of the Qur’ān) lectures.
• Read reliable tafsīr books. Some of these have been translated into English
• Whenever you are reflecting on the words of the Qur’ān, always take heed not to fall into the trap of interpreting the book of Allah according to your own whims and desires, or speaking about His words without knowledge.
Once you have studied the meanings of an āyah and have understood its context and lessons, then you should memorise it, if you have not done so already. Thereafter, recite those āyāt in your ṣalāh – especially in tahajjud. Allah willing, you will feel a huge difference in the sweetness of your ṣalāh. Remember to: (1) personalise, (2) visualise and (3) interact with the āyāt!
“Whoever desires knowledge should read the Qur’ān, for indeed it contains the knowledge of the earlier ones and the latter ones.” (ʿAbdullāh b. Masʿūd raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu)
“But I am not a scholar…?”
There is a misconception amongst some people that tadabbur is limited to scholars. This is not true. The disbelievers were condemned in the Qur’ān for not doing tadabbur. Allah said, “Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’ān, or are there locks upon (their) hearts” (47:24)?
Therefore, as believers, we have no excuse for failing to perform tadabbur. Tadabbur is essential to our lives and for building a strong connection with Allah.