Reciting the Qur’ān or memorising its words is in itself not enough. Although both of these acts are essential, they must be accompanied by reflection and a deep commitment to ‘live’ the Qur’ān.
Allah (ʿazza wa jall) says,
كِتَٰبٌ أَنزَلْنَٰهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَٰرَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوٓا۟ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْأَلْبَٰبِ
“This is a blessed Book which We revealed to you, so that they reflect upon its verses, and those with understanding may take heed” (38:29).
He also says, “Do they not, then, ponder upon the Qur‘ān? Had it been from someone other than Allah, they would have found in it a great deal of discrepancy” (4:82).
The recitation of the Qur’ān is supposed to increase our īmān and deepen the love and awe of Allah in our hearts. This will only occur if we recite with reflection and deliberation.
Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) wrote, “There is nothing more beneficial for the heart than reading the Qur’ān with contemplation and reflection. This is what inspires love and longing for Allah. It generates fear of Him and hope in Him. It makes one turn in repentance to Him and rely on Him. It causes one to fully submit to him, leave matters in His Hands and be pleased with His Decree. It inspires patience and gratitude and is a means of acquiring all of the characteristics which give life to and perfect the heart.
If people knew what recitation of the Qur’ān with contemplation contains, they would devote themselves to it at the expense of anything else. When one reads with reflection and comes across an āyah that he needs to cure his heart, he repeats it. He may repeat it a hundred times, or even throughout the entire night, as was reported about the Prophet ﷺ and the early predecessors. Hence, reciting a single āyah of the Qur’ān with contemplation and reflection is better than reciting the entire Qur’ān without any contemplation or reflection.
This is more beneficial for the heart, more likely to increase one’s īmān and leads one to taste the sweetness of īmān and the Qur’ān. This was the habit of the early predecessors, whereby one of them would repeat the same āyah throughout the night until morning came. Likewise, it has been reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ stood repeating one āyah till morning came.”
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 (ʿazza wa jall) 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 (ʿazza wa jall).
Tadabbur: The Route to Discovering the Secrets of the Qur’ān
Spending long hours with the book of Allah and reflecting on it will help a person discover amazing meanings and glean new insights. Ibn ʿĀshūr (raḥimahullāh) wrote, “Tadabbur is reflection and pondering, through which a person gains knowledge of the intended meanings. This only occurs in speech which is concise, yet comprehensive in meaning; so that the more a person reflects, the more he discovers meanings which were previously not apparent to him.”
“As for the one who does not reflect, ponder and is not blessed with Allah’s help in this regard, he will remain ignorant of the amazing secrets mentioned in this Magnificent Qur’ān.” – Imām al-Rāzī (raḥimahullāh)
Tadabbur and ‘Living’ the Qur’ān
Tadabbur is not merely about extracting amazing gems from the Qur’ān. Rather, it should directly lead us to implementing the commandments of Allah and the sunnah of His beloved ﷺ.
Imām al-Ājurrī (raḥimahullāh) describes the companion of the Qur’ān: “His concern when he begins reciting a sūrah is, ‘When will I take heed of what I recite?’ And his objective is not, ‘When will I complete the sūrah?’ Rather, his objective is, ‘When will I understand the message from Allah? When will I restrain myself? When will I take a lesson?’ This is because the recitation of the Qur’an is an act of worship, and worship cannot be performed heedlessly.”
“O Bearers of the Qur’ān! What has the Qur’ān planted in your hearts? For indeed the Qur’ān is the spring and irrigation of the hearts.” – Mālik b. Dīnār (raḥimahullāh)
Tips for Reflecting Upon the Qur’an
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
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?
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.
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.
Imām al-Nawawī mentions that this is mustaḥabb for everyone reciting Qur’ān, whether it is within ṣalāh or outside of ṣalāh; whether you are leading the congregation, part of the congregation or are praying alone.
f) Study the Qur’ān.
To achieve the above (points a-e), you will have to make an effort to study and understand the meanings and message of the Qur’ān outside of Ramaḍān and within Ramaḍān.
In Ramaḍān itself, you could listen to lectures explaining the meaning of the Qur’ān, read reliable tafsīr books, and read through the translation of the Qur’ān.
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 qiyām al-layl. InshāAllah, you will feel a huge difference in the sweetness of your ṣalāh. Remember to: (1) personalise, (2) feel the emotion and (3) interact with the āyāt!
“Son of Ādam, how will your heart soften when your only concern is to reach the end of the sūrah?” – al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (raḥimahullāh)