Thursday, August 24, 2006

Stop (Just) Reading The Quran

Another Ramadan is almost upon us (a month away). I have decided I am not going to strictly gun for a Quran Khatam any more.

Every Ramadan, I (and countless others in the world) will finish the Quran from Al Fatiha to An-Nas. If you were religious like my grandpa, finish it thrice. Maybe even more.

So last Ramadan, I was reading the Quran. I had been lazy during the first few days, so was catching up. All of a sudden, I just felt so frustrated. The words, the beautiful words, were not making any sense.

You see, I don't speak Arabic. People ask me why after having lived in the Middle East for 18 years I cannot speak Arabic. I tell them I can speak just enough to call a taxi but the thing is, you didn't need Arabic as a school kid. My Arabic classes were a joke (it's actually good blog fodder [word courtesy:Isheeta] but for another day). Most of the Arabic words I knew were swear words (courtesy my Arab 'friends' - the 'polite' words were to the tune of qalb, himmar ...).

So I am reading the Quran - I am just regurgitating the words. They make no sense to me. The Quran is a beautiful book - just listen to a good recitation and you will fall in love with the enchanting verses even if you don't know the meaning - but I have decided it has to make sense to me.

I told this to an uncle and he was like 'why? The Prophet said reading the Quran is reward itself'. I told him the Prophet was dealing with Arabs at first. Even then, when they didn't follow something, they would go to someone who did, right? Besides, the first page of the Quran tells you man is Khalifa or God's deputy on earth. How can we deputize for Someone if we don't understand what He told us? So last Ramadan, I decided come the next time, I am going to read the Quran with translation. It will go slow, so I might not finish the Book.

You would think this would be the sensible thing to do. I mean, it's not like I decided I am going to pray in Bengali from today.

But no - every friggin person is like -no way, you gotta finish the Book. It's not even an act of worship anymore - it's a ritual. For some people it has even become a badge of honour. 'I have finished it two times' 'oh really, my son just did his third khatam this week' and so on.

Well, here is another Ramadan. Once it starts, I decided the focus will not be so much as to finish the Book but to understand it. Atleast the first one-third. I have already discovered a word-for-word translation of Quran at After all, can't let the Saudis have the all the fun of being the 'interpreters' of the Book, eh? They sure made a mess of it so far.

A sign I once saw at a mosque made perfect sense. It read:

... like a parrot.
Read it with meaning at [name of institution here]


Athena said...

i agree with you. what's the point in finishing a 'book' if you have no idea what it was all about?

- SH

mezba said...

Well, the Quran is beautiful to read and mesmerizing to listen to when recited beautifully. It gives you an inner peace and makes you connected to your religion, tradition and roots.

The problem is when that's all we do, we MUST read the meaning of the verses and read the tafseer (explanation) to understand the context of the verses. After all, Europe was mired in dark ages when only the priests (that too only the males) were the only ones allowed to read and interpret the Bible, and they made rules to favour them. Muslims are in reverse. We started where everyone knew what the Quran said and meant, to today where we leave it to 'others', who have their own agenda in mind.

The Bengali Fob said...

I think the same way as you. I've already started reading the translated Qur'an my grandfather gave me when I was young. REading the Arabic is good and all, but I can olny understand like 0.005% of it.

The translated version isn't that great though because it's in like Shakesperean English or something. Then again, I hear Arabs tell me that the QUr'an uses classical Arabic which they have a little bit of trouble with too apparently.

Like I said before somewhere in blogosphere. As long as you do the right and honest thing then you're safe. OF course, you should also have your iman.

Shabina said...

i feel ya on this. i was between jobs last ramadan, so had plenty of time to read with translation. am thinking of starting early this year, otherwise doubtful that i'd finish...khair iA. good luck :)

Maliha said...

Mezba but why wait till Ramadhan to do any Quran reading period?

Try to find little moments everyday to read a little; and contemplate on the verses you read. It will really give you fodder for thought; guidance; and light..Inshaallah.

I try to do that..but some days/weeks are better than others...

Crimson Mouzi said...

"I told this to an uncle and he was like 'why? The Prophet said reading the Quran is reward itself'. "

Actually the uncle is missing something REALLY REALLY important. UNderstanding Quran or reading it with meaning is "fard" versus simply reciting it is sunnah or nafilah (don't quote me on that, but reciting the Quran for Khatim is not fard). So, if you have decided to read the Quran with meaning over the Ramadan, that is definitely an awesome start. ANd given that you are actually doing the "fard", the ajr is of course is a whole lot more than nafl.

What we Bengies don't realize that QUran has a purpose. It's like a letter from Allah. And the letter has a noble purpose. It's a guidance, a manual for our daily life. There is no point of having a Quran in the house if we don't adhere to the commands of the Quran, and if we don't understand it, our life is meaningless as Muslims.

I do realize the strong claim about reciting the Quran with tartil and getting rewards for that. However, that's all fancy things come only after we fulfill our duties, one of which is to actually understand the verses. Now "understand" is a strong word for Quran is a complex text. But at the very least, we should make all our effort to know the meaning and "understand" it.

Aisha said...

*standing ovation for Mezba*

Well said. I began reading the translation at 12. It changed my life. Reading Arabic alone is fine as far as history and all that, but the book is meant to teach us how to live our lives. Its the miracle bestowed to our prophet.... knowing what it contains is a good idea. During Ramadan I do not read the arabic anyways, I read the English.

Plus during Taraweeh in college there was a group that would pray reading the Quranic translation as they held it in their hands. AT my school it was acceptable. I tried doing that in my new city and people didnt seem thrilled about it. I loved it b/c I could hear the Arabic and understand it. It was a beautiful thing.

mezba said...

Bfob: True, the Quran is in classical Arabic, therefore mostly translated similarly. I wonder why they cannot use contemporary English. It's not like we are using slang like "Yo, Believers!"

Interesting trivia: Bhai Girish Chandra Sen was the first to translate the Quran into Bengali. He was a Hindu.

Shabina, Maliha: I would have liked to start after last Ramadan but been busy, busy, busy. I know, bad eh? But there is just so much happening all around it was so hard to make time. Therefore this Ramadan pledge.

MFH: Given the high level of illiteracy that is prevalent amongst some maulvis in B'desh today makes one only more eager to read the Quran with translation oneself. I lost count of the ridiculous fatwas I heard. They talk nothing of illiteracy when the first revealed word of Allah to man was 'Read'.

*blush at the ovation*
Just sometime ago I actually read a bit of the Quran with English translation and that was Surah Maryam (Mary). Now I know why Negus was so moved. It is a powerful medium!

'liya said...

Even though the Arabic sounds very beautiful, you have to know what you're reading! I just can't read the Arabic without the translation anymore. Like you, I don't speak Arabic but can read it :)

I especially like the translation I have with all the footnotes that really explain things in depth. When you read it like that, you feel like you're learning so many things on so many levels.

Good luck with your Quran reading in Ramadan (and also after and before Ramandan!) - can you believe that month is here so fast?

Cunayt said...

Salaam Mezba

Great post! Since you have decided to read the Quran with understanding, you might find it useful to skim thru chapter 3, 4, 5 of this book:

This is a 'study guide,' if there ever was one on the Quran.

Desi Monkey said...

Very good idea- Insha'Allah I'll aim to take the same approach this year.

jaz said...

salaam, more a less similar experience. Actually i prefered to read quran , after each verse or before each verse I would take a look at the translation so that I could feel the meaning and beauty of the verse. Of course it was a slow process. However last few months, Alhamdulillah, I have changed my method.Those with some basic Arabic knowledge can try this method. I try to understand the meaning of each word in the verse by looking at the translation and try to memorise the meaning of the whole verse. I didn't actually memorise the quran but only the meaning, meaning if I read the verse I would know straight away the meaning. I try to memorise the meaning of 5-10 or more versus each day which I normally spent 1/2 hr each day or more. Currently, I have finished 140 versus (1 chapter). I planned to finished understand the whole quran in 1 year InsyaAllah. By the next next Ramadhan, I hope i can read quran with understanding faster .
The next step would be to memorise the quran itself, bit by bit may 5 versus a day. Which in calculation would take 3-4 years to finish. It would very easy if you already understand the meaning. I have so far memorised 50 versus.More to go....