What’s the Point of Reciting the Quraan when I don’t Understand it?

There was once a grandfather who had great love for the Quraan Majeed. Every night without fail, he would make wudhu, apply ‘itr, remove his beloved Quraan from its velvet cover and sit with utmost respect reciting the word of Allah Ta‘ala in a most melodious tone. As he would recite, however, his young grandson would stare at him in bemusement and scratch his head in confusion. One day, his grandson came up to him and asked, “Dada, you recite the Quraan Majeed EVERY night but you don’t even know Arabic! You read so much but you don’t even understand what you’re reading! What a waste of time!” His grandfather looked at him, smiled and said, “My child, do you see the coal basket in the corner? Good! Empty out the coal, take the basket to the stream, fill it with water and rush back as quickly as your little legs can carry you.”  The young boy ran off on his “mission”, heading towards the stream. He filled the basket, turned, and ran straight back to the house. “Dada!” he complained, “The water doesn’t stay in the basket because of all the holes! I think I’m wasting my time!” “I think you need to run faster.” suggested Dada. And so off he went again, running even faster than before. When he returned this time, there were at least a few drops of water at the bottom of the basket but even those dripped out before he could put the basket down. “One more time! Run your absolute fastest now!” urged Dada before the child could again complain. Now when the child returned, huffing and puffing from the exertion, there was at least a small puddle – but even that rapidly drained out before their eyes. “I give up Dada!” he exclaimed, “And I’ve wasted my time!” “Hold it! Not so hasty my child.” responded Dada. “Why don’t you examine the basket and tell me what you see?” he prompted. The child turned the basket in his hands, looking first at the inside and then turned it the other way, looking at the outside. “It looks brand new!” he marveled. “It’s all shiny again! All the soot has been washed off!” he said. “Exactly!” replied Dada. “The basket is perhaps unable to hold the water, but that doesn’t mean the water doesn’t affect it in any way. Rather the water cleanses and polishes it, removing all the dirt and grime. That, my child, is exactly what happens when we read the Quraan Majeed without understanding the meaning. Allah Ta‘ala not only gives us great reward but also cleanses our hearts through our recitation” he explained. “Wow! Will you teach me to read too Dada?” he asked. “Definitely!” replied Dada.

Our Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said, “Indeed these hearts rust just as iron rusts when wet with water.” A Sahaabi (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) asked, “O Rasul of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam)! What is its polish?” “Abundant remembrance of death and the recitation of the Quraan Majeed.” answered Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). (Shu‘abul Imaan #2014)

A person suffering from a splitting headache, despite not knowing the pharmacological effect, group schedule or origin of panado, won’t think twice before swallowing the tablet. He understands that this lack of knowledge and understanding in no way hinders or obstructs the tablet benefitting him by alleviating his pain. Similarly, when a person recites the Quraan Majeed with dedication and devotion, it serves to cleanse his heart of the layers of muck and grime that engulf his heart by him sinning. This is regardless of whether or not he understands the meaning of the Quraan Majeed.

The Quraan Majeed was revealed in Arabic and the people to whom it was directly revealed were Arabs who spoke the most eloquent form and dialect of the language. Despite them being completely conversant and fluent in the language, Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) was tasked with a separate responsibility in his capacity as the Nabi – the responsibility to teach them the RECITATION of the Quraan Majeed.

Allah Ta‘ala mentions in Surah Aal ‘Imraan (v164):

لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللہُ عَلَی الْمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ اِذْ بَعَثَ فِیۡہِمْ رَسُوۡلًا مِّنْ اَنۡفُسِہِمْ یَتْلُوۡا عَلَیۡہِمْ اٰیٰتِہٖ وَیُزَکِّیۡہِمْ وَیُعَلِّمُہُمُ الْکِتٰبَ وَالْحِكْمَۃَ ۚ وَ اِنۡ کَانُوۡا مِنۡ قَبْلُ لَفِیۡ ضَلٰلٍ مُّبِیۡنٍ

“Indeed Allah Ta‘ala had favored the believers when He sent in their midst a messenger from among them who recites to them His verses, purifies them and teaches them the book and wisdom and they were before in clear misguidance”

The recitation of the Quraan Majeed holds such a degree of importance that teaching the recitation alone formed a separate department from the other departments of deen. Allah Ta‘ala not only showed its importance but even expressed it to be a great favour on the Ummah that they learn to recite the Quraan Majeed. This is because the recitation of the words of the Quraan Majeed is an irreplaceable ‘ibaadah that plays an extremely important role in the life of a Muslim.

Imaam Ahmad bin Hambal (rahimahullah) once saw Allah Ta‘ala in a dream and asked, “O my Rabb! What is the best way for the person seeking your proximity to gain your nearness?” “Through my speech (the Quraan)” replied Allah Ta‘ala. “With or without understanding?” Imaam Ahmad next asked. “With understanding and without understanding.” answered Allah Ta‘ala. (Ithaafus Saadatil Muttaqeen vol. 4, pg. 466)

Some Muslims are is misled by the idea that reciting the Quraan Majeed without any idea of the meaning is a “waste of time” as it is merely reading in a “parrot fashion”. Hence they abandon reading the Quraan Majeed. Such people in reality are doing themselves a great disservice and depriving themselves of the abundant reward Allah Ta‘ala has offered.

Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said, “Whoever recites one “harf” (letter) of the Kitaab of Allah Ta‘ala will receive a reward in return and one reward is multiplied by ten. I do not say that “alif laam meem” is a harf. Rather “alif” is a harf, “laam” is a harf and “meem” is a harf.” (Sunan Tirmizi #2910)

If a person recites just the three letters “alif laam meem” (at the beginning of Surah Baqarah) and nothing else, Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has promised this person a minimum of 30 rewards! This is despite the fact that the Ummah of Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) does not know the meaning of these three letters with certainty. This proves without a doubt that recitation of the Quraan Majeed – although the meaning is not known to the reciter – guarantees immense reward. Are we, as Muslims, willing to deny this reward and thus challenge the promise of our Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam)?

To understand the meaning of the Quraan Majeed is indeed very important and striving to learn it at the hands of a true ‘Aalim of deen is a praiseworthy effort. In the event of not knowing the meaning, however, the RECITATION should never be abandoned. We face a dark future if we begin to distance ourselves from the Quraan Majeed, the word of our Allah Ta‘ala, due to not understanding its meaning. Will we allow the day to come when we abandon even salaah due to not understanding Arabic?

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