The Qur’an is the literal word of God. It is the holiest book for Muslims. Most of the Muslims have read the Qur’an in Arabic- without understanding much of it. However most Muslims, and this may be something that may be a surprise to you. have not read the Qur’an in their native language cover to cover, even once in their lifetime. There are many reasons for this. One of the big reasons is that we consider Qur’an to be complex and for scholars and experts .We expect that the scholars and experts would do the translation and interpretation for us. We think the Qur’an is too complex for us to understand, therefore why read it.
The million dollar question is: Where does this belief come from? This does not seem to come from the Qur’an itself. Let’s see what the Qur’an itself says about this.
But before we get into that, I wanted to emphasize that the Qur’an does have many layers of understanding. The most direct and most superficial, to deep mystic meanings. Also I do realize there have been various levels and methods of Qur’anic hermeneutics- both traditional and modern.
Traditional approaches to interpreting the Qur’an are largely restricted to observable linguistic features of the Qur’anic text. According to this methodology, readers retrieve the text’s meaning through analysis of the Arabic grammar, syntax, and morphology.
Then there are Asbabul Nazool or contextual methodology. Additionally exegesis relies on Prophetic traditions and other narrations from Imams or companions of the Prophet.
But we will not go into the academics of the interpretations/translations and simply focus on what the Qur’an itself says about this topic.
Here I will highlight the passages from the Qur’an that shows that the Qur’an is easy to read, easy to memorize and easy to understand.
Keep in mind:
- The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic. The only form that is considered Al Qur’an IS the Arabic Qur’an. The translations into other languages are JUST THAT- translations. The translations introduce the human element and are subject to our understanding and built in biases.
- The best way to understand the Qur’an is to read and understand the Arabic Qur’an.
- While you wait for that, the next best way is to read in the language you do understand.
- There are indeed deeper level of the meaning of the Qur’an that requires deeper studies, pondering and scholarship. But the goal there is for a deeper understanding. I will refer to the verse of the Qur’an related to this later, which will put this conversation in perspective (3:7)
So let’s review the passages to make my point that Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala tells us that the Qur’an is easy to understand. Following is only a small sample of verses!
The Quran in Arabic
The Quran contains many references not only to the revelation in the Arabic language but to the rationale as well:
إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
Surely We have revealed it- an Arabic Quran- that you may understand.(Shakir)
We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an, in order that ye may learn wisdom.(Yusuf Ali)
The Qur’an 12:2
قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا غَيْرَ ذِي عِوَجٍ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ
An Arabic Quran without any crookedness, that they may guard (against evil). The Qur’an 39:28
Surely this Quran is a revelation from the Rabb [Lord] of the Worlds. The trustworthy Spirit (Angel Gabriel) brought it down upon your heart so that you may become one of those who are appointed by Allah to warn the people in a plain Arabic language. This fact was foretold in the Scriptures of the former people. The Qur’an 26:192–196
كِتَابٌ فُصِّلَتْ آيَاتُهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ
A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail;- a Qur’an in Arabic, for people who understand. The Qur’an; 41:3
فَإِنَّمَا يَسَّرْنَاهُ بِلِسَانِكَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ
“Verily, We have made this (Quran) easy, in your tongue, in order that they may give heed.” The Qur’an 44:58
The verses quoted above are rather self-explanatory but it’s worth pointing that the Quran declares that the verses are
- Revealed in Arabic
- well explained (41:3),
- they are easy to understand (44:58),
- and it was revealed to the people who spoke Arabic in their language, just like the Torah was revealed in Hebrew and the Gospel in Aramaic.
The question that can be asked concerning the Quran’s Arabic language is: If it was meant for mankind, why was it only revealed in the Arabic language? There may not be a simple answer but the same is true for all other Scriptures that were revealed in the native language of the prophet and the community it was revealed upon—the idea being for the “primary” audience to learn it and then spread it to others in their own languages with the invitation to eventually learn it in the Scripture’s original language.
وَكَذَٰلِكَ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لِتُنْذِرَ أُمَّ الْقُرَىٰ وَمَنْ حَوْلَهَا وَتُنْذِرَ يَوْمَ الْجَمْعِ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ ۚ فَرِيقٌ فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَفَرِيقٌ فِي السَّعِيرِ
And thus have We revealed to you an Arabic Quran, that you may warn the mother city (reference to the holy city of Mecca) and those around it, and that you may give warning of the day of gathering together wherein is no doubt; a party shall be in the garden and (another) party in the burning fire. The Qur’an 42:7
The Quran: Easy to Understand
The message in verse mentioned above 44:58, is even more directly mentioned elsewhere.
And We have indeed made the Qur’an easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition? The Qur’an 54:17
The same exact verse is repeated three more times in the same chapter: 54:22, 54:32, and 54:40.
The Quran does acknowledge that there are different types of verses in the Qur’an. Some verses re clear while others are allegorical but the clear verses form the foundation of the book:
It explains that some verses in the Quran are very clear, and others are more vague or allegorical. The translation used here is by Yousuf Ali and alternative translations are also noted in parenthesis, as noted by various scholars:
He it is Who has sent down to you the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental [also translated as decisive by Pooya Yazdi and Shakir, definite by Yuksel, and clear by Pickthall]; they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical [translated as ambiguous by Yazdi and multiple-meaning by Yuksel]. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say: ‘We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord’: and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding. The Qur’an 3:7
Allegorical verses notwithstanding, yet another verse proclaiming the simplicity of the Quran is quoted below:
And We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything, and a guidance and mercy and good news for those who submit. The Qur’an 16:89
Te following set mentions that God has taken it upon Himself for collecting, reciting and explaining of the Qur’an.
And God has taken the responsibility to explain it, recite it (to Prophet Muhammad), compile it in the following set of verses.
Do not move your tongue with it to make haste with it. Surely on Us (devolves) the collecting of it and the reciting of it.Therefore when We have recited it, follow its recitation. Again on Us (devolves) the explaining of it. The Qur’an 76:16-19
(i.e. we do not need “experts”, while it is also true that we do need scholars of the Qur’an to explain certain parts of it.
My take home message:
The Qur’an is easy to understand- at least the clear verses ( Ayatul muhakkemaat). The Qur’an contains clear and allegorical verses. The foundation of the book is in the clear verses.
It is well explained.
There are various levels of understanding.
- Most basic- read the translation, knowing the translations are not perfect.
- Read cover to cover- slowly. Take your time!
- Try to learn Arabic- the Qur’anic Arabic.
- Then get a little deeper- tajweed, study the context, asbab e nazool.
- Get to understand the deeper, mystic meanings.
- Take classes in a well recognized institution.
- But do not wait for the next order of understanding.
- You can not do the Masters without going through the elementary school, high school and college. You cannot do PhD without the prerequisites.
- We need to learn to walk before we learn to run. Same goes with trying to understand the Qur’an
- The Quran was revealed as guidance and mercy. We cannot be guided if we don’t read and understand it!
- I am NOT telling you to not consult scholars for a better understanding!
My ultimate ask is this: Start reading the Qur’an cover to cover today– and take your time.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand some passages. Keep reading until the end even if takes you a year to finish. I guarantee you that it will open your eyes, and your hearts. I have done it numerous times in the last 25 years and every time I read it, I keep finding passages that I though I was fully aware of, giving me new insights. The Qur’an is like an ocean. You keep drinking water from it and every time you go back, you find more to quench your thirst.