The Qur’an was revealed by Almighty Allah through Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to mankind to bring them out of the disorienting and debilitating darkness of falsehood, ignorance and superstitions to the light and radiance of truth, guidance and proper erudition. The Qur’an is the only means available to man by which he can communicate directly with his Creator, Master and Sustainer. No other alternative is left as all the previous Scriptures have been tampered with, corrupted or utterly lost.
This indeed is a hallmark of the Islamic message. Man needs no intermediaries of any kind — conceptual or physical — between him and his Master. The whole life affair is solely between man and Allah. Everything and everyone else stands for a secondary thing, playing second fiddle to that overwhelming relationship. Allah is only a Qur’anic verse (ayah), a contemplative thought, or a sincere supplication “away”.
Man has been created but to worship and serve Allah (al-Dhariyat, 56). However, this by no means implies that man is to engross himself fully and exclusively in sheer religious rituals and spend most of his terrestrial time mainly in mosques or some other religious institutions and establishments. Indeed, such would be impractical, uninspiring and dull an affair. Rather, that means that man in his capacity as Allah’s vicegerent on earth is to live his life “to the fullest” but only according to the patterns and paradigms instituted by the Creator. Man is to live his life not according to his own will, but according to the will of the Creator and Cherisher of life. Each and every creation is to submit itself only to its Creator, rather than other creations. So imperfect, faulty and weak is man — and indeed every other creation — that he cannot be qualified for any of the tasks relating to the spiritual and existential lordship and self-sufficiency.
That said, Islam is not a religion in the sense Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., are. Islam is a complete way of life. It is a comprehensive lifestyle, culture and civilization. It is a form of total submission to the will, knowledge and guidance of Allah. Islam is not a religion of mere words, slogans, or symbols. It is not a religion of an abstract philosophy, or a set of pure religious rituals. Islam knows no distinction between the spiritual and material spheres of existence along the ideological and ontological lines. To assert something like that is to distort the Islamic message and to live in the wrong. Due to the unity and oneness of Allah (tawhid), Islam likewise propagates the unity and oneness of truth and of the meaning, purpose and providence of life and man.
Islam is a religion of sincere faith (iman), actions and deeds (‘amal salih). It is a religion of life accomplishments. Islam is life, and life, the way Allah created and predetermined it, echoes the quintessence and ethos of Islam. The word “islam” which denotes a total submission to Allah through one’s acts, words and thoughts, clearly attests to it. Hence, there is nothing more thrilling, spellbinding, wholesome and rewarding than living life in the name of and for the Creator of the universe. Submitting fully to and worshiping Allah alone means personal liberation, self-assertion and self-fulfillment in the truest senses of those words.
Islam therefore is to be lived, not practiced. True Muslims live Islam. Those who practice it are yet to experience the authentic beauty and sweetness of the Islamic faith.
That is why some people in the end become apostates. They get tired of, or fed up, with practicing some — to them — dry, rigid and meaningless rituals rooted in little, or no genuine, truth.
In point of fact, however, apostates were never Muslims as per the Qur’anic conception and interpretation of the term. They were never Muslims because true Muslims do not (cannot) become apostates. A person cannot renounce what he intrinsically is and what he primordially was meant to be. He can only give up and abandon his artificial self and artificial life patterns unnaturally imposed on him, which he regularly and constantly did in order to become better at them and make them an everyday part of his routine life. Positively, Islam cannot be an artificial, non-natural and simulated lifestyle and culture.
As a small digression, those who neither subscribe to nor follow the only message and guidance meant for mankind — which was revealed to all the prophets of Allah during entire human history, Muhammad (pbuh) being the final messenger — actually do not “live”. They only exist, like the rest of life’s animate and inanimate realities. They slumber throughout and wake up only when departing this fleeting life. The idea of life is attached to them only metaphorically. And, hypothetically, those who live the only revealed message of Allah, Islam, but want to give it up, will need to “die” first, as such an option in the real world is not viable, in that true Islam means true life, and vice versa. Islam, it goes without saying, is not only about human existence, but also about each and every tier of the whole physical and metaphysical existence. It is its DNA, so to speak.
In its capacity as a divine book of guidance, inspiration, truth, clear signs, cure, mercy, glad tidings, and ultimate wisdom and knowledge encompassing everything necessary for the fulfillment of the ontological purpose of existence (al-Baqarah, 97, 185; Yunus, 57; al-Isra’, 82; al-Nahl, 89), the holy Qur’an accounts for everything Islam as a total code of life is. The Qur’an is a symbol of the Islamic message. The two have become inseparable, almost synonymous with each other.
Thus, the Qur’an signifies to Muslims the source of their identity, strength, consciousness and cultural as well as civilizational being. Without the Qur’an, there will be no Islam; nor will there be Muslims and Islamic culture and civilization. Without the Qur’an as a conduit of revealed wisdom and knowledge concerning the spiritual and ethical meaning and purpose of life, furthermore, little permanently wholesome will ever be possible for man to achieve. One thus may ask: what conceptual, substantial or moral good would remain with mankind if the towering contributions of God’s holy prophets and the direct and indirect contributions of numerous sages and leaders the prophets produced were taken away from them? The emphatic answer is: nothing, or extremely little, at best.
Nonetheless, it is a sad truth today that many Muslims’ relationship with the Qur’an is fraught with a myriad of deficiencies. In a nutshell, the Qur’an has been either abandoned completely, or is erroneously dealt with.
In the former scenario, many people have nothing to do with the Qur’an and its content insofar as their private, family and professional lives are concerned. Their affiliation with Islam is based on some repetitive rituals and traditions which they inherited from their forefathers and which they blindly follow. Their Islam often revolves around “Islamic” symbolism, deadening formalism and baseless tales and superstitions. They are not interested in the Qur’an as they know that with it all they live for will suddenly be exposed and shaken to its core. The Qur’an is thus bound to bring more “damage” than “profit” to such people.
In the latter case, the Qur’an is regularly but hastily read or recited without duly understanding or contemplating its content. Moreover, its substance is yet misread, misinterpreted and misapplied. The Qur’an is often used as a means for justifying and supporting some preconceived ideas and judgments. People have also subjected the Qur’an to themselves, rather than subjecting themselves to it. They have rendered the Qur’an relative, and their selfish goals and concerns absolute. The Qur’an has partially been made the object of their one-dimensional and patchy — often outright flawed — intellectual, spiritual and cultural pursuits. The Qur’an is meant thereby to be superficially and partially comprehended and implemented, at best, and misused and even abused, at worst. However, the Prophet (pbuh) warned that there will be times when certain people will recite the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats, meaning it will not enter their hearts and they will not understand it. “They will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game’s body” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Some of the less heartrending states of affairs go along the lines of constantly reading the Qur’an for the sake of mere reading it. The Qur’an is also recorded and regularly played on numerous TV programs and during various official and unofficial ceremonies, in public and in private. Qur’an recitations by world’s most famous reciters could be heard virtually everywhere in most of the Muslim world: from the minarets of mosques, in shopping centers, schools, private houses, restaurants and coffee shops, and all forms of private and public transportation. Some reciters have become world celebrities as a result; many others dream and do their best to follow suit. Tilawah (reciting Qur’an) competitions are organized on a regular basis, both locally and internationally, and huge amounts of money are allocated for the purpose (all this takes place despite most universities and other institutions of higher learning, in their capacity as rare beacons of hope — especially such as those endued with an Islamic spirit and disposition — having been bereft of significant research and publication opportunities and funds). Countless schools and colleges dedicated to reciting and memorizing the Qur’an are established worldwide and many Qur’an reciters and hafizs (those who memorize the whole Qur’an) are produced annually.
The many outward benefits of all those activities notwithstanding, quantity and form, clearly, are emphasized at the expense of quality and substance, in complete opposition to the whole spirit of Islam and the Qur’an. It is true, at the same time, that there is a growing number of genuine exceptions, but unfortunately they are still few and far between. It stands to reason that the whole set of the mentioned prevalent religious trends stands for a segment of what could be dubbed an emerging Muslim pop(ular) culture some of whose main features and qualities revolve not only around the Qur’an, but also around the realms of Muslim fashion, entertainment, media and sport.
We often hear statements to the effect that one ought to read at least one juz’ (the Qur’an has 30 juz’ or portions, each juz’ having about 20 pages) a day. That way, one ought to finish the entire Qur’an (khatm al-Qur’an) at least once a month. In the month of Ramadan, the month of the holy Qur’an, however, this relationship with the Qur’an is expected to intensify and one is expected to read even more.
If this is said in the context of one’s truly fruitful relationship with the Qur’an, and as part of his most authentic personality, family and community-building processes, then the matter is remarkably brilliant and so, by all means encouraged. But if it is said in the context of one’s one-dimensional, incorrect and only interest-based relationship with the Qur’an, then the matter becomes rather objectionable. It is bound to cause as much unintended bad as premeditated good both at the individual and societal levels of the Muslim cultural and civilizational presence. It is bound to further contribute to cementing and perpetuating all the negative aspects of the problematic relationship between the Qur’an and a great many weak Muslims.
As a result, there are many especially non-Arab Muslims who have read the Qur’an many times but are not aware of its fundamental meanings and messages. Others do not even care.
One then wonders: what type of Muslims are Muslims? What type of Islam do they follow? How could they barter the true, unambiguous, natural and logical message of Islam and the Qur’an for some irrational, meaningless and foreign spiritual, ethical and epistemological alternatives? Who are (were) the main culprits for the predicament, and under what circumstances did such an unprofitable trade come to pass?
These questions are compelling and spontaneously impose themselves considering that in Islam, no blind following and no beliefs and spiritual undertakings that are based on irrational evidence and reasoning, are accepted. Islam is a rational, balanced and open-minded religion, so, Muslims must be most rational and open-minded of all people. Since its inception, Islam declared an ideological war against those and other similar intellectual and spiritual crimes and felonies that can only paralyze and hold people back on their journey of civilization-making. Allah says: “And do not pursue (say, do or witness) that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart — about all those (one) will be questioned” (al-Isra’, 36). Accordingly, any act of blind following or performance on the basis of utter ignorance, even in pure religious rites or ceremonies, is an abominable course of action as it disregards the projected tasks and knacks of the faculties given to man.