For more on the Qur'an see Chapter 4 of Exploring Islam: Theology and Spiritual Practice in America by Salih Sayilgan
The Qur’an - The Act of Recitation
The Qur’an - The First and Last Aspect in Muslim life
Reading the Qur’an first thing in the early morning is my favorite way to start the day. It sets the tone for everything that I do. In fact, the first and last thing that a Muslim does in this world is to hear and recite the words of the Qur’an. When a newborn baby enters this world, the holy words of the Qur’an are recited by his parents into his ears. I remember when my children were born, my husband would hold them lovingly in his arms and recite in his beautiful melodic voice the Divine words - the call to prayer - into their ears. Perhaps, it is the first invitation to live a prayerful life - a reminder to not get lost or distracted in this world and live a life in constant awareness of and dedication to God. As Muslims, when we find ourselves on the deathbed prepared to bid farewell to this world, the last words that we should utter before our departure are the words of the holy Qur’an, the testimony of faith: I bear witness that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. For a Muslim, the cycle of life starts and ends with the Qur’an.
Qur'anic Recitation as Spiritual Exercise
Every day is a new beginning, a new chapter that is blank. In a way, a Muslim is called to replicate the cycle and write afresh his or her own story in a Qur’anic light. Reciting the Qur’an during early morning prayer while enjoying a moment of solitude has become a healthy spiritual discipline, a type of regular spiritual exercise to me and many other Muslims. The most beloved actions to God are those which are small but consistent as one teaching of the Islamic tradition tells us. We know now that long-term change and positive transformation is achieved by small and regular habits. The act of recitation facilitates that change. Throughout the day the connection to the Qur’an by performing the ritual prayers is maintained as I recite the words out loud and in silence during this act of devotion. The Qur’an nourishes my soul and strengthens my heart as I express and hear its unique words. The air, the space is filled with positive energy. I make a constant effort to use my tongue and mind wisely by filling my home with positive words and good thinking. To cultivate good and beautiful assumptions about God, human beings and the world is a key ingredient of the Muslim way. In chapter 35 verse 10 of the Qur’an we read that good words ascend to God. They are preserved by the heavenly beings. Qur’anic letters are like healthy x-rays sent out into the atmosphere and radiate beauty once we speak.
Qur'anic Words as Positive Affirmations
Science has also now established that saying positive affirmations to ourselves has a profound impact on our psychology and on others as well - a word of hurt can cause wounds, a word of affection and care can heal. The words we say do matter. There is a strong affirmation in Islam that words have an impact on us and our surroundings. Qur’anic words remind the reader of the most important virtues that should guide them in their daily conduct: compassion, kindness, humility, generosity, justice, patience, contentment or forgiveness are only a few to mention. The Qur’an reminds one of the finite reality of the world - that life is ultimately a journey and a blessing that should be used wisely. To live a life that is aimed at everlasting happiness and wholesome joy - not only aimed at instant, fleeting gratification and enjoyment of the self. But a life that is dedicated to God and the service of others as well and nurturing all aspects of our being. A life lived without remorse or major regrets. Reciting these and many other Qur’anic affirmations daily have therefore a profound effect on one’s way of being in the world.
Once my home, my sanctuary, my soundscape becomes infused by the holy words of the Qur’an, I am revived again. One Prophetic tradition asserts that a person who does not hold anything from the Qur’an in his heart is like a ruined house (Hadith, Tirmidhi). Or another saying describes quite succinctly, “The house in which the Quran is recited, its virtues and blessings multiply, angels come down upon them and the evil spirits run far away from there, but the house in which the Quran is not read, life therein becomes difficult and empty of blessings, angels leave the house and the evil spirits live in it.” (Hadith)
Qur'anic Connection to Heavenly Realm
Through the act of recitation, the believer is connected to the heavenly realm. The place of our original departure point. The supernatural beings - the angels - observe in awe when the earthly beings - humans - engage with the Qur’an. The tradition maintains beautifully, “Indeed, when the Quran is recited in a house, it appears to the inhabitants of the heavens just as the stars appear to the inhabitants of the earth.” (Hadith, Source: Faḍāʼil al-Qurʼān lil-Firyābī 35) So just as we look up at the stars and feel awed by their shine, the angels are in admiration of the believers. The Quran shines the hearts of the believers when they keep it in their hearts and homes. Knowing that my personal recitation establishes this sacred connection with the heavenly dimension, gives me a great sense of comfort, overcomes feelings of loneliness and makes me realize that I am so much wider, so much bigger and so much more than my terrestrial or earthly existence. I am heard, I am seen and I am valued - by God and by the heavenly spirits.
Qur'anic Recitation: Engaging the Whole Person
As I touch the Qur’an’s beautiful letters, I am moved in ways that I cannot describe in words. Involving all my human senses of seeing, speaking, hearing and touching the letters has a deep impact on my spirituality. The spirit, the heart, the mind, the human body - our well-being is facilitated by a complex interplay and harmony of these aspects. Islam is a wholesome endeavor and as such aims to engage the whole person by nurturing their outer and inner senses.
The goal of reciting the Qur’an and memorizing its content is to embody its message and vision in one’s own life. To become what I would call a Homo Qur’anicus - a human being who is guided by the spirit and ideals of the Qur’an in their conduct, behavior and action. The goal is to feel, think and act based on a Qur’anic commitment. To make an effort to live in the Divine presence throughout that particular day. It is for this reason that Prophet Muhammad was described by his beloved wife Aisha as the one who embodied the character of the Qur’an. He conveyed the Qur’anic message first to himself and lived it with integrity in this world. He walked the talk and showed how to put the Qur’an into practice. He inspired generations to do so by emulating him.
The Qur'an as Guidance
The Qur’an is light and guidance in the messiness and confusion of the world. The Qur’an has become my constant companion and friend. A compassionate friend who offers reminders and advice. I would like to close out with following narration of the Prophet Muhammad that reminds us again of the beauty of the act of recitation: “Whenever a group of people assemble in one of the Houses of God (i.e. Mosques), reciting the Book of God and studying it, tranquility descends upon them, Mercy covers them, angels surround them and God makes a mention of them among those who are with Him.” (Muslim)
For more on the Qur'an read Chapter 4 of Exploring Islam: Theology and Spiritual Practice in America by Salih Sayilgan