For Muslims the Qur’an stands as the text of reference, the source and the essence of the message transmitted to humanity by the Creator. It is the last of a lengthy series of revelations addressed to humans down through history. It is the Word of God – but it is not God.
The Qur’an makes known, reveals and guides: it is a light that responds to the quest for meaning.
Reminder for All
It is the Book of all Muslims the world over. But paradoxically, it is not the first book someone seeking to know Islam should read. (A life of the Prophet or any book presenting Islam would be a better introduction.) For it is both extremely simple and deeply complex. The nature of the spiritual, human, historical and social teachings to be drawn from it can be understood at different levels. The text is one, but its readings are multiple.
For the woman or the man whose heart has made the message of Islam its own, the Qur’an speaks in a singular way. It is both the voice and the path. God speaks to one’s innermost being, to his consciousness, to his heart, and guides him onto the path that leads to knowledge of him, to the meeting with him:
This is the Book, about it there can be no doubt; it is a Path for those who are aware of God. (Al-Baqarah 2:2)
Not Just a Text
More than a mere text, it is a traveling companion to be chanted, to be sung or to be heard.
Throughout the Muslim world, in mosques, in homes and in the streets, one can hear magnificent voices reciting the divine Words. Here, there can be no distinction between religious scholars (`ulmaa’) and laymen. The Qur’an speaks to each in his language, accessibly, as if to match his intelligence, his heart, his questions, his joy as well as his pain. This is what the scholars have termed reading or listening as adoration.
As Muslims read or hear the text, they strive to suffuse themselves with the spiritual dimension of its message: beyond time, beyond history and the millions of beings who populate the earth, God is speaking to each of them, calling and reminding each of them, inviting, guiding, counseling and commanding. God responds, to her, to him, to the heart of each: with no intermediary, in the deepest intimacy.
For Every One
No need for studies and diplomas, for masters and guides. Here, as we take our first steps, God beckons us with the simplicity of his closeness. The Qur’an belongs to everyone, free of distinction and of hierarchy. God responds to whoever comes to his Word.
It is not rare to observe women and men, poor and rich, educated and illiterate, Eastern and Western, falling silent, staring into the distance, lost in thought, stepping back, weeping. The search for meaning has encountered the sacred, God is near:
Indeed, I am close at hand. I answer the call of him who calls me when s/he calls. (Al-Baqarah 2:186)
A dialogue has begun. An intense, permanent, constantly renewed dialogue between a Book that speaks the infinite simplicity of the adoration of the One, and the heart that makes the intense effort necessary to liberate itself, to meet him. At the heart of every heart’s striving lies the Qur’an. It holds out peace and initiates into liberty.
Indeed, the Qur’an may be read at several levels, in quite distinct fields. But first, the reader must be aware of how the text has been constructed. The Qur’an was revealed in sequences of varying length, sometimes as entire chapters (surahs), over a span of 23 years.
In its final form, the text follows neither a chronological nor strictly thematic order. Two things initially strike the reader: the repetition of prophetic stories, and the formulas and information that refer to specific historical situations that the Qur’an does not elucidate.
Understanding, at this first level, calls for a twofold effort on the part of the reader: though repetition is, in a spiritual sense, a reminder and a revivification, in an intellectual sense it leads us to attempt to reconstruct. The stories of Eve and Adam, or of Moses, are repeated several times over with differing though noncontradictory elements: the task of human intelligence is to recompose the narrative structure, to bring together all the elements, allowing us to grasp the facts.
But we must also take into account the context to which these facts refer: all commentators, without distinction as to school of jurisprudence, agree that certain verses of the revealed text (in particular, but not only, those that refer to war) speak of specific situations that had arisen at the moment of their revelation. Without taking historical contingency into account, it is impossible to obtain general information on this or that aspect of Islam.
In such cases, our intelligence is invited to observe the facts, to study them in reference to a specific environment and to derive principles from them. It is a demanding task, which requires study, specialization and extreme caution- or, to put it differently, extreme intellectual modesty.