Following Q and A is copied from Reading Islam;
How can new Muslims understand the Quran?
Answer by Sahar El-Nadi
Thank you for your question.
It is indeed very important for both new Muslims and Muslim-enthusiasts to get a better understanding of the message of the Quran. This helps new Muslims to relate to their new faith, and Muslim-enthusiasts to get a better first hand idea of the basic concepts of Islam as a universal message and a balanced way of life.
To do this, here are some general guidelines, and please feel free to write again and give us your impressions and feedback:
1- Find a good translation in a language you understand well. For English speakers, I recommend Professor Mohamed Abdel Halim’s Modern English Translation, published by Oxford University Press.
Always bear in mind that reading the Quran in any other language than its original Arabic is only an explanation of the meaning and not the exact text, simply because it is impossible to reproduce the same literary experience in any other language.
Dr. Mostafa Mahmoud describes the Quranic style:
There is no end rhyme to help the verbal pattern, nor is the Quran written in verse. The prose, however, is so unique that one can detect a law of verbal architecture that governs its internal music pattern. It remains impossible to imitate the structural and rhetorical brilliance of the Quran. (Chapter 1)
2- Listen to a recitation of the Quran from an experienced reciter, even if you do not understand. It is important to get the feeling of the original text, and it is mesmerizing to hear its unusual music. If this is your first encounter with the Quran, plan two consecutive readings: a first quick and general reading to get the big ideas, then a second more thorough reading to delve deeper and get a much closer look.
3- Start your first reading with a neutral frame of mind. Approaching the Quran with a pre-conceived perception will only slow your progress and color your understanding of its true message, resulting in a confused impression. Consult your own open heart and mind in the first reading, and not other people’s opinions, whether from classical books or from the mainstream media.
The Quran reaches straight into your soul if you let it, so please allow yourself the experience.
Dr. Mohamed Enani writes: “The Quran speaks the language of the human heart wherever humans are found and whatever the age they live in; it is a universal language rooted deep in human’s natural constitution”. (Mahmoud XVII)
4- Don’t be afraid to question or even challenge what you read. The Quran actually invites the reader to do just that, as long as you diligently and earnestly try to find the answers, because in the process, you end up re-discovering yourself.
This rewarding journey of mental and spiritual growth is described in the works of many prominent western Muslims such as American professor of mathematics Jeffrey Lang, who was challenging the Quran as a fierce atheist, yet couldn’t help but surrender to it eventually. He writes of his first reading:
“You cannot simply read the Quran, not if you take it seriously. You either have surrendered to it already or you fight it. It attacks tenaciously, directly, personally; it debates, criticizes, shames, and challenges. From the outset it draws the line of battle, and I was on the other side. I was at a severe disadvantage, for it became clear that the Author knew me better than I knew myself. The Quran was always way ahead of my thinking; it was erasing barriers I had built years ago and was addressing my queries. (9)”
5- Allow yourself time to contemplate. Don’t read the Quran like you read the newspaper, rather, read it as a direct message from God Himself to you in particular. When you read verses where God talks to the reader in the first person, stop and let the message sink in. Then think of yourself and your life in relation to this divine communication. Think of how you could put it to good use to adjust your convictions and behavior.
When you read stories about previous nations, find contemporary parallels and try to draw the lessons. When you read about God’s magnificent creations, think of educating yourself about nature and showing gratitude to Him through respecting life and natural resources.
Think of the Quran as a dialogue or a conversation rather than a one-way communication of do’s and don’ts. Be brave enough to provide the honest answers to the questions your heart and mind will throw at you while you read.
6- In parallel with your in-depth reading; get additional insights from trusted sources about the Quranic message from different perspectives: scientific, sociological, behavioral, regulatory, and so on, in addition to reading about the historic context in which it was revealed, including the biography of the man who transmitted it to us, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
If you are a non-Arabic speaker, I advise you to read original writings from fellow Muslims of your native culture, rather than translated works from Arabic, with the exception of a few outstanding works.
Read also about the brilliant achievements of Muslim scientists across history, when they understood and applied the Quranic rules of acquiring and applying knowledge to serve humanity as God’s vicegerents on Earth. A good source is Michael H. Morgan’s Lost History, the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists. You can also find interesting information online on Muslim Heritage, last accessed July 5, 2009)
7- Do not overrule the possibility of reading the Quran in its original language one day by learning Arabic, and the science of the correct recitation of the Quran, called tajweed. There are transliterated Qurans especially for this purpose, to help you pronounce correctly, and many new Muslims have excelled at this and offered to teach others, you can easily find their sites through a simple online search.
The experience is unparalleled if you allow yourself time to absorb it in full. In his book The Amazing Quran, Dr. Miller writes:
“Calling the Quran amazing is not something done only by Muslims, who have an appreciation for the book, and who are pleased with it; it has been labeled amazing by non-Muslims as well. In fact, even people who hate Islam very much have still called it amazing. ( 4)”
Dr. Miller then explains his surprise as a scientist during his first reading:
” Within the last century the scientific community has demanded a test of Falsification for any new scientific theory. This is exactly what the Quran has. Basically it states, “If this book is not what it claims to be, then all you have to do is this or this or this to prove that it is false.” Honestly, I was very surprised when I first discovered this challenge. In 4:82 the book openly invites the non-Muslim to find a mistake. In 1400 years no one has been able to do that, and thus it is considered true and authentic. ( 4)”
I hope this answers your question. We look forward to hearing about your progress and your questions and impressions. Please keep in touch.
Lang, Jeffrey. Struggling to Surrender. Amana Publications, 1994.
Mahmoud, Mostafa. Understanding the Quran: A Contemporary Approach, translated from Arabic by M. M. Enani Amana Publications, 2004.
Miller, Gary. The Amazing Quran. Al-Huda Publishers, 1992.