The Spiritual Façade of Recitation

The Qur’an’s guidance is in its meaning, not recitation or pronunciation.

There is a culture among Muslims where they view the Qur’an as a way of gaining reward by reciting aloud and correctly. Parents would send their children to classes to learn Arabic and to learn how to pronounce properly. Honestly, I think there is nothing wrong with this, however, I feel like prioritising recitation only is slowly pushing away the true role and importance of the Qur’an, that is to be used as a guidance for all mankind.

There are Muslims who feel like they are fulfilling a certain obligation merely by reciting out loud and proficiently the Qur’an in Arabic, and they deem themselves “religious” for being able to do so despite not knowing the meaning and context of the verses. Sometimes, they even go as far as looking down upon those who aren’t as fluent in Arabic as “lesser Muslims”. Reciting the Qur’an without any effort to understand its essence will not enlighten the soul and refine our conscience.

I’m not denying the beauty and importance in learning to read the Qur’an in Arabic, I’m merely saying that recitation should not be made the only priority because understanding Arabic does not necessarily mean that you understand the Qur’an.

Cruel, violent interpretations of the Qur’an have been made by people who are proficient in Arabic. It takes more than just being able to read or speak the language to understand the Qur’an. We should never forget about its textual, historical and various social contexts. A believer who does not know Arabic may be blessed with the ability to understand the essence of the Qur’an. Wallahualam.

We may read it, we may recite it. But how much do we actually know about the Qur’an? May God grant us patience to continue learning.

As Twitter only allows space for 140 characters, I had to separate the set of above paragraphs into different tweets. A few people have taken the individual tweets out of context and given really harsh backlash, hurling insults and the likes.

“Tajwid itu penting! Kalau tak, buat penat je aku belajar!”
(“Pronunciation is important! If it isn’t, I wasted my time learning it!”)

The knowledge that you gain is never wasted unless you deem it to be. You want it to be important because if it isn’t, you feel like you have wasted all your time learning it. What a self-centered way to view things.

I did not say that pronunciation is not important. I merely said that priority should also be given to understanding the essence of the Qur’an. Like all languages, I do think pronunciation plays a huge part.

For example, the word “minute” in the English language can be pronounced as either “mi-nit” or “mai-nyoot” and these different pronunciations have different meanings. However, I hold the belief that while pronunciation is important, semantics play a larger role for it gives phrases and sentences context. Language is fluid and meanings can change in time. You may always improve your pronunciation and perfect your fluency in the Arabic language, but it takes extra effort on your part to understand the context of the Qur’an.

Like how our modern Malay has changed since classical Malay, so has the Arabic language. While their principles (syntax and morphology) is mostly, if at all, unchanged, their lexis has widened and changed tremendously. All languages, including Arabic, has undergone changes for the past many centuries, and when trying to understand the Qur’an, it is important for us to understand it within the sociolinguistic context of when it was first revealed so that we have a clearer picture of its message.

Language changes but the Qur’an doesn’t. Let the context of the Qur’an decide its semantics, not the other way round.

But then again, people misinterpret, misunderstood and took out of context what I have written even though I have said it in our lingua franca. What else the Arabic language? No wonder they find more importance in pronunciation only.

26 March 2016

Shafiqah Othman Hamzah

Shafiqah is a Singapore-born Malaysian who is best known for her advocacy on social and human rights issues. She is notably known for her tweets and for being a columnist on Malay Mail.

%d bloggers like this: