So, the countdown to Ramadan continues, and on the blog-schedule we’ve only got two posts left until it begins, in shaa Allah! Anyone else as excited as me?!
To honor the upcoming “month of the Qur’an,” I wanted to share with you a little bit about my personal journey with Allah’s swt book, and some practical tips to kick-start your relationship with the Qur’an as Ramadan is about to kick off.
I bought my first English translation of the Qur’an at age 13 or so. I was at Barnes and Noble looking for some interesting reads after our youth group leader had taken us on interfaith trips to a mosque and a synagogue, and there it was, sitting on the religion shelf. I looked at it and wasn’t actually all that interested, but I did think, “well, that’ll irritate my step father to no end.” So I bought it.
It sat on my shelf for a while. We had a 20 minute reading period every morning at my high school, so when I turned 14 I began to carry it around with me to show off my “devil may care what you think of me” attitude. That didn’t last long though, and my who-knows-how-accurate English translation was doomed to sit on the shelf for the next 6 or so years.
Then, I returned from my semester abroad, laden with books about Islam and relationships with real Muslims, and I began to pick it up again. At this point in my life I understood what difference a decent translation can make, so I headed back to Barnes and Noble, to that very same religion shelf, and picked up a more reliable side-by-side English and Arabic version.
I began reading, and soon picked up the pace to a surah a night. I was so interested that even when I got to the shorter surahs I wouldn’t put it down until I had hit 30 or 40 pages of reading, so needless to say I got through it pretty fast.
At the behest of my then-fiance, I waited around a month after I finished and then gave it another, slower read through. I only realise now how little I understood of it back then. I was uncomfortable with some of the verses about women and war, but something in my heart told me that there was a context and a reason for those things that didn’t sit well with my Western perspective.
The rest, you could say, is history. I officially took my shahada later that year, and from there my journey with the Qur’an really began.
It was in mid-2014 when I started to learn to pray, and by extension, when I began to learn Qur’an. At first it was a lot of reciting empty words, until I began to make more of an effort to memorize the meaning with the Arabic. It would take me double the time to memorize this way, because I was effectively memorizing any given set of verses twice. And though I knew the meaning of the words themselves, I was still missing the deeper significance behind many of the verses.
This is when I started to get interested in tafseer. The first time I really came across in-depth tafseer (explanation) of the Qur’an was during my first Ramadan, as I began an online course on the tafseer of Surah al-Rahman. This really opened my mind and heart to the beauty of the Qur’an, and since then I have made more of an effort to pay attention when tafseer is the subject of a talk. I have learned a lot of tafseer and background/context of the Qur’an through my study of the seerah as well, which has opened so many doors of insight.
On my journey I have been slowly but surely picking up more Arabic, too, which means that lately when I listen to a Qur’an recitation I am able to hear more than just a nice voice. In many instances I can pick up whole verses now, and in general get a very good gist of what the whole thing is addressing.
As Ramadan is approaching, I have begun thinking, how can I incorporate more Qur’an into my life? And I’ve got some ideas to share with y’all.
As always, it is best to start with baby steps. One of the things I recommend doing is reading certain “sunnah” surahs at their times. For instance, Surah Mulk before going to sleep, Surha Kahf on Fridays, Surahs Ikhlas, Falaq and Nas in the morning and evening. I found that these helped me to stay connected and at least open the Qur’an once or twice a day.
You can start reading them in English or whatever your native language is for the meaning, and then as you get more familiar with them and better in Arabic move up to reading/reciting them in Arabic each day. Repetitive reading is also a great way to memorize!
If you haven’t already, you should go back and have a look at the meanings of the surahs you already have memorised. Especially if you are reciting these surahs in your prayers, it is so important to learn what the words you are saying actually mean. I plan to go back through all of my memorised surahs and have a good look through them to make sure I really have all of them down before Ramadan starts, in shaa Allah!
Another thing that I cannot recommend enough to help you really connect with the words you are reading is tafseer. Look online for free tafseer courses or videos, or take a class at your local mosque. You can even begin learning some seerah (life of the Prophet saws) to see how the Qur’an was lived in real life, by real people.
When you begin to learn the reasons certain surahs were revealed, and the deeper meanings behind the words and verses themselves, it opens up a whole new level of understanding that you will never have if you just read words off of a page.
A great way to incorporate some regular tafseer and reflection time into your schedule is to start a Qur’an journal. I wrote a whole post about that here , but basically you take a daily (or weekly, or bi-weekly) verse, write it out in Arabic and the translation into your native language, and then look up the tafseer and write out some interesting points. Leave yourself some space on the bottom of the page for your reflections, and really give yourself some time to sit with it and think it over.
The last thing that I would recommend for someone who is looking to really begin a relationship with the Qur’an is to start learning Arabic. Yes, you can read it in translation and get the idea, but unless we understand a little bit of Arabic we can never really understand the depth and beauty of the words.
Obviously, this is an immense task, so break it down into doable bits. I first learned the letters, learned how they are pronounced, how they look in different positions within a word. I then started to learn to sound out the words of the Qur’an.
From there you can start to look for courses either locally or online that can help you begin to develop some vocabulary and grammar knowledge. It will be a long journey, but it is so worth it.
What are you doing to maintain your relationship with the Qur’an? As always, I love to hear your tips and ideas!!