A Guide to Understanding the Qurʾān
This was written as a reply to a few dozen messages I received on my Facebook page, with the same request, “How can I understand the Qurʾān better?”
I’ve been asked this question numerous times. And overtime I’ve fine tuned the answer to this question. I divide “I want to understand the Qurʾān” into three levels:
If you’re looking to understand the Qurʾān at the most basic level (which every single Muslim should do), then I would suggest reading any book of interpretation (this is what people normally call translation of the Qurʾān.)
I vouch for Muḥsin Khān’s translation due to the clarity and authenticity of the interpretation, even though the English of this translation is a bit old.
A good alternative is Ṣaḥīḥ International translation.
If you opt for this level, then you’re merely familiarising yourselves with the very simple meaning of the āyāt of the Qurʾān, without much (if any) consideration of the in depth and the vast meaning each verse and word holds.
You simply get an idea of what the Qurʾān talks about, not necessarily gain an understanding of it.
How to: Recite a page of the Qurʾān and then read the translation going back over the Arabic āyāt to familiarise yourselves with the words.
(Important note: only the Qurʾān in Arabic is considered Qurʾān. The translation of the interpretation is merely just that, and is not considered Qurʾān.)
A better understanding can be attained through reading books of exegesis (tafsīr). I call this level two understanding. I recommend some basic books of tafsīr:
- Tafsīr Ibn as-Saʿdī.
I seriously urge you to buy this. Even if you don’t understand the actual words of the Qurʾān, you will start to taste the sweetness of the Message through this tafsīr.
2. The translation and interpretation compiled by King Fahad printing press. (Order online, here) — it’s an edited version of Yūsuf ʿAlī’s work.
3. Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAḏhīm by Ibn Kathīr.
The translation is available in English (Available Online.)
Do note, if you opt for this tafsīr, you’ll have to be patient as it does go into great detail, particularly with narrations of aḥādīth and āthār, and it might be tedious for beginners.
4. Qurʾān Corpus.
How to: Recite a page of the Qurʾān. Then go āyah by āyah. Write down a short summary of what you understand. Try to understand the actual words in Arabic. Pick out the words in the āyah and write down the meaning (the Qurʾān Corpus will help you here.)
For level 2 understanding, I also recommend some side reading on the topic of Qurʾānic Sciences and Principles of Tafsīr. This will give you a better grasp of how tafsīr works.
- Explanation of Introduction to the Principles of Tafsīr by Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymīn. [I cannot recommend this enough. And it’s recently become available in English.]
- Usūl at-Tafsīr by Bilal Philips. [Download here.]
- Magnificence of the Qurʾān by Maḥmūd ad-Dūsarī. [It’s based on a Master’s thesis and it discusses the miraculous nature of the Qurʾān, amongst other topics covered.]
- Sciences of the Qurʾān by Yasir Qadhi. [I’ve read this book cover to cover. And really do vouch for the book – only for the book. It’s based on the work of the notable researcher in the field of Qurʾānic sciences Dr. Fahad ar-Rūmī.]
[Disclaimer: Inevitably, with book recommendations, there were will be those upset at the choice (particularly choice of author). But you need to understand that the trusted literature available on Qurʾānic sciences in English is scarce. Of the small quantity available, the above books are based on authentic information, and I recommend because I trust the content of the books.]
The third level understanding is for those seeking a more in depth study of the Qurʾān (which can only come to be alongside memorisation of the Qurʾān, so keep this in mind).
You’ll have to study Arabic with a teacher, preferably one who is a native speaker of the language.
And eventually study the Qurʾān with a teacher. Self study can only take you so far.
How does one begin? Nothing fancy; don’t jump into the “hardcore” grammar, rhetoric and morphology. Stick to the basics of speaking and interacting.
I’ve listed some names and numbers of centres that teach Arabic in the Gulf and the UK, down below. But if that’s not feasible for you, worry not, there are many online institutions that teach Arabic:
Al-Madina University (an online Islāmic university based in Malaysia) offer an online degree in the Arabic language. (If you’re not up for the entire degree, then at least take a few modules!)
2. Islāmic Online University/KIU (English).
Offer a well rounded Islāmic education. Though I’m not certain how in depth their teaching of Arabic is.
WizIQ, one of the biggest hubs for freelance teachers and a platform for live, interactive classes. I’ve come across several students of knowledge who give Arabic classes on there.
A very good institute based in Alexandria.
Based in the UK, they specialise in teaching Arabic to a people with wide ranging backgrounds; from GCSE students to those intending to learn the dīn.
6. Self Study.
If you want to opt for something that won’t cost you anything, then look up Madina Arabic Books. They’re good to start with if you’re looking to self-study. And there are many tutorials/recorded classes tackling those books available online.
Other books for beginners:
- Al-Kitāb al-asāsī.
- Silsila Talīm al-lugha al-ʿarabīya by Moḥammed bin Suʿūd University.
- Al-ʿArabīya bayna yadayk.
If you reside in the Arabian Gulf, then you absolutely cannot say that you are unable to find somewhere to learn. I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and get in touch with people. Open up a directory and CALL. Call Qurʾān centres, call learning institutions, call language centres, call your own embassy and ask if they have an Arabic program for foreigners; many do. (Call repeatedly, because chances are, you won’t get through to someone the first time.)
When Allāh sees your enthusiasm and effort to actually learn His Book, He *will* facilitate what you seek.
1. Administration for Qurʾānic Affairs.
It’s the Qurʾān department of the Islāmic Affairs ministry.
Contact: +974 17812844
Facebook: أهل القرآن – البحرين
*Anything* Qurʾān related, call them and ask. And they’ll guide.
2. Fateh Grand Mosque.
They offer wide ranging classes for both Arabic and non-Arabic speakers.
3. The School of Arabic.
Foundation, beginner, pre-intermediate and intermediate Arabic courses.
Contact: +973 17537373, +973 39806624
4. Global Institute.
Speak, read and write Arabic in 40 hours.
Contact: +973 33863475
5. Local Government Schools (evening classes).
Most local government schools offer evening classes in basic Arabic that covers speaking, reading and writing. You’ll have to get in touch with a school in your neighbourhood and ask.
Fanar – Qatar Islāmic Cultural Centre.
They offer Arabic classes. Visit their website and call them: http://www.fanar.gov.qa/
Islāmic Cultural Centre for non-Arabic Speakers.
With studying Arabic you need to keep something important in mind, and that is: you cannot study the language in isolation from the dīn. One of the main sources of the Arabic language is the Quran and then the authentic sunnah. And thus it is paramount that as your study of the Arabic language advances, you study with those who are knowledgeable of the dīn, who will be able provide you with crucial guidance on taking the right steps towards gaining greater knowledge of the language that eventually leads you to gaining greater knowledge of the religion.
For students of knowledge in general, it is advisable that they take guidance on how to seek knowledge from scholars and those experienced. You are set to gain so much more if you were to follow a structured syllabus than you would if you spend your time jumping from one topic/book/course to another.
I think this should be enough for now.
And remember: If you are a serious student of knowledge then you must memorise the Qurʾān. The Salaf would not teach any Islāmic sciences to those who had not memorised the Qurʾān.
If you have any suggestions or questions, please let me know. =)
Bārak Allāhu fīkum.