إِنَّ هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ يَهْدِي لِلَّتِي هِيَ أَقْوَمُ
“Truly, this Qur’ān guides to that which is best…” 
The Arabic word that was translated into “best” is “Aqwam”, which has appeared in the tafdīl/superlative degree, to indicate that there isn’t anything even remotely comparable to the Qur’ān. Furthermore, Aqwam/ “best” is a sifa (description), but the mawsūf (described) was not mentioned. In other words, one is left thinking: the “best” with respect to what? Family relations? Health? Finances? It wasn’t mentioned, because, as the scholars mention:
لإثبات عموم الهداية بالقرآن للتي هي أقوم في كلِّ شيءٍ
“To establish the holistic nature of the Qur’ān’s guidance, which brings the best in every matter.”
Thus the perfect guidance of the Qur’ān isn’t limited to a particular facet in life nor to a particular era, and so whoever returns to the Qur’ān when wanting to fulfil a worldly or a hereafter-based objective, not only will the Qur’ān show him the way, but will guide such a person to the best of ways.
If, however, you are not seeing the effects of the Qur’ān upon your life or upon the wellbeing of your Ummah at large, then one of two situations must apply: (1) Either the Qur’ān – God forbid – isn’t the guidance which it claims to be; or (2) that we are yet to approach the Qur’ān correctly to qualify ourselves for its guidance.
So, when does the Qur’ān become a means of reformation for individuals and nations alike? The answer: when one’s approach to the Qur’ān is reformed. Consider the situation of a lost desert wayfarer who edges closer and closer to death by the second, before finally bumping into a document that maps out the entire desert scene along with the nearest route to safety. For a moment, consider his reaction, imagine his blink-less glance, picture his restlessness as he reads and rereads the documents over and over again, in hope for navigation and guidance.
Should we wish for our Qur’ān to direct us to the shores of safety, our approach to it mustn’t be any short of this.
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَذِكْرَى لِمَنْ كَانَ لَهُ قَلْبٌ أَوْ أَلْقَى السَّمْعَ وَهُوَ شَهِيدٌ
“Most surely there is a reminder in this for he who has a heart or who listens while he is present in mind.”
أَفَلَمْ يَدَّبَّرُوا الْقَوْلَ
“Have they not pondered over the Qur’ān?” 
And Allāh said,
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَى قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا
“Do they not reflect upon the Qur’ān, or are there locks upon their hearts?” 
Not one lock, but “locks”!
كِتَابٌ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
“This is a blessed Book which We have revealed to you, so that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded.” 
Every parent is keen to see his child memorising the Qur’ān – and this is undoubtedly great – but rarely do you find a parent who searches for those who may teach him how to understand the Qur’ān. Amazingly however, according to Allāh, this was the very reason why the Qur’ān was revealed.
The first step towards becoming a generation who lives by the Qur’ān is to lend it the attention it deserves. So, with this introduction we may now ask: What is the difference between Tadabbur (pondering) and Tafsīr (interpreting)?
(a) The difference between Tafsīr and Tadabbur, and their relationship
As for Tadabbur, from a linguistic perspective, it is derived from the term Dubur which is in reference to مؤخرة الشيء / the rear of something. Hence the term Tadabbur means النظر في عواقب الأمور وما تؤول إليه – “To consider the outcomes of matters and their consequences.”
The one who acts upon Tadabbur is essentially, therefore, in reference to one who ponders over what is behind the verse with respect to knowledge and application. The approach of such a person is not limited to the wanting of good deeds, but to also navigate his way out from ignorance into knowledge, from insincerity to sincerity, from darkness to light. Should one succeed in aligning his mind upon this whilst reciting the Qur’ān, then such a person is now upon the path of Tadabbur, and is actively applying the instruction where Allāh said:
“This is a blessed Book which We have revealed to you, so that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded.”
What about the term Tafsīr? Linguistically, this is taken from the term al-Fasr, which is in reference to al-Kashf (uncovering).
Al-Zurqāni defined tafsīr as:
علم يبحث فيه عن القرآن الكريم من حيث دلالته على مراد الله تعالى بقدر الطاقة البشرية
“A science that studies the Qurʾān from the perspective of its meanings as intended by Allāh – as much as human capability allows.”
Thus, the duty of the scholar of Tafsīr is to uncover the intended meaning of the verse. Therefore, we can say that Tafsīr is the doorway that leads to Tadabbur, for one is first to understand the meaning behind the āyah, then one is to exercise reflection over its secrets, wisdoms, objectives, instructions and so on. This is one difference.
A second difference is that Tafsīr is the duty of scholars who have a strong footing in the Arabic language, amidst other prerequisites. On the other hand, Tadabbur is the duty of the entire Ummah. What is interesting is that in two verses where Allāh asks “Will they not ponder over the Qur’ān” – chapter 4 and chapter 47 – those who were being addressed in both cases were the non-believers. This is a second difference.
A third difference is that there is a limit to Tafsīr, whereas there are no limits to Tadabbur, for Allāh may inspire you with a valid point of reflection that hadn’t been mentioned by anyone before you.
(b) Some of the prerequisites for Tadabbur
Much like scuba divers whose ability to delve into the oceans vary according to their training, people’s ability to engage in Tadabbur also vary. Factors that influence this include knowledge of the Arabic language, Maqāsid (objectives) of the chapters and verses, reasons for revelations, Balāgha (rhetoric), and an ability to engage in Istinbāt (deduction). Nevertheless, there are key prerequisites which are necessary for both the specialist and novice, milestones which, if attained, will allow the reader to enjoy a generous share of Tadabbur.
The first: To honour the Qur’ān and realise its sanctity
The attention that you give to something is directly proportional to the standing which that thing occupies in your eyes, thus every other prerequisite that we shall mention is reliant upon this one. If our appreciation of the reality of the Qur’ān is lacking, then our Tadabbur will certainly be just as lacking.
Consider the words of ‘Ali b. Abī Tālib with respect to the Qur’ān, who said:
كِتَابُ اللَّهِ فِيهِ نَبَاُ مَا قَبْلَكُمْ وَخَبَرُ مَا بَعْدَكُمْ وَحُكْمُ مَا بَيْنَكُمْ هُوَ الْفَصْلُ لَيْسَ بِالْهَزْلِ هُوَ الَّذِي مَنْ تَرَكَهُ مِنْ جَبَّارٍ قَصَمَهُ اللَّهُ وَمَنْ ابْتَغَى الْهُدَى فِي غَيْرِهِ اَضَلَّهُ اللَّهُ فَهُوَ حَبْلُ اللَّهِ الْمَتِينُ وَهُوَ الذِّكْرُ الْحَكِيمُ وَهُوَ الصِّرَاطُ الْمُسْتَقِيمُ وَهُوَ الَّذِي لَا تَزِيغُ بِهِ الْاَهْوَاءُ وَلَا تَلْتَبِسُ بِهِ الْاَلْسِنَةُ وَلَا يَشْبَعُ مِنْهُ الْعُلَمَاءُ وَلَا يَخْلَقُ عَنْ كَثْرَةِ الرَّدِّ وَلَا تَنْقَضِي عَجَائِبُهُ وَهُوَ الَّذِي لَمْ يَنْتَهِ الْجِنُّ اِذْ سَمِعَتْهُ اَنْ قَالُوا اِنَّا سَمِعْنَا قُرْانًا عَجَبًا هُوَ الَّذِي مَنْ قَالَ بِهِ صَدَقَ وَمَنْ حَكَمَ بِهِ عَدَلَ وَمَنْ عَمِلَ بِهِ اُجِرَ وَمَنْ دَعَا اِلَيْهِ هُدِيَ اِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ
“Allāh’s book. In it is news for what happened before you, and information about what shall come after you, and judgement for what happens between you. It is the criterion (between right and wrong) and it isn’t a joke. Whoever among the oppressive abandons it, Allāh crushes him, and whoever seeks guidance from other than it, then Allāh leaves him to stray. It is the firm rope of Allāh, it is the wise reminder, it is the straight path, and it is the one that the desires cannot distort, nor does it cause tongues to twist, nor can the scholars ever have enough of, nor does it become dull from reciting it much, and its wonders do not diminish. It is that which, when the Jinns heard it, caused them to say at once: ‘Surely, we have heard an amazing recitation!’ It is that which, whoever speaks according to it, has said the truth, and whoever acts according to it is rewarded, and whoever judges by it has judged justly, and whoever invites to it will be guided to the straight path.”
In a previous article we discussed the hadith wherein the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) told us about a happening of the past where a shepherd heard a wolf speaking. The shepherd expressed his amazement to the wolf, but the wolf was quick to redirect the shepherd’s amazement, telling him where it should be:
أَلَا أُخْبِرُكَ بِأَعْجَبَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ؟ مُحَمَّدٌ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِيَثْرِبَ يُخْبِرُ النَّاسَ بِأَنْبَاءِ مَا قَدْ سَبَقَ
“Shall I not inform you of something stranger than this? Muhammad (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) in Yathrib (Madina) telling people about the news of those of the past.”
The fact that you have within your home a book, the content of which is not from this universe, is what is truly deserving of your astonishment. A book that has described the happenings of the past with flawlessly accurate detail, a book that speaks of the events that shall unfold tomorrow, and a book that is compatible, rather, a solution to every era it witnesses. According to the wolf, this is where amazement should be cast.
A group of Jinn once listened to the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), as alluded to above, as he recited the Qur’ān. He was unaware of this at the time, and so Allāh informed him about their reaction, saying:
قُلْ أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ أَنَّهُ اسْتَمَعَ نَفَرٌ مِنَ الْجِنِّ فَقَالُوا إِنَّا سَمِعْنَا قُرْآنًا عَجَبًا
“Say, [O Muhammad], “It has been revealed to me that a group of the jinn listened and said, ‘Indeed, we have heard an amazing Qur’ān (recitation).”
When we narrate to people the story of animals that speak like us or of spooky Jinn encounters, we are all ears, yet according to the Jinn themselves, it is this Qur’ān that is deserving of our amazement! If this amazement is not reflected in our daily relationship with the Qur’ān and goals regarding it, then it means that we are yet to fully appreciate the reality of this book that is with us, that book that would have caused mountains to crumble had it been sent upon them.
Ahmad b. Abi al-Hawāri said:
إِنِّي لأَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ فَأَنْظُرُ فِي آيَةٍ آيَةٍ فَيَحَارُ عَقْلِي فِيهَا ، وَأَعْجَبُ مِنْ حُفَّاظِ الْقُرْآنِ ، كَيْفَ يُهْنِيهِمُ النَّوْمُ وَيُسِيغُهُمْ أَنْ يَشْتَغِلُوا بِشَيْءٍ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ، وَهُمْ يَتَكَلَّمُونَ كَلامَ الرَّحْمَنِ أَمَا لَوْ فَهِمُوا مَا يَتْلُونَ وَعَرَفُوا حَقَّهُ وَتَلَذَّذُوا بِهِ وَاسْتَحَلُّوا الْمُنَاجَاةَ لَذَهَبَ عَنْهُمُ النَّوْمُ فَرَحًا بِمَا رُزِقُوا وَوُفِّقُوا
“I, at times, recite the Qur’ān and pause at a verse which baffles me and causes me to wonder at how the memorisers of Qur’ān are able to sleep at night and engage in any worldly doing whilst they’ve captured the words of Allāh. If they truly understood what they’re reciting, appreciated its right, found pleasure in it, and enjoyed calling their Lord through it, they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night due to the sheer joy of what they have been blessed with.”
Sufyān al-Thawri said:
“ليتني كنت اقتصرت على القرآن”
“I wish I had limited myself to the Qur’ān.”
One who delves into the life of Imām Ibn Taymiya finds no way to describe him other than Rajulun Qur’āni (a Quranic man). His entire life was dedicated to its study, teaching and defence. So busy he was diving into its oceans that he didn’t even find the time to get married.
In fact, if one had never seen the Qur’ān, and was only introduced to it via the works of Ibn Taymiya, one would imagine that this Qur’ān must be tens of volumes, due to the sheer number of times he cites: “Allāh said”, “Allāh said”.
In his normal circumstances, he’d complete the recitation of the Qur’ān once every 10 days, but when he was jailed, he raised it to once every three days. There, behind bars, he’d completed the recitation of the Qur’ān a staggering 80 times, and it was during his 81st round where his soul would finally depart from his body, dying at the verses:
إِنَّ الْمُتَّقِينَ فِي جَنَّاتٍ وَنَهَرٍ . فِي مَقْعَدِ صِدْقٍ عِنْدَ مَلِيكٍ مُقْتَدِرٍ
“Indeed, the righteous will be among gardens and rivers… In a seat of honor near Allāh, Sovereign, Perfect in Ability.”
Why do I mention all of this? Here is the surprise. Towards the end of his life it was he who was heard saying:
وندمت على تضييع أكثرِ أوقاتي في غير معاني القرآن
“I regret having wasted the majority of my time in other than the meanings of the Qur’ān.”
Mālik b. Dīnār said:
أقسم لكم لا يؤمن عبد بهذا القرآن إلا صدع قلبه
“I swear by Allāh, any person who believes in this Qur’ān will find his heart crumbling to pieces (in amazement).”
Clearly, the experience of s/he who approaches the recitation of the Qur’ān with the above in mind will be starkly different to s/he who does not.
The second: To believe that you are the one who is being addressed
The attention we give to a letter titled “Dear tenant” is very different to that which is titled “Dear [your full name]”. Furthermore, the importance of the sender is a huge factor in our approach to its content. It is for this reason that the Prophets made an active effort in communicating this very value to their communities; that revelation is to be seen as personal messages from the King of Kings, Allāh.
Both prophets Nūh and Hūd said to their communities:
أُبَلِّغُكُمْ رِسَالَاتِ رَبِّي
“I deliver to you the messages of my Lord…”
Al-Hasan al-Basri said:
إنَّ مَنْ كَانَ قَبْلَكُمْ رَأَوْا الْقُرْآنَ رَسَائِلَ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ
“Those who came before you viewed the Qur’ān as messages from their Lord.”
أن يقدر أنه المقصود بكل خطاب في القرآن فإن سمع أمراً أو نهياً قدر أنه المنهي والمأمور وإن سمع وعداً أو وعيداً فكمثل ذلك، وإن سمع قصص الأولين والأنبياء علم أن السمر غير مقصود وإنما المقصود ليعتبر به وليأخذ من تضاعيفه ما يحتاج إليه
“One is to assume that he is the one who is intended in every statement in the Qur’ān. Hence if he hears a command or prohibition, he assumes that he is the one who is being commanded and prohibited. If he hears a promise or threat, he does the same. If he hears the stories of the past and those of prophets, he realises that entertainment is not the objective, but rather, it is for him to take lessons, and to extract from its lines all what he needs.”
The third: To prepare the heart for its reception
Whilst light affects your eyes and sound affects your ears, the Qur’ān is intended to affect the heart. For this reason, it was a human heart that Allāh chose as the landing station for the Qur’ān; the heart of the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam). Allāh said:
وَإِنَّهُ لَتَنْزِيلُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (192) نَزَلَ بِهِ الرُّوحُ الْأَمِينُ (193) عَلَى قَلْبِكَ
“And indeed, the Qur’ān is the revelation of the Lord of the worlds. The Trustworthy Spirit has brought it down, upon your heart [O Muhammad]…”
The effects of the Qur’ān on people vary because the receivers of it vary. Hence it was from Allāh’s wisdom that He would prepare the heart of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) prior to gifting him with the Qur’ān. In his childhood years, the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) would be taken by two angels who would open his chest, extract his heart, remove the harm and clean it, before returning it back inside. This happened at least two times in his life.
We are no exception. Our hearts must go through phases of purification should the Qur’ān cause the fruits of īmān to grow. If you take the purest of water and pour it into an unclean container, it will be spoilt.
وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا يَحْصُلُ لِلنَّاظِرِ فَهْمُ مَعَانِي الْوَحْيِ حَقِيقَةً وَلَا يَظْهَرُ لَهُ أَسْرَارُ الْعِلْمِ مِنْ غَيْبِ الْمَعْرِفَةِ وَفِي قَلْبِهِ بِدْعَةٌ أَوْ إِصْرَارٌ عَلَى ذَنْبٍ
“Realise that one cannot attain the true understanding of revelation nor the secrets of intuitive knowledge whilst his heart is home to an innovation or insistence upon a sin…”
If you are struggling to live with the Qur’ān and interact with it, then realise that there are hurdles within your heart; locks which are preventing you from the treasures of the Qur’ān. Such locks are to be opened through repentance.
The fourth: To recite the Qur’ān with Tartīl—properly without haste
If a plane is flown high the details of its beauty cannot be seen.
وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَى مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنْزِيلًا
“And it is a Qur’ān which We have revealed in portions so that you may read it to the people by slow degrees, and We have revealed it, revealing in portions.”
In explanation of this āyah, Mujāhid said:
لتقرأه على الناس على تُؤَدة، فترتله وتبينه، ولا تعجل في تلاوته، فلا يفهم عنك
“That you recite the Qur’ān in a composed manner, reciting it with Tartīl as you explain it, as opposed to rushing in its recitation, causing people to not understand it.”
وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يُقْضَى إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ وَقُلْ رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا
“And do not hasten with recitation of the Qur’ān before its revelation is completed to you, and say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’”
The link between composed recitation and the increase in knowledge is not to be missed.
The fifth: To engage with the Qur’ān
Repetition is one of the cornerstones of internalisation. They say, ما تكرر تقرر , “what is repeated is established.” Perhaps this is the secret why we repeat al-Fātiha no fewer than 17 times a day; it is a Sūrah that renews our allegiance to Allāh, to our goal in life, and to the believers as well.
Consider Sūrat al-Ikhlās (the Chapter of Sincerity – “Qul Huwal Allāhu Ahad”) which we recite once after each prayer, and three times for the morning remembrances, and another three times for those of the evening, and in the second unit from the Sunnah of Fajr, and is part of our Witr prayer, and part of what we recite before going to sleep. All of this is in one day! With such repetition and pondering, one will find sincerity not only being refreshed in our lives, but engraining itself within our hearts.
Consider Sūrat al-Rahmān, where the following verse appears over 30 times:
فَبِأَيِّ آلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ
“So, which of your Lord’s favours will you deny?”
This is despite Sūrat al-Rahmān being comprised of only 78 verses.
Having identified the repetition of verses as such an effective mechanism for allowing their meanings to settle inside, our predecessors did not fall short in implementing it in their lives. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) himself once spent the entire night in prayer, repeating one verse, not going beyond it:
إِنْ تُعَذِّبْهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ عِبَادُكَ وَإِنْ تَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ فَإِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
“If You were to punish them, then indeed, they are your servants, but if you forgive them, then indeed, you are the Most Mighty, the Most Wise” 
Tamīm al-Dāri spent the entire night repeating one verse, unable to go beyond it:
أَمْ حَسِبَ الَّذِينَ اجْتَرَحُوا السَّيِّئَاتِ أَنْ نَجْعَلَهُمْ كَالَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ
“Do those who commit sins think that We will make them like those who have believed and done good deeds…?” 
Sa’īd b. al-Jubair continued to repeat the verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنْسَانُ مَا غَرَّكَ بِرَبِّكَ الْكَرِيمِ
“O man, what has made you unmindful of your Lord, the Most Generous?” 
Imām Abū Hanīfa spent the night with one verse, repeating it and pondering over it:
وَبَدَا لَهُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يَكُونُوا يَحْتَسِبُونَ
“… and there will appear to them from Allāh that which they had never perceived” 
The Sharī’a has given a unique level of importance to two key ingredients when they come together:
- The recitation of the Qur’ān
- Peer-to-peer study of it.
The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
وَمَا اجْتَمَعَ قَومٌ فِي بَيْتٍ مِنْ بُيُوتِ اللهِ يَتْلُونَ كِتَابَ اللهِ وَيَتَدَارَسُونَهُ بَيْنَهُمْ إِلاَّ نَزَلَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّكِينَةُ، وَغَشِيَتْهُمُ الرَّحْمَةُ، وَحَفَّتْهُمُ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ , وَذَكَرَهُمُ اللهُ فِيمَنْ عِنْدَه
“There is no people who gather together in one of the Houses of Allāh, reciting the Book of Allāh and studying it among themselves, except that tranquillity descends upon them, mercy envelops them, the angels surround them, and Allāh mentions them amongst those who are with Him.” 
Focus on the second condition – “and studying it among themselves”, indicating a give-and-take, a collective discussion, a pooling of thoughts, a mutual extraction of benefits, as members complete the points of one another. That gathering is, to Allāh, one of the noblest in the universe.
Dedicate a weekly gathering for an hour or so between members of your family, where you recite a portion of Qur’ān, correct each other’s recitation, and then read from a book of Tafsīr – say, the Tafsīr of al-Sa’di, for example which has been recently translated into English – then open up the floor for a Tadabbur-based discussion. Extract the benefits, encourage your children to do so, set up a reward system, gather each week’s thoughts on a sheet, and watch how the Baraka of these gatherings will reward you in ways which you could not imagine.
I also encourage every student of Islamic knowledge to do the same, regardless of their commitments and busy lifestyles; to choose a handful of dedicated friends whom you will gather with on a weekly basis to collectively delve into the oceans of a particular Sūrah of the Qur’ān. These are the gatherings that will stabilise us in the face of temptations, will cement our īmān in an era of doubts, will fortify our allegiance to this religion, that will erase our sins, illuminate our graves, and be our guide to the highest gardens of Jannah.
 Al-Qur’ān, 17:9
 Al-Qur’ān, 50:37
 Al-Qur’ān, 23:68
 Al-Qur’ān, 47:24
 Al-Qur’ān, 38:29
 Al-Qur’ān, 72:1
 Al-Qur’ān, 54:54-55
 Majmoo’ Rasaa’il Ibnu Rajab
 Al-Qur’ān, 7:68
 Al-Majmoo’ Sharh Al-Muhadhab
 Ihyaa ‘Uloom AdDeen
 Al-Qur’ān, 26:192-194
 Al-Burhaan fee ‘Uloomil Qur’aan
 Al-Qur’ān, 17:106
 Tafsīr AtTabari
 Al-Qur’ān, 20:114
 Al-Qur’ān, 5:118
 Al-Qur’ān, 45:21
 Al-Qur’ān, 82:6
 Al-Qur’ān, 39:47
 Narrated by Muslim, on the authority of Abu Huraira