I begin this series of discussions about books (and other reading materials), DVDs (and other visuals), and CDs (and other audio stuff) with the Qur’an.
Reading the Qur’an
The Qur’an is a pleasure to read. I love its clarity, and I love its depth. I will not begin to explore its depths here, but the clarity is demonstrated in one short soorah (“chapter” is a poor translation), the 112th (al-Ikhlaas, “Purity”).
قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ
لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ
وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ
This tells us to say that the Creator is one, that he is self-sufficient, that he does not beget nor is he begotten, and that there is nothing like him. (In Arabic, male and female are grammatical categories and most of the time have no relation to biological gender. Referring to the Creator as “he” (huwa, in Arabic) does not mean that the Creator is a biological male.)
This could be called a statement of theological doctrine — but wait! — it’s way too straightforward. That’s the point. Simple, clear, straightforward.
Seeing the Qur’an
The script of the Qur’an is so beautiful that simply looking at it is a pleasure. Over the centuries — and down to the present day — Muslim calligraphers have enhanced the inherent beauty of the script with fanciful variations, many of them almost (or actually) impossible to read. For example —
This is not as pleasing to my eyes as the previous example, but I find it somewhat easier to read. The major problem is that this is written in a style of script — Maghribi (meaning “Western”) — which differs in the way some letters are written from everywhere else among Muslims. I can read Qur’ans published from Indonesia to Morocco, but Qur’ans published in that part of the world — West Africa — from which my ancestors were mercilessly deported, I can barely read. Irony. (I once walked into a bookstore owned by West Africans on 116th Street in Harlem and saw stacks of books that looked like telephone directories — so many of them, and so plainly covered — but they were Qur’ans.)
In the above example, the basmallah (standard opening to each soorah,
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“Bismi-Llah ar-Rahmaan ar-Raheem”) — just below the gold-embellished line at the top — is easy to read. After that, it’s a struggle. I managed to figure out that it is the beginning of the 39th soorah (az-Zumar, “The Crowds”) —
تَنزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ مِنَ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ فَاعْبُدِ اللَّهَ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ الدِّينَ
أَلَا لِلَّهِ الدِّينُ الْخَالِصُ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ مَا نَعْبُدُهُمْ إِلَّا لِيُقَرِّبُونَا إِلَى اللَّهِ زُلْفَىٰ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَهُمْ فِي مَا هُمْ فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي مَنْ هُوَ كَاذِبٌ كَفَّارٌ
(and so forth)
Here are two more examples of the basmallah. I doubt that anyone can read the second example unless they already know what it is.
The Qur’an is commonly incorporated into the design of buildings, adorning walls and niches —
When I got up early this morning, I read from a Qur’an about this size —
This next example is how the Qur’an was written at the time of Muhammad, and for about three centuries afterwards.
I can read the basmallah (up to the beginning of the second line, reading right-to-left), but get lost after that. Nowadays, almost all Qur’ans are written so that people who are not fluent in Arabic (Iranians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indonesians, and West Africans, for example) can read them. But even if you cannot read the text, it is a pleasure to the eyes.
The word qur’aan actually refers to the act of reciting audibly. The Qur’an is — by nature — a book that we hear. As with the beauty of the written text, the audible text is beautiful even when we do not understand it.
In addition to Quran.com, there are other websites that allow you to hear the Qur’an recited. I just discovered alquranurdu.com. You can hear the 112th soorah recited by scrolling down to “112” and clicking on the title. This website does not display the text.
The Qur’an — Read, See, Hear
There is much more to say, of course.
If you want to learn to read the Qur’an, contact me and I will try to help.
If you want to hear the Qur’an recited, contact me and, although I am not an excellent reciter, I have been told by Arabs that I am pretty good. In addition, I am able to offer some discussion of the rhythm and rhyme of the Qur’an — and of the “symphonic structure” (as I like to call it) — and perhaps a little insight into what the text means. But know this, as for the meaning, only Allah knows.