A suggestion: Begin with the Mecca verses
The Mecca and Medina verses are described in Part I of these series. Any good translation of the Qur’an will clearly indicate whether the verse was revealed in Mecca or Madinah
There are different methodologies in understanding the Qur’an. Some people are fortunate enough to grasp the meaning by reading it in the arrangement set out in the Qur’an, but many get disheartened because the first few chapters appear to be complex and baffling.
If your intention is to grow spiritually, and to use the wisdom contained in the Qur’an as the tool and means to enable such growth, it is suggested to read the Qur’an in the sequence it was revealed. By adopting this sequence, we follow the path of revelation, starting from the first commandment which orders us to “Read, in the name of your Lord who created you…” (96:1) and from there, we are introduced to the teachings of Islam in the same route as our beloved Prophet SAW was.
Through this approach, our spiritual development progresses in a more systematic way, for the first thirteen years of the revelation were centred around developing the core of the iman or faith. The same way that our Prophet SAW instilled the love of Allah SWT amongst the believers by the constant reminders and reinforcements of the messages contained in the Mecca verses, so too can we benefit and strengthen the foundations of our faith by employing a similar methodology.
Reading the Qur’an in the sequence it was revealed requires some extra effort and research. There are many resources which provide this information, including online resources. However, if you are unable to obtain such information, or if the research on the chronology is inconvenient, then start with any of the Mecca verses.
The main intention of the Mecca verses is to instill the awareness and acceptance of the existence, supremacy and oneness of God in our hearts. The readers are invited to pause, think and reflect. From the very first revelation, the focus of the Mecca verses is to give an understanding and insight to the Creator, the One who owns all that is in heaven and earth. It emphasizes the true hierarchy in the grand scheme of things and purpose of life – basically that we are all created beings, and created for the purposes of submission to the will and command of our Creator.
So important are these messages that they were relayed over and over again for 13 years. They are revealed, repeated, rephrased, emphasized, for the purpose of reminding us and instilling the belief of one God, or monotheism, in our hearts. The Mecca verses rarely impose regulations, but rather, point us repeatedly to the core of the message – that there is only one God and that we should submit to Him.
What Can I Expect to Find in the Mecca Verses?
The following are the general themes of the Mecca verses. In reading them, take your time to comprehend and reflect. The exploration of the Qur’an should not be done with haste, but rather with insight and patience. Please remember, it is not a race to the finish line, and it can take months or even years for you to digest the Mecca verses. The true value is to understand what Allah SWT is telling you, and this is more beneficial than simply skimming across the pages without obtaining any wisdom or understanding at the end of it.
You will find the following information within the Mecca verses:
- The introduction of Allah SWT as the “Rubb” or the owner of all things.
- Other attributes of Allah, such as being merciful, compassionate, powerful, just, loving and forgiving.
- The invitation to think and reflect on the perfection of Allah SWT’s creations, from the universe to the humble ant.
- Descriptions of the day of judgment, where all will be accountable for their actions in this world.
- The criteria of how to achieve success in this life and in the hereafter, together with the factors of behaviour which will lead you to humiliation and torment in this life and in the hereafter.
- The accounts of the Prophets and their messages, such as Prophet Adam, Prophet Nuh, Prophet Ibrahim, Prophet Musa, Prophet Isa, Prophet Shuaib, Prophet Lut, Prophet Saleh, Prophet Yusuf and Prophet Yaqub (peace be upon them all), together with the reactions of their communities.
- Accounts of miraculous events which occurred by the will of Allah SWT, such as the birth of Prophet Isa AS, the parting of the sea by Prophet Musa AS, the appearance of food from the heavens to feed Maryam AS, the survival of Prophet Yunus AS in the belly of the whale, the divinely inspired dreams of Prophet Yusuf AS and the encounter between Prophet Sulaiman AS and the Queen of Sheba.
- Accounts of efforts to spread Islam in the face of tyranny, for example in the times of Prophet Ibrahim AS and Prophet Musa AS against their tyrant leaders.
- The thought process behind Prophet Ibrahim AS in identifying and submitting to God.
- The accounts of ordinary human beings like you and me, who achieved greatness in the eyes of Allah SWT through their devotion, courageous acts and sacrifices, such as the Companions of the Cave, the People of the Trench, the wife of the Pharaoh, the man from Surat Yasin – people who, even though not named personally in the Qur’an, were elevated by Allah SWT to the extent that their acts of courage, loyalty and conviction will be immortalized in the Qur’an until the end of time.
- Stories of other living creatures of Allah SWT, who remain in devout worship, such as the ant of Prophet Sulaiman AS.
- The sacrifices endured by Prophets and men who lived and spread the message of Allah, including betrayal by family members, the cutting of ties with society, physical and verbal abuse, torture and even death.
- Parables and metaphors based on everyday circumstances, people and even animals around us from which we can learn and obtain wisdom and guidance.
- The circumstances which led to the downfall of the accursed Iblis.
- The formula of safeguarding ourselves against the temptations of our nafs and the whisperings of Iblis.
- Reminders of the basic characteristics that Muslims should adopt – for example, generosity, patience, contentment with Allah SWT’s bounties and steadfastness of belief.
- Reminders of basic characteristics that Muslims should shun – for example, arrogance, disobedience, ungratefulness and stinginess.
- Matters of the unseen, such as the day of judgment, the angels, the jinn and fate and predestination.
- Words of encouragement and wisdom to lead us from darkness, misery and despair into light, happiness and hope.
- Description of paradise and hellfire.
- Glad tidings as well as warnings – often these verses come hand in hand.
When reading the above, pause often and reflect. Let the meaning of it permeate into your heart and let the messages within it be reflected by your actions. The Qur’an is a living book which applies to all of mankind, so do it justice by letting its messages live within you by interacting with it.
- Get acquainted with the people mentioned inside the Qur’an, visualize if you can and transport yourself back into the ancient days, and even further back from that, to the dawn of mankind on this earth. When events are recollected, imagine that you are there witnessing the events.
- When the Qur’an mentions the passage of the sun and the moon, pause and reflect on their wondrous and perfect orbit within the vast universe.
- When the Qur’an mentions the bee and the honey that it produces, stop and ponder on the perfect systems which govern all beehives in the world.
- When the Qur’an describes paradise, imagine how with its lushness and with rivers flowing underneath, and its stark contract with the horrors and heat of the hellfire, and ask ourselves where we would like our final resting place to be.
- When the Qur’an talks about the refusal of the accursed Iblis to prostrate to Prophet Adam AS, reflect on how arrogance and envy led to his downfall, and think of how we can eradicate these traits from ourselves.
- When the Qur’an talks about the hardships faced by the Prophets, empathise with them and appreciate that if it is difficult for you to practice Islam now, it is nothing compared to what they had to endure.
- The Qur’an repeatedly reminds us that the people described within its pages were real people, involved in real incidents, and not legend or fiction. They were of flesh and blood, with feelings and emotions, just like us.
- When reading about the virtues which will lead you to paradise, make dua to be granted the same characteristics.
- When reading about the mercy of our Creator and other words of comfort and encouragement, let such words sooth your souls and inspire you to love Him more.
- When reading about the past nations which refused to submit to Allah SWT and His Messengers, make dua to be granted with vision (baseerah) so that we do not follow the same blind and destructive path.
- When the Qur’an encourages or discourages a pattern of behaviour or thinking, try to implement it in your daily actions.
If you do this, then the reading of the Qur’an will be an amazing and enriching experience, one that will internally shape you and change your character for the better. It naturally follows that once you are in harmony and live within the guidelines prescribed in the Qur’an, you will also achieve a harmony within yourself and those around you. Of its many virtues, the Qur’an is a cure for the diseases of the soul, and will help you overcome your internal chaos and conflict.
The Madinah Verses
It is highly recommended that you wait until you have a firm grasp of the messages contained in the Mecca verses before progressing to the Madinah verses.
The Madinah verses mainly deal with regulations and rules – for example rules of inheritance, governance, warfare, marriages, fasting, hajj, hijab, social structures, divorces and conduct of business. In the Madinah verses, the final constitution between man and God, man and the accursed Iblis, man and the environment, as well as between man and man (for example, husband and wife, the rich and the poor, child and parent, Muslims and non Muslims, leader and followers) are finalized.
If you follow the revelation of the Qur’an in sequence, you will understand that the Madinah verses are aimed at the people who have accepted and carry the messages of the Mecca verses in their hearts. If one is not convinced by the Mecca verses, or if the complete love to Allah SWT and His Messenger have not been fully inculcated in one’s heart, the implementation of the rules and regulations will be difficult to perform sincerely and willingly. This is not to say that you should neglect the observation of Islam practices while studying the Mecca verses, but rather, is in the context of the study of the relevant Qur’anic verses from which these rulings and injunctions originate.
Hence, before applying the Madinah verses, the message of “La ilaha il-Allah SWT” (there is no God but Allah SWT) has to be entrenched firmly, beyond conviction, in the heart of the believer.
However, people have a tendency to do this in reverse – they skip directly to the Madinah verses, and immediately impose the regulations on themselves and others – without a concrete understanding of what the regulations are meant to achieve, and worse, when their conviction and faith in Allah SWT have not taken root in their hearts. This is when Islam is reduced to a bunch of rules and “halal and haram”, without a deeper understanding of the spiritual values which form the core of our belief system and which makes it such a beautiful religion and way of life.
Next article: Personalising the Qur’an to Yourself
(Previously published. Modified for Hadith of the Day in collaboration with the author)