C. How to Study the Qur'an
If you are one of those who wish to seek knowledge and improve on your understanding of the Scripture, then we have identified seven key study points which may be put to use by both novices and experts. These points will appear to be quite obvious once you read them, but sometimes, being reminded, benefits us all.
1. Language is Not a Barrier
The first point of contention in the study of the Scripture typically is language. Many of the people who want to uphold the Scripture have been informed that God's book can only be recited or studied in Arabic and that any translation will not give the proper meaning. The flip-side is that these same "experts" will then tell the Arabic speakers that the Scripture is "too difficult" for them to understand and that they should leave its understanding to the scholars!
Of course, the Scripture itself says that language is not a barrier to its understanding as God is the One who is making it understood to people who open their hearts to Him and become purified.
"And had We made it a non-Arabic compilation, they would have said: 'If only its verses were made clear!' Non-Arabic and Arabic, say: 'For those who believe, it is a guide and healing. As for those who disbelieve, there is deafness in their ears, and they are blind to it. These will be called from a place far away.'" (Qur'an 41:44)
"It is an honorable Qur'an. In a protected book. None can grasp it except those purified. A revelation from the Lord of the worlds." (Qur'an 56:77)
2. Look at the Full Verse
Quoting the Scripture out of context is by far the biggest error that even seasoned students continue to fall into. Such method can be used to justify any desire or any view no matter how ungodly it may appear.
To take an example, a favorite quote which is repeated by many unknowledgeable groups is that the Scripture promotes killing and violence as evidenced by the verse:
"And kill them wherever you find them..." (Qur'an 2:191).
However, once we use the method of full context, then a totally different picture appears regarding the same issue:
"And kill them wherever you find them, and expel them from where they expelled you, and know that persecution is worse than being killed. And do not fight them at the Sacred Temple unless they fight you in it; if they fight you then kill them, thus is the reward of the disbelievers." (Qur'an 2:191)
Here we have a case of warfare being engaged in, and the people who were driven out being allowed to fight and reclaim their land/territory...A far cry from the sporadic killing that is implied when quoting out of context.
3. Look to the Surrounding Verses
Another crucial point to studying the Scripture properly is to always look at the verses preceding and following a specific verse/subject. An example of how the wrong understanding can be derived if this is not done can be seen in the following:
"And Moses said to his people: 'O my people, you have wronged your souls by taking the calf, so repent to your Maker, and kill yourselves. That is better for you with your Maker, so He would forgive you. He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.'" (Qur'an 2:54)
This verse on its own creates an enigma as Moses is asking his people to commit suicide while suicide is punishable with being cast in Hell (4:29). However, when we look at the 'wider' picture that occurs in the verses before and after then the story takes on a completely different light:
"And We appointed a meeting time for Moses of forty nights, but then you took the calf after him while you were wicked. Then We forgave you after that, perhaps you would be thankful. And We gave Moses the Scripture and the criterion, perhaps you would be guided. And Moses said to his people: 'O my people, you have wronged your souls by taking the calf, so repent to your Maker, and kill yourselves. That is better for you with your Maker, so He would forgive you. He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.' And you said: 'O Moses, we will not believe you until we see God openly!' So the lightning bolt took you while you were still staring. Then We resurrected you after your death that you may be appreciative. And We shaded you with clouds, and sent down to you manna and quails: 'Eat from the goodness of the provisions We have provided you.' They did not wrong Us, but it was their souls that they wronged." (Qur'an 2:51)
It was the design of the Almighty to resurrect this particular group from the Children of Israel to manifest His signs. Thus, once they refused to kill themselves, God made them die anyway and then resurrected them to make His will done...Thus the paradox is removed since God is the only One who may take life as it is His gift to begin with.
4. Be Aware of Context
Some Arabic words, like in English, can have slightly different meanings depending on the context they are placed in. One such example is the word 'Daraba' which has a natural meaning of putting forth as can be seen in the verses below:
"Have you not seen how God puts forth (Daraba) the example that a good word is like a good tree, whose root is firm and its branches in the sky." (Qur'an 14:24)
"For the poor who face hardship in the cause of God, they cannot go forth (Darban) in the land; the ignorant ones think they are rich from their modesty; you know them by their features, they do not ask the people repeatedly. And what you spend out of goodness, God is fully aware of it." (Qur'an 2:273)
"O you who believe, if you go forth (Darabtum) in the cause of God, you shall investigate carefully. And do not say to those who greet you with peace: "You are not a believer!" You are seeking the vanity of this world; but with God are many riches. That is how you were before, but God favored you, so investigate carefully. God is expert over what you do." (Qur'an 4:94)
However, there are certain cases where this word can give the meaning of 'strike/beat' as the act of striking involves the hand being put forth:
"So how will it be when their lives are terminated by the angels, while striking (Yadriboona) their faces and their backs?" (Qur'an 47:27)
While this may not appear as a big issue, not looking at the context can have serious consequences as we can see in the meaning that has ascribed to the word 'Daraba' by the majority of translators for verse 4:34:
[Yusuf Ali Translation]: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct , admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them - "Idribuhun" (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)." (Qur'an 4:34)
As a result of the choice of words, we have generations upon generations of men who believe it is their God given right to 'beat' their wives into obedience!
The correct approach would have been to understand the context of the verse (in this case, it deals with the subject of a woman who wishes to desert her husband "Nushooz") and thus the word "Idribuhun" is one of the suggested three steps suggested to deal with the situation (the first step is talking it out, while the second is giving her space by avoiding sexual contact with her).
"The men are to support the women by what God has bestowed on them over one another and for what they spend of their money. The upright women are dutiful; keeping private the personal matters for what God keeps watch over. As for those women from whom you fear desertion (Nushooz * Nushooz is correctly understood by translators as being 'leave/desert' as can be seen in its use in 4:128 and 58:11. However, miraculously, the word is transformed by them into 'ill-conduct' when the woman is the one doing the Nushhoz as in 4:34. ), then you shall advise them, and abandon them in the bedchamber, and separate from them (Idribuhun). If they respond to you, then do not seek a way over them; God is High, Great." (Qur'an 4:34)
As such, what meaning of "Idribuhun" would make the most sense: letting the wife temporarily separate from her husband and think things through, or, beating her into submission and forcing her to remain with her husband?
The answer as always is to follow the best meaning derived...
"The ones who listen to what is being said, and then follow the best of it. These are the ones whom God has guided, and these are the ones who possess intelligence." (Qur'an 39:18)
5. Arrange Similar Topic Verses Together
A study point of crucial importance is to arrange the verses of the Scripture by order of subject/topic to seek its meaning.
Looking to the example of 'divorce,' we find that the subject is scattered in three different chapters (chapter 2, chapter 33, and chapter 65) which, when placed together, provide a more extensive picture of the proceedings and laws regarding divorce...
"And those divorced shall wait for three menstruation periods; and it is not lawful for them to conceal what God has created in their wombs, if they believe in God and the Last Day. And their husbands would then have just cause to return together, if they both wish to reconcile. And the obligations owed to them are to be fulfilled, as are the obligations owed by them. But the men will have a greater responsibility over them in this. And God is Noble, Wise.” (Qur’an 2:228)
The divorce is allowed twice. So, either they remain together equitably, or they part ways with goodness. And it is not lawful for you to take back anything you have given them unless you fear that they will not uphold the boundaries of God. So if you fear that they will not uphold the boundaries of God, then there is no sin upon them for what is given back. These are the boundaries of God so do not transgress them. And whoever shall transgress the boundaries of God, then these are the wicked.” (Qur’an 2:229)
"So if he divorces her again, then she will not be lawful for him until after she has married a different husband; if he divorces her; then there is no sin that they come back together if they think they will uphold the boundaries of God. These are the boundaries of God, He clarifies them for a people who know.” (Qur’an 2:230)
"And if you have divorced the women, and they have reached their required interim period, then either you remain together equitably, or part ways equitably. And do not reconcile with them so you can harm them out of animosity; whoever does so is doing wrong to his soul; and do not take the revelations of God as mockery. And remember the blessings of God upon you, and what was sent down to you of the Book and the wisdom, He warns you with it. And be aware of God and know that God is Knowledgeable of all things.” (Qur’an 2:231)
"And if you divorce the women, and they reach their required interim period, then do not make difficulty for them if they wish to remarry their husbands if they have amicably agreed among themselves out of what is best. This is to remind any of you who believe in God and the Last Day, this is better for you and purer; and God knows while you do not know.” (Qur’an 2:232)
"O you who believe, if you marry the believing females, then divorce them before having intercourse with them, then there is no interim required of them. You shall compensate them, and let them go in an amicable manner.” (Qur’an 33:49)
"O prophet, if any of you have divorced the women, then they should be divorced while ensuring that their required interim is fulfilled, and keep count of the interim. You shall reverence God your Lord, and do not evict them from their homes, nor should they leave, unless they commit an evident lewdness. And these are the boundaries of God. And anyone who transgresses the boundaries of God has wronged his soul. You never know; perhaps God will make something come out of this.” (Qur’an 65:1)
"Then, once the interim is fulfilled, either you remain together equitably, or part ways equitably and have it witnessed by two just people from among you; and give the testimony for God. This is to enlighten those who believe in God and the Last Day. And whoever reverences God, He will create a solution for him.” (Qur’an 65:2)
"And He will provide for him whence he never expected. Anyone who puts his trust in God, then He suffices him. The commands of God will be done. God has decreed for everything its fate.” (Qur’an 65:3)
"As for those who have reached menopause from your women, if you have any doubts, their interim shall be three months - as well as for those who did not menstruate. And those who are already pregnant, their interim is until they give birth. And anyone who reverences God, He makes his matters easy for him.” (Qur’an 65:4)
"You shall let them reside in the dwelling you were in when you were together, and do not coerce them to make them leave. And if they are pregnant, you shall spend on them until they give birth. Then, if they nurse the infant, you shall give them their due payment. And you shall maintain the amicable relations between you. If you disagree, then another woman may nurse the child.” (Qur’an 65:6)
Here is a summary of the rules for divorce as obtained when arranging all similar verses:
- If a couple wish to divorce, then, from the declaration of divorce, they must wait for an interim period. (65:1)
- During the interim period, the wife must remain in the home of her husband. (65:1)
- The interim period required is three menstruation periods. The interim for women who no longer menstruate is three months. The interim for pregnant women is until they deliver. There is no interim if the couple has never had intercourse with each other. (2:228, 65:4, 33:49)
- If the couple reconcile, then divorce may be retracted and cancelled at any point during the interim period. (2:229)
- If the couple still wishes to follow through with the divorce after the end of the interim period, then two witnesses are required to complete the process. (65:2)
- If this is the third divorce, then the couple may not remarry each other unless the woman marries another man and then divorces from him. (2:230)
As shown in the example above, the simple step of examination of all related verses gives a very detailed account that can be applied in any civil society.
6. Look to Examples in the Qur'an
Once a meaning is derived, the final accuracy test is to compare such a meaning to the stories related in the Scripture if such a story can be found. The reason being is that the stories related in the Scripture are 'live' examples for us to learn from and compare situations.
"We tell to you the best stories through what We have inspired to you in this Qur'an; and before it you were of those who were unaware." (Qur'an 12:3)
One of the clearest examples for using this method is to deal with the issue of 'theft'.
[Yusuf Ali Translation]: As to the thief, Male or female, cut off (Iqta) his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power. (Qur'an 5:38)
If we had based our opinion solely on verse 5:38 as shown above, then our understanding would be that the hands of thieves are to be severed completely. If this is indeed what God has commanded, then we have no option but to hear and obey.
However, in this particular case, we find that a small check against the real life example given in the Scripture of Joseph and his brothers and how they dealt with the issue of theft leads us to a completely different conclusion:
"They said: ‘By God, you know we have not come to cause corruption in the land, and we are not thieves!’ They said: ‘What shall be the punishment, if you are not truthful?’ They said: ‘The punishment is that he in whose saddlebag it is found will himself serve as the punishment. It is so that we punish the wicked.’” (Qur’an 12:73)
The law of God that Joseph applied against his brother in the matter of theft did not lead to any amputation of the hand or any other mindless act of violence. It did, however, lead to the brother being made to remain behind and work as a penalty against that which he was accused of stealing.
Looking back at verse 5:38 with the correct translation we see a completely different understanding from that found by Yusuf Ali:
"As for the thief, both male and female, you shall cut from their resources - as a penalty for what they have earned - to be made an example of from God. God is Noble, Wise." (Qur'an 5:38)
The correct understanding of the verse not only matches the live example given in the Scripture, but it also comes in-line with the other checks and balances that God has given such as the punishment not exceeding the crime (16:126).
7. Be Patient and Seek God's Help
Even with all the skill and knowledge we may possess, the study of the Scripture will always be lacking if God is not sought for help and assistance. After all, He is the ultimate teacher of humankind in all things, especially the Scripture.
"When you read the Qur’an, you shall seek refuge with God from the outcast devil. He has no authority over those who believe, and who put their trust in their Lord. His authority is over those who follow him, and set him up as a partner.” (Qur’an 16:98)
Also, do not be scared or confused if your findings or understandings do not conform to what others have said or taught for years or centuries...Truth does not need to conform to the majority to be truth.
"And if you obey most of those on the earth they will lead you away from the path of God; that is because they follow conjecture, and that is because they only guess.” (Qur’an 6:116)
Finally, remember we are here on this planet to serve God and walk in His path, and not to serve our own agendas and our own egos:
"You alone we serve, and You alone we seek for help." (Qur'an 1:5)