(Originally published on Issue 62, August 2018)
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
‘The Word of God’ plays a significant role in our lives. Although it may not have actually played this role completely in our lives, it is an aim that I am trying to achieve. We can bring the Word of God into our lives on a few levels. First of all, acceptance of the Word of God can be considered as formalising our faith. It can sometimes be very abstract or even ambiguous to say that I believe in God, but if we translate belief in God into believing in the Prophet and the Book, it makes it more formal and more concrete. For this reason, in many places, the Qur’an states that we believe in God and in what God has revealed to the Prophet and previous prophets. So, for us, to believe in the Qur’an, and Bible for you, is a way to ensure that we are formally or officially part of the community of faith. Thus, I think this is the first function of the Word of God.
Another role the Word of God plays is in our guidance. It is not just something we sign as acceptance, like when we sign a declaration to become a member of something. There are a few ways the Word of God guides us. One way is that the Word of God awakens our innate understanding of God, what is right and what is wrong. In Islam, there is a concept called fitrah, which refers to the innate knowledge and desires of human beings. Therefore, we believe even if we are not taught from outside, all human beings grow with a certain understanding and distinction between what is right and what is wrong. God has placed an internal compass within us, moreover, He also teaches us through revelation. These two forms of guidance match and are compatible. Hence, the Word of God is a reminder; indeed, one of the titles of the Qur’an is Dhikr. Dhikr means invocation, as well as remembrance and reminder. The Qur’an states that it is a reminder: “It is just a reminder for all the worlds.” (81:27)
The Word of God reminds us what we as human beings should be able to understand by ourselves. Therefore, if a human being has been brought up well, although not necessarily religiously, and has a sound understanding of Word of God, there should be lots of resonance. However, this is not to say that everything written in the Word of God can be understood innately because that is mostly for basic things. Nonetheless, there should be lots of resonance.
The second thing is that the Word of God unearths the treasures of intellect. Thus, Imam Ali(a) states: the prophets came to unearth the treasures of intellect.” This tradition indicates that there are things human beings have understood throughout the ages by using their reason in the form of wise teachings. Unfortunately, these are sometimes buried under numerous superstitions or confused ideas. Consequently, we have to unearth them. So, the Word of God gives you a means of access to the treasures of the intellectual findings of humanity. It is very important in Shiʻa Muslim tradition that the Word of God should resonate with our conscience as well as our intellect.
Regrettably, many Muslims do not have the same approach. In any case, we believe that the Word of God should actually bring out these intellectual understandings and findings of humanity. The Book of God is an encouragement for us to start thinking; it does not just say, “Sit and I will walk.” In contrast, the Book of God says, “Let’s walk together and I will show you the path.”
The third thing is that the Book of God teaches us something extra, something that we are not able to understand by ourselves. Thus, even if all the philosophers of the world think for thousands of years, they cannot free us from the need of the Book of God. The Qur’an says: “And teaches you what you did not know.” (2:151)
One of the things the Prophet does is to teach you what you were not able to know by yourself. So, he emphasises what you are able to know, but also teaches you something that you were unable to know. Yet, how does the Word of God teach us something more than just reminder and more than unearthing intellectual treasures? I have written three points; the first is by learning theoretical knowledge. For example, the Qur’an tells us how to interact with family, though some instructions are a reminder. Being kind to parents is a reminder since even if you are not religious you can understand it. However, there are more details in the Qur’an about how to deal with your parents, children, and spouses. Furthermore, the Qur’an explains what should be done if there is a family problem, such as between husband and wife. Neither is the Word of God a book of theories or an academic book. It is written in a way that not only teaches you but also relates you to the subject and tries to develop it within you. This aspect is extremely important; hence, whoever wants to really engage with the Word of God should read it carefully, but not just as a university book. Though it should be read carefully like a university book, one’s soul must also be connected to it. Indeed, there is something more than theory here; the Qur’an does not just want to tell you that you have to be kind to your parents, it wants you to actually appreciate that and then implement it. Consequently, the Word teaches you, makes you appreciate, and makes you implement.
Then, in addition to all of these, and more significant than all of these, I think there is still another level of benefiting from the Word of God in our lives, and that is the fact that when you connect to the Word of God you connect yourself to God. No human book can achieve something similar. If I write a book anyone who reads this book can understand something about me and can even have some personal experience about me without seeing me through my book because a book is somehow a picture of the author. However, the Word of God is different because it is designed to be a rope that is extended from God to earth so that we connect to God. The Qur’an states, “Hold fast to Allah’s cord”.(3:103) You should hold onto the rope of God.
Therefore, God has not just given us a book; He has given us a rope to help us connect with Him. My view is not typical, but I do not see why people should not accept it; if we present it to them they should accept. I think that God has made a channel to send light, mercy, healing, and guidance through this rope. These are the exact words which are used in the Qur’an, not my words. Thus, there is rahmah, shifa, nur, and guidance, “We send down in the Qur’an that which is a cure and mercy.”(17:82) Light, mercy, guidance, and healing are sent through this channel.
Consequently, the Qur’an is not something which was given fourteen centuries ago, now everything is finished and we just try to review it. I believe that with those 114 chapters that God has given, He has created a space through which He is still at work. Even today He is at work in His Word. I am not totally surprised if someone says that a generation may understand something that the previous generation not only did not understand, they were not supposed to understand. Of course, this is not a contradiction. He has created a space through which He functions and, therefore, we can say there are two types of guidance. One is to show the path, and this is given to all people. The other is to actually come along with you on this journey and take you to the destination. This guidance is also available and God does it through the Prophet and through the Word for the people who appreciate the first offer of guidance. So, I can make the Word of God my personal tutor and my personal trainer.
Please remember this extremely important point. The Qur’an is not just a Book, written and finished; rather, it is a Book whose ink is fresh. In my view, this is an area that then needs to be cultivated through reflection on the Word regularly, bringing the Word into our lives, and constantly checking our life and performance with what this tutor and mentor is teaching us. “This is what the Word is saying, this is what I am doing, how much do I correspond, and how much do I resonate?”
If we keep doing this, not only will our life become compatible with the Word of God, but it will also become a mirror for the Word of God in which people can see the Word of God today. I have already made the journey easier for them. If one person today applies the Word of God, He makes a connection to the Word of God easier for other people. Our great role models and leaders from both traditions who have tried to live the Word of God, like Imam Khomeini, Allamah Tabatabai and Chiara, not only lived the Word of God in a very fresh and contemporary way but also reflected the Word of God for others. What we are supposed to do is quickly get what they give us and then pass it on to other people; either we pass it on less, equally, or I think we can even do more as there is no limit here. It is an ocean which always has something to offer. Nevertheless, this should be done with humbleness, as we have discussed the first thing is humbleness.
A beautiful hadith of the Prophet Muhammad reads: He said to Imam Ali, “Isn’t this the fact that after God His Book is the best thing?”
The Book is more important than the Prophet and the Imams because they were all creatures, whereas the Word of God is not created by God. In reality, it is a manifestation of God. Hence, we can get connected to God through the Word of God and constantly be inspired. We can receive detailed guidance and instruction, not just abstract commands. I think then, little by little, you can start feeling the presence of God very vividly through the Word.
The Qur’an is not this paper and ink, but it is the means God has used to come into our life. Therefore, by holding the Qur’an you can get connected to God. So, these are just some thoughts I wanted to share with you. It is something that I believe is possible and workable.
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years. Download the full pdf here