January 1, 2022

An Operating Manual

A complex system or a sophisticated piece of equipment is delivered by the manufacturers with a manual of operating procedures that documents the best way of operating, using, maintaining and taking care of that equipment or system. Human beings are the most complex machines and human society is the most complicated system. On top of that, they have, by nature, another level of complexity that is not applicable to any man-made equipment or system. Man-made machines or systems are static in the sense that they operate or behave consistently; hence they can be explored and mastered through trial and error over a period of operating experience. On the other hand, human behaviour is dynamic and the dynamics of human society are exceptionally complicated. This makes the trial-and-error approach an impossible way to develop and maintain an optimized and balanced way of life for an individual and human society. That is where Allaah’s help and mercy come to our rescue. Allaah, out of His mercy, has sent the Holy Qur’aan with the most optimum, perfectly balanced and the most efficient model of living individually and collectively. In short, we can look at the Qur’aan as the operating manual for human individuals and society. 

This highlights and re-emphasizes the proposition that the Qur’aan is not something merely to be learnt but something to be understood and put into practice. It needs to be read, and reflected upon for understanding so that it can be lived by. Accepting the Holy Qur’aan as the manufacturer’s operating instructions has many implications on defining our relationship with it:

1.   It must be read, reflected upon and understood so that human life both individually and collectively can be operated as per its instructions;

2.   Referring back to it must be frequent so that no aspect of the instructions is forgotten, overlooked or missed;

3.   The instructions must be memorized well so that they are executed precisely.

That is why Allaah and His Messenger have emphasized so strongly that the Qur’aan must be memorized, read, and reflected upon frequently, throughout the day, every day, throughout one’s life. Now, this should also serve as a warning for those who are engaged in futile exercises thinking that they are performing good Islamic duties, such as:

1.   Those who are content with reading the Qur’aan without reflecting upon it or developing an understanding that can be practised upon, regardless of how regularly and faithfully they recite it. 

Their example is like someone who does not know the German language, does not care how well or badly his machines from Germany are functioning, but he faithfully and regularly struggles to read the operating manual in German without caring to understand properly what its instructions are.

2.   Those who learn the whole Qur’aan by heart but their lives are devoid of any dedication towards implementing its commands and systems either in their individual lives or in their societies as a whole.

Their example is like someone who has learnt the whole manual by heart, but avoids even venturing on the shop floor, or contributing in any way to the operation of the machine or its performance.

3.   Those who spend a lot of time and energy on reading, studying and discussing the contents of the Qur’aan and engage in theoretical discussions on the words, phrases and expressions used in it but are too busy to do anything about changing their own or their society’s behaviour to bring it in line with the operating instructions. Indeed their encyclopaedic knowledge of the manual is utterly useless because neither their theoretical knowledge is related to the current condition of the machine (Ummah) nor do they have any concern about doing anything practical to repair it if it is broken or not performing well, (as is the current situation of the Ummah).

4.   Those who have pre-conceived notions of ideal human behaviour picked up from non-Islamic sources, then, they approach the Qur’aan with those ideas and try to read those ideas into the words of the Qur’aan, instead of letting the Qur’aan give them the instructions. If they do not find what they like to read in the Qur’aan, they go through Arabic dictionaries to find rare meanings that would give them the interpretation they want it to have, disregard grammatical rules and apply convoluted schemes to prove their ideas are from the Qur’aan. If that does not work either, they declare those verses of the Qur’aan to be allegorical or metaphorical. Then their idea becomes the interpretation of the allegory or metaphor.

Their example is like those who have already made up their minds how they are going to run the machine, and then to give the appearance and to derive the satisfaction that it is from the manual, they misapply grammatical and lexical rules to derive the instruction that they think it should be giving.

Compared to them, a person truly dedicated to the Qur’aan is one who acquires the simple, basic knowledge of the manual and dedicates all his energies and resources to make the machine function according to those basic principles. Whenever he stumbles at a new situation, he refers back to the manual and to those who know the manual better, learns the correct instructions and uses them to fine tune the operation of machine. While doing so, he also continually keeps referring to the manual (the Qur’aan) to gain further practical knowledge to improve his and his machine’s (society’s) performance. His study and practice go hand in hand every step of the way. His knowledge of the manual and the practical use of that knowledge in the operation of his personal life and that of the society he lives in, both continue to grow, improve and enhance steadily and concurrently. This step-by-step learning of the Qur’aan and putting the learning into practice was the way of Ŝaĥaabah who learnt a few verse put them into practice, then learnt more and put into practice, instead of theoretical discussions in the name of acquiring knowledge that many people nowadays undertake.

Islam, Qur’aan and Ummah need servants of the Qur’aan that are from this last category. When the majority of the Ummah adopts this healthy attitude and habit of continuous learning and practising of the Qur’aan, the fate of our Ummah will be vastly improved.

This Ramadhaan let us take a practical approach to the learning of the Qur’aan. Let us learn, recite, memorize, revise and listen to it for putting it into the practise as an operating manual should be.

July 12, 2002

Posted in Qur'aan on January 1, 2022 by Ayub Hamid

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