To derive the maximum benefit from the Qur-aan, the first prerequisite is that the reader must have the right mindset. The following are the important ingredients of the right mindset with which to approach the Qur-aan:
Sincerity of Intention
People may read the Qur-aan to seek blessings, to find arguments in favour of a certain point of view, to search for support in legitimizing some deviant or heretical behaviour, etc. To understand the message of the Qur-aan in its pure form, a reader must approach it with a sincere intention of seeking guidance from it. Otherwise, one will end up finding what he is looking for, but not the guidance.
Clearing the Mind from Clutter
An essential prerequisite for seeking guidance is to clear your mind from the clutter when you sit down for its study. Set aside all preconceived ideas and notions you have developed over time, baggage you have acquired from the friends and society you have been moving about, the values of right and wrong that you may have been conditioned to and ideologies you have been impressed with. The Qur-aan must be approached with an open mind and willingness to start from base zero, intending to learn everything anew.
Resolve to Change Accordingly
The seeker of the truth must also be determined to change his ideas, adjust his lifestyle, shift his paradigm and fine-tune his outlook according the guidance he discovers from the Qur-aan. A person has to get out of the ruts of his current outlook and lifestyle to find the guidance to the straight path of Islam. If this adjustment does not take place as he studies the Qur-aan, he will end up having a mirage like experience. He will see it shining at a distance, but will never reach it.
Although the need for reflecting on the message of the Qur-aan has been described in details earlier, its need and importance cannot be overemphasized. The beauties of the Qur-aan become evident to those who reflect on it seriously. It should not be read like a book of fiction, but should be studied with the presence of one’s heart and mind, engaging the best of one’s intellect and reflecting profoundly on the points it makes. However, an appropriate level of reflection will perhaps not be possible in the first reading. The whole Qur-aan should initially be read with the help of an authentic translation and Tafseer to get an overview of the guidance and to get started on practising of its fundamentals; then it must be studied again slowly and reflectively to fine tune the understanding, to internalize its practical implications and to improve upon its practice; and then the process of study, reflection and practice should continue on an ongoing basis.
Studying for the Sake of Practice
As has been indicated earlier, the Qur-aan must be approached with the intent of seeking guidance for putting its teachings into practice. The Qur-aan is a manual of practice, not a theoretical treatise on theology. It was revealed to be understood, reflected upon and put into practise immediately as revealed, not to be practised sometimes in the future. The Prophet SAAWS immediately implemented what he received and believers followed suit. Even those who would become Muslims in later stages would learn the Qur-aan and keep putting into practise as they learnt. It is well known that Sahaabah would learn a few verses of the Qur-aan and first put them into practise before learning any more verses. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is not desired in Islam. But knowledge for the sake of practise is highly rewarded. In fact, as shown by the Ahaadeeth quoted in the prologue, learning and acting upon it was considered tantamount to each other because there was no concept of learning without the intent of practising it immediately or embarking right away upon a process to implement it into practice.
Following in the Footstep of the Prophet
The guidance of the Qur-aan was intricately related to the phases and stages of the Islamic movement launched by the Prophet with the start of the revelation of the Qur-aan. It provided timely and effective instructions to the Messenger of Allaah in completing the mission he was sent for. The same mission has been prescribed for the followers of Islam. The real impact of those teachings is fully perceived and absorbed only by those people who undertake the mission of Islam in the same manner and for the same purpose as was done by our prophet, the first recipient of the revelations. Those who do so, the verse of the Qur-aan reveal themselves to that person in their proper spirit and impact. This is what Iqbal was referring to when he said:
Gar tairay dil pay na ho nuzoole kitaab
Girah kushaa hai Raazi na Saahibe Kashshsaaf
(If the Qur-aan does not descend on your heart, even the works of the commentators like Raazi and Zamakhshari will not be much helpful in bringing home the essence of the message).
Acquiring the knowledge of the Qur-aan is, in essence, like learning to ride a bike or to swim. You can read many books on how to ride a bike and how to swim and do etymological research on every word in the book about biking or swimming, but you will not learn biking or swimming. You will get an idea or ideas about them by reading but you will not get a proper understanding or genuine feel for it without actually jumping in to swim or mounting on a bike and peddling. However, if you keep reading the instruction books while taking lessons on riding a bike or swimming, it will enhance your learning ability and performance.
With all the positive attempts to understand the Qur-aan, one should also continue to pray to Allaah for his guidance. A sincere Du’aa to Allaah SWT adds Allaah’s help and blessings to one’s sincere personal efforts to produce the best possible results.