The Qur’an & the Soul’s Alchemy
The Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked, ‘The best of you is the one who learns the Qur’an and teaches it to others.’1 For Muslims, not withstanding the sheer beauty of its composition and its cadences, the Qur’an is a repository of revealed teachings, a roadmap for the journey through life, and a fountain of timeless truths to meditate upon; deepening endlessly one’s sense of the divine glory. Moreover, the Qur’an is of God: His Word, Wisdom and Divine Will. God says: We send down in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy for the believers. [17:82] O mankind! There has come to you a counsel from your Lord, and a healing for what is in the breasts. [10:57]
Its name is indeed telling, for the word Qur’an, in Arabic, literally means a ‘recital’ or ‘that which is recited’. To this end the Qur’an is possibly the most read or recited book in the world. It is certainly the world’s most memorised book, and is probably the one that exerts the most influence over its readers. It is a book that has caused countless people throughout history to accept its message upon reading it, or hearing its recital. It has moved hearts to tears, healed spiritual wounds, incapacitated opponents, and astounded academics and artisans alike. The essence of its message is that there is only one God: Allah, who created and sustains the material universe and the world of human experience, and that only He is to be deified and worshiped.
The alchemical effect of the Qur’an, the deep transformative impact it has upon the human soul, is such that even its most ardent of opponents have been profoundly affected by it. One such example is of ‘Utbah bin Rabi‘ah who, on hearing the Prophet recite the Qur’an, was compelled by its sheer and utter sublimity to confess: ‘I have heard an utterance the like of which I have never heard. By God! It is neither poetry, sorcery nor soothsaying. O men of Quraysh, listen to me and do as I bid. Do not come between this man and what he is about, but leave him be. For by God, the words I have heard from him will soon cause a great stir.’2
This sublimity was felt too by Goethe (the nineteenth century German poet, novelist, statesman and scholar) who wrote in his West-Oestlicher Divan how, after inspiring initial astonishment and fear, the Qur’an ‘soon attracts, astounds, and, in the end, enforces our reverence. Its style, in accordance with its content and its aim, is stern, grand, terrible, ever and anon truly sublime. Thus, this book will go on exercising, through the ages, a most potent influence.’3
Thus it is a case of pouring the Qur’an’s healing over our spiritual wounds, and allow it to work its miracle: Is there any, then, to take heed? [54:17]
1. Al-Bukhari, no.5027.
2. Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 1:185, its chain is sound (hasan). Cf. Muhammad al-Ghazali, Fiqh al-Sirah, ed. al-Albani (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Hadithah, 1976), 113.
3. Cited in Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life (USA: Starlatch Press, 2001), 25-6.