Although the Prophet was the bearer and the communicator of the revelation - of the Qur'an - it is well reported that he loved to hear the Qur’an recited by others back to him, especially by those who have a beautiful voice that could give power to the voice of the Qur’an. A dua that he would repeat often, that had become a cornerstone of understanding the relationship between the Prophet and the Qur’an, goes in part: “Make this Qur'an the spring of our hearts, the light of our chests, the means for the removal of all sadness, and the means to chase away consternation, anxiety, and fear.”
As the bearer of the revelation, the Prophet understood that the Qur'an is a continuing revelation. He understood that once he, as a prophet, transmitted the Qur'an, it existed outside of him - talking to him, interacting with him, and, indeed, often guiding him towards the best way. In other words, God's revelation interacted with God's Prophet so that God's Prophet could grow and progress with the Qur'an. We would be betraying ourselves if we did not reflect upon and properly understand the relationship between the Qur'an and the Prophet of God. The Prophet himself would pray to God for a special relationship with the revealed word. That relationship is reflected in the very words of this dua; it is very personal and very intimate.
The spring of our hearts. How does the Qur'an become the spring of your heart? Spring symbolizes renewal, freshness, birth, warmth and happiness. The Prophet would pray to God that the Qur'an would become the spring of our hearts. How does the Qur'an translate into your life as a chapter of renewal and rebirth? Can you have a relationship with the Qur'an, where the Qur'an guides you towards renewal and rebirth, without having an intimate relationship with God's book? The Prophet himself deemed it necessary to pray to God that for the revelation that just came to him – that when he revisits the revelation – that he finds in this revelation a message of renewal and rebirth.
“…And the light of our chests…” The chest here symbolizes your very soul, the very spirit of your being. The Qur'an should be the light of that spirit, meaning that if the Qur'an is the light of your soul, and for whatever reason, if that relationship falls, you would dwell in darkness. The du’a of the Prophet is, "God, make that the Qur’an becomes the very light of our spirits, the very light of our souls." It is as if the du’a has made the Qur'an our very life, the very way that we chase away the anxieties and fears of life. This is the nature of dunyā (the material world); the nature of this earth. There will always be anxieties and fears. There will always be consternation. There will always be grievances. There will always be betrayals. There will always be hurt and injury. But to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet is to rely on the Qur’an through tribulation.
As I have said repeatedly, the Sunnah of the Prophet is not how he drank water or how he cleaned his teeth. That is marginalia. The Sunnah of the Prophet is his very way of life. In this du’a, we see that this Sunnah requires you to have a relationship with the Qur'an; not a relationship where you solely turn to the Qur'an as a way of mechanical protection from evil, or as a way to memorize certain surahs for prayer, or as a reminder upon the death of a loved one. The Qur'an should become the very spring of your heart, the very light for your soul, and the very way that you defeat your fears, anxieties and weaknesses in life.
“I am frustrated about my profession and my goals.” Go to the Qur'an. “I am worried about paying my bills.” Go to the Qur'an. “I am not getting along with my spouse.” “My children are being disobedient, defiant, and disrespectful.” Go to the Qur'an. But do not go to the Qur'an like a donkey carrying books, engaging in a mechanical process. Maybe through God's blessings, the donkey feels the level of blessing by carrying books. But what the donkey will never do is open up the books, engage with the books, and understand the books. The light that might be bestowed on the donkey by carrying books is not a reflecting light. It is purely a gift from God, not an earned reward.
A core sunnah is a relationship with the Qur’an in which it is your source of renewal and reinvigoration. Can the Qur’an be a source of strength, renewal, and reinvigoration if you approach the Qur’an stupidly or ignorantly? Can it be this source of resurgence for your life if you approach the Qur’an without thinking, without reflection, without study, and without originality? No. To be a source of resurgence requires a living, breathing, vibrating, engaging Qur’an; a Qur’an that accompanies you in the most meaningful way. A Qur’an that engages you, reforms you, criticizes you, and disciplines you. A Qur’an that helps you grow and emerge and evolve.
How many times can one say Muslims need a paradigm shift? The Sunnah of the Prophet was not in the marginalia of appearance and personal habits. The Sunnah of the Prophet was the philosophy of life, an attitude towards existence that is entered in the living Qur'an. Unfortunately, we Muslims have turned the Qur'an into a museum piece, a dead book. It inspires no initiatives. It inspires no great feats. It inspires no great progress. It inspires no great humanistic movements. All it does is inspire people to go to Mecca, to go around the Kaaba, and pat themselves on the back for a Hajj or Umrah well done. That is not what the Qur'an is about.
The people of the Book have to really be about the Book. It cannot be that we are the people of the Book, but our relationship to the Book is cosmetic and anchored in appearances, such as incorrect recitation or incorrect pronunciation. How about studying and learning the Qur'an so that it can truly be the agent of change, the agent of light, and the agent of power over your fears, anxieties and weaknesses?
When you are anxious, do you read the Qur'an and feel better? When you are scared, do you read the Qur’an and feel better? When you are angry, do you read the Qur'an and calm down? When you are longing, do you read the Qur'an and find comfort? When you are hurt, do you read the Qur'an and find yourself healed? When you are lost, do you read the Qur'an and find yourself guided? If the answer to any of these is no, then you have to revisit your relationship to the Qur’an. You have to renew your relationship with the Qur’an, because something is very wrong.
God told us about people whose hearts and minds are closed. There are covers before their eyes and before their ears. They do not hear. They do not see. And worse, there are covers on their very heart. There are people, as Surah al-Baqarah tells us from the very start, that are blind. That are deaf. Their hearts are closed. They say, "We believe," but they contradict that statement with their behavior, with their way of life.
How can you say that you believe when what you do in life is spread corruption on earth? When people tell them, “This is wrong, do not do that. You are acting wrongfully,” these people respond, "No, we are good. We are fine with God." You tell them, "Come learn the Qur'an. Come study the Qur'an, come understand the Qur'an,” and they will say, "We know it." “Why do you know it? How do you know it?" Their response? "Well, my mom, my dad, my community center, the culture in which I grew up taught me. I know it. I have a relationship with God too. It is not just you who has a relationship with God. In my relationship God, what I am doing is fine."
As many Imams have told us throughout history, the very purpose of this Qur'an is to uphold truth and justice. Truth and justice are universal values that can be understood by humanity. If you claim that you are a student of Qur'an, but your behavior is contrary to ethical standards, then you are truly causing corruption on earth. All your statements about your purported piety and your iman (faith) are false.
It is remarkable that we live in a day and age in which a professor, who has been promoted through every possible rank within his school, who earned the title of “distinguished,” who served on the board of Human Rights Watch, who won the Oslo Human Rights Award, who won The American Academy of Religion Award, who keeps his work free and accessible to the public, who has written books that can be read and scrutinized, is referred to as a cult leader by his fellow Muslims when they see that this professor found nothing more worthy in life to commit and dedicate his existence to than the Qur'an.
What is a cult? Let me first ask, where is God for you? Is God found with the suffering or with those who inflict suffering? Is God found with the poor or with the rich? Is God found with those who suffer injustice or those who perpetuate injustice? Is God found with those who pursue knowledge, or with those who sit resting on their laurels and assume themselves to be knowledgeable? Is God with the books of the Islamic tradition, or on social media? Where is God? Where do you find God? That will tell you what type of ‘cult’ this is.
If it is the Qur'an, then, yes, we are a cult. If it is the cult that sees the Qur’an as a miraculous book, worthy of scrutiny, analysis, and study, then, yes, I am that cult. If a cult means that you stand with Shaykh Salman al-Ouda as he suffers in prison, as the vast majority of Muslims remain silent in complicity, then yes, I am a cult. If a cult means speaking out for Ahmed Sabee, the poor, young Egyptian scholar who did nothing but study the Old Testament to become a religious comparativist, but was thrown in prison to appease the Coptic Church, then yes, I am a cult. If a cult means being the only Muslim academic to sign the new initiative protesting the inaction of Muslim countries, vis-à-vis the genocide being perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslims, then yes, I am a cult. If a cult means pointing to the corruption of the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirate, who killed thousands of innocent Muslims in Yemen, then, yes, I am a cult.
God does not bless people who make a mockery of truth. Just because of your own whims and desires, every time you are challenged by someone more knowledgeable, pious and sincere than you, your answer is, "Oh, they are a cult. The Muslim Brotherhood is a cult." I never was and never will be a part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Not because I believe anything is wrong with the Muslim Brotherhood, but because it is not my path. My intellectual path does not fit within the confines of an organization.
I remember the Qur’anic revelation often repeated by the Prophet, “God, do not make in our heart an angst against our fellow believers.” I pray, and I pray to God to forgive so many of my fellow Muslims who do not want to see that an Islam that is not on the side of truth and justice is not an Islam worthy of the title, “Islam.” It is not an Islam at all. I pray to God to forgive my anger, and to help me heal that sense of hurt from the continuing injury by fellow Muslims who have forgotten the first thing about their own faith and religion.