Myth: Reading the translation is enough
Amr bin Al-Aas (ra), before he became a Muslim, rode out to meet Musaylimah the Liar who was proclaiming Prophethood. Upon his arrival, Musaylimah said to Amr, “What has been revealed to your friend (Muhammad) during his time?
Amr replied, “A short and concise surah.” And then he recited surah Al-Asr.
So Musaylimah thought for a while. Then he said, “Indeed something similar has also been revealed to me.” Amr asked him, “What is it?”
He replied, “O Wabr (a small, furry mammal; hyrax), O Wabr! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing.”
Then he said, “What do you think, O Amr?”
So Amr said to him, “By Allah! Verily, you know that I know you are lying.”
Allah (swt) has said in the Quran,
“And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witness beside Allah if ye are truthful.” (02:23)
Musaylimah the Liar failed to convince even a non-Muslim with his nonsensical string of babble- his only superpower being that he could narrate his “revelations” with a straight face.
You read something that strikes a chord, words expertly woven that they resonate with your thoughts, and in that moment you know the writer had said everything that you wanted to say but couldn’t. It is like someone else discovering the long-lost novel you always knew you had, hidden away in a dusty corner amongst the antiques in wooden boxes. And what do you do then, but follow the calling of the words, ears tuned to every keystroke of the wordsmith. And it fills you with an intense impulse to share it around.
What if you read something that would make you doubt your own being? That could take you apart piece by piece and put you back together in a different order… with words chiseled so meticulously that they probe your inner depths of years of rust and stun you into denial.
This verse was a challenge proclaimed to the disbelievers of centuries past and still open today. Magic at work, a poet’s speech, soothsayer’s discourse… they had exhausted their excuses and came up with zilch. It was something so peculiar that it made the writers word-tied, poets give up their masterpieces and alcoholics slay their intoxication—and it could’ve only come from realms above. Hence the contest, if you can compose even a chapter that comes close to it, then go ahead with it. And as of today, the Quran stands timeless and unparalleled.
When Umar (ra) asked Labid, the famous pre-Islamic poet who had embraced Islam, to recite for him some of his poetry, Labid began to recite al-Baqarah. “This is not what I asked you,” Umar remonstrated. Labid replied: “Well, I have given up composing poetry after Allah gave me al-Baqarah and aal-Imraan.” (Narrated from Qurtubi)
Such is the power behind the Divine Revelation; an intellectual indulgence descended for all, but enjoyed by a handful few.
This Ramadan, pick up those flyers and really look at them. Or enroll online. Make it a point to understand the Quran the way it is deserved to be comprehended. So you may see the day when you can revel in the meaning as the words roll off your tongue. So you may be moved enough to cry silently as you pray behind an Imaam. And so when it is just you and Him and a long qiyaam, you may get to experience this unearthly feeling when your skin tingles with the weight of your recitation and the oft-spoken verses have a whole new meaning. These are one of those rare occurrences when you ever truly feel fortunate.
Starting tonight, learn at least two verses with an in-depth dissection of the words on the examination table, and prepare to be amazed. This is unlike any mortal’s rambling that you have ever read- scholarly or poetic.
PS: This is not to belittle anyone who reads the translation regularly. Point is- don’t limit yourself to just that.