By Abu Abdullah
Perhaps the most influential factor that changed my life has been my association with the Quran. Growing up in the United Arab Emirates, an Arab country, the Quran always remained somewhere in the background of things. I learnt to read it with a Qari and read several Azjaa (chapters) of the Quran under his supervision, never to open it again, until my university days in the United States.
The summer before I left Abu Dhabi, we visited Pakistan, as was our annual ritual. In those days, I used to turn to my maternal cousins in Pakistan for wisdom and guidance. So, during that trip, I confided with my cousin that I did not feel confident leaving home for the first time and that too to a non-Muslim country. The absence of religious and Arabic instruction in my secular international school in Abu Dhabi had not prepared me for such a transition. My cousin, in his wisdom, thought it proper to take me to the market to buy some Islamic books. One among these was Marmaduke Pickthall’s English translation of the meaning of the Holy Quran. It was worth Rs. 75 at the time. It turns out that Rs. 75 was the most profitable transaction that I ever made! I was 18 then.
In school, I enjoyed and saw the intrinsic beauty in almost all subjects I studied. When the time came to choose a major, I just went with what was popular at that time – electrical engineering. I enjoyed it and did very well, finishing the program before time and graduating with honours, Alhamdulillah.
Before retiring to bed, more often than not, I used to read at random from Marmaduke Pickthall. I did not understand much of it. There were no footnotes nor any Tafseer or explanation, just verse by verse translation in literary English. It was not until the sophomore year, when I went for summer school to Lansing, Michigan, that this translation started affecting me.
In East Lansing Islamic Center, near the campus of Michigan State University, I heard an audio tape. I recognized that it was playing the same translation that I used to read at night in Pickthall’s own rendition, but what was different was the fact that it was interwoven by the very beautiful recitation of the corresponding Arabic by Qari Shakir Qasmi. I asked the brothers about it and they said that they can make a copy of the entire set for me for $50. That was another profitable transaction that I made! I was 20 then.
The impact of the pure Arabic is indescribable, especially if you understand its literal meaning by the translation that followed every Arabic verse. When I returned to Buffalo, NY, my bed time routine was transformed to listening to the $50 tapes, while following from the Rs. 75 translated Quran. This experience made me undergo deep emotions and tears used to flow uncontrollably, as I listened to divine speech. Yet, I did not understand it. I did not understand the highly literary vocabulary and was completely ignorant of its context. I distinctly remember, how in one of those snowy nights in Buffalo I made a Dua: “O Allah! I am convinced that this is the truth from You, due to the emotional impact it has made on me. Please, make me capable of understanding the message You are conveying to me!”
I listened to those tapes during my graduate school and the four years of my professional life in the States. I listened to it constantly, while my ears were free: while driving, doing chores, cooking, before dozing off, etc. It eventually coloured my mind with the correct, natural, proper thought patterns in all aspects of life. Slowly, I felt I did not belong to any particular group and thus did not feel obliged to follow any social trends. Rather, the Quran enabled me to seek out guidance and comfort from universal principles. It gave me confidence to make decisions in life, even if they were contrary to popular opinion.
Basically, the Quran gave me a conscience to act instinctively to what I felt was uniquely right for me. By listening to it constantly, it developed a natural magnetic field around me, which attracts certain things in certain situations and repels others in others. By following its commands and shunning its prohibitions, I found this field grows in strength. In Islamic terminology, it is called Iman– a force that can give non-diminishing reserves of energy to ordinary humans.
The context of the Quran came to me slowly, over the years. In graduate school, I read my first Seerah book – Martin Lings’ “The Life of Muhammad (sa)”. While working professionally, I have never stopped taking Islamic or Arabic courses online and onsite, still continue to do so and plan to continue till my last moments, Insha’Allah. What have specially helped me are courses in Aqeedah, Arabic, Tafseer, Seerah, Tazkiyya and Tajweed. My knowledge is still very much lacking in Fiqh and Hadeeth. Although, I do not claim to understand the whole Quran, but today I can understand its basic message and worldview in the intended manner without the use of translations and Tafseer books, Alhamdulillah. I understand that it needs constant effort, which I continue to exert.
I believe that all the uncountable blessings I enjoy today including Iman, stable family life, fulfilled career and professional accomplishments, wealth, peace, security, health, vision, skills, balance, wisdom, conscience, courage, love of learning, righteous company, etc. have been a gift from Allah (swt) through my association with His speech. Some inexpensive transactions and decisions made in the early part of my life turned out to transform it to provide invaluable blessings of this life and the next, Insha’Allah. May Allah (swt) give me enough Tawfeeq to fulfil the trust of the Quran. Ameen.