By January 4, 2021 Read More →

How to read Scriptures? – Part 1

How to read the scriptures to benefit from them? (part 1)

The Quran claims to be the speech of my Creator.  How do I develop confidence in my being that the Quran is indeed the speech of my Creator? I have the desire to live with meaning and wonder at why I am here, why I exist. The Quran being the speech of my Creator must tell me my purpose in living, improve me in a way that I can make a meaningful change in the way I live.

We have been studying the Quran from a chronological order (as we approximately know), as revealed to the first addressees. The approach we are taking in studying these verses may seem strange and unique to some as the interpretation of the verses directly address me and my feelings and emotions here and now.  

What is the correct beneficial way of interpreting the speech of God? 

Many have commented/interpreted the Quran in their own way, and we can benefit from them. The way we are studying is also one of the ways and some may say that it is an arbitrary way or “the Sufi way” of interpreting the Quran. Some may disagree with that and we are free in our approach. The prevalent understanding of the Quran is based on either literal reading or the grammatical structure may be taken into account and thus understanding it as much as the grammar allows it to be understood. Are they wrong? Absolutely not. 

Sadly, one aspect of the Quran among the later generations is neglected. There are some scholars that are not well known that study the Quran from this missing aspect. The Quran being the speech of my Creator must impact my way of living, it must guide me in my day-to-day activities, address my feelings so that I am convinced that my Lord is with me. 

Those suspicious about the way the Quran is interpreted in these classes have every right to be so. People mostly listen to great scholars and noticed how different this interpretation may seem. However, if one is aware of the work of the early interpreters of the Quran then they would see that what we are doing in these classes is not an arbitrary interpretation of the verses of the Quran when we study them. 

There is also the idea that the interpretation of the Quran must be the job of specialists. What we are doing in our studies is that we study from some scholarly sources and try to apply the main principles of the Quran and learn. The main purpose of our class is to learn how to read the Quran, not in terms of reciting and pronunciation but what kind of attitude should we have towards the Quran?  I have to pay attention to the teachings of the Quran and make it applicable to the reality of my own life and existence and develop a confidence within myself that this text is the speech of my Creator. 

  • This speech must guide me in my living.  
  • My life must become meaningful to me and I should understand why I exist and why I am created (with certainty).

Let’s examine what happened over the course of time with the study of the Quran. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal was among the pioneers with the idea of adding some control as to who must interpret the Quran. He himself specialized in hadith tradition and as a jurist. The idea was to prevent arbitrary interpretations of the Quran by common people and leave it to the experts.  Although it sounds good, the consequence that we see now is disastrous to what the prevailing interpretation has become. The kings and rulers abused the validity of interpretation by specialists and exposed the general public with the law (fiqh) matters mostly. The general public is taught matters of law that roughly make 3% of the teachings of the Quran. The 3% only gets me exposed to the dos and don’ts of mostly my physical being such as prayıng at specific times, doıng the recommended fasts, givıng alms and charity, performıng the pilgrimage once in my lifetime. The rest of the Quran, the 97%, has to do with my humanity and is not taught to the general public because those in power historically wanted to control the general public and thus not expose them to what it is like to be a free man being in God’s authority only.  This is a political development resulting from a change intended to be good for people but turned into a means of exploiting the innocent people’s being obedient to kings and the ones in power. Of course, this was never the intention of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. 

This tyranny continues in some parts of the world under the name of “democracy”.  We must know the political and economic impact of such movements.  If we study the Quran as it deserves to be studied, pertaining to which kind of understanding of life and personality I should have and develop, then I would benefit from this world. I would then live by God’s authority and make myself as God’s caliph (representative on earth) and acting on His name, taking care of the earth on His name, assigning Him as my Lord/King (ilah) and no one else, my ultimate object as being God only and prepare myself for the hereafter…  That is, we cultivate the land and see what is hidden under the soil. The things in the universe display the unimaginable manifestations of the Creator’s qualities to me in physical form. I need to discover what is hidden in my human side and utilize them to fulfill the purpose of my existence. 

The other 97% of the Quran deals with my getting to know who my Lord is, how I should relate my being to Him, and is open to interpretations.  


  • I have feelings that are not fulfilled here, how do I present those feelings to Him?  
  • How can I find peace and assurance in my everyday living? 
  • I go through different experiences every day; how do I get guidance from my Lord to handle them?


People who identify themselves with a religion say that I believe in God.  This is necessary but not sufficient.  God created me so what am I going to do now?  We are not going to read God’s mind, but we will ask:why are we created here?”  God says that “I created you to worship me”.  What is worship and why does God ask me to worship Him?  These are serious questions, and I need to understand what worship means. 

  • Yes, this universe and my existence is an interesting world.  I attribute it to a superpower, and I call it “God”.  How do I get in touch with God?  This must be practical.  The understanding of the Quran must be put in a way that it must be a guide for me, it should make sense to me and I must be convinced with it and feel secure within my existence.  

For some people, the speech of God is like a book of law.  The book of law is unlike literature and must be applied literally.  There shouldn’t be any metaphors in it.  People will interpret it in the way the law specifies it.  The matters of law in the Quran (fiqh) work the same way. A scholar of law interprets them straight as in a literal sense.

Hard sciences are also not interpreted as they are not like literature where the message would talk to my feelings.  If you describe how something works in chemistry, you just determine certain steps to follow and mix.  You cannot draft a poem about a chemical reaction.  All your understanding, emotional expression, and spirit training cannot be like this.  You cannot train the spirit with a sentence to be followed literally because the spirit is not improved through material means.  

  • Spirit needs an explanation that is applicable to its own characteristics which have no material side to it.  Example: can you describe “love” in a sentence that can be literally expressed?  Go to a dictionary and see how it describes “love”: feelings of someone towards another.  You have to use other means to describe “love”.

Again, about 3% of the Quran is related to law.  When you go to the law, there are some principles of dos and don’ts.  But they are so concise that they need to be explained in practical terms. That is why the messengers are employed there and they explain it through their practical experiences.  The way they explain these laws cannot be explained with metaphors.  For example, you cannot write a poem on how to turn to the Qibla/direction of prayer.  However, you can write hundreds of poems about what do you feel (love) when you turn to the Ka’ba?

You cannot use any metaphorical, allegorical or similes in order to describe the physical actions, and, on the other side, while you are describing how you feel you can never use the literal meaning of any words.  97% of the Quran is related to “ghaib” (Belief in the Absoluteness of God, angels, hereafter, revelation, Messengership. They are all abstract notions).  You must explain it in a non-literal sentence.  It is impossible to describe angels with literal meaning.  As soon as we describe God and the hereafter in physical terms, we must put a “not” that it is not like this.  In other words, if you write a sentence about God literally, you are wrong because you cannot describe ghaib with it.  It is essential for us to know how to read the 97% of the Quran.

The concept of worship is not a practical matter, rather it is a matter of sensuality, feelings, and understandings.  Putting your head on the floor during prayer is not only a physical action but also a metaphorical one i.e. it has meaning to it.  That is, it is an action that includes a symbolic meaning in it.  Prostrating the head on the floor is to make the body worship under the will of the spirit.  It indicates a symbolic meaning.  It has to do with your senses: “I am worshipping God.”   Is there any physical God in front of you?  No.  People who did not know how to read scriptures, turned the scriptures into some physical form.  This shows that they have this concept of symbolizing the abstract concepts.  We cannot symbolize things i.e. Absolute being cannot be symbolized or represented in a symbolic form, rather my love for the Absolute being can be represented with a symbolic action.  Similarly, Angels cannot be symbolized.

Analogy: The page of a book has shapes of the letters which are physical symbols.  You must follow the physical patterns to read and get the meaning. The meaning cannot be put into a physical form.  If the meaning is something which does not have a physical form, then it is an abstract notion which needs to be interpreted.  Just as if you write the word “pen” on paper and show it to me, I cannot say that this is a pen; it is a physical thing (written), but not a pen.  This physical written thing (“pen”) refers to a symbolic meaning, an abstract notion.  Also, if you have never seen a pen, had no physical experience of it, when I write “pen”, would you be able to imagine what the pen is like?  No.  Similarly, we never have any physical experience of God, angels, messages, and messenger receiving the message from God (revelation.)  The meaning side of anything is the “message bearing” side.  

If I have objectified something previously experienced, then I can use a word for “pen” to describe it: “it is like this other thing”.  But we cannot liken the matters of belief (ghaib) to anything.  It has to be presented in a different way with concise expression, symbolism, analogies… “what I have experienced in this world is something like this but not exactly it”.

We have to understand that the Quran must be studied under the instructions of experts in order to make sense of the 97% so it will elevate me in my being that I am not a physical body only while I do things in physical form such as praying, giving charity, fasting, but also I am a spiritual being. In fasting, I am not preventing myself from eating, drinking…, rather I am refreshing my understanding of what I am and who my Lord is.

Let us look into the following verse as an example:

101: 1 “The calamity!”

We should not take the literal meaning of how the word in Arabic “al-qari’ah” is translated.  Again, the aim of the Quran is to teach about “ghaib” or Absoluteness (of God) so that it will prepare the human spirit, and mind to confirm Its existence, “necessarily It must be so”.  Example: when you read a book, you believe and confirm that it is a book with meaning, and the one who has written this book has reflected Its knowledge through these physical things i.e. letters, which are the symbolic representation of their meaning   

Now, we are going into another aspect of reading the Quran.  If someone tells me to read this book, I say, yes, I am going to read the book.  The book consists of paper and there are some physical traces of ink on it.  The purpose to read is to see what the symbols mean which cannot be presented in physical form.  If someone asks you to read the book, what are you expected to do, take the paper, and look at the traces of the ink.  Don’t consume yourself with the material side of the paper and letters (what colors they are or how thick they are…), that is not reading the book.  At the same time, you cannot get the symbolic meaning which is inscribed in the book and get a meaning out of it without reading the book.  This means that when the Quran says look at the birds flying above you in rows, trees, mountains… yes these are symbolic representations of a meaning and so, how are you going to read without looking at the mountains exactly in its physical form.  Without examining how the mountains are formed or looking at the sky and seeing the birds flying in rows, one cannot extract any meaning.  It is ridiculous to look at the bird without extracting the meaning from it. 

  • The Quran does not ask us to look at something without any meaning.

When you are reading the descriptions of Hell and Paradise where Paradise is described in such a way that when you are there you should not feel too hot or too cold but perfect coolness. “The shadows of the trees come down on them”, one can derive endless meanings in the beauty of this phrase.  Can you imagine that we are in a garden, it is not hot and cold and you are asking the trees to come down, the clusters of fruits…just come to you and you can pick up with no difficulty?  When the fruits are ripe, they get plucked easily and are perfect.  When they are not ripe, you have to physically cut them with a sharp knife.  Can I say that this is Paradise (Jannah)?  No.  Paradise is another type of creation that you have not experienced and so you cannot liken it to anything of this universe.  You have to take this parable or metaphor and read its symbolic meaning.  That is, I think that whatever is going to be created that I cannot imagine in this world, it is perfectly going to fit the conditions of what I expect.  


  • It must be an ideal world and I cannot see any example of it in this world.


Yes, we have to look at the book physically, but the purpose is not that.  Rather, the purpose of looking at the book is to have an experience in order to imagine a way that satisfies my feelings at a highest level that I cannot put an end to.  That is, Paradise is the fruit of belief (imaan) and I cannot get to the end of it.  You have to engage with the physical things but be mindful of what the physical things and acts refer to.  

The verses that describe the idol worshippers, such as, “they will be punished with fire”.  The idol worshippers are the human tendencies that attribute things to nature (e.g. natural products, natural gas…)  Take “nature” with you in the next creation and ask it to give you something, can you get satisfaction in your heart?   Your heart expects eternal happiness.  A physical fruit or objects only satisfies your body and temporal pleasures and expectations here in this world, not by themselves. Rather they are given existence with such qualities that nature cannot be the source of these qualities.  Still your heart is not satisfied with these temporary satisfaction of the body.  In the next creation you will be left with what you have accepted as your source of satisfaction. If one believed in matter as the source of satisfaction, then, he will be left with matter alone and asked “Come on, get your own fruit out of matter. That is what you worshiped with the abilities God gave you.

The fire that burns is like “fire” which you cannot stand.  When the Quran uses fire, you can physically experience it here.  However, it is unlike the fire in this world where you cannot stand it.  Thus, something that you cannot stand is a punishment because the atoms of the material soil will never be able to create anything or give you the satisfaction that you need.  You will say that I am in need of many things, but I cannot get anything.  That is the “fire” one will experience in the next creation.  These conditions need to be expressed in literal descriptions but not with a literal meaning.  In other words, these verses cannot be read literally, although it may open up the door for people to interpret it in an arbitrary wrong way, which is not the aim of the Quran.  It needs some discipline, knowledge of grammatical structure… and at the same time the symbols are taken literally (which is inevitable).  This fear should not make us close the text of the Quran for studies, and reduce the reading for do’s and don’ts only.  It is against the nature of the teachings of the Quran because I need guidance in “ghaib”, I don’t need guidance on how to cultivate the earth and follow the order from my Creator.  I can know and find out how the order of the universe works.

When I make a computer and find out the rules of making a computer within the order of the universe, I am expected to see the knowledge, wisdom and mercy ingrained in the existence of the universe and mode of creation.  In this mode of creation, we can find out how to make a computer, and you don’t need God’s guidance because God’s guidance is already within your capacity to find out the order and now it is up to you to work and find out.  What is missing when you build the computer? How are you going to make out of this experience i.e. your belief in “ghaib”?  That is where I need to get guidance and thus train myself for understanding the aspect of them which points to their source (ghaib).  

That is why the Quran must be read carefully.  So, I go to the universe, find out the order and see how to make the fastest means of communication.  You must do it as a “Caliph” acting on earth in order to witness the manifested qualities of the Creator.  At the same time, the ultimate purpose of the Caliph is, as a result of this finding out the order, how it works, making the fastest means of data transfer, sending a text, phone, video… while doing this, you have to realize that in the existence of the universe, these things are included somehow put in a way that the human endeavor is encouraged to find them out, but the purpose is to get more excited about the mercy, knowledge and wisdom… i.e. introducing Itself to human beings through the means, the manifested qualities to get to know what “ghaib” is. The Creator’s qualities are endless and great. 

  • The qualities reveal “ghaib” (Absolute)!  I belong to this Absolute. 
  • There’s no fear for me in this world, I am the product of an Absolute Being with absolute will, wisdom, knowledge, power… whatever He wants, He can create.  I am His product.  This realization is the only source of security for the human being. 
  • In order to put it into practice, we have to read the Quran bearing in mind all these points.  Otherwise, you cannot believe in “ghaib” and you can only make sense of a Necessarily Existent One (the Existence of God only i.e. there must be something called “God” who created the universe).

However, the human being is equipped with many tools that need to be put into practice in physical terms and discover what is in it, like reading a book. You must read the book in order to understand the meaning.  Without reading the book and just looking at it and learning how to read it, you cannot get the meaning.  Again, the purpose of your existence is not only to look at the book but also get its meaning.  All the Qur’anic verses must be read within the frame of this understanding. Otherwise the Quran turns into a book of law (like Torah, a codification book) because the scholars worried that it is opening the way to be interpreted by anyone.  This fear turns into exploitation and drives away all people from studying scriptures and turns their praise/worship to the practical side of the Prophetic narrations (hadith), which only narrates the physical actions of the Prophet.  People only saw the physical action of the man when they observed the life of the messenger, not his heart and mind.  The heart and mind of the Prophet is also trained by His employer, God who employed him as a messenger. This training is presented to us through the Quran.

There are some hadiths that explain the Quranic meaning of the practical side along with ethical/moral teachings from the Quran.  You can only understand what the Prophet had experienced in his heart, mind and spirit from the Quran, that was his teacher. The hadiths only narrate the physical picture/video of the behavior of the Prophet.  You can see but can you know what is going on in his heart?

The common practice of some people is to just read the hadiths and not study the Quran because of fear of not knowing how to approach it and thinking that it needs a big deal of scholarship.  Quran states on behalf of the messenger that “my ummah has left the Quran and sent it away, far away.  The Quran became “mahjoor”, distant, which has nothing to do with me because of my attitude to it.

“The Messenger has said, ‘Oh my Lord, my people treat this Quran as something to be discarded.” Qur’an, 25: 30.

If you prevent the new generation from studying the Quran to establish firm belief in “ghaib” and understand its symbolic teachings, their spiritual improvement gets disabled.  Unfortunately, not many people try to study the Quran to become experts on the symbolic teachings of the Quran.  This needs a serious concern and education, a bit of grammar and going out of the physical boundaries of things…  Are young people interested in studying belief matters?  

The main principle in trying to understand the symbolic meaning is the purpose of the Speech of God.  Why does God speak to me?  In order to teach me “ghaib” which is Absolute; and there is no way to make speculation about “ghaib”.  The spirit has some sample of it, imagination taken from the world multiplied by infinite.  Anything that you can imagine through your imagination multiplied by infinite is infinite.  It is not the final meaning, but something like this, an eternal Absolute way which is beyond my imagination. 

We can never understand the Quran with the dictionary meaning of the words only.  The Quran has its own concepts, unique to its own usage. For example, in the Quranic verses that we are going to study in the upcoming sessions, 101:2 What is the “sudden calamity?”, the Quran has its concept of what “sudden” and “calamity” is.

A calamity may be seen as turning my reality into following my egoistic desires and not see the purpose of my Creator in creating me.  I will end up with these kinds of feelings and will not be able to get out of it:  “If this is the truth, what should I do?”   I must take this seriously.  There is a frightening language here.

Is it the truth?  If I don’t pay attention to it then I will end up with trouble.  How are my feelings being frightened?  Well, if you deny the truth, your feelings will find themselves in a situation like this, with no point of reference for dependence, security and you cannot seek refuge with anything in this universe.  The physical matter is dumb, with no quality from itself.

I must interpret these verses in order to make it practical for me.  Am I speculating the meaning?  Check yourself.  Interpreting verses like this has long been forgotten. They were the works of some serious glorious scholars.  We need to revive it and share it with others.  There must be a reason that the Quran speaks like this and we need to understand why it does speak with similes and metaphors indeed?

The Quran needs to be read as it deserves to be.  We first need to educate ourselves with the usage of literature including the meaning of the similes, metaphors, allegories, analogies, stories…  And so, it will open up our minds.  

Example: What does “Mount Sinai crumbling” mean?  We need to interpret this to understand what this means and signifies.  Shall we go and conduct archaeological studies and excavate Mount Sinai?  The Quran is not asking us to do that, rather how is everything happening such as how is the atom coming into existence? That is, finding out the deeper and deeper meanings to things as a representation of crumbling.  Crumbling into deeper pieces means trying to understand the principles of creation and finding out unimaginable manifestations of fine-tuned God’s names there, don’t be afraid, go and study geology, physics, chemistry .  Atom is like a mountain and when you study deeper into it, you find out that the manifestation of beauty is not only in flowers, the moon or clouds, but within the deeper atom as well.  It must be Absolute and unimaginable.  The same wisdom is manifesting itself in the hidden side of the atom which is crumbled when an atomic bomb explodes.  That is how we should read the Quran.

Comment: The Prophet Muhammad pbuh relaying the Quran was reflecting what he was inspired by God.  Does it mean that he was reflecting it on his capacity?

The Prophetic teaching in its entirety (feelings, understanding and physical side of the practice) must be instructed by the Creator because I need a physical existence as an example in order to adjust my life to the conditions of this world. I have a mind and I am a conscious being with feelings and emotions; I have a spirit given to me by my God to get to know Him.  My tongue and body must be employed to worship God.  The meaning of anything must be explained by God and experienced by someone who is called the prophet, since it cannot be put into physical form, so that I can benefit from it.

Comment: Are the descriptions of the garden of Paradise mentioned in the Quran and in prophetic narrations based on the Prophet’s imagination?

The Prophet pbuh is like a human being educated by the Creator because human beings need a perfect example.  These descriptions are directly from God’s instructions, and they are clearly stated in the Qur’an. The prophets in their physical living conditions transmit the teachings of the Qur’an in practical matters. Matters related to belief in ghaib are taught in the Qur’an directly. If there was no example for me, then I cannot really convince myself how to put the abstract teachings of the Word of God. I need an example of the practice of the prophet, that is why I must follow this person.  The Prophets are employed for the purpose of being exemplary models on how to live. They are educated and trained by God for this purpose. He must be the best example in created form.  We can only learn from this employed person (pbuh) as much as we follow his teachings. 

The (Quran) message is there, and the messenger is there, they must be together.  We cannot imagine a message without a messenger.  That is why revelation must be understood along with the alliance and support of prophethood, i.e., the employment in human form living the revelation. Otherwise, without the revelation/message, the Prophet cannot be my example.  This is done under the guidance/supervision of a Creator.  

  • I can only see the Prophet with the message, he says here is the message, unspoiled: “Read the message and try to understand it as a human being and see my life and see the correlation between your feelings and the message.  You can understand the message as much as you understand the meaning and feelings that I have in my actions.  This is the relationship between me and my Creator.” 
  • I am learning from the behavior of the Prophet with the physical actions and moral advices i.e. his exemplary behavior complimenting/demonstrating the teachings of the Quran which I am taught and thus adapt in my living.

If one does not concentrate on the Quran but only the narrations, then just the physical actions will be seen.  Similarly, if one only gets the meaning from the Quran without applying the practical side, then I am only left with an abstract understanding of this universe.  We cannot talk about the feelings of the Prophet, rather we can only talk about the content of the Quran which is the teacher of the feelings of the Prophet.  Also, everyone understands the Quran according to his/her capacity.  We cannot say that my understanding of the message of the Quran is exactly the same as the Prophet’s understanding.  I can only say that my physical action is exactly like that of the Prophet because the physical action is observable for me, but my feelings are only according to how much I have trained myself. No one can perceive the Prophet’s feelings, my feelings belong to me whereas, the feelings of the Prophet belong to Him.  We need to pay attention to this distinction.

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Recent Comments

  1. Ali says:

    Beautiful, practical and reasonable explanation of something that is incredibly difficult to present in a balanced way. Thank you for your articulation—for someone advising the benefits of understanding beyond the words, you have employed a narration that still demonstrates the practical and abstract ability shared. Jazakallakhayr

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