Having the right keys for the door

Unlocking divine knowledge


The Quran is the most precious gift from Allah Almighty, however accessing its meaning is as much to do with us, as it is to do with the Quran.

It speaks to each individual personally. Different people will take away different levels of meaning. Some will merely skim the surface, others will dive down deep.

So how are we to engage in this interactive process? How do we make sense of it and take away the wisdom for our own hectic, perplexing lives today?

The answer lies inside us – specifically our attitude. We generally observe the world around us assuming that we are right. It is others who don’t make sense. We almost always know better. It is critical, however, when we approach the Quran that we begin with a different approach. The approach of someone who knows little before someone who knows everything. That is the shift that we need to make and then open our minds to the words.


Thus, the Quran should be accessed with the right keys. These are tawaadu (humility) and isti’adha, seeking Allah Almighty’s protection.

Tawaadu’ (modesty and humility) is the opposite of kibr (arrogance).The Prophet (peace be upon him) has mentioned, ‘Whoever practices tawaadu, Allah Almighty will raise their ranks in knowledge, understanding and in the heavens.’ Neither tawaadu’ nor kibr can be hidden from Allah Almighty. It is critical that we do not approach Allah Almighty’s words as if we know them already. Even though we recite parts of it in our salah so many times a day, we should be humble for there are depths of understanding beyond those which are most apparent to us.

Knowledge is a gift and blessing from Allah Almighty. And Allah Almighty bestows it on those who make sincere effort. We should remember that of all knowledge, we have been given but little – barely a drop in the ocean. Allah Almighty gives to whom He wills as much as He wills. Beyond that, He is the Omniscient and we cannot know what He has kept from us. And we should know that when we trust Him, He responds. Allah Almighty has said, ‘I respond to the call of the suppliant when he calls upon Me.’ (Chapter 2: Verse 186)

Shaytan will try to attack us, particularly where he perceives a gap in our knowledge or practice. The isti’adha, thus, helps us to enhance our focus, increase closeness and attain depth in our worship. So when we turn to Him we should ensure that we turn to Him fully and cut out other voices. We are always vulnerable and exposed, so we ask Allah Almighty to defend us from Shaytan’s machinations. A man once came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) who was overcome with rage. The Prophet (peacebe upon him) advised that had this man known what to say (referring to the isti’adha), Allah Almighty would cool him down and keep Shaytan away from him. Allah Almighty is the All Knowing; His knowledge is beyond anything we can imagine.

In the renowned Forty Hadith of Imam Nawawi (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that ‘Actions are by intention and every man shall have that which he intended.’ The correct intention is to read His words: to seek Allah Almighty’s pleasure and guidance, to strengthen one’s imaan (faith), to gain beneficial knowledge, to gain closeness to Him and to increase in gratitude to Him.

The keys to understanding the divine words are purifying our intention and perfecting our etiquette towards His word. We should always listen carefully when the Quran is being recited.

When we approach Him with the correct etiquette – sincerity and unadulterated intention, deep faith and reliance on Him alone, the doors of knowledge will, be opened for us, inshallah.

The nature of revelation

How do we have the Qur’an as it is today?



 Allah Almighty’s final and complete divine book of guidance is the Holy Quran.

This compilation of Allah Almighty’s words as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) over 1400 years ago did not descend in one go. They came in parts, however the Quran we have is not in the chronological order in which he received it.

So how did the Quran become the Quran as we know it?

Revelation (wahy) descended in stages over 23 years; during which time, Islam was introduced, spread and became victorious. It responded to people’s questions, matters of confusion and provided solutions to their problems. In essence, it responded to their personal, societal and spiritual needs.

What is revelation?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) famously experienced his first encounter with Allah Almighty’s message during the month of Ramadan when he was 40 years old, in the cave of Hira which is outside Makkah. The next revelation came after a short interval.

The gaps between revelations varied as well as the length of revelations. Some came as complete verses (ayah’s), others were fragments of verses, however, sometimes they were entire chapters (surah’s).

The verses descended by a few different methods. Sometimes, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would hear a sound, like the ringing of a bell and during this time he would find the words of Allah Almighty imprinted in his memory/on his heart, at other times, they would be brought by the angel, Jibril, who had come with Allah Almighty’s message to other Prophets before him. The angel would mostly come in human shape, as an extraordinarily handsome man. In two instances, Jibril, appeared in his real form.

What was the first revelation?

The opening five verses of Surah Alaq were the first words spoken to the Prophet (peace be upon him) by the angel Jibril.

‘Recite in the name of your Lord who created –

Created man from a clinging substance.

Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous –

Who taught by the pen –

Taught man that which he knew not.’ (Chapter 96: Verses 1-5)


Thus according to the majority of the scholars, Surah Al Fatihah, The Opening, which is the first surah in the Quran, was not the first surah to be revealed. (Although there is an opinion that it may have been the first complete chapter to have been revealed in its entirety). It appears to have been revealed within the first two years of Prophet-hood, after chapter Al Muddathir had been revealed. Some scholars think it was revealed twice, once in Makkah and then again in Madina.

Undoubtedly, it is the most fitting beginning to Allah Almighty’s Book due to its nobility and importance. This has not been through human choice – Allah Almighty chose this sequence for His Book and sent Angel Jibril to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in order to confirm this in the last year of the Prophet’s life (peace be upon him).

How do we have the order of the Quran as it is?

Angel Jibril would come to the Prophet (peace be upon him) every Ramadan and revise the whole Qur’an with him. However, in the last year of the Prophet’s life(peace be upon him), in 10 AH, (632 AD), he rehearsed it twice – in the Revelation order and then in its final order. This was the final year, the final check and this is the accepted sequence, which we have to this day.

What is the difference between Makki and Madani revelations?

Makki Verses

Revelations fall into two main periods in which they were sent. The first revelations came to the Prophet (peace beupon him) while he lived in Makkah. For the first three years, he preached in secret to those closest to him. Over the next ten years, as per Allah Almighty’s command, he preached publicly. This period in his life was initially characterised by incredulity and hostility from the ruling tribes who resisted his message. When they were unable to suppress him, they launched increasingly fierce and co-ordinated opposition to him and his followers, culminating in brutal persecution and sanctions. Unable despite this to prevent the spread of Islam, they eventually planned his assassination.

Reflecting the freshness of the message to an audience entrenched in an alternate world-view and set of values, Makki verses generally relate to establishing belief in one God and building faith (imaan) through reinforcing the concept of accountability in the hereafter.

Madani verses

When brutality reached a climatic point in Makkah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was instructed that all Muslims should emigrate from Makkah to the desert oasis, which came to be known as Madinah. Here the Prophet (peace be upon him) was welcomed with jubilation by the indigenous tribes and he founded the first Islamic community. Thus the Madani verses generally relate to the code for living with integrity, giving us guidelines in personal and family matters as well as building a society and establishing law, peace and justice.

Why were ideas introduced in stages and not in one go?

As original revelations were conveyed fresh from Allah Almighty through his Prophet (peace be upon him) to these Arab tribes, each message had an immediate impact on its ever-evolving audience who was receiving and responding to the messages, profoundly altering their attitudes, relationships and lives. There were certain concepts which would have been too dramatic for them to apply overnight. Hence some were introduced gradually over the course of Muhammad’s Prophethood and these would become definitive later.

This process of gradualism is known as tadarruj and is a very essential principle of the Qur’an. The prohibition of alcohol, for example, was not instructed until after the final verses of Surah Al Baqarah were revealed in Madina and the Deen of Islam had been around for 15-16 years. Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) related that had the first thing to have been revealed been the prohibition of drink, the people would not have responded.

What was were the final revelations?

  • The final complete chapter

According to the hadith related by Ibn Abbas and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) Surah Nasr is the last complete surah to be revealed. When these words were sent, the Prophet (peace be upon him) knew that he had completed his mission – Islam had spread throughout the Arabian peninsula, transforming the entire region and its people and his death was imminent.


‘When the victory of Allah has come and the conquest,

And you see the people entering into the religion of Allah in multitudes,

Then exalt [Him] with praise of your Lord and ask forgiveness of Him. Indeed, He is ever- Accepting of repentance.’ (Chapter 110: Verses 1-3)

  • The final part of a verse

The well-known verse from Surah Ma’idah was the last fragment of a verse to be revealed:

‘This Day have I perfected for you for your religion, completed My favour upon you and chosen for you Islam as your Deen.’ (Chapter 5: Verse 3)

In the final order of the Qur’an, this verse falls within the fifth surah, rather than the last, which is An Naas – a closing prayer for protection from Allah Almighty.

  • The final complete verse

Poignantly, the last complete verse to be revealed appears in Surah Al Baqarah:

‘And be afraid of the Day when you shall be brought back to Allah. Then, every person shall be paid what he earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly’ (Chapter 2: Verse 281)

It is disagreed upon as to whether the Qur’an should be studied in revelation order; the majority opinion is that Allah Almighty has conveyed to us the final order, which He has chosen and it is this we are obliged to study. While the former can cause confusion, it is useful, however, to know whether verses relate to the Makkan (Makki) or Madinan (Madani) period of revelation.

As the final sequence of the Qur’an is very different to the revelation order we need to study the tafseer (analysis) of the Qur’an to understand it properly.

What are the different types of tafseer?

Tafseer can also be of various genres: linguistic/ rational/ jurisdictive (fiqhi)/ reflective and spiritual. Fiqhi tafseer are important in establishing rulings. A famous example of this is the tafseer compiled by Imam al Qurtubi, and this genre of tafseer preceded the evolution of a new Islamic science of the Ayat ul Ahkam – a study of the verses related to rulings. Ibn Arabi’s compendium of reflections was compiled by Ibn Ghurab into a single book, while the only complete spiritual tafseer to date is that of Imam Al Qushayri, which comprises three volumes. Another important and well – recognised school of tafseer is Tafseer al Mathur, a rational tafseer relying heavily on explaining Quranic verses through ahadith, traditions related to the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Examples of this include Tafseer Ibn Kathir and As Suyuti’s Tafseer Al Jalalayn.

The Quran is Allah Almighty’s word and is for all people at all times and such is Allah Almighty’s immense wisdom that He nurtured the early believers, challenged the pagan society in which it was revealed intellectually and yet, gave us His Book of Guidance to last unaffected by time, place and situation.

Getting off to a good start

The benefits of bismillah and isti’adha


Traditionally we say bismillah before many things. But why is it just cultural or is there more to it? And what happens if we don’t say it?


In need of protection

Let’s face it. As accomplished as we think we are as a species, it just takes a mere glance from a plane to remind us just how tiny we are. A speck in the world, let alone in our grand, expanding universe.


Not just small, we are utterly powerless. After-all, life is a fatal condition. Unlike other species, who have wider vision, we can only see ahead of us and even then we are blind to the angels, jinn and shayateen that inhabit the space around us.


The bottom line is: We need protection.


So, just as a baby seeks refuge with its mother, we reach out to the One who provides safety and protection – Allah Almighty As we turn to Allah Almighty, we turn away from shaytan who is ready to cause us trouble, until we actively banish him by calling on Allah’s name against him. This pronouncement is known as isti’adha.


Safety is one of the essential elements of our faith. Muslims are people of peace. We need to be able to worship without distraction. We need to form a strong connection with Allah Almighty as he is the source of peace and tranquility. Hence by saying ‘audhu billah’ (Oh Allah, I seek protection with You), we turn back to Allah Almighty as His servants, and acknowledge that our security depends on Him. Without His protection we are open to any harm. He Himself says ‘So let them worship the Lord of the House, the One who fed them when hungry and gave them security and protection (aman) from great fear.’ (Chapter 106: Verses 3-4)


If we seek refuge in Him, He will never turn us down. Even when we are not aware, and though we may not comprehend His wisdom, He is responding.


Opening to blessings

‘Bismillah’ literally means that we start our action seeking help and blessings through the name of Allah.


The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘Every important action started without bismillah is cut off,’ meaning cut off from barakah, or blessings. Thus many narrations abound regarding the importance of starting with Allah Almighty’s name.


Clearing our head

Saying the bismillah gives us the opportunity to clarify our intention so that our act is preceded with a clear idea of why we are doing it. If we want to maximise our reward for any act, no matter how small, we need to think through our purpose.


Actions are only rewarded based on the intention. So saying bismillah out of habit is not the same as actually meaning it.


Why the name Allah?

Allah Almighty has instructed in the very first verse of the Quran to be revealed ‘Read in the Name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot.’ (Chapter 96: Verses 1-2). We should therefore read the Quran by His name.


He also said ‘To Allah belong the Most beautiful Names, so call Him with them’ (Chapter 7: Verse 180)


Though we may call upon Allah through His many names, He has a Supreme Name. And He has promised to respond to us whenever we call Him by that name. Which name is it? Ar Rahman, Ar Raheem and Al Hayyul Qayyum are considered by some to be that name, but the overriding majority opinion, is that Allah is the Supreme Name. Indeed we swear oaths by it. ‘By Allah!…’


‘Allah’ means the One whom we should worship truly and alone. It is specific, unlike ‘God’, which is generic. It is the One who is necessarily existent, and deserving of all praise.


In the Arabic, every letter of the word Allah points to Allah Almighty Himself:

Allah: Himself

Allah (minus alif): La Hu – for Him,

Allah (minus lam and ha): Hu – Him


Glorified be His name; everything in creation is pointing to Him and the point of all return. He is our Creator, Provider and Sustainer.


Whatever we do without mentioning Allah Almighty’s name, such as eating, is left open to shaytan’s sabotage, exploitation and corruption.  Who is shaytan?


Blocking out Shaytan 

Linguistically, every rebellious one from amongst mankind or Jinn is called Shaytan, Satan. In fact, the Shayateen al Ins, are the Satans from amongst mankind, and are more powerful than those from the world of Spirits, the Shayateen al Jinn, as the former will often deploy the latter. Furthermore, the isti’adha will not eliminate the human Shayateen.


He is described as ‘Ar Rajeem’ – the Outcast. This is derived from the root word rajama, to stone. It refers to driving out or firing from the Mercy of Allah Almighty.


Saying bismillah keeps connecting us back to Allah Almighty and if we make it part of our life, saying it before commencing any act it not just keeps us mindful of Him, but should prevent us from doing something disliked or forbidden.


It is worth noting that saying bismillah before doing a haram act, such as consuming alcohol is wrong. Some opinions would consider this an act of kufr, disbelief, as the implications are of making the haram halal.


Though we may have heard our mothers and grandmothers say bismillah frequently, knowing the power of bismillah changes our perception of this phrase and follows not only in their footsteps but in the immaculate example of our Prophet (peace be upon him). Doing so, blocks shaytan out of our acts, bringing us peace of mind, as well as body and soul.