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Understanding the Quran

Understanding the Quran by Mamadou Bocoum

Understanding the Quran entails spiritual, historical, and literary exploration. Interpreting verses, grasping themes, and recognizing moral teachings make it a guide for Muslims.


Understanding the Quran entails grasping its spiritual, historical, and literary context. It involves interpreting its verses, exploring the Arabic language, and comprehending its themes and guidance for personal and societal matters. 

In other words, understanding the Quran requires recognizing its moral and ethical teachings and respecting its cultural significance for Muslims worldwide. 

This process can be complex and multifaceted, often involving deep reflection and ongoing study, but it is crucial for Muslims seeking to follow the Quran's guidance in their lives.

So, in this short article, that is what I will tackle. 

The Spiritual Quran

As Muslims, we believe in God, and more specifically, the Abrahamic God that is also found in Judaism and Christianity. Each Abrahamic faith has its own texts and Islam is no different.

The Quran's spiritual aspect lies in its belief as the divine word of God in our faith, serving as a source of guidance, solace, and connection to the Almighty. 

For a Muslim, the Quran offers profound spiritual insights that nurture faith and provide a pathway for believers to deepen their relationship with God. 

Through its verses, Muslims find inspiration, a sense of purpose, and a means to seek inner peace, making it a central element of their spiritual lives. 

We use the Quran throughout the day for supplications, prayer, and services such as weddings or funerals, as well as to solve life's challenges

In Sunni Islam, which is the largest denomination, Muslim pray five times a day using the Quran.

So, the Quran’s spiritual place in a Muslim’s life is boundless! 

The Historical Quran

Although Muslims mostly focus on its spiritual dimensions, the Quran also has a historical aspect. This history dates it back to its revelation to Prophet Muhammad over 1,400 years ago. 

The historical Quran reflects the socio-cultural context of 7th-century Arabia, addressing specific events and customs of that era. 

Understanding its historical context is crucial to interpret its verses accurately. This is an area that has had a lot of problems in our history because people can use it however they want to twist it.

Meanwhile, the Quran also played a pivotal role in shaping the early Islamic community and the course of world history. 

Scholars study these historical dimensions to gain insights into the Quran's development and its impact on societies.

So, understanding the historical aspect of the Quran is very important. 

The Literary Quran

While its place as a historical and spiritual text is undisputed, the Quran also exhibits a unique literary aspect. 

For Muslims, there is nothing as beautiful as listening a recitation of the Quran in “tajweed.” Tajweed is the use of correct pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm that preserve the Quran’s spiritual integrity.

Since its revelation, it has been known for its eloquence, linguistic beauty, and rhetorical devices. 

The Quran employs various literary styles, such as metaphor, simile, and allegory, enhancing its impact and memorability. 

Likewise, the Quran’s rhythmic and melodic qualities of its Arabic text contribute to its oral tradition of recitation. 

The literary excellence of the Quran has long captivated scholars and poets and is considered a linguistic miracle, challenging others to replicate its linguistic mastery and poetic brilliance.

Muslims around the world, even when Arabic is not their first language, study the Quran. Of course, cultures are different, but what stays consistent is the commitment to preserve its integrity through the ages.

Quranic Interpretation

The Quran refers to itself as ‘kitab’ (Book) and sometimes as a "kalimah" or "kalimat" (word or words). To some Muslim scholars this indicates that the Quran is a spoken word coming from God to Prophet Muhammad.

The spoken words were Arabic and that is because Muhammad himself spoke Arabic. This was not a new aspect of the process of revelation because the Quran itself reports that God spoke to people in their own language (Quran, 14:4). Hence if Muhammad was an Englishman God certainly would have spoken to him in English.

Muhammad did not interpret all the words of the Quran to his companions before he died and hence this opens the door for future Muslims to seek to grasp the meaning of the Quran by themselves. There are two terms that are used in the process of the interpretation of the Quran: "tafsir" and "t’awil." 

Tafsir is commonly agreed amongst the vast majority of the Muslim scholars to mean literally the science of the interpretation of the Quranic verses.

T’awil linguistically speaking means "return" that is going back to the source or returning to the origin of something. Edward Lane further interprets the meaning as "discovering, detecting, revealing, developing, disclosing, explaining, expounding or interpreting; that to which a thing is, or may be, reduced, or that which it comes, or may come, to be."

Both tafsir and t’awil, according to Abdullah Saeed , are used more or less synonymously as explanations of the Quranic verses.

Beside tafsir and t’awil there are two widely advocated approaches to commenting on the Quran. The first is a "tafsir bi al-ma’thur" interpretation, based on traditions or text. In other words, this form of interpretation means that any verse should be interpreted solely on the basis of other Quranic verses or traditions.

The second approach is "tafsir bi al ray" interpretation based on reason - or what Neal Robinson calls “exegesis on the basis of informed opinion”.


Understanding the Quran involves delving into its spiritual, historical, and literary dimensions. 

It includes interpreting verses, comprehending themes, and recognizing its moral and ethical teachings, making it an essential guide for personal and societal matters. 

For Muslims, the Quran is a divine source of guidance and spiritual connection, influencing their daily lives, from prayer to life events. 

Its historical significance roots it in 7th-century Arabia, shedding light on the context and societal customs of that era. 

The Quran's literary beauty, with its eloquence and rhetorical devices, captivates scholars and poets, serving as a linguistic miracle that transcends cultural boundaries.

There is really nothing like the Quran!

Dr. Mamadou Bocoum is a Senegalese scholar based in the UK and offers unique solutions to contemporary Muslim challenges through blending tradition and Western perspectives. He teaches Theology at MECCA Institute.

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