By Khuram Murad
Tilawah is the word that the Qur'an uses to describe the act of its reading. No single word in English can convey its full meaning. 'To follow' is closest to its primary meaning. To read is only secondary, for in reading too, words follow each other, one closely behind the other, in an orderly and meaningful sequence. If one word does not follow the other, or if the sequence and order is not observed, the meaning is destroyed.
So, primarily, Tilawah means, move closely behind, to go forward, to flow in a sequence, let go in pursuit, to take as a guide, leader, master, a model, to accept the authority, to espouse the cause, to act upon, walk after, practice a way of life, to understand, to follow the train of thought – or to follow. Reading the Qur'an, understanding the Qur'an, following the Qur'an – that is how those who have any right to claim faith in it relate themselves to it.
Tilawah or recitation is an act in which your whole person, soul, heart, mind, tongue and body—participates. In short your whole existence becomes involved. In reading the Qur'an, mind and body, reason and feeling lose their distinction; they become fused. As the tongue recites and words flow from the lips, the mind ponders, the heart reflects, the soul absorbs, tears well up in the eyes, the heart quakes and trembles, the skin shivers and softens just as the heart does, there no longer remains any duality between the two, even your hair may stand on end. And 'so he walks in a light from his Lord … that is God's guidance, whereby He guides whomsoever He will' (al- Zumar 39: 22-3).
To read the Qur'an thus, as it deserves to be read, is not a light task; but nor is it too difficult or impossible. Otherwise the Qur'an could not have been meant for laymen like us, nor could it be the mercy and the guidance that it surely is. But obviously it does entail much travail of heart and mind, soul and intellect, spirit and body, and requires that certain conditions be observed and obligations be fulfilled – some inwardly, some outwardly. You should know them all, now, and endeavour to observe them before you enter the glorious world of the Qur'an.
Only then will you reap the full harvest of blessings that await you in the Qur'an. Only then will the Qur'an open its doors to you. Only then will it let you dwell inside it and dwell inside you. Nine months spent in the womb of your mother have transformed a drop of water into 'you' – hearing, seeing and thinking. Can you imagine what a lifetime spent with the Qur'an – seeking, hearing, seeing, thinking, striving – can do for you? It can make you into an entirely new 'being' – before whom even angels will feel proud to kneel. Ascending at every step taken within the Qur'an and every moment spent therein, you will reach towering heights. You will be gripped by the power and beauty that breathe and move within the Qur'an.
From Abdullah Ibn 'Amr Ibn al-'As: The Prophet, Allah's blessings and peace be on him, said, 'The companion of the Qur'an will be told: recite and ascend, ascend with facility as you used to recite with facility in the world. Your final abode is the height you reach at the last verse you recite' (Abd Da'ud, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Nasa'i).