“It is blasphemy for Muslims to sit in a group and try to understand Qur’an, interactively on their own without a scholar being present”.

This is not an uncommon belief among many Muslims, especially those who expouse to the indispensability of religious scholars to understand Islam.

A group of Muslims engaged in such a study circle to discuss and reflect upon Qur’an, took their activity to their local Masjid thinking, more participation the better. But many members of the community literally took it as a disrespectful offense towards Qur’an. They not only boycotted it but created discouraging hurdles. Finally the group had to move to individual houses as before.

A young professional highly educated but not an Aalim (scholar in religious sciences) in the sense how an Aalim is defined and imaged in the mind by Muslims used to western style outfits to his discredit, and who did not go through a religious school to complete a structured study in religious sciences, when tried to discuss the meaning of a verse in Qur’an, was told that since he didn’t know the principles and methodology of exegesis and not well versed in Arabic to understand Qur’an, he better not try lest he should commit disrespect to Qur’an by extracting wron meaning of the verses.

The above are a few examples of how Muslims are discouraged from freely interacting with Qur’an. It is sucha sad state of affairs that such barriers have been created between Qur’an and common Muslims, who with all sincerity, would like to freely and directly interact with Qur’an and attempt to understand it by reading verses either in Arabic or through translations.

It seems artificial preconditions that need to be fulfilled to enable and qualify one to understand Qur’an, have been so vigorously emphasized that they have become an impediment to a free interaction with Qur’an. Many Muslims, naturally and understandably, are unable to fulfill them to their disqualification. A full-fledged Aalim (scholar) will be quick to point out that there are rules to extract meaning from any verse which one has to master before attempting to understand Qur’an. But wait, it is not that simple. There could be rules to understand the rules and perhaps those rules also have to be comparatively studied by going through the interpretations given by various Aalims (scholars). Only then, Qur’an could be respectfully and properly understood!!

A divine book that claims to contain guidance for all mankind should not be premised with such restrictions. A free and direct interaction with Qur’an should only require a willing readiness to receive guidance – a hallmark of people with a sensitive conscience and with adoration for goodness. Expressed in Qur’an as “Muttaqeen” those who are God-conscious and “Muhsineen” who impart and receive goodness, are the only characteristics required of people who benefit from Qur’an. A prepossessed and in-depth knowledge of religious sciences qualifying one to be an aalim, has nowhere been mentioned in Qur’an as a condition for guidance.

The question of language has been made another barrier to a free interaction with Qur’an. A majority of Muslims and non-Muslims do not speak Arabic, the language of Qur’an. Apparently this puts them at some disadvantage. Yet it cannot be possible that divine guidance addressed to all mankind should be confined to the select few whose mother tongue is Arabic or who have mastered Arabic. The phobia of not knowing Arabic grilled into the psyche of non-Arabic speaking Muslims has unfortunately become a crippling handicap creating an impenetrable wall between them and Qur’an.

The linguistic qualification should help but not become a barrier. The accessibility of Qur’an through various languages was in the divine plan as people speaking different languages were guided by Qur’an. In creating this barrier, those who know Arabic and those who do not, are equally responsible. The former by emphasizing this privilege in a manner that has discouraged a non-Arabic speaking Muslim to resort to understand Qur’an through translation, and the latter by using it as an excuse for their lack of interaction with Qur’an.

The third barrier is very subtle but as brutal. It revolved around this concept of understanding Qur’an through the medium of “Shaan-e-Nuzul” – the cause of revelation of a given verse which of course requires a thorough knowledge of the historical context of revelation. It take s one to a deeper and philosophical question whether Quranic verses in their entirety, are absolute in their message or are conditioned by their historic reason for revelation.

The knowledge of the historical context of the revelation would shed light on how in a particular situation a given verse provided guidance to the people facing the situation. But if the historical context of revelation is not understood with the prefix “NOT LIMITED TO”, it is bound to compromise the universality and eternity of the message and restrict the meaning of a given verse. Unfortunately, the absolute emphasis on the circumstantial reasons for the revelation of a certain verse has made any approach to understand Qur’an very telescopic and narrowly focused. Instead of adding to a panoramic view to the interpretation of Qur’an, such unwise emphasis has not only deprived many verses the depth and vastness of meaning they contain but also has rendered them totally incompatible with the challenges and conditions Muslims are in, today.

Any divine scripture should contain guidance regardless of when and why its verses were revealed. This confidence is necessary to unshackle the mind from any kind of inhibition to freely interact with Qur’an. The emphasis on the historical context of revelation unfortunately has done the opposite and has given rise to such inhibitions, not to mention reducing the scope of its interpretation and meaning.

A free interaction with Qur’an unhindered by self-imposed inhibitions is indispensable for acquiring a divinely guided mindset that will translate into positive and benevolent actions in the society, privately and publicly, as well as individually and collectively. Such interaction should have to be so frequent, widespread and intense, that Qur’an for Muslims should become a breathing resource book providing direct consultation they want to seek, in any problem that they face in life.

When Qur’an was introduced to illiterate nomadic people of the desert, calling them to guidance, it was clear, direct and carried plain truths that appealed to human nature. So the response from its recipients was also equally direct and clear. It was as if they were soaked in it like when one stands in the rain. In all honestly the self-imposed barriers by common Muslims, further encouraged by their religious scholars, have robbed them of such deep and direct relationship with Qur’an. All such prohibitive barriers have to crumble down when passion to seek guidance is enlivened.

A free and direct interation with Qur’an has unfortunately faded away because of layers of rules and regulations and methodology of its exegesis, hair-splitting controversies in interpreting the plain and simple words of divine guidance and a restrictive condition to master Arabic. Qur’an, for a common Muslim does not need to be a scary thing to interact with. Yet instead of making it a despondent situation, Muslims today can take advantage of means and capabilities to understand Qur’an at their disposal, thanks to information technology. This possible if only they can boldy discard the self imposed inhibitions in the form of restrictive rules of interpretation, linguistic debates and abuse of the sayings of the Prophet that promotes such inhibitions.