Imam al-Nawawi says in his book ‘Etiquette with the Quran’ that teaching is a communal obligation. The term for it in Islamic jurisprudence is fardu-l-kifayah. Teaching, in the context of this book, is to be understood as teaching the Quran; this is not to say that teaching other kinds of knowledge might not be part of this category as well.
A communal obligation means that it is an obligation that falls upon the entire community and if a group of them puts it into practice, then the entire community has fulfilled it. But if no one does it, then each individual of the community is held responsible for it. Another communal obligation, for example, is the Salah al-Janaza, the prayer for the deceased.
There are many instances in the Quran where Allah instructs and commands the Prophet, may He bless him and grant him peace, and by extension the rest of us, to recite the Quran. To mention some of them:
Recite what has been revealed to you of your Lord’s Book. No one can change His Words. You will never find any safe haven apart from Him. (18:27)
Those to whom We have given the Book, who recited in the way it should be recited, such people have iman in it. As for those who reject it, they are the losers. (2:120)
Taking into consideration everything that has been written by great men of knowledge, such as al-Nawawi, regarding the obligation and benefits of memorising the Quran, we will try to approach this question following a very basic reasoning, which is based on what they have said.
Why is teaching the Quran a communal obligation? Learning the opening chapter of the Quran, the Fatihah, is an obligation for every Muslim, together with another chapter (Surah) or set of verses (ayaats). This is a necessity for the Salah to be accepted.
For the individual to be able to memorise even just what is obligatory, he needs someone to learn it from. Therefore it is obligatory that some people learn it in order to teach the rest of us so that we can fulfil our individual obligations.
Some questions might arise from this: can it not be learnt from a book (or any other medium nowadays)? And, is it obligatory to memorise the entire Quran?
Regarding the first question, if someone does not have any other way, then yes, he should learn it from any medium he can find. But someone that does that will not know whether what he is learning is correct or has been altered. Therefore he should first try to learn it from a qualified teacher, if not, from another Muslim, and if that’s not possible, then from a book or similar.
Which leads to the second question, if no one has memorised the entire Quran by heart, how would we know that what we are learning has not been altered? In order to make sure that this does not happen, we need people that memorise the entire Quran. Allah says:
Woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then they say ‘This is from Allah’ to sell it for a paltry price. Woe to them for what their hands have written! Woe to them for what they earn! (2:78)
We explained in a previous article that Allah has promised to safeguard the Quran from alteration and changes, and that He does that by way of men and women that preserve it in their hearts. Of course, it is in His hands to preserve it and He will do it regardless of us, but that does not absolve us from our responsibility, for Allah says:
If you turn away, He will replace you with a people other than yourselves and they will not be like you. (47:39)
Instead, we should be of those about whom Allah says in the Quran:
Be people of the Lord because of your knowledge of the Book and because you study. (3:78)
Therefore, it is obligatory for everyone to learn a portion of the Quran that enables him to fulfil his obligations; and it is obligatory upon all of us that we make possible that some amongst us memorise the entire Quran by way of fostering love and a correct understanding of it in the youth and supporting those who want to learn it and study it and those who teach it. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said:
The best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it. (Bukhari)
If you would like to begin learning the Quran you might be interested in out next 1 year foundational course.
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