Before beginning I will like to mention that most of my articles are based on notes that I gather while listening to Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan. This Ramadan he aims to deliver explanations on Surah Al-Baqarah as much as he can. And as I’m someone who is learning Qur’an from him, The Muslim Girl intends on delivering her readers the remarkable lessons that I’m able to grasp.
Surah Al-Baqarah was revealed to Rasool Allah (saw) in Medina; a place where the Jews and Christians shared the community with the Muslims. Over there everyone knew that he (saw) was an unlettered person who didn’t have any previous education. So when Muhammad (saw) recited the first ayah, Alif-Laam-Meem, it sent shock waves among the people. Why? I want you to imagine a friend who speaks English but can’t read or write. If you simply say the alphabets in front of her, she won’t understand any of it. It’s because no one ever taught her those. In short, the letters of alphabet make no sense to someone who never got any education. The case with our Prophet (saw) was the same: he didn’t know any Arabic alphabets. But when he (saw) recited the ayah, people started thinking that Muhammad (saw) is definitely learning from someone. And because he (saw) is learning there is indeed a teacher. However this teacher, people realized, had a different way of teaching that no one used. Now I want you to imagine again: your friend asks you teach her English. What will be the first thing you teach her? Alphabets of course, as even our teachers started with A-B-C-D and so forth in order. On the other hand there was a teacher who was teaching our Prophet (saw) Alif-Laam-Meem instead of Alif-Ba-Ta which was a usual way of teaching the Arabic alphabets.
Every creation on this planet begins teaching the young from the basics and in order. There are so many languages in the world and every teacher of any language starts in their class with letters. Even while learning Arabic, for reading the Qur’an, we started with Alif-Ba-Ta and so on. That’s how everyone teaches. This is why when we recite the first ayah of Al-Baqarah we learn that this Qur’an can only be from Allah. As He decided to teach His Messenger (saw) in a way no one ever teaches.
For a moment I want to get side tracked and bring to your attention something very simple which will in turn form basis to the next lesson we learn from these letters- Alif-Laam-Meem. A paragraph consists of many sentences. Just like that sentences are formed by words and then words are made up of letters. So everything we read boils down to few letters that are the building blocks of every language. Now everything in the Qur’an carries a meaning behind them and so do these letters in the first ayah. However, the meaning of these three letters is kept away from us and is known only to Allah alone. Nevertheless Alif-Laam-Meem becomes the first orientation for the student of the Qur’an. How? After Allah instills gratefulness in us in Al-Fatiha, He teaches us humility with which we need to come to His Book in the very first ayah of Al-Baqarah.
No matter how much Qur’an we learn and study, at the end of the day we still won’t know anything. Allah is teaching us that we don’t even grasp the meaning of just letters then how are we going to fully learn from the words and sentences that His Book is made up of. In short we can never read the Qur’an for as long as our life and say we know what’s in there. It’s because of that we will always have to continuously engage in this Book for as long as our breath stays with us. And when we do, Allah opens doors to miracles in the Qur’an that will leave us amazed.
Lastly I want to discuss an attitude that most of us hold when we read any book and how dangerously it also shows itself when we read the Qur’an. There are many sites, like for example Goodreads, where people rate and comment, like or dislike, any book they read. And it’s a very normal thing to do. However when we come to the Book of Allah, we don’t get to say that we like this verse but the other verse of that Surah seems a bit weird. We aren’t allowed to do that. We should come to this Book like a desperate lost traveler in a desert who is extremely thirsty. And when that traveler is given water, he doesn’t complain about why there isn’t Sprite or Coca-Cola; he simply takes what’s being offered.
When we recite Alif-Laam-Meem, some among us don’t understand the purpose behind the ayah. Our curiosity takes over and we are just obsessed with what these letters mean. And people have gotten misguided that way. They have left the benefit these letters have to offer and have wandered off in an unfruitful journey just to find out its meaning. However we can’t do that or even argue about why Allah has hidden certain things from us. Because we shouldn’t forget that Allah in His divine wisdom has kept away the meaning only for our own benefit. And by curbing our curiosity He is teaching us that sometimes, as in the case of Alif-Laam-Meem, lessons aren’t learned by questioning but rather by not questioning.
For sure I’m unable to do justice with the explanation of Alif-Laam-Meem but just the three things I was able to learn has made me a better student of the Qur’an and I hope it did the same for you too.