The Superiority of Hearing & Listening


Allah سبحانه تعالى mentions in Surat al-Baqarah, verse 7:

Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.
It is interesting to note about this verse, that the word قلوب (plural for the word قلب) and أبصار (plural for the word بصر) were both mentioned in the plural form, while the word سمع remained in the singular form.  Why is that?
ear-listening-300x258According to Muhyi al-Deen al-Darweesh, in this popular book, إعراب القرآن وبيانه, the reason for this is because the hearts are different and varied where people may be able to understand certain situations or words in different ways.  This is likewise the case when it comes to the insights and visions of the people (أبصار), where people may see or perceive certain situations in different ways.  However, when it comes to hearing (سمع), there is only ONE way something can be heard and there is very little room, if at all, for re-interpretation or differences of opinion.  Even if any doubt were to be cast upon whether or not something was heard, at best it is the weakness of one’s hearing which is blamed, not what was heard.
When it comes to the preservation of the Qur’an, this concept can be easily identified because Allah سبحانه ،تعالى sent down this Qur’an through His Angel Jibreel عليه السلام, who then recited it to Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, who then recited it to his companions رضي الله عنهم.  It was an oral tradition from the start, which involved carefully listening to the Qur’an before transmitting it.  It is for this reason, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was told by his Lord:
لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ
Move not your tongue with it, [O Muhammad], to hasten with recitation of the Qur’an.
[Surat al-Qiyaamah, verse 16]
He صلى الله عليه وسلم was ordered to first listen, and then recite.
It is amazing that had it been any other way, surely there would have been differences amongst the people in regards to the verses of Allah.  If the main method of preservation was a physical writing of the Qur’an, without the accompanying oral recitation, a number of problems would have surfaced, namely:
  1. Because the Arabs were a mostly illiterate people, very few would have been able to read the book.  Since the Qur’an was meant for the guidance of Mankind, very few people at the time of its revelation could have actually benefited from its verses.
  2. Even if it could be read, the script was so under-developed (by our standards today) that very few could have been able to read it in our times and because it was a divinely revealed book, no one would have dared to change it!
  3. Even if it could be read, the Arabic language’s script was able to accommodate more than one way of reading.  Which way of reading was what Allah had intended to reveal?  And even if He intended more than one way, how was a person supposed to know when more then one meaning was NOT intended?
  4. Given the above two points, even from a grammatical point of view, multiple readings can be accommodated and the same divisions would have resulted.

But what about books? What if a book explained how something is to sound or to be recited?  This ties in with understanding and perception, since this is diverse amongst Mankind, where there exists different levels of intelligence, comprehension and insight.  Had the recitation been a matter of research, there would have been vastly different points of view about what Allah intended to say.  Additionally, just as it is difficult to describe the taste of something except by tasting it, likewise it is close to impossible to understand the true nature of a sound except by hearing it.  And in our discussion of the pronunciation of the letter ض, we shall see that there was no actual way to describe the letter ض except by directly hearing it from the Arabs, to whose language the letter ض belongs (since many people falsely claim that they can identify the pronunciation of this letter through phonologists, linguists or grammarians, some of whom are not even Muslim, Arab, or reciters of the Qur’an to begin with!).

It’s clear that the best and most sure-fire way to preserve the Qur’an was through listening and then subsequently passing it down through a sound oral chain of transmission.  But even then, Allah ensured, within our own creation, that there would not be any discrepancy in this regard, and He gave us two ears by which to listen and only one mind and tongue.

It should not be misunderstood, however, that by emphasizing the importance of the oral tradition, that we are somehow belittling the written form of the Qur’an.  Rather, there is absolutely no doubt about the importance of the Qur’an’s written form, and this topic will be addressed in a future post.

Truly and without doubt, Allah is the best preserver of the Qur’an as He has promised in His eternal book.  And He is not only the best preserver, but His preservation was the best and most perfect.

Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah , they would have found within it much contradiction.
[Surat al-Nisaa’, verse 82]
Allah سبحانه وتعالى mentioned Qur’an, the recitation, not the Book (الكتاب).
In the end, learning the recitation of the Qur’an by carefully listening to it, and transmitting it in a likewise fashion is a critical point for all students and teachers of the Qur’an, regardless of their level.  For the beginner, it is probably the most important way to train the tongue to recite correctly, and for the advanced, it is upon this foundation that a sound Qiraa’ah is transmitted accurately.  And Allah knows best.

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