اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
Iqra’ bismi rabbikal-ladhī khalaq
Read in the name of your Lord who created
(Sūratul ‘Alaq, No.96, Āyat 1)
This verse is the first verse to be revealed on 27th of Rajab 23 BH, on the night of Mab‘ath – the beginning of the mission of Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (s). It is an invitation to read and learn, to gain knowledge and broaden the horizons of the mind. It is significant that the beginning of the movement of Islam commences with words that convey the start of an intellectual movement. Some scholars believe that the reading in this verse refers to the reading of the Holy Quran.
A reflection on this verse can come up with many points including;
– Reading as the beginning of the growth of perfection in religion
– Reading should be for the sake of Allah, along with the remembrance of Allah
– The Lordship of Allah refers to the Being who nurtures and trains. This is done through Reading, especially the Holy Quran.
– Lordship of Allah is connected to His being the Creator since it is the Creator who can be the best Nurturer.
The first five verses of Sūratul ‘Alaq were the first verses to be revealed. At a time when the Arabs were steeped in ignorance, Islam comes with the announcement of emphasis on knowledge. Reading and writing are the tools that will transform the human being whose origin is the simple clot to a perfect soul that is pure and refined.
Many Hadith and examples from the lives of the Ma’sūmīn (a) reflect the intense importance that Islam gives to acquiring knowledge. Reading is the first step towards that. Our scholars have always focused their energies on reading, writing, and collecting worthy books. The Āyatullāh Mar‘ashī Najafī library in Qum is amongst the world’s largest libraries with over 250,000 books and manuscripts. It began as a personal library of the founder, Late Sayyid Āyatullāh Mar‘ashī Najafī (d. 1990 CE) who was dedicated to the spread of religious knowledge. He struggled hard to acquire the books. Similarly the personal library of Sharīf al-Murtada (d. AH 436/1044 CE) contained over eighty thousand books. In the thirteenth century CE, when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols, the books cast into the Tigris completely covered its surface, and their ink dyed its waters black, while a far greater number were destroyed by fire.
Reflective reading leads to better thinking, better speaking, and better actions. It changes perspectives and broadens the horizons of the minds. It helps a person deal with life and understand concepts that were previously unknown to him. It is exhilarating, soothing, refreshing, etc.; no wonder that Hadith refers to books as gardens. It is where the mind can stretch and relax. Reading also strengthens the brain and reduces stress.
Let this verse inspire you to read for the sake of God, to open your mind and soften your heart through good literature. Make a list of readings you would like to reflect over. Schedule regular time each week to just read. It is not for when you are free and have nothing else to do. It should be a part of the weekly schedule, as necessary as the other tasks you set time aside for each week. Just as you spend time to plan and acquire nutritious meals for the body, to clean and tidy the house, the soul too needs nutrition and cleansing. A good read will do that best. And recite this verse each time you read.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūne