The 40 American Hadith: Approaching the Qur'an


The compilation of hadiths into a small group, 40, has been a tradition for some time in the history of Muslim scholarship. ‘Ulama’ (scholars) have recognized the limits and constraints placed on the average Muslim in their pursuit of requisite and inspirational knowledge of Islam. By compiling a smaller number of Prophetic narrations, often under an overarching theme, it was a way to help make the Deen accessible to Muslims so they might better improve their relationship with Allah. The 40 American Hadith is a gesture in that same direction, a collection of Prophetic wisdom aimed and tailored for a modern American Muslim, to assist him or her in their daily aspirations to walk, live, and breathe, as Believers.

Hadith 4

Ali bin Abu Talib stated in a sermon:

علي بن أبي طالب قال تعلموا القرآن فإنه أحسن الحديث وتفقهوا فيه فإنه ربيع القلوب

“Study the Qur’an for it is the best of speech. Teach it to others for it is like the springtime of hearts.”

This narration, collected in Razi’s Nahj al-Balaghah as well as Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, paints for us a picture of just how much of an impression the Qur’an had made on the Companions and how they, even after the death of the Prophet ﷺ, still esteemed the Book of Allah. It was something to be kept alive at the very heart of Muslim existence.

First, there is the command from the Leader of the Believers (Amir al-Mu’minin), a thing not to be taken lightly itself, nor that Ali chose to address his entire audience: “all of you study the Qur’an”. In that Ali chose to evoke the plural imperative illustrates that the Qur’an was a book for all believers and that no one could claim either sufficient mastery over it nor as a thing for elites. It was for them, as it should be for us today, a book for all peoples and all seasons.

In a recent conversation with one of my own teachers, he spoke of the need for Muslims, especially American Muslims, to develop a living relationship with the Qur’an. In his view this included reading, reciting, studying; you name it. We both lamented that the Qur’an had, by and large, become a book more talked about than read. And that if the Qur’an remained aloof from us then it would be like so many medicines in cabinet: so long as they stayed on the shelf no one would be cured.

I began to reflect on how and why the Qur’an remains so distant from so many of us. In conversations with innumerable Muslims it has become quite clear that the Book of Allah is not a part of our daily habit, routine, or regimen. It was a book of special occasions, ranging from the onset of Ramadan to instances of grief except that its healing message seemed to not have the same prescribed effect, reminding me of something former Cleveland Indians pitcher, Satchel Paige, said,

"Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines”.

In other words, the Qur’an has to be something we live with, not treated like some talisman by which we can hope to obtain our hopes and dreams, or alleviate pain, by coercing God through momentary acts of obedience.

I believe we are in need of a return to a simpler way of approaching the Qur’an: by actually reading it. Imam Ali obliges us to “teach it to others”, an act that requires mutual participation. This can take the form of an informal reading circle at your home, your masjid, your MSA, even a local park. In doing so we can reduce the anxiety that, in my opinion, exists about approaching or reading the Qur’an due to it being synonymous with pursuing knowledge, a pursuit that for many has come to equate mastery of the Arabic language and other sciences, as prerequisites. We must actively work to bring the Qur’an back into our midst so that we can revitalize the winter of our hearts with its “springtime” message.

And with God lies all success.


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