Tafseer Art: Alif, Laam, Meem

“It is better in Ramadan to read less, but read deeply.”

Ramadan is known as the month of the Qur’an, for it was in this month that the Islamic holy book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). During this month, Muslims strive to connect with their religion and be the best version of themselves.

In my community, there has always been an emphasis on reading the entire Quran as many times as possible in these thirty days. While recitation has its rewards with Allah, for someone who can understand perhaps three words in Arabic, reciting the words does not bring me closer to understanding them. When I read the translation of the Quran, I know that the English language does not convey the subtlety and nuance of the original text, yet some verses still astound me with their beauty and wisdom. This year, I am hoping to connect further with the Qur’an by studying its tafseer (exegesis). True to form though, I feel compelled to put a creative twist on it. In a sort of art journal, I am choosing verses of the Qur’an that I love, and turning them into art.

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The first verses I have chosen are the first two of Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow).

  1. Alif, Laam, Meem.
  2. This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah.

The first verse is simply three Arabic letters, yet their true meaning is known only to Allah. Scholars have suggested various interpretations of these letters. They could have acted as an indication to the Arabs who first heard it that the Qur’an consisted of words and letters of their own language, although it was superior to any speech of their own, being of divine origin. Allah challenged the Arabs to bring out something similar, but no one could, not the poets or the linguists. Another suggestion is that they are an exclamatory device intended to arrest the listeners’ attention, similar to the custom of beginning a poem with ‘No!’ or ‘Indeed!’.

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The second verse continues the assertion of Allah’s wisdom, assuring the reader that ‘la rayba fihi’. This term carries more than one meaning, including ‘there is nothing dubious about/in it’ and ‘it is not to be doubted’ as regards its origin or contents. The term ‘guidance’ is used to express clarifying the truth (haq) and leading people to it. ‘Those conscious of Allah’ refers to pious and righteous people – the Book is a guidance for them. There is no benefit in the Qur’an for those who do not bother to consider whether their actions are right or wrong, who follow the ways of the world or their own whims and lusts or move aimlessly through life.

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Personally, I find comfort in these verses as the first establishes that there is a higher knowledge that we humans can never hope to attain, but the second tells us that the holder of this knowledge is there to help us, and there is absolute truth in His guidance.

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