Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Four Quls: Introductory Remarks

Many houses in Malaysia hang the “Four Quls.” 

Qul is Arabic for “say.”  The Four Quls, however, are not the four sayings, but rather the four surahs (chapters) in the Quran starting with the word “qul.”  They are, in the order of chapters in the Quran: (1) al Kafirun; (2) al Ikhlas; (3) al Alaq; and (4) an Naas.

Three of them are the last chapters in the Quran, with an Naas being the last, al Alaq the second last, and al Ikhlas the third last.  Al Kafirun is not much further, being the sixth last chapter.

They are also among the most oft-recited verses or chapters by the Muslims in their salah (prayer).  Two of them, al Kafirun and al Ikhlas, most certainly are.  When the Muslims pray alone, or when they pray Sunnah prayers (as opposed to the five obligatory prayers), these are the optional recitations they often recite after the obligatory al Fatihah.

All the chapters are short, but their virtues and standings are great.  Two of these are most prominent: al Ikhlas is considered one third of the Quran while al Kafirun is one quarter.  This does not mean, however, that if one were to read these two chapters, one is already reading 7/12, or more than half, of the Quran. 

Their virtues are not arithmetic.   What it means is that they constitute the core of the Quran, whereas other verses are detail explanations to this core.

Or, as someone asked Abû al-Abbâs b. Surayj about the meaning of the Prophet’s saying that Surah al Ikhlas equals a third of the Qur’ân, he replied:

The meaning of this is that Allah sent the Qur’ân in three parts: a third of it is comprised of legal rulings, a third is comprised of exhortations of promises and warnings, and a third is comprised of discussing Allah’s names and attributes. This chapter [al Ikhlas] brings together within it those names and attributes.  [Majmû` al-Fatâwâ (17/103)]

Whatever explanation may be given, the virtues of these two chapters are great, for the Prophet himself has stated them in authentic ahadith (Traditions).  It is no wonder, therefore, that these two are oft-recited chapters, second only to al Fatihah, whose recitation is obligatory in prayers, without which one’s prayer is invalid.

While the first two of these Four Quls are often recited during the prayers, the remaining two are oft-recited as well, but for different reason.  These last two, al Alaq and an Naas, are known as verses for seeking protection.  The former is to seek protection from black magic (sihr), while the latter is to seek protection from the conspiracy of the devils, be they of genie or mankind.

There are at least two interesting points about these last two chapters, known as Mu'awwidhatayn (the two surahs in which refuge with Allah has been sought). 

The first is that they are so closely related in terms of style and subject matter, and are said to be revealed together at once.  Thus, although they are separated into two chapters and given different names, some consider them as if they are one chapter.

The second is that Ibnu Mas’ud, one of the foremost authorities on Quran among the Companions, was alleged to be saying that they are not part of the Quran.  The Orientalists have a field day about this.  Since a companion of Ibnu Mas’ud stature claimed these chapters not to be part of the Quran, the whole authenticity of the Quran is therefore a matter of conjecture.  Their intent, of course, is to denigrate the status of Quran to the level of their Bible.

We shall talk about these issues later in the series.  Suffice to say here that even the foremost authority can make mistake, as was the case with Ibnu Mas’ud, who later repented when he realized his error.

There is also an interesting point about Surah al Kafirun.  It is used by some people to convey the tolerance in Islam, while the subject matter clearly indicates otherwise.  Some people, even among Muslims and by scholars no less, go as far as saying that this chapter indicates that Islam accepts pluralism, which is contradictory to the essence of Islam itself.  We shall talk about it later in this series.

For this introductory remarks, suffice to say that Muslims in the main take their Quran, as a sacred book if not its teachings, very seriously.  It is unthinkable for them to make fun of it, as the Christians do with their Bible. 

Many memorize the whole Quran by heart, which is not an easy job no doubt, especially to those who do not even understand Arabic.  They recite it every day in their prayers, although most of them would just recite the short chapters or verses, and do not even know the meanings.

Some even hang selected verses on the wall to get the blessing, or as part of the decoration, with the Verse of the Throne (Ayat al Kursi) easily passes as the most prominent.  The Four Quls is also prominent, being hanged in many houses. 

But among those who hang the Four Quls on the wall, I suspect few indeed who know about the stories behind these chapters, or some of the controversies surrounding them.  Many probably do not even understand properly what these chapters are all about.

As for me, I have memorized these Four Quls even before my parent taught me how to recite the Quran.  I am sure I am not alone here.   These four chapters are so oft-recited in the prayer halls, mosques and houses that their verses get imprinted in a child’s heart.

But it is only a decade or so ago that I learned the finer points about the Four Quls, and I hope to share them with you.

Stay tuned.

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