How a Non-Muslim Should Read the Quran

If, as a non-muslim, you want to read the Quran, you will first need to think about what society was like when the Quran was revealed.  Once you are aware of this, you can understand better the verses that you read.  While reading, ponder over how these verses profoundly changed the people from ignorance to enlightenment.

As a non-Muslim reading the Quran, you will need to put to one side your preconceptions and think about what society was like when the Quran was revealed, what was the social situation and how it affected the people who first heard it? Then start to read.

Primarily, religions are there in order for us to improve on our quality of living while preparing for the meeting with the Creator who made us in the first place. 

The Quran in this respect is remarkable for many reasons, and one of them is that Allah talks to multiple audiences at the same time.  In many places in the Quran, Allah is talking to a very particular audience.  But there are other places in the Quran where Allah speaks to every audience, Muslims and non-Muslims.

Is there an etiquette that non-Muslims must follow when reading the Quran

Generally, when reading of the Quran is by non-Muslims and a translation into another language other than Arabic, you don’t need to do much in terms of etiquette or ritual. 

But you do need to find a quiet area and sit comfortably so that you can focus on what you are reading.  Along with your eyes and tongue, try to utilise your heart when reading and reflect on its words.  It needs to be read with an open heart and mind.

How was the Quran making a difference to that social situation?  For example, is the Quran approving of the way things were or is it showing a different direction? 

Muslim hesitation in giving copies of the Quran to non-Muslims

It is a belief among some Muslims that based on the Quranic verse:

‘Indeed, it is a noble Qur’an – In a Register well-protected – None touch it except the purified.’

Quran [56:77-79]

that non-Muslims are not allowed to touch the Quran as they have not performed the ritual ablution and should not be given a copy of the Quran. But this is an incorrect belief, due to the verse actually referring to the Quran being a book kept in the Preserved Tablet above the heavens, and the purified ones being the Angels.  The copy of the Quran called a mushaf is not being referred to in this verse.

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Also many verses in the Quran address all peoples, not just Muslims so they will need to be able to touch it to read. 

Interestingly, the Prophet (SAW) himself dictated some verses of the Quran when sending letters to the rulers and kings in the neighbouring countries inviting them to Islam, knowing that some of them may not accept the religion, but he still asked for the letters to be sent with the verses.

Is there a particular way to read the chapters?

In the Quran, you have certain key teachings and practices that are discussed and described, again and again, sometimes looking at the matter from one angle and sometimes another but there’s no sense that you have to start from a particular chapter then move onto another higher or deeper level as you may in other books. 

You can read the whole thing continuously if you wish, starting from chapter one, or start from chapter 12 if desired or anywhere and it will all make sense eventually.

It’s often said that the Quran is confusing or difficult when read.  Initially, it can seem that way if you don’t know the background of the Quran, its history and where it came to be revealed and how. 

You may read it with the expectations developed from being accustomed to reading other books like textbooks etc and expect the Quran to flow in a certain way.  It may seem to an uninitiated reader as though there is a jumble of contents with everything mixed up. 

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When you try to put in perspective what the Quran is and what is meant to do and how it’s arranged within its own framework and ideas, it begins to make sense.

It is also recommended to read the commentary on these chapters and verses to understand the context and circumstance in which they were revealed to gain a clearer picture of them. 

To find out about a particular subject, it will be best to find the relevant words in the index and look up all the verses about it scattered in the different chapters.

The verses addressed to mankind

A possible starting point for non-Muslims could be to reflect on the verses that are addressed to mankind in general.  These start with ‘O mankind’ and an example of this is: 

‘….O mankind, your injustice is only against yourselves, [being merely] the enjoyment of worldly life. Then to Us is your return, and We will inform you of what you used to do.’ 

Quran [10:23]

Other verses of the Quran that start with an address to mankind in general include:  2:21, 2:168, 4:1, 4:170, 4:174, 7:3, 7:11, 7:158, 10:57, 10:108, 17:39, 22:1, 31:33, 35:3, 35:5, 35:15, 49:13, 55:33, 82:6, 84:6.

Another way to start would be to commence with the shorter Surahs that are mostly found near the end of the Quran and which were mostly revealed in Mecca mentioning the greatness of Allah.  You won’t find many verses on rules and regulations here.  Once you have read and reflected on these shorter chapters, you can move towards the front.

The different audiences in Mecca and Madinah

When the Prophet (SAW) was given the Quran in Mecca, the audience was everyone because the Muslims were a very small minority there and the revelation of the Quran was to a non-Muslim audience.  Allah revealed the Quran as a form of invitation to them also inviting to the message of Islam.  So you will find many verses here addressing people in general.

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When the Prophet moved to Madinah, it is generally understood that the Muslims had formed an organised community and are not under oppression but in a position of governance and relevant strength.  Even though in terms of population, the Muslims were in the minority.  Here you mostly find verses addressing in terms of ‘O Believers’ to the Muslims and on occasion to the Jews and other communities.

But there is an occasion in Madinah where the Quran addresses all communities:

‘O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.’ 

Quran [4:1]

This is a message that the Muslims have to live by and then take to the rest of the people.

Allah commands His creatures to have Taqwa (God-consciousness) by worshipping Him alone without partners.  He also reminds mankind of His ability, in that He created them all from a single person, Adam (AS).  And Allah has authority over all. 

Which surah intrigues you the most?

The above link is to the Quora website where a contributor recommends the Surahs to read depending on your personality.  A summary of it is below.

Which chapters of the Quran should non Muslims read?

  • For the rational argument/logical/atheist/scientist personality:  Read chapter 16 titled The Bee.
  • The literary/creative/artistic personality: Read chapter 12 titled Joseph.
  • For people from a Christian background: Read chapter 19 titled Mary
  • For people short on time and/or love poetry: Read chapter 87 titled The Most High

‘Recite in the name of your Lord who created – Created man from a clinging substance – Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous – Who taught by the pen – Taught man that which he knew not.’ 

Quran [96:1-5]