Some people have asked about the social practice of ‘Qur’an khatms’, where people gather to finish the Qur’an (usually in an hour or so) and follow it up with a delicious feast.

This practice is more evident in some cultures than others, and much has been said against it and in defence of it, from it being encouraged to being considered a blameworthy innovation (bid’ah). I have no intention to get into the wrangling, and I feel that if we consider it with some common-sense reasoning (as God encourages us to do), we’d come to a reasonable conclusion.

Firstly, let’s determine what exactly takes place:

1. Groups of people get together to hum Arabic for ambiguously defined ‘barakah’ (blessings).
2. It is claimed that the entire Qur’an will be read, yet each person simply hums their allotted small portion independently, so nobody actually reads the entire thing.
3. No guidance is taken from the book of guidance, nor is the Qur’an even understood – neither the allotted portion, nor in any holistic sense.

Personally, I find it deeply offensive to treat guidance and a message from God in this way. In any other context, would we take an informative and direction-giving letter sent to us, break it up into arbitrary parts, get a bunch of people to hum those parts to themselves in a language they little understand, and then bizarrely claim: 1. that we’ve read the entire letter, and 2. that the author of the letter not only wanted this but would be ecstatic about the strange thing we’ve just done? I think most of us would say no, and in any setting it would be deemed mockery.

Some will now more generally point to hadiths that discuss blessings of Qur’anic recitation. I hope it’s becoming increasingly clearer that all of these narrations are in the context of the Qur’an being understood and such blessings (i.e. benefits) being the result of understanding, contemplation and practical application.

To be clear, I’m not negating reading the Qur’an individually or in a group, and those who sit with me witness the Qur’an’s primacy in all things. I want us to do Qur’an more, not less, but certainly not as phonemes. Our homes and religious institutions should be alive with the sound of God’s guidance and deep explorations/contemplations on the divine word.

This is a message to all people, so that they may be warned by it, and know that He is the only God, and so that those who have minds may take heed.

Qur’an 14:52