Every person interested in Islam most likely have known this: the very first revelation of Quran, the holy book of Islam is اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ – (Al-‘Alaq (96):1). In Bahasa Indonesia, it is translated into “Bacalah dengan (menyebut) nama Tuhanmu Yang menciptakan”, in English, it will be “Read in the name of your Lord who created”. Iqra, the transliteration of the first word “اقْرَأْ ” has a meaning as “baca” or “read” as in “reading the book”, “reading the comic”, etc.
That’s what I understand, until my English is getting better and I read the Quran English translation.
Based on Sahih International, the translation is:
Recite in the name of your Lord who created –
Recite. Not read. Which has a different scope of meaning. Read, as most of know, is “to learn from what one has seen or found in writing or printing”. Calmly, no sound. While recite has the sense that you read something aloud.
This is something for me. As someone who interested in language studies, it is very interesting. A change of scope of meaning that could change my perspective of reading Quran. Moreover, Muslims are taught that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was illiterate, so “the angel Jibril asked an illiterate man to read, and suddenly he can read” thingy made the Quran revelation story seems magical. (Well, there is a discussion about whether Prophet Muhammad was illiterate, but it is irrelevant now and I have no knowledge about that, so I’ll just leave it here).
So what is the real meaning of iqra “اقْرَأْ ” ?
Muslims was taught that Quran can’t be truly translated, since Arabic is an old language that has concise nature in its words. So the answer to my question lies in the knowledge of Arabic… so I googled it, and found this link that has interesting answers.
In summary, it turns out only Sahih International that translate “اقْرَأْ ” as recite. Most of the translators translate the word to read and one of them to proclaim. So what’s the context or the situation when the first revelation revealed? From the top answer in that link, based on Ibn Kathir’s tafsir..
The context indicates that the word Iqra in verse 96.1 is a command to the prophet (saw) to recite or read or proclaim. Its meaning may be to read and understand the meaning and then proclaiming/reciting it aloud to others. So the conclusion is the word Iqra in the said revelation seems to have a broad meaning (a command to the prophet) to read and then proclaim it to the people of Mecca (who were pagans) by reciting it aloud.
There is also another interesting answer that needs a basic knowledge of Arabic root word system. Turns out the word “اقْرَأْ ” has the same root as ” قُرُوءٍ” which means “menstrual periods”, which can be found in Quran 2:228. Wow, talk about blood clot! The “menstrual periods” word itself come from the real meaning “gathering the blessed blood in the womb and being thrown out” and over time, it has been used as the name of the periods that include women’s idle days and immediately after them.
Later, the word began to be used in the sense of “accumulating something, distributing it, transferring it to other places”. The word used in the sense “getting pregnant, carrying the baby in the womb, and giving birth to it” and “bringing together letters, words, sentences or information and transmitting it to someone else”. (Please go to this answer link for clearer explanation). This is also why it is used in the sense of “reading”, but the real “act of reading something” is “tilawa” in Arabic, which roughly translated as “reading a text that has already been written”.
So by using “iqra“, it means the revelation is a command for the prophet to accumulate something (knowledge/revelation) and then will distribute that knowledge, because he has the responsibility to teach people what he learned, either verbally or in writing.
Yeah! That’s the conclusion of what I have read. My comprehension of the word “اقْرَأْ ” gone deeper, started as only “read”, then “recite”, then has connection with “menstrual blood”, then the real meaning: accumulate something (knowledge/revelation) and then will distribute that knowledge. This is new to me. Hahaha.
This “revelation” also struck me hard. I love reading (but I am getting lazier these days), I love accumulating knowledge, but I realize never really distribute it other that in the format of tweet or social media post. So this blog post should be one of the first steps to “distribute” the knowledge that I had today.
See you later,
- The meaning of “read” in Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/read
- The meaning of “recite” in Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recite
- The meaning of the root word “iqra” http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=qrA
- The meaning of the root word “tilawa” http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=tlw