Many of us struggle with the memorisation of the Holy Qur’ān but there’s a dark cloud above our heads. The fear and guilt of forgetting it.

I‘ve had many of you write to me over the years about your fears of forgetting the Qur’ān once you have memorised it.

For example:

“My parents told me that forgetting the Qur’ān is a sin and how once you have memorized it you must keep it forever. I did not truly understand this when I was a child (of 7 years) and I finished memorizing when I was 10 years old and forgot it afterward. I did not truly understand this as such a tender age and how important it was. A decade later, I am confused. Am I accountable for that memorization before Allāh? I had no idea! I have forgotten the majority of the chapters. I didn’t even know what the Qur’ān was. I feel guilty and feel empty.”

“‘The number one complication I have regarding memorization of the Qur’ān is the fear of actually forgetting what I have already memorized. Whenever I think about this type of subject, it would always remind me of verse 126 in Surah Tāhā, “[Allāh] will say, “Thus did Our Verses come to you, and you forgot them; and thus will you this day be forgotten.’”

The more worrying ones I have received have been those who want to memorise but avoid doing so out of the fear of forgetting. They would rather give up on the goal altogether and live a life of regret. Many of you might be battling with this too.

The moment you forget something, you’re questioning everything and worrying. You’re looking for answers. It may even make you feel depressed. It gives you doubts and you want to stop. I’d been through exactly that for years! Forgetting passages and parts of the Qur’ān ever since I began memorising. In fact, I forgot half of it. The good news is that over time things do get better!

In this article, I want to share the reasons why you should continue to memorise the Qur’ān without these fears.

Like always, we must begin with the Word of Allāh.

What does the Qur’ān say about those memorising and learning it?

The Qur’ān encourages its preservation through memorising it, learning it, studying, and applying it. The goal is guidance, personal and collective transformation.

بَلْ هُوَ آيَاتٌ بَيِّنَاتٌ فِي صُدُورِ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ وَمَا يَجْحَدُ بِآيَاتِنَا إِلَّا الظَّالِمُونَ

But these are the clear Verses (of the Qur’ān) that are (preserved) in the chests of those who have been given (true) knowledge. And none other than the unjust deny Our Revelations. (al-‘Ankabūt, 29:49)

Ibn ‘Abbās (Allāh be pleased with him) says this preservation means that “the Qur’ān consists of clear verses that explain the lawful and the unlawful, the commands and prohibitions, and this is preserved in the hearts of those who have been given knowledge of the Qur’ān.” Ibn Kathīr (Allāh be pleased with him) says this verse means: “The Qur’ān is memorised for whom Allāh makes it easy to memorise, recite and interpret (the scholars).”

Allāh further says that He has chosen individuals for this task:

ثُمَّ أَوْرَثْنَا الْكِتَابَ الَّذِينَ اصْطَفَيْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا …

Then We made those whom We chose from amongst Our servants the inheritors of the Book (the Qur’ān)… (Fātir, 35:32)

Ibn ‘Abbās says this means that Allāh “gave the honour of memorising, writing and reciting the Qur’ān (by means of faith).” Again the understanding of memorisation and connection with the Qur’ān.

Allāh further encourages us when He says:

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ

And indeed, We have made the Qur’ān easy for remembrance (direction and guidance), but is there anyone who will remember (take advice)? (al-Qamar, 54:17, 22, 32, 40)

This is a verse we hear a lot in reference to the memorisation of the Qur’ān and rightly so. In Tafsīr al-Jalālayn by as-Suyūṭī and Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Maḥallī (Allāh be pleased with them), for example, wrote:

“We have facilitated its memorisation and disposed it to serve as a source of remembrance. (Will) anyone who will be admonished by it and memorise it? The interrogative here is intended as an imperative, in other words, memorise it and be admonished by it […].”

Likewise, Ibn ‘Abbās says it means: “Reciting and writing (has been made easy and) the recitation of the Qur’ān (has been made) easy; is there any that seeks knowledge and hence be helped to acquire it?”

Imām al-Qurtubī in his commentary says the verse means that Allāh has made it easy to memorise and so who will memorise it. Ibn ‘Ājibah in his commentary said that the Qur’ān has been made easy to remember as a mercy to human beings in that its recitation is made easy for the tongue and the understanding and memorisation of it are made easy for the minds and heart.

There are also many amazing aspects of this verse.

Firstly, Allāh says it four times in the same chapter. This is significant and each one is connected to an element of ease. This places the foundations on a strong promise. “It really is easy if you seek it!”

Secondly, it does not mention any quantity, it alludes to quality. Allāh does not say is there anyone who will memorise all of this. There’s not a specific quantity or a specific methodology. This means we could possibly fulfil the legacy of being included amongst the people of Qur’ān even if we don’t memorise all of it. Become amongst the best of people, if we have continually memorised, internalised, and taught (continuity is the requirement) from the Qur’ān even if we haven’t learnt it all. It just takes a single chapter to master and then internalise and externalise it. However, by using the word “Qur’ān”, the meaning is exactly that: the Qur’ān, as in all of it.

Thirdly, by using the word “muddakir” means that the Qur’ān is extremely easy, not just easy. Easy in what sense? Easy to make an effort to take advice from it. The context of this chapter (al-Qamar) concerns advice to the disbelievers and a warning to them. It is a Makkan chapter. If it is extremely easy for non-Muslims (some of whom have also memorised Qur’ān in Arabic or translation by the way) then what would be the case for Muslims? What Allāh is inviting us towards is that He has made it easy but we need to do our bit. That’s called showing up and making an effort. He has done His Divine Task for us and made it a level playing field. We need to seize our opportunities.

Allāh mentions not forgetting:

سَنُقْرِئُكَ فَلَا تَنسَى

(O Esteemed Beloved!) We shall teach you (in a way) that nothing will you (ever) forget, (al-A‘lā, 87:6)

إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ إِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ الْجَهْرَ وَمَا يَخْفَى

Except what Allāh wills. Indeed, He knows all, the manifest as well as the hidden (i.e., open to human perception as well as veiled from it, and the audible and the inaudible). (al-A‘lā, 87:7)

In these verses, the Beloved Prophet (ﷺ) (and by extension the companions, and following onto us) is being taught that he will never forget the Qur’ān. Why? Because of how it has been revealed, recited, and taught to him. The process of revelation was over 23 years. A process that was contextual and consistent. It was done in this way for many reasons and one of them was to teach us how to preserve it in the best way. I will share in another article how to do this. The Prophet (ﷺ) was also taught to review with the angel Jibrīl (may peace be upon him) annually. This should encourage us to memorise slowly and consistently. But also encourage us to know that we can memorise, if Allāh wills, without forgetting it. We just need to be consistent and put in the effort over a lifetime. So many people are a testimony to this. Alḥamdulillāh.

There are so many reasons to be memorising but you don’t want to memorise something in order to forget it, right? So does this āyah of Surah al-A’lā imply that it was taught to the Prophet (ﷺ) in this way (over 23 years) because forgetting it is a bad thing? For a Messenger, yes. A sinful thing? Not really. Instead what we learn is that there is a way to memorise without forgetting it but we will always be prone to forgetfulness. The model method to learn and memorise is the way the Prophet (ﷺ) did so. Slow and consistent reaps rewards.

Does the Qur’ān warn against forgetting after having memorised verses?

So far we see from the Qur’ān itself that it encourages memorisation, and even when the Prophet (ﷺ) was addressed concerning forgetting — he was told to not worry about that. The solution to forgetfulness was in the process itself. But what does the Qur’ān mention about forgetting āyāt once memorised?

The Qur’ān mentions the word to forget, to make forget, forgotten, forgetful, etc (from نَسِىَ / na-si-ya) 45 times at least. Na-si-ya can mean different things that are all connected: forgot, overlooked, neglected, discarded, or abandoned. Interestingly there are other words in Arabic for forgetfulness like sahwun (سَهْوٌ) that are more specific and imply deeper levels of forgetfulness. Na-si-ya is not as strong and this means that the forgetfulness that we have naturally is something that can be improved upon. In the Qur’ān we don’t find Allāh speaking against forgetting what one has memorised. What we do find is that Allāh refers to moments where we as humans can fall prey to forgetfulness like distractions, and His Remembrance for example.

There is a verse (mentioned above) that is wrongly understood:

قَالَ كَذَلِكَ أَتَتْكَ آيَاتُنَا فَنَسِيتَهَا وَكَذَلِكَ الْيَوْمَ تُنسَى

(Allāh) will say: ‘In like manner, Our signs came to you (in the world), but you forgot them, and the same way you (too) will be forgotten today.’ (Tāhā, 20:126)

The issues arise through translation and understanding. Ibn ‘Abbās (Allāh be pleased with him) says to forget here means “you abstained from believing in them or acting upon them.” Ibn Kathīr echoes the same when he says “forgetting the words of the Qur’ān, while understanding its meaning and acting upon its legislation, is not included in the meaning”. Al-Walīd says this is someone who has left acting upon the commandments of the Qur’ān, not someone who has memorised it and forgotten some of what they memorised. Thus to “forget” means to “leave” which is one of the possible reasons for the word na-si-ya.

It is interesting to remember too that one of the Arabic words for “human” is ‘insān’ which can be derived from the word ‘na-si-ya’ (to forget). As humans we are programmed in such a way that by default we fall prey to forgetfulness. In fact, Allāh says:

يُرِيدُ اللّهُ أَن يُخَفِّفَ عَنكُمْ وَخُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

Allāh intends to lighten your burden. And man has been created weak (and infirm). (an-Nisā’, 4:28)

We can understand from the Qur’ān then that the objective is to raise us, not debase us. To give us strength by lightening our burdens, not to weigh us heavy. We understand that memorising the Qur’ān likewise is to raise us, not debase us. Becoming forgetful is just part of that raising of our ranks. We are not like the Beloved Prophet (ﷺ) but knowing that he is our model, we continue to strive and aspire. Despite our weakness in emulating his (ﷺ) way, we take inspiration constantly.

When we forget, our reactions are what is being tested by Allāh. How will you respond? Will you say, ‘That’s it! I can’t do this! shaytān is making me forget!’ Or will you say, ‘Allāh! I am trying and I make mistakes, I will continue for as long as Your Words are with me I will continue to be with You. So Allāh protect me and enable me to be strong, for I am weak, You are my Strength! Allow me to hold onto Your Words for You chose whom You please (repeat it and say Āmīn!).

Our response is important.

When Ādam (may peace be upon him) went near the tree in paradise (despite being told not to go near it) his test was his resistance. Resistance to what? Not a resistance to the tree but Allāh Himself. The reaction Ādam would have to Allāh was to be tested just like the reactions of the angels and shaytān were tested. It was part of his training, to get him ready for Earth. It prepared him to become worthy of being a khalīfāh on Earth. To understand that knowledge is of no use when it doesn’t give birth to the light of wisdom and humbleness. Ādam’s admission in a circumstance where he could have blamed shaytān led him to be raised in status, not demoted. When we stop resisting against bad, we don’t grow. We must grow out of failure. When a seed is planted, the first thing it has to face is darkness and it has to rise out of the soil. It only does that by resistance and eventually becomes a plant through a constant fight. The first thing it sees is darkness but before you know it, it sees light but the fight continues.

Likewise, when we forget memorised verses from the Qur’ān, sometimes we like to cover them up and pretend like we haven’t. We don’t want to return to them. We don’t want to visit the review process and go back to them. It’s not a good feeling to forget. You feel like all your work was in vain and wasteful, but forgetting for us is a means of return. It becomes a longing or calling by Allāh to an individual to come back to the right path. When you forget, you have to return! Perhaps Allāh loves this return (through causing you to forget) just like He loves it when you return to Him seeking His forgiveness.

So don’t feel down when you forget, remember Allāh and return. Show some fight!

Memorising the whole Qur’ān is not an obligation upon us all, but it’s of benefit to us all

The Qur’ān is direction and guidance for the individual and for society — that is the primary objective. Nowhere does the Qur’ān say that you must memorise me. The verse: “And indeed, We have made the Qur’ān easy for remembrance (direction and guidance), but is there anyone who will remember (take advice)?” (al-Qamar, 54:17, 22, 32, 40) is an invitation, not an obligation. There are no commands to memorise the entire Qur’ān. In the absence of that we cannot claim a farḍ aside from those elements that have been commanded (like the Fātihah for prayer in Ibn Mājah).

If memorising the Qur’ān were a farḍ (obligation) frankly we would all be in trouble. We would all be sinful. Those who have understood the religion however have said a decent amount of memorisation (1–3 surah or more) is farḍ/wājib as to allow one to fulfil their obligation of the Ṣalāh (prayer). Beyond that, it is up to you to keep building your fortress and increasing the light within that fortress. That’s on an individual level. On a communal level it becomes a farḍ on at least one person to do so where there is no one that has memorised (roughly one in a thousand). This is to protect the community and the Qur’ān in every age and to ensure preservation going into the next generation.

Ibn ‘Abbās (Allāh be pleased with them) reported:

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم:‏‏ “‏إن الذي ليس في جوفه شيء من القرآن كالبيت الخرب‏”‏‏.‏

The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “Whoever does not have within his heart something from the Qur’ān is like the ruined house.’’ [at-Tirmidhī].

Meaning we need to have something at the very least within our hearts and the more we have, the better. A ruined house is lifeless without light but when the light of remembrance enters it, it becomes revived. This memorisation is for our benefit, not for building fear or guilt. Note that the Prophet (ﷺ) said ‘something from the Qur’ān’, not all of the Qur’ān. That is mercy. Why didn’t he say the Qur’ān? He knew not everyone will do that, and that’s not the obligation.

To memorise the entire Qur’ān then is mustahab (desirable). Scholars (the inheritors of the prophet (ﷺ)) are unanimously in agreement that memorising the entire Qur’ān is not an individual obligation. Remember, our Ummah does not agree on misguidance. Ibn ‘Umar reported: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ), said, “No doubt, Allāh will not let my Ummah agree upon misguidance. The hand of Allāh is over the united community.” Al-Tirmidhī said, “The interpretation of the united community, according to the scholars, are the people of Fiqh, knowledge, and Hadīth.” (Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2167).

Further to this, the beloved of Allāh (ﷺ) used to instruct that the one who knew more of the Qur’ān should lead the prayer with the words:

لِيَؤُمَّكُمْ أَكْثَرُكُمْ قُرْآنًا
‘Let the one of you who knows most Qur’ān lead you in prayer.’ (Bukhāri, Nasā’ī, Abū Dawūd).

Note he (ﷺ) didn’t say only those who have memorised the entire Qur’ān can pray or lead. Rather, this encourages (just like the āyah of Surah al-Qamar) for us to memorise as much as we can and thereby experience more in our prayers. The prayer is an ascension for the believer, as our scholars say. Even amongst the companions there weren’t those who memorised the entire Qur’ān — we surely aren’t going to condemn them to hell are we?

The matter of importance is to engage with the Qur’ān, extract guidance from the Qur’ān and keep ourselves connected to the Qur’ān. Both in times of good and especially during times of tribulation as advised by the beloved Prophet (ﷺ).

At the time of revelation, the way to learn in society was to memorise things. Ancient and medieval people reserved their awe for memory. Their greatest geniuses they describe as people of superior memories (Mary Carruthers). They knew how to memorise and were great at it. They didn’t rely on technology or books. They had to rely on their memories. We’ve become weak in memory as we now rely on technology or recorded information. We no longer see the importance of memorisation because we don’t need to use it as much. It was encouraged to memorise the Qur’ān by the Prophet (ﷺ) in a time where memorisation was the way of recording and preserving knowledge.

There’s a wisdom here that extends to our time. It is as if that time was preserved to show us that a time will come when people will stop memorising and rely on other means. A time will come when you will forget the ability and skill of memory. You will forget its benefits. Instead you should always use your memory and expand as human beings. There’s no better way to do so than the Qur’ān.

Shaykh Abū Dharr al-Qalamūnī said that memorising the Qur’ān is the beginning of knowledge, and every āyah that is memorised is an open door to Allāh, and every āyah that is memorised and forgotten is a closed-door between you and your Lord. What he meant here is that memorisation is an enabler with the Qur’ān — when you have memorised something, you then also should have understood it. If you’ve done that and then forget it, meaning you dismiss it, it closes doors. When you have memorised and understood it, it makes it easier to remember the guidance provided and apply it to everyday life. That’s also a reason why it was memorised. When something becomes internalised with memory and you know what it means, it lives with you. Things should remind you of that software you’ve installed into your heart and mind.

So we see the important role that memorisation plays and being forgetful is a human by-product.

Let’s look at what happens if you forget other things.

What happens when you forget to offer an obligation like Salāh (daily prayers)?

Looking at two authentic traditions.

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏”‏مَنْ نَسِيَ صَلاَةً فَلْيُصَلِّهَا إِذَا ذَكَرَهَا لاَ كَفَّارَةَ لَهَا إِلاَّ ذَلِكَ”‏‏

Anas b. Mālik (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (ﷺ) as saying, “If any one forgets a prayer or oversleeps, he should observe it when he remembers it; there is no expiation for it except that.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]

“عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “‏مَنْ نَسِيَ صَلاَةً فَلْيُصَلِّهَا إِذَا ذَكَرَهَا”

Anas b. Mālik (May Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “Whoever forgets a prayer then he is to pray it when he remembers it.” [at-Tirmidhī]

The prayer is farḍ and just like any farḍ, if you miss it, you need to make up for it and you are accountable for it. In this situation, if a person is subject to forgetfulness or a state of sleep (missing Fajr in particular). We learn that as soon as you remember that you forgot to pray, you need to offer the prayer.

Wait, think about this.

Are we told here that you would be punished because you forgot? Go and repent because this is a farḍ, there will be consequences? These are the daily prayers! The Prophet (ﷺ) as a mercy to all people, says otherwise. He gives us hope. What then would be the case for forgetting the verses of the Qur’ān (which is not a farḍ) due to forgetfulness? There would also be mercy, understanding and we shouldn’t expect punishment by default. Generally speaking also, don’t we do the same with the Qur’ān? As soon as we forget something we revisit it right? What if we don’t? That’s where the issue lies and we will explore this next.

Knowing all of the above, why would forgetting the Qur’ān become sinful?

The issue lies within certain aḥādīth (pl. of ḥadīth).

These narrations and traditions have been researched, but have been misunderstood and misapplied. When we make a claim that something is sinful, we are making a huge claim. The consequences of sin are serious! We sin if we engage with the ḥarām or by leaving a farḍ. To declare anything being a farḍ or being ḥarām, it requires clear conclusive textual evidence of the strongest nature and rank. You cannot make a claim without it. With all serious claims like calling someone sinful through a ḥarām, we require pinpoint evidence.

The issue with the narrations that are used to say that forgetting the Qur’ān is ḥarām is that they are arguably of a weak nature. They are not of the strongest requirements to declare something to be ḥarām (or sinful).

What did the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) say about memorising the Qur’ān and forgetting it?

Let’s take a look at what has led us to believe that forgetting what one has memorised is sinful. But before that, let’s take a step back.

The first ḥadīth we will look at does not concern the Qur’ān but rather the Names and Attributes of Allāh.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ “‏إِنَّ لِلَّهِ تِسْعَةً وَتِسْعِينَ اسْمًا مِائَةً إِلاَّ وَاحِدًا، مَنْ أَحْصَاهَا دَخَلَ الْجَنَّةَ”‏‏

Narrated from Abū Hurayrah (Allāh be pleased with him): The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “Allāh has ninety-nine Names, one-hundred less one; and he who counts them (memorised them all by heart) will enter Paradise.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim]

Another ḥadīth uses the words: مَنْ حَفِظَهَا (man-ḥafidhahā — whoever memorises it) as opposed to مَنْ أَحْصَاهَا (man aḥsāha — whoever counts it). Ḥa-fa-dha is the word that gives us the word ḥāfidh which means not only memorise, but also protecting, preserving, being mindful, looking after, and being attentive. In this tradition, to count something means to know it by heart and truly know something. Imām Nawawi comments on this ḥadīth saying: “To preserve them is said to mean: to enumerate and count them in one’s supplication by them. It is said: it means to persevere in them, to respect them in the best manner, to guard what they require, and to affirm their meanings. And it is said: the meaning is to act by them and to obey Allāh according to the implications of every name.”

Is not the above everything we expect from the memorisation of the Qur’ān?

The Names of Allāh are His Qualities. If an individual were to memorise His Divine Names and be told that they would enter paradise, and through that memorisation they realise it’s meanings, and are given paradise. What would be the case for the one who has memorised His Divine Word — the Qur’ān? The Qur’ān (His Speech) is one of the Qualities of Allāh. What would be the case for the one who has memorised His Speech and realised its meanings? We pray and hope that we sinful people will enter paradise even with some of the Qur’ān that we have memorised and took some guidance from.

We know from various aḥadīth the virtues of the one who has memorised the Qur’ān and that includes many traditions speaking about the reward of paradise. May Allāh elevate us to that level! (Āmīn).

For example:

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ “‏يُقَالُ لِصَاحِبِ الْقُرْآنِ اقْرَأْ وَارْتَقِ وَرَتِّلْ كَمَا كُنْتَ تُرَتِّلُ فِي الدُّنْيَا فَإِنَّ مَنْزِلَتَكَ عِنْدَ آخِرِ آيَةٍ تَقْرَأُ بِهَا.” ‏.

Narrated by ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Amr: that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “It shall be said to companion of the Qur’ān (the one who memorised): ‘Recite, and rise up, recite slowly and distinctly (and melodiously) as you used to recite in the world. For indeed your rank (in Paradise) shall be in (accordance) to the last verse you recite.’” [at-Tirmidhī]

This ḥadīth and others similar to this make it clear that not everyone will be able to recite every single āyah of the Qur’ān during this audience with Allāh. Everyone will attain different ranks and for different reasons. Some scholars have said the reason why this is the case is that you will only be able to recite those āyāt that you remembered, understood, and practiced.

The important thing to note, however, is that the request will be to recite how you “used to recite in the world.” It’s not just recitation but it’s a reflection of what you did when you used to recite on Earth. Whenever you’re sitting to recite and memorise, you are in a dress rehearsal for a live performance with your Rabb. Some will have forgotten portions and struggled in the dunya, some will have remembered all of it but couldn’t recite everything slowly, and some would have only been used to reciting (constant companionship) and slowly progressed with memorisation. Some understood and applied many verses and some never understood anything. Some recited and understood yet didn’t apply it. There are many characters but all of them earn a rank or fail to earn what they could have. Forgetfulness is not a cause of concern here. The cause of concern is the degree of connection with the Qur’ān.

Concerning forgetting what one has memorised, we learn the following ḥadīth:

عَنْ أَبِي مُوسَى عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ تَعَاهَدُوا الْقُرْآنَ فَوَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَهُوَ أَشَدُّ تَفَصِّيًا مِنْ الْإِبِلِ فِي عُقُلِهَا.

Abū Mūsā Al-Ash’arī (Allāh be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Be committed to the Qur’ān (reciting, memorising and teaching). By the one in whose hand is my soul, it can leave you faster than a camel from its reins.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim].

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا مَثَلُ صَاحِبِ الْقُرْآنِ كَمَثَلِ الْإِبِلِ الْمُعَقَّلَةِ إِنْ عَاهَدَ عَلَيْهَا أَمْسَكَهَا وَإِنْ أَطْلَقَهَا ذَهَبَتْ.

‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “Verily, the parable of the companion of the Qur’ān (the one who memorised) is that of a tied camel. If he is committed to it, he will keep it. If he releases it, he will lose it.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim]

Clearly, we see that the Prophet (ﷺ) spoke about the need to retain connection and review with the Qur’ān because the human nature is weak. We are prone to forgetfulness. He (ﷺ) did not say if you don’t remain committed you will lose it and thus become sinful. The emphasis was placed on effort. Keep going because you are human beings. We rely on repetition because the majority of our memory is working memory (short-term). We have to behave responsibly. The words of the Prophet (ﷺ) are always guidance, including the prayers he made. The guidance here is to learn to become a shepherd. Become responsible with whatever task you take on, otherwise you risk losing out.

The beloved Prophet (ﷺ) further spoke about forgetfulness:

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم “مَا لأَحَدِهِمْ يَقُولُ نَسِيتُ آيَةَ كَيْتَ وَكَيْتَ‏.‏ بَلْ هُوَ نُسِّيَ”‏‏.‏

Narrated by ‘Abd Allāh (Allāh be pleased with him): The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Let none of you say, ‘I forgot such-and-such verse.’ Rather, it is something he was led to forget (by Allāh).” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏بِئْسَ مَا لأَحَدِهِمْ أَنْ يَقُولَ نَسِيتُ آيَةَ كَيْتَ وَكَيْتَ بَلْ نُسِّيَ، وَاسْتَذْكِرُوا الْقُرْآنَ فَإِنَّهُ أَشَدُّ تَفَصِّيًا مِنْ صُدُورِ الرِّجَالِ مِنَ النَّعَمِ‏”‏‏.

Narrated by ‘Abd Allāh (Allāh be pleased with him): The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “It is a bad thing that some of you say, ‘I have forgotten such-and-such verse of the Qur’ān,’ (he hasn’t), rather, he has been led (by Allāh) to forget. So you must keep on recalling (reciting, listening, and studying to preserve) the Qur’ān because it escapes from the hearts of men faster than camels do.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، قَالَتْ سَمِعَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم رَجُلاً يَقْرَأُ فِي سُورَةٍ بِاللَّيْلِ فَقَالَ “‏يَرْحَمُهُ اللَّهُ لَقَدْ أَذْكَرَنِي كَذَا وَكَذَا آيَةً كُنْتُ أُنْسِيتُهَا مِنْ سُورَةِ كَذَا وَكَذَا”‏‏‏.

Narrated by ‘Ā’ishah (Allāh be pleased with her): Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) heard a man reciting the Qur’ān at night, and said, “May Allāh bestow His Mercy on him, as he has reminded me of such-and-such verses of such-and-such chapters, which I was led to forget.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]

We learn here that we are caused to forget, why would we be caused to forget and then be told you are sinful?

We learnt earlier that the Prophet (ﷺ) was taught the Qur’ān in such a way that he would never forget what he received. When the Prophet (ﷺ) spoke about forgetting, he had not forgotten (as in lost what he once knew) but he was reminded. If he had forgotten, he would not have recalled it nor would he have said he was “reminded”. When one is reminded, it’s a cue, it’s a prompt and a jog of the memory. The Prophet (ﷺ) was expressing a joy of reconnection like the joy one feels when they are reminded of something dear to them. We also see from the aḥādīth I had mentioned earlier. We are led to forget by Allāh and it is a means for us to return to Him.

Again, we do not see a mention of it being sinful to forget. Rather we see a constant theme in the authentic traditions of keeping to a routine and keeping a connection. An emphasis on revision and keeping what you have. There’s no consequence mentioned of forgetting that is severe, there’s only an acceptance that we can forget easily.

In Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, the chapter of “The command to keep refreshing one’s knowledge of the Qur’ān and that it is disliked to say I have forgotten such-and-such a verse, but it is permissible to say I have been caused to forget.” We find the following:

عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ ‏.‏ بِمَعْنَى حَدِيثِ مَالِكٍ وَزَادَ فِي حَدِيثِ مُوسَى بْنِ عُقْبَةَ ‏ “‏وَإِذَا قَامَ صَاحِبُ الْقُرْآنِ فَقَرَأَهُ بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ ذَكَرَهُ وَإِذَا لَمْ يَقُمْ بِهِ نَسِيَهُ‏”

This ḥadīth has been narrated by Ibn ‘Umar from the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ), (but in the ḥadīth transmitted by Mūsā b. ‘Uqba, this addition is made to the ḥadīth about the parable): “When the companion of the Qur’ān (the one who has memorised it and remains committed) stands up (for night prayer) and recites it night and day, it remains fresh in his mind, but if he does not get up (to recite in his prayers and maintain his struggle) he forgets it.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim]

Here again, we see an emphasis on a struggle to keep what one has memorised fresh lest it becomes forgotten. Also, there’s no consequence mentioned in forgetting. We are instead being taught the way to maintain it is to use what we have memorised in our prayers day and night. So make sure you start to use your prayers to review. Allāh give us assistance and divine acceptance! (say Āmīn!)

Photo by Masjid Pogung Dalangan on Unsplash

Where does it say that forgetting Qur’ān is a sin then?

So far we’ve seen that keeping the Qur’ān is emphasised by the Prophet (ﷺ) not because it is sinful but because it’s for your betterment. The benefits cannot be weighed. However, despite the overwhelming consistency of the above āyāt and traditions, there are generally two ḥadīth that are mentioned to say forgetting is sinful. This pair of ḥadīth has been a point of debate amongst scholars. Is it sinful, is it disliked, and if so, to what level?

For example, Imām as-Suyūṭī held the opinion that it’s a sin based upon the works of Imām al-Nawawī (al-Rawḍah). Others like Ibn Kathīr also said it is ḥarām in his commentary. Imām Nawawī, however, considered it to be makrūh tanzīhi (very disliked) meaning it’s not an act worthy of punishment. These are huge names and they above us all. Individuals who have done a great service to the Ummah. Others held the opinion that it’s not a sin but rather it can be a means of tribulation (musībah) from Allāh. The likes of Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalānī held this position when he said: “Forgetting the Qur’ān is one of the greatest tribulations.” (Fath al-Bārī). Others held the opinion that it’s a form of punishment like Abu al-Abbās al-Qurtubī who said: “Whoever gathers the Qur’ān, his rank and degree is elevated, and he is honoured within himself, and his people are granted a great honour. How could it not be so for it is as if the one who has memorised the Qur’ān has integrated/inserted prophethood between his shoulders.” Others have said it is not appropriate for the one who has memorised to forget out of negligence and it is not sinful because there are no strongly authentic traditions to back it.

The understanding I have reached is based on the opinions of the second thought — that it is disliked at best— but I argue that further that the ḥadīth that are used are in fact pointing towards something else. I don’t feel there’s enough evidence to say it’s ḥarām to simply forget. I would like to point out that although I will share my position on this. I may be wrong (Allāh forgive me) and it is open to polite disagreement. We can all agree that, if you are going to memorise as an adult with a sincere intention and purpose, you ought to be keeping hold of it. Dr. Saadia Mian in The Crowning Venture mentions that “it is not good manners for the hāfiz/hāfizah to become heedless of recitation of the Qur’ān or to leave his/her covenant with it.” A covenant means you’ve made an agreement with Allāh and to break that will have consequences.

The two main opinions (it’s sinful or it’s disliked at best) are based upon the following two ḥadīth:

عَنْ سَعْدِ بْنِ عُبَادَةَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “‏مَا مِنْ امْرِئٍ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ ثُمَّ يَنْسَاهُ إِلَّا لَقِيَ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَجْذَمَ‏”‏‏‏

Narrated by Sa’d ibn ‘Ubādah: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: No man recites the Qur’ān, then forgets it, except that he will meet Allah on the Day of Judgment in an ill condition (disfigured or empty-handed, or with no excuse). [Abū Dawūd (ḍa’īf) / Dārimī / Ibn Abī Shaybah / Mundharī]

“Whoever recites the Qur’ān, then he forgets [how to read] it, will meet Allāh on the Day of Judgment as a mutilated person.” [Musnad of Imām Aḥmad / Sunan of Imām at-Tirmidhī]

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏ “‏عُرِضَتْ عَلَىَّ أُجُورُ أُمَّتِي حَتَّى الْقَذَاةُ يُخْرِجُهَا الرَّجُلُ مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ وَعُرِضَتْ عَلَىَّ ذُنُوبُ أُمَّتِي فَلَمْ أَرَ ذَنْبًا أَعْظَمَ مِنْ سُورَةٍ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ أَوْ آيَةٍ أُوتِيَهَا رَجُلٌ ثُمَّ نَسِيَهَا‏”

Narrated by Anas b. Mālik: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: The rewards of my people were presented before me, so much so that even the reward for removing a mote by a person from the mosque was presented to me. The sins of my people were also presented before me. I did not find a sin greater than that of a person forgetting a chapter or verse of the Qur’ān that they were given. [In Book of Prayer, Chapter: On Cleaning The Masjid of Abū Dawūd (ḍa’īf) / at-Tirmidhī]

Having a read of these it doesn’t come as a surprise that people are led to believe that forgetting the Qur’ān is a serious affair. It’s scary but don’t be put off from memorising. Let me explain why there’s always more than what meets the eye!

Amongst the scholars that have spoken about the above traditions is Dr. Yūsūf al-Qaraḍāwī. In his work Kayfa nata-’āmalu ma’al-Qur’ān al-’Azīm [How do we relate to the Glorious Qur’ān] he explores the authenticity of these aḥadīth. The first ḥadīth has a weakness in it’s chain through one narrator (Yazīd b. Abū Ziyād) and so he says it cannot be used as a proof for making something sinful. The second ḥadīth he says is not transmitted in an authentic way and points out that it is narrated mostly in collections that contain exclusively weak ḥadīth like Ibn al-Jawzī’s al-Mutanāhiyah. He adds that Imām at-Tirmidhī says after the ḥadīth that it is gharīb (uncommon due to the chain) and was transmitted in this way (to him). He said this ḥadīth was not known to Imām al-Bukhārī who said I do not know that al-Muttalib b. ‘Abd Allāh (a narrator who transmitted from Anas b. Mālik) heard (this from) any of the companions [see: at-Tirmidhī, Sunan, Kitāb Faḍā’il al-Qur’ān]. Imām Ibn Hajar al-Asqalāni said about that narrator (rāwī) in his work Taqrīb al-Tahdhīb that he is kathīr al-tadlīs wal-irsāl — that it he was concealing in regards to who he met, and there’s an absence of a link to the Prophet (ﷺ). Imām Abū Dawūd reached the same conclusions in Kitāb al-Ṣalāh. Others have also spoken about the weakness in the chains.

Dr. Qaraḍāwī says these aḥadīth cannot be used as evidence to prove that it is sinful to forget what one has memorised (since they are weak). He, therefore, concludes that forgetting something of the Qur’ān is a disliked thing because it is a consequence of the negligence of repetition of the Qur’ān. The proofs are not sufficient to say it is ḥarām, let alone sin. Rather it is a strongly disliked matter and it is dishonourable for a Muslim blessed with this great treasure to have an irresponsible attitude towards it and because of that allow it to be lost. His concern was that people might neglect learning the Qur’ān by heart due to the fact that each human being is prone to forgetfulness and it is always possible for him to forget what he had memorised from the Qur’ān.

The question that remains is why would others consider these aḥadīth if they are weak?

Remember if a narration is weak, it doesn’t mean it’s to be rejected unless there’s a reason. Weakness doesn’t mean that it’s not acceptable —they are accepted. There’s an agreement amongst the scholars of ḥadīth that weak narrations can be used for virtuous acts. Weakness arises in the chain of transmission. It’s not a weakness in the text of the narration. It’s likened to having a cold or flu that can escalate if it becomes serious. If someone has an infection or a disease, it will be different. Each to their own, the treatment would be different according to the illness. Likewise, weak ḥadīth have different categories, consequences, and conditions concerning legal verdicts. Only two categories are rejected (when a chain has a known liar or an allegation of being a liar) and the rest are acceptable under conditions with certain treatment. The other agreement is that weak ḥadīth are not to be used to make something an obligation or impermissible. They can be used for other purposes like something being recommended. Those who held the position of forgetfulness being a sin felt the need to do so according to their time and place. They had much higher standards and requirements. Times have changed. At most their understanding is that if you completely abandon the Qur’ān (knowingly) and deliberately forget, it is a sin. Also when there is a set of ḥadīth that carry the same meaning that is sound, those ḥadīth are upgraded in rank and can be used.

Yet if we study the ḥadīth themselves we realise something else.

In the first ḥadīth it is mentioned ‘whoever recites’ (as in learns to recite), not ‘whoever memorises’. Now imagine if you had two people come to you and you are a judge. One person learnt how to read the Qur’ān but never touched it again. As a result, he or she forgot how to read it. The second person memorised the Qur’ān but has forgotten it all due to not revising it. He or she got busy and struggled to maintain it. You are now asked to judge who has done worse. You’d probably ask, if I were in this situation, what would I think. If I were to memorise the Qur’ān and forget it all, I would feel terrible but I know that I can still recite the Qur’ān. I know that I can still engage with it and recall some portions. I can still show up and memorise it again. If I were to think about the other person, I would not be able to recite the Qur’ān at all. That would cut me off from the company of Allāh and the blessings that come from reciting the Qur’ān, let alone its guidance. You would be in a far worse state if you can’t access the Qur’ān. This is what this ḥadīth is talking about. The complete abandonment of the Qur’ān. The other ḥadīth support this understanding. May Allāh protect us (āmīn).

There are also various interpretations given in the explanation of this ḥadīth as to what the word أَجْذَمَ means, some of which are that it refers to:

  • someone who has no teeth;
  • someone who is a leper;
  • someone who has no hand;
  • someone who can find no excuse for his forgetfulness;
  • someone whose head will be lowered in front of Allāh out of shame at having forgotten His Speech;
  • someone whose hand has fallen off due to leprosy;
  • someone whose limbs have been cut off;
  • someone who has no proof or evidence, nor any tongue to speak with;
  • someone whose hands are empty of goodness.

Everything is up for interpretation.

In the second ḥadīth, the words used are ūtiya and na-si-ya (أُوتِيَهَا رَجُلٌ ثُمَّ نَسِيَهَا‏). The word ūtiya comes from ata (أَتَى) which can mean to come, to give, to bring, and to commit. As mentioned before na-si-ya can mean different things that are all connected: forgot, overlooked, neglected, discarded, or abandoned. If you look at both ḥadīth side by side with the understanding of the above, we can conclude that the reference being made here is to the one who was blessed to learn the Qur’ān but abandoned it without care. They reached a state that they severed their connection with it to such an extent that they no longer could read it or interact with it. This understanding is proven further with another ḥadīth we’ll look at shortly.

A side point: If we put this ḥadīth against one that mentions Sayyiduna ‘Ali (may Allāh be pleased him) being forgetful, we don’t see him being admonished. We see a prayer that seeks the Mercy of Allāh because in truth all of this is a blessing of His. Dr. Saadia Mian says: “Many hold a harsh view of Allāh when it comes to memorisation and the deen, in general, instead of focusing on His mercy.” This is because in accordance with ḥadīth qudsī (Bukhārī) we learn that Allāh is what we think of Him. So we must be careful. We can see from the full picture that Allāh is Merciful in first giving us the ability to recite and memorise, but also there’s mercy in forgetting.

The other ḥadīth is in Riyād-as-Sālihīn of Imām al-Bukhārī in the chapter of ‘Condemnation and Prohibition of Falsehood’ within the Book of Prohibited Actions. This ḥadīth is where the Prophet (ﷺ) narrated a dream wherein he saw punishments and was given the reasons for them. In the first part of the dream he said:

“One day he (ﷺ) said, “Last night I had a vision in which two men (angels) came to me and woke me up and said to me, ‘Proceed!’ I set out with them and we came across a man lying down, and behold, another man was standing over his head, holding a big rock. Behold, he was throwing the rock at the man’s head, smashing it. When he struck him, the stone rolled away and he went after it to get it, and no sooner had he returned to this man, his head was healed and restored to its former condition. The thrower (of the rock) then did the same as he had done before. I said to my two companions, ‘Subhān-Allāh! Who are these?’ They said: ‘Proceed, proceed.’”

Later in the narration, he (ﷺ) was given the reason for this by the angels:

أَمَّا الرَّجُلُ الْأَوَّلُ الَّذِي أَتَيْتَ عَلَيْهِ يُثْلَغُ رَأْسُهُ بِالْحَجَرِ فَإِنَّهُ الرَّجُلُ يَأْخُذُ الْقُرْآنَ فَيَرْفُضُهُ وَيَنَامُ عَنْ الصَّلَاةِ الْمَكْتُوبَةِ

“As for the first man you came upon, whose head was being smashed with the rock, he is the symbol of the one who has taken the Qur’ān and then rejects it [rejects/leaves its words (recitation and memorisation), acting upon it and its meanings], and sleeps, neglecting the enjoined prayers.”

Imām Tabarānī in his Mu’jam al-Kabīr narrates it with the words:

أَمَّا الَّذِي فِي يَدِهِ صَخْرَةٌ يَضْرِبُ عَلَى رَأْسِ الرَّجُلِ: فَأُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ يَنَامُونَ عَنِ الصَّلاةِ

“As for the one in whose hand is the rock hitting upon the head of the man, those are the ones who sleep neglecting the prayer.”

The words in this narration is that of يَأْخُذُ القُرْآنَ فَيَرْفُضُهُ — literally someone who had adopted or taken the Qur’ān and then rejected it, refused it or abandoned it. The word رفض used in the narration means to break, separate, desert or to leave. Many have take this to mean memorising the Qur’ān and then forgetting it is therefore clearly a sin. Allāh knows best but this is not what this tradition is talking about either. It’s talking about a complete rejection of the Qur’ān after having accepted it. It’s about neglecting the prayers. The word used in this narration is اخذ a-kha-dha which means to take, to accept, to adopt, to adhere. That is open to interpretation and so it’s not restricted to memorisation. Again, what’s worse, memorising and forgetting it? Or accepting the Book, reciting it, memorising it, understanding something of it, and then completely rejecting it?

So what we see from these narrations is that collectively they are talking about a complete severing and detachment from the Qur’ān. It’s not about a case of simply forgetting what you memorised. May Allāh protect us!

We there therefore that there are two types of forgetfulness:

  1. When you forget as a natural process.
  2. When you forget to “forget”.

There’s a difference between saying, “Allāh has caused me to forget” and “Forget that!” — The latter means you’ve rejected it. That’s what these narrations are talking about.

Do we forget because we are sinful?

This question would mean that being sinful leads to forgetfulness and then being forgetful leads to further sin (if we accept it’s sinful). How does that even work? Unfortunately, many of us treat forgetfulness to be some terribly bad thing. Why? They pinpoint sin as being the sole reason for it. It’s not as black and white as that. There’s much more to it. There are so many people that have memorised the Qur’ān really well and lead sinful lives. So many simply have great nurtured memory. So many lead healthy lives and have trained their brain muscles. They may even lead the prayers in Ramadān every year. There are many reasons why one may forget including deficiencies in memorisation, review, effort, and health.

This discussion is where Imām ash-Shāfi’ī (Allāh be pleased with him) comes into the picture. He was not just a scholar, he was a jurist of a high caliber. He was a saintly scholar, a man of Allāh. However, he complained about his sense of deficiency in his memory, when he asked his Shaykh, Wakī’ b. al-Jarrāḥ about that. Imām ash-Shāfi’ī poetically narrates it:

شَكَوْتُ إلَى وَكِيعٍ سُوءَ حِفْظِي — فَأرْشَدَنِي إلَى تَرْكِ المعَاصي

“I complained to Wakī’ about my poor memory, so he guided me to: “Leave sins!”

وَأخْبَرَنِي بأَنَّ العِلْمَ نُورٌ — ونورُ الله لايؤتى لعاصي

“And he informed me: Because knowledge is a Light, and the Light of God is veiled by sinfulness (or not given to the sinner).”

Many people that read this and share this become negatively impacted thinking: ‘I’m already drowned in sin, if this is the case then I may as well not even try anything. I am not worthy of such and such.’ You actually can. Doing the opposite becomes a means of transformation. Knowledge of the Qur’ān is indeed a divine light. This light will transform you.

What though is the knowledge being referred to by Wakī’ b. al-Jarrāḥ? We have to remember the context. Was the Imām’s deficiency concerning the Qur’ān? It wasn’t. This was a man that had a photographic memory. He memorised the Qur’ān at age seven, then Mālik’s Muwatta’ at age ten in a single day, at which time his teacher would deputise him to teach in his absence. At age thirteen he went to see Mālik, who was impressed by his memory and intelligence. Like Imām al-A’zam Abū Hanifah and al-Bukhārī (Allāh be pleased with them all), he recited the entire Qur’ān each day at prayer, and twice a day in the month of Ramaḍān. The issue wasn’t with the Qur’ān. He undoubtedly had a powerful memory and his Qur’ān was solid! Ours is nothing compared to his.

Imām Mālik also had an incredible memory. He was so impressed by Imām ash-Shāfi’ī and his intelligence, wisdom, and complete understanding. So much so that Mālik said to him, “Verily, I see Allāh has placed light in your heart, so do not extinguish it with the darkness of disobedience.” [Source: al-Jawāb al-Kāfī 1/52]. He mentions light was already in his heart and that disobedience (i.e. sin) will darken this light. This light is a result of true knowledge. True knowledge is the knowledge that leads to nearness and mindfulness (taqwa). This is confirmed by ash-Shāfi’ī when he said: “Knowledge is not what is memorised. Knowledge is what benefits” (al-Madkhal ilā al-Sunan al-Kubrā 400), and “The knowledge of religion is to achieve deep understanding (fiqh)” (Ādāb ash-Shāfi’ī wa Manāqibuh 1/244). I have explained briefly what true knowledge is in the article on understanding.

There are a few things to keep in mind.

Understanding who Imām ash-Shāfi’ī was and who was the one he asked about his issue and why. How could a man of this caliber and ability begin to complain about memory all of a sudden? What actually lies beneath this complaint because every complaint has a story.

Beneath the complaint was a deep concern for obedience, his duties, and the divine gifts that those with true knowledge are bestowed with by Allāh. This poem is a reflection of our sins and true knowledge. Wakī’ was a man who was considered the chief muḥaddith (scholar of ḥadīth) of his time. He was a guide and a man of Allāh. He had memorised countless aḥādīth with such reverence and awe. His memory was described as the most superior ever by Imām Aḥmad. Yaḥya Ibn Ma’een described his character and piety as the most virtuous he had seen. He would face the Qibla memorising, stand in prayer in the nights and fast continuously. This was the teacher and guide of Imām Shāfi’i ̄! It takes a man with incredible memory to go to someone else that has incredible memory to understand what’s going on. When someone asks his guide a question, the answer you’ll get will be in accordance with your level. This is the inheritance of the Prophet (ﷺ) who would be asked the same question by several companions yet answer differently. It’s important then to keep in mind who was speaking to who. Everyone sins at different levels. The sins of people like Imām ash-Shāfi’ī are not like ours. Their sins are like a clean new plate that can get a little scratch on it. However, what seems like a little scratch or a tiny moment has huge consequences on their state. For example, a single moment of not being present with Allāh is a sin for individuals like Imām ash-Shāfi’ī. When you are gifted with true knowledge and light, it comes with great responsibility. This is what the Imām was being reminded of by Imām Mālik and Wakī’. If an Imām of this caliber can be affected, so can we — but in accordance with our level. The higher you go, the deeper you will fall. The above aḥādīth reflect this idea: the one who took the Qur’ān and reached high levels with it only to reject it will face the deepest consequences. Allāh protect us!

It is said that Imām Shāfi’ī had involuntarily seen the ankle/shin of a woman that had gotten exposed by the wind whilst he was walking. As a result, this affected his already astonishing memory. This is a small but huge moment in the life of such a great. This momentary, seemingly negligible glance had its effect on his mind and heart, which led him to seek guidance from his teacher and resulted in those lines of poetry and profound wisdom. A moment of this likeness takes place in our everyday modern lives. Our senses are overwhelmed by a never-ending array of spiritually harmful things, often indulged in consciously. This is what sins do. They attack us spiritually and to be spiritually deprived reduces your inclination towards good. Imagine a room that is full of light and you let a glimpse of darkness into it. That room now is contaminated. If you let that darkness spread, it will take over the room.

In his al-Burdah, Imām al-Busirī counsels,

واستفرغ الدمع من عين قد امتلأت من المحارم والزم حمية الندم

Pour out tears from those eyes that have become filled
With forbidden sights, and hold fast to remorse as a guard (against returning to sin).

These words chosen liken our eyes to actual physical containers or vessels. We must ask ourselves, what have we filled our eyes with? And how can Divine light settle in a place that is filled to the brim with other things? (Cairo Caprices). I have a brother who regularly checks in with me on his memorisation progress who had a porn and masturbation addiction. After advising him and pushing him, he reports that after leaving this activity he’s able to memorise more easily, he has more strength to keep away from it, far less depressed, far more receptive to his parents, and has more energy. That’s not just a result of leaving sin but it’s a result of regaining what he once had. The sin he was engaged with had its own symptoms on the spirit, mind, and body. Once he left it and battled withdrawal, he is regaining himself. Allāh bless him and all those struggling.

We have to ask ourselves where do we stand with Allāh. We are not anywhere near the Imām of whom we speak. Our struggles with sin are country and city-like in comparison. At the forefront, we’re concerned about what is voluntary and forget what is obligatory. Like missing and neglecting our prayers. That’s the more worrying element from the ḥadīth narrated by Imām al-Bukhārī.

In a ḥadīth qudsī the Prophet (ﷺ) says that Allāh says:

ما تقرب إلي المتقربون بمثل أداء ما افترضت عليهم ولا يزال العبد يتقرب إلى بالنوافل حتى أحبه فإذا أحببته كنت سمعه الذي يسمع به وبصره الذي يبصر به ولسانه الذي ينطق به ويده التي يبطش بها ورجله التي يمشي بها

“Those who draw near to Me do not draw near to Me with anything like the acts I have made obligatory upon them. And a slave continues to draw near to Me through voluntary practices until I love him. And when I love him, I become the hearing with which he hears (preservation and protection) the sight with which he sees, the tongue with which he speaks, the hand with which he strikes, and the foot with which he walks.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]

This is the level of Imām ash-Shāfi’ī and his teachers. Look at the legacy they have left behind. For them, the concern was making sure that they don’t lose this state with Allāh. Forgetfulness leads to not remembering Allāh and thus a moment of heedlessness is a huge loss. This is light and this is Taqwa (protection and proximity). It begins with taking care of our obligations. Like the great Imām Ghazālī says, “The farḍ is the foundation of wealth or the capital [if they are left, the foundations (asl) is weakened]. Through these farḍ you will gain salvation. The nafl is the profit [you can’t have anything without a foundation — this increases your chances of salvation and gives you higher degrees].” It is a sin to leave our obligations yet we’ve become more concerned over things that are not. These obligations include being a good human being — the rights we owe to each other. We need to get back to the basics.

We can forget or retain Qur’ān for one of two reasons as a base: (1) the nature of our memory, and (2) a lack of routine commitment and connection. When the companions (who were at the highest levels) came to the Prophet (ﷺ) complaining about not being able to memorise the Qur’ān, he never said seek forgiveness or leave your sins in the more authentic traditions. He told them to praise Allāh. This means our response should be to always return to Allāh, to seek forgiveness, to be grateful, and to memorise in a way that suits us best. Work on keeping your brain and memories sharper by learning new things, getting good sleep, keeping active and looking after yourself, and practicing meditation through the remembrance of Allāh. All of these things modify the brain with positives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if we put all the verses of the Qur’ān together and all the aḥādīth, we can conclude that it is not sinful “to forget” but it is disliked as we have a duty to ourselves to not become complacent. What would be sinful if we take the meanings of the narrations is to sever your connection with the Qur’ān completely (and could lead to disbelief if you reject it). If you memorised it when you were young and forgot it, it’s ok. If you memorised and couldn’t maintain it, it’s ok. But you have a duty to follow the way of the Prophet (ﷺ) in that which is obligatory and to maintain your relationship with the Qur’ān as he (ﷺ) did. His path and the path of prophets call us towards being responsible people. That’s the difference between us and shaytān. A duty to be our best selves and to maintain a connection with Allāh. That’s what you’re doing when you maintain your relationship with the Qur’ān. You are maintaining a relationship with your Rabb. We will be judged on our efforts and Allāh looks at our hearts.

So you keep going!

Don’t give up!

Don’t make excuses!

Take care of yourself and be the best you. Take care of your hearts, and of your obligations with Allāh and His creation. He loves you and we love you.

Allāh gives you success and He knows best.

May He forgive us.

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