How Do We Know We Understand the Quran Correctly?

Question and answer details
Salam, I have some important questions which I highly appreciate to be answered. I have more but I can send them later on. Is it really good to get the correct message of Islam and so become a believer? It says in the Quran that those who never received the message will be forgiven. How shall we interpret that? If a person never understood Islam, and lived as a non-believer, will he/she make it just as good in the afterlife as an ordinary Muslim? How do we know that we understand the Quran correctly? The Quran is extremely advanced. Sure, some things we do understand; we have found scientific evidences from the Quran, for example; but do we really understand anything completely? The misunderstanding of the Quran has led to many horrible consequences, such as extremism. What is the "grave" in Islam? It cannot be the physical grave, the human body will disappear sooner or later from this earth, long before the Day of Judgment. Will it feel like we are waiting for those (probably) thousands of years in the "grave" before the Day of Judgment, or will it appear to go faster? I know these are difficult questions. Thank you so much for helping me to strengthen my belief.
Shahul Hameed

Salam Dear Brother,

Thank you for your questions and for contacting Ask About Islam.

There are a few general principles laid down in the Quran which help us to find answers to your questions. Consider just two of them:

One, Allah is never unjust to His creation. And He is All-Merciful; indeed it has been clearly stated that His mercy prevails over His wrath.

Two, Allah has made the Quran easy for us to understand. Its teachings are simple and not at all complex.

Based on the above two principles, we can deduce the following:

It is necessary on the part of humans to seek the truth, especially because they need guidance; and indeed the yearning to receive guidance is built into their very being.

The Quran says that before all of us were sent to this earth to live here, our souls were created. In that primordial time the souls faced their Creator Who asked them the question: "Am I not your Lord?" And all of us testified before Allah that Allah is our Lord.

The dialogue goes like this:

{When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): "Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?" They said: "Yea! We do testify!" (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: "Of this we were never mindful".} (Al-Araf 7:172)

It was after this that we were born on earth. Though we have no conscious memory of that primordial covenant, it is dormant in the depths of our soul and consequently a prophet's duty is only to remind his fellow beings about their Lord. Even the Quran is called "a Reminder" for that reason. Moreover, Allah the Almighty in the Quran states what means:

{And We have indeed made the Qur'an easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition?} (Al-Qamar 54:32)

The foregoing means that a human need not be a genius or an intellectual giant to understand Divine Guidance or to realize the necessity of following it in life.

Let's consider the case of those people (say, living in the deep forests of South America) who never had a chance to know about Allah's Guidance as revealed in the Quran.

And since Allah the All-Merciful has made it clear that He will not do the least bit of injustice to any of His creations, we may understand that the judgment of these people will not be based on their following or not following Divine Guidance as given in the Quran.

Read this verse:   

{Who receives guidance, receives it for his own benefit: who goes astray doth so to his own loss: No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another: nor would We visit with Our wrath until We had sent an apostle (to give warning.}  (Al-Israa 17:15)

Here it is made quite clear that Allah will not punish anyone unless and until an apostle is sent to warn them. According to the reputed interpreters of the Quran, "the apostle" in this context need not necessarily be a prophet of Allah.

The apostle can be any bearer of Allah's message to a community or even the guidance contained in the teachings of the wise ones in the community or the voice of God heard echoing in the heart of every human, normally called "conscience". Based on whether a person accepts or rejects such guidance, Allah's judgment falls on him or her.

The foregoing means no human can escape the Judgment of Allah; and Allah's Judgment will always be one of perfect justice.

With regard to understanding the Quran correctly, Allah has created humans with differing intellectual calibers. People understand things according to the level of their mental capabilities.

If an uneducated farmer cannot understand a scientific allusion in the Quran, Allah will not take him to task. However, if a scientist, who can understand it, adamantly refuses to accept the truthfulness of that reference out of his arrogance, he will be taken to task. So our inability to understand some verses of the Qur'an is not a sin on our part, and we are not accountable on that score.

Secondly, extremism is an attitude and an approach opposed to the spirit of the Quran. At the same time, we should remember that we may go wrong in our judgment of certain people; for instance, when we call them extremists or moderates. It is Allah Almighty Himself Who has to decide who is an extremist and who is not.

If "extremism" is the consequence of deliberate misrepresentation of Islam's teachings, such people are answerable. One person's understanding of a teaching of Islam may be to the best of his knowledge and belief; in which case he is not guilty before Allah.

Whether another person agrees with him or not is a different matter. Indeed there are several issues in religion on which scholars themselves differ from one another. On such matters, what can ordinary people do except follow what we sincerely believe to be the right interpretation? Ultimately everything is returned to Allah Almighty and He will inform us the truth of the matter wherein we differed:

{To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute..} (Al-Ma'idah  5:48)

The Grave: The End or a Beginning?

Coming to the issue of grave, from the Islamic point of view the grave does not mean the pit in which the dead body is buried; but it stands for what is known as "barzakh" or a barrier between temporal life on earth and eternal life hereafter. 

So, death is not the end of life; it is a door opening to the real life beyond the grave. When one dies, he or she goes out of the temporary life of this world ready to enter the eternal life of tomorrow.

Even though we know that the next world lies across the great divide known as the "grave", we do not know how long we have to tarry there. Even as we know that the present world does not offer us eternal life, we forget the fact that we are closer to death than to life.

Allah teaches us that when we are resurrected for Judgment we will have the feeling that 'we have tarried only for a day', or 'for even less than a day'. But in reality we may have stayed in the state of 'barzakh" for decades, centuries or even millennia – Allah knows.

But that does not matter as far as our Judgment is concerned. All humans — those who died thousands of years ago and those who died a moment ago — will rise once again to face the reality of the eternal fate waiting for them on the Day of Judgment, which is the certainty that really matters.

I hope this answers your questions. Please keep in touch.


Useful Links:

The Quran: Whose Word Is It?

Quran: Global Text or Local Context?

What If I Never Heard About Islam?

The Religion of the Prophet's Parents

Isn't It Unfair If Good Non-Muslims Go to Hell?

Did Prophet Muhammad Copy the Bible?

What Will the Grave Be Like?