Imam al-Qurtubi and Qur’anic Ettiquette




The noble Imam, mujtahid, mufassir and faqih of Cordova in al-Andalus Imam al-Qurtubi (d.671/1273) writes in his magnum opus on Qur’anic exegesis entitled al-Jami li-Ahkam al-Qur’an (‘The Compendium on the Interpretation of the Legal verses of the Noble Qur’an’) quotes from Nawadir al-Usul fi Ma`rifat Ahadith al-Rasul of the early ascetic and mystic Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad b. `Ali b. al-Hasan b. Bishr b. Harun al-Tirmidhi (d. 300.912)[1] on the etiquettes that must be observed when it comes to approaching, reading and handling the Qur’an. Below are three ‘inviolabilities’ (hurmat) among a total of 37:[2]

ومن حرمته أن يستعمل فيه ذهنه وفهمه حتى يعقل ما يخاطب به . ومن حرمته أن يقف على آية الوعد فيرغب إلى الله تعالى ويسأله من فضله، وأن يقف على آية الوعيد فيستجير بالله منه ومن حرمته أن يقف على أمثاله فيمتثلها

[12] “And another inviolability is: to use one’s mind and understanding in order to comprehend what is being mentioned [s: i.e. addressed to the reader by Allah].”


  • The Qur’an requires engagement, i.e. an organic interaction between the reader and the text. It should ever be a passive reception only of the sounds and declarations in the text.
  • The Qur’an will make demands on the operations of the mind and will prompt the powers of comprehension in order to cause the reader to understand, deduce and explain its meanings conveyed in the verses. It has been communicated by Allah in order for it to be taken and appropriated.
  • The Qur’anic text demands serious intellectual endeavour from its reader and not just superficial or cursory reading.

[13] “And another inviolability is to: pause at verses that promise Allah’s favour so that one long’s for Allah (Most High) and asks of His bounty and to pause at verses that warn of His punishment so that one asks Him to save him from it.”


  • To pause at verses that promise Allah’s favour and reward as well as those that warn of Allah’s sanctions are to instil deep hope but caution and fear as well.
  • Understanding verses pertaining to Divine mercy and fairness as well as divine sanctions helps build a concept of Allah in the reader’s mind, i.e. gives a conceptual shape to the Creator one is worshipping. This is necessary to affect one’s behaviour (nafsiyya).
  • Pausing at the divine sanctions category of verses are also a way of balancing and checking one’s behaviour, i.e. a way of controlling it and keeping it line and synchronised with the commands of Allah because every action has consequences in the Hereafter.

[14] “And another of it inviolability is: to pause at the accounts of previous peoples and individuals in order to heed and benefit from their example.”


  • The Qur’an is about lessons (`ibra). Hence it is a divine document that is a pre-emptive warning.
  • The narrations of the previous nations (al-umam al-sabiqat) contain extendable lessons to learn and the accounts of noble Prophets (al-anbiya’) are full paradigms for humanity. Thus, the Qur’anic text is a divine communiqué on cyclical history.
  • The reader must ponder over the verses of previous nations and the messages communicated in them so that they can be telescoped to the current realities in order to make the text relevant, affective and corresponding.

And with Allah alone is real success.


London, 2008.

[1] For introductory material about him and some of his theosophical concepts especially on wilaya (‘sainthood’) see B. Radtke and J. O’Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism: Two Works by al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, pp.1-9.

[2] See al-Qurtubi, al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, vol.1, pp.42-43.


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