Why People Avoid The Qur'an
As soon as we are born, we have an appetite for learning. Childhood is a time of exciting investigation and discovery about the world. As we grow, this excitement dulls and gives way to habit—customs and traditions based on the "received wisdom" of our elders. We tend to accept this "received wisdom" unconditionally, and so lose the ability to investigate and think critically. We accept that what our society says is bad, is bad, and what it says is good, is good. We do not examine why bad is bad or good is good.
Strikingly, it is in religion in which this process of relying on the wisdom of elders is most pronounced. People tend to follow their religion that is really a conglomeration of traditions, customs, false information and misguided behaviour that have accumulated over time. What they follow often has different rules, prohibitions and conceptions of morality. One of the most troubling results of this process is that it creates amongst people a prejudice against the true religion. Even in Muslim countries, there are supposedly religious practices that are really just customs having no basis in the Qur'an or the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace.) All this causes some people to distance themselves from the true religion. Even those who are normally open-minded, when it comes to religion, lose their analytical viewpoint, and revert to irrational, often, conservative, prejudices.
Let us now investigate the reasons people avoid the Qur'an and the teachings of true religion.
Blind Attachment to the Religion of One's Ancestors
Throughout human history some people have resisted change, progress and new ideas. Be it from science to education, the economy to the judicial system, conservative people, seeking to uphold the status quo, oppose change. But though opposing change, they are not necessarily supporting the truth, rather, in general, old habits, traditions and customs. The prophets entrusted with calling people to Allah all met with this same mentality. The Prophets Muhammad, 'Isa, Shu'ayb, Musa, Nuh, and Hud amongst others (peace be upon them all), were all opposed by people defending and upholding their own religions.
Allah describes this mentality as an attachment to ancestral religion (Surat al-Baqara, 170; Surat az-Zukhruf, 23), where people take as their guide, the lifestyle and morality handed down by their ancestors. People mistake remaining bound hand and foot to the legacy of their ancestors for a major virtue. Many of them are so committed to their ancestors, that they will not even listen with an open mind to the message of the prophets. They hate to be shown errors in their ancestors' ways, fear change, and become enemies to the truth.
The Qur'an discusses in detail what different peoples said to their prophets. In Surat az-Zukhruf, Allah mentions one people who rejected their prophet's message, saying: "… We found our fathers following a religion and we are simply following in their footsteps." (Surat az-Zuhkruf: 23)
The Pharaoh and his people rejected the Prophet Musa and his brother Harun (peace be upon them), saying "Have you come to us to turn us from what we found our fathers doing, and to gain greatness in the land? We do not believe you." (Surah Yunus: 78)
Allah asks those who reject His message simply because it does not conform to an ancestral religion to think again: "… What, even though their fathers did not understand a thing and were not guided!." (Surat al-Bakara: 170)
The Qur'an invites people to think and compare ideas, rather than blindly accepting or rejecting. "Say: 'What if I have come with better guidance than what you found your fathers following?'..." (Surat az-Zuhkruf: 24). However, people often prefer their own traditions, and ignore anything that might unsettle it, even if they have no apparent reasons: "They say, 'We reject what you have been sent with.'" (Surah Az- Zukhruf: 24)
So, because of their blind attachment to their ancestors' religion, people evade the truths of the Qur'an, overlook its teachings and ignore the divine revelation of Allah. They forget that life is short, and that one day they will die and be wrapped in a shroud and buried in the ground, after which they will be accountable to Allah for all they have done. Allah draws attention to this error of theirs in Surat al-Anbiya', "No indeed! We have given these people enjoyment, as We did their fathers, until life seemed long and good to them…" (Surat al-Anbiya': 44)
One of the best examples in the Qur'an of this process of irrational denial of prophethood is the story of the Prophet Ibrahim's people, who were disbelievers who followed the religion of their forefathers and worshipped idols. Their attachment to a superstitious religion led them to reject the Prophet Ibrahim's call to the true faith, to belief in One God. The Prophet Ibrahim asked his people and his father, who had also rejected Ibrahim's call, "… What are these statues you are clinging to?" (Surat al-Anbiya': 52) . The following conversation ensued:
They said, "We found our fathers worshipping them." He said, "You and your fathers are clearly misguided." They said, "Have you brought us the truth or are you playing games?" He said, "Far from it! Your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He who brought them into being. I am one of those who bear witness to that." (Surat al-Anbiya': 53-56)
The Surah later describes how the tribe met every invitation of the Prophet Ibrahim to believe in the One God, Allah, with refusal. So the Prophet Ibrahim said he would set a trap for the idols. After the people had gone, he broke all the idols "except for the biggest one." When the people returned they asked:
They said, "Who has done this to our gods? He is definitely one of the wrongdoers!" They said, "We heard a young man mentioning them. They call him Ibrahim." They said, "Bring him before the people's eyes so they can be witnesses." They said, "Did you do this to our gods, Ibrahim?" He said, "No, this one, the biggest of them, did it. Ask them if they are able to speak!" (Surat al-Anbiya': 59-63)
Faced with this invitation and clever stratagem of the Prophet Ibrahim, the tribe hesitated at first and for a moment, examining their consciences, they accepted that they had done him an injustice. But then they turned on him once more, saying:
"... You know full well these idols cannot talk." He said, "Do you then worship, instead of Allah, what cannot help or harm you in any way? Shame on you and what you worship besides Allah! Will you not use your intellect?" (Surat al-Anbiya': 65-67)
After this dialogue, they tried to kill the Prophet Ibrahim and cast him into the fire. Allah thwarted them by protecting the Prophet Ibrahim from the fire. This encounter, between the Prophet and his tribe, is a good demonstration of the problem we have been discussing: a people's illogical attachment to their ancestral religion, even in the face of rational proofs and evidence to the contrary.
However, on the Day of Judgment people will face Allah completely alone, and their ancestors, on whom they placed so much importance and whose paths they followed, will not save them from Allah's reckoning. The Qur'an describes their repentance and sorrow:
They will say on the Day their faces are rolled over in the Fire, "If only we had obeyed Allah and obeyed the Messenger!" And they will say, "Our Lord, we obeyed our masters and great men and they misguided us from the Way. Our Lord, give them double the punishment and curse them many times over!" (Surat al-Azhab: 66-68)
Excessive Attachment to the Life of This World
Many people make the mistake of thinking that this life will never end; they become excessively attached to life and forget how short it really is. This heedlessness leads people to avoid thinking about the lessons taught in the Qur'an. It does not cross their minds that everybody will meet the Angel of Death, perhaps unexpectedly, and that they will be buried beneath the earth.
When the Angel of Death takes someone, that person will not be able to take with them the worldly goods he or she struggled to acquire throughout in life, nor the relatives and friends they held dear. On that day, when people come before Allah entirely alone, they will be confronted with everything they have done. Everybody without exception will realise at that moment that life on earth was no more than a transient experience. Yet it will be too late. This is also mentioned in a hadith where the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) says, "He is a bad servant who is led by greed. He is a bad servant who is misled by passion. He is a bad servant who is debased by worldly desire." (Al-Tirmidhi)
People who do not consider these facts look on religion and earthly life differently from those who think about meeting their Lord. For the former, life consists only of education, marriage and work. These three things consume their minds, and are their benchmarks that guide their decisions. Their life is prioritised around questions such as: how to make money; how to succeed at work or in marriage; and what kind of future they will have. No doubt these are important matters requiring consideration, but the mistake is to forget life's most important reality: death. The Qur'an teaches us that people avoid thinking about death and turn back in their because "Satan fills them with false hopes." (Surat an-Nisa': 120) False hopes are to make long term plans, not for the sake of Allah, but for the sake of purely earthly pleasures, forgetting the true hope: life in Paradise.
The Qur'an is replete with verses reminding people to remember the hereafter. If only people would contemplate the Qur'an and its teachings they would become aware of Allah's truths, and would comprehend the importance and urgency of leading a life pleasing to Allah. They would thus benefit themselves and those close to them; they could hope to preserve themselves from the endless torment of hell. This understanding and hope are very important for every human being because the real destination is the eternal afterlife. In Surah Al 'Imran, Allah says :
To mankind the love of worldly appetites is painted in glowing colours: women and children, and heaped-up mounds of gold and silver, and horses with fine markings, and livestock and fertile farmland. All that is merely the enjoyment of the life of this world. The best homecoming is in the presence of Allah. Say, "Shall I tell you of something better than that?" Those who guard against evil will have Gardens with their Lord, with rivers flowing under them, remaining in them timelessly, for ever, and purified wives, and the Pleasure of Allah. Allah sees His servants. (Surah Al 'Imran: 14-15)
People generally have a "way of life" that they live by, and that is formed by their environment and according to their understanding of the world. They are usually very attached to their established way of life, and reluctant to change, especially their view of the world, their "philosophy of life," because changing a lifelong philosophy also causes deep-seated changes in a person's lifestyle. This reluctance to change a lifestyle has often been at the bottom of people's resistance to the prophets' message. The story of the Prophet Shu'ayb (pbuh) is illustrative. The greatest fear of Shu'ayb's tribe was that of abandoning their lifestyle and goods.
They said, "Shu'ayb, do your prayers instruct you that we should abandon what our fathers worshipped or stop doing whatever we want to with our wealth? You are clearly the forbearing, the rightly-guided!" (Surah Hud: 87)
The Prophet Shu'ayb replied:
He said, "My people! What do you think? If I do possess a Clear Sign from my Lord and He has given me His good provision, I would clearly not want to go behind your backs and do something I have forbidden you to do. I only want to put things right as far as I can. My success is with Allah alone. I have put my trust in Him and I turn to Him." (Surah Hud: 88)
Up to that point, these people had been satisfied with their superstitious lives. They certainly did not want to change their way of life or the system they were used to. These people, described to us by the Qur'an as "those who do not expect to meet Us and are content with the life of this world and at rest in it, and those who are heedless of Our Signs, their shelter will be the Fire because of what they earned." (Surah Yunus: 7-8), thought they were on the right path.
However, the life of this world is only a fleeting benefit. On the Day of Judgement they will regret it: "It may be that those who disbelieve will wish that they had been Muslims. Leave them to eat and enjoy themselves. Let false hope divert them. They will soon know" (Surat al-Hijr: 2-3). As this verse maintains, by focusing only on life in this world these people are only increasing their losses. Allah tells us that those who are deceived by worldly life and forget the values of religion will regret it on the Day of Judgment:
Those who took their religion as a diversion and a game, and were deluded by the life of this world. Today We will forget them just as they forgot the encounter of this Day and denied Our Signs. (Surat al-A'raf: 51)
A Feeling of Overwhelming Pride
Another reason some people steer clear of the Qur'an is that they have a superiority complex. They believe so strongly in the truth and flawlessness of their own beliefs and lifestyle that they scorn the idea that better beliefs may exist. As Allah says in the Qur'an "When he is told to have fear of Allah, he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell will be enough for him! What an evil resting-place!" (Surat al-Baqara: 206) what pushes people into denial of the truth is "pride."
When invited to read the Qur'an, people like this refuse because that means submitting to the true faith and accepting that up to that point their religion has been nothing but a superstitious belief. It means they comprehend that they have been deceived, and have followed the wrong road, have chosen their leaders or role models incorrectly, and have written, read and valued erroneous knowledge. For them this is a catastrophe. In order to avoid suffering this catastrophe they do not want to accept that their beliefs are wrong, no matter what proofs are presented to them, because their pride does not permit this. So, as the verse says, their pride "drives them to wrongdoing."
If they could just understand that the Qur'an is the only truth, accept that they have been on the wrong path, listen to the voice of their consciences and start a brand new life in repentance, they would please Allah. The alternative is a troubled existence, both in this world and the hereafter. Allah tells us of the spirit of darkness that lies within those who reject Him: "And they repudiated them wrongly and haughtily, in spite of their own certainty about them. See the final fate of the corrupters." (Surat an-Naml: 14) Their pride cuts these people off from the true path and causes them great harm. This is also what the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has warned people about in his time with the words, "Shall I inform you about the people of the Fire? They comprise every cruel, violent, proud and conceited person." (Al-Bukhari)
Another result of their superiority complex is an attempt to draw people away from the path of Allah, as described in Surat al-Hajj:
Among people there is one who argues about Allah without knowledge or guidance or any light-giving Book, turning away arrogantly, to misguide people from the Way of Allah. He will be disgraced in this world and on the Day of Rising. We will make him taste the punishment of the Burning [while it is said], "That is for what you did before. Allah does not wrong His servants." (Surat al-Hajj: 8-10)
As is pointed out in these verses, because of their arrogance the deniers want to divert others from the path of Allah, as they have diverted themselves. They engage in arguments without any knowledge. In spite of not reading the Qur'an, and of not heeding its arguments and morality they argue about Allah and try, in their pride, to present themselves as superior. But on Judgment Day, when people are called to account for everything they have done, this will do them no good at all. On the contrary, they will be sorry and will say, "… Oh! If only we could be sent back again, we would not deny the Signs of our Lord and we would be among the believers." (Surat al-An'am: 27)
The Holding of Fixed Ideas
Those who possess extremely rigid ideas also avoid learning about the Qur'an. As we said earlier, people are greatly affected by what they learned from their ancestors, incorrect traditions and customs passed down by their elders, as well as the lifestyles and modes of thought they observe around them. This leads to fixity in thinking, and often aggression against new ideas. In turn, this can lead to threatening behaviour towards people bringing innovations, changes and the simple truth.
Holding fixed ideas acts like a curtain, screening people off from listening to, and observing, one another. In Surah Fussilat, Allah tells us how people stuck in the status quo respond when called to the faith:
A Book whose verses have been demarcated for people who know as an Arabic Qur'an, bringing good news and giving warning; but most of them have turned away and do not hear. They say, "Our hearts are covered up against what you call us to and there is a heaviness in our ears. There is a screen between us and you. So act—we are certainly acting." (Surah Fussilat: 3-5)
To have an incorrect idea about a worldly matter may not cause them serious damage, but a fixed idea that causes people to ignore the teachings of Allah is a very serious danger that can take them to the flames of hell. Everybody needs to strive to avoid falling into such a position. In fact the call to the Qur'an is an opportunity for people to cleanse themselves of their superstitious, mistaken and incorrect ideas. In such circumstances the intelligent way to behave is to listen to the person making the call, to read the book of truth which is offered and to evaluate it with commonsense. An open-minded person with a conscience who sees that the Qur'an is bringing more truthful ideas than the ones he currently holds will abandon his own ideas without any hesitation.
Indeed, constant searching for something better is built into the human constitution. People are drawn to better ideas, opinions, and points of view. But godlessness makes close-mindedness (which is contrary to human nature) seem reasonable and causes the person to be attached to outworn ideas; they are prevented from examining events as they need to, making significant steps forward and deep-seated changes.
We can compare this mentality to the insistence of a person on travelling with a horse and cart, when there are more efficient and modern means of transport available, such as cars, trains, aircraft and ships. This person's conservative behaviour leaves him/her deprived of these blessings of technology. The same is true for those suffering from rigid thinking; they are deprived of Allah's blessings.
The fixed ideas that people hold to are not limited to their religious viewpoints. It can be seen in all aspects of their lives: their failure to change the style of their interior decoration; their prejudiced approach to new technological products and refusal to take advantage of them; their dressing in the same way year after year; and their laughing at the same jokes, are just a few examples of these fixations. Because of this for years they cling on to the same ideas, even though they are incorrect, and they retain the same black and white ideas of right and wrong. Because of this straitjacket, they cannot think freely and easily, they do not read books that put forward new ideas or learn about these, take no pleasure from innovations, and do not make even the slightest improvement to their standards of living.
The clearest examples of this come from materialist and communist circles. It is possible to recognise these people right away. Their style of dress, hairstyles, ways of speaking and the arguments they put forward have not changed for years. They support outdated arguments, present these ideas as ultimate truths and give their own personal experiences as examples.
For decades they have taken Karl Marx's Das Kapital, Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and Mao's Little Red Book as their bibles and read these books again and again, underlining passages. It is as if they learn them by heart. These books present ideas that have been outdated by scientific progress and the events of the twentieth-century, but these loyalists cannot accept that they contain any deficiency, mistake or incorrect information. They still believe that the teaching of these books is "correct" and "scientific" because they do not follow what is happening in the world and do not monitor scientific developments closely, or perhaps because they do not want to observe these and understand them. With great patience they await Marx's predictions and utopias, drawn up in the dark pages of the 19th century, coming true. They still believe that the ideas of Darwin, which were destroyed by scientific developments at the start of the 20th century, are valid. They only debate with people who hold the same views, and for year after year they read the same newspapers and watch the same films. The expression they most frequently use is, "I have not changed for years. The ideas I upheld 40 hears ago I still uphold." But it should not be forgotten that such a statement is only reasonable when it comes from someone who is putting forward absolute truth.
These people feel proud of showing resistance to change, opposing innovation and rejecting other ideas without listening to them. They believe so blindly in the anti-religious words of those like Marx, Darwin and Mao that they scorn reading the Qur'an, or books explaining the Qur'an, simply to avoid having to go back on their prior convictions. They are convinced, or more correctly, have been convinced, that reading or learning from the Qur'an will do them great harm.
An invitation to the moral code of the Qur'an, however, is an opportunity for these people to learn from their previous experience, improve themselves by profiting from their mistakes, investigate finer and more truthful things and rescue themselves from their fixed ideas. But people with these fixed ideas reject the invitations made to them and the sincere criticisms and kind-hearted recommendations of those who make them because they regard them as inferior and they never abandon the beliefs to which they are so blindly attached.
But why do people approach new information, ideas, concepts or even scientific facts with prejudice, and not abandon the fixed ideas which are of not the slightest use to them?
This is due to the influence of Satan: Satan misleads those who reject the truth into thinking that what they have done is pleasant, acceptable and on the right track. Those who do not listen to the voice of their consciences and turn their backs on the Qur'an are persuaded by Satan's deceits. Allah tells us about this deception:
… Satan made their actions seem good to them and so debarred them from the Way, even though they were intelligent people. (Surat al-'Ankabut: 38)
In time, Satan influences these people, who were capable of seeing the truth and aware of their own failings, into becoming people who cannot see or detect the truth, and who block their ears against it. Pride in their opinions and way of life makes them intolerant to the views of anyone else, and conversation with them on these matters is next to impossible.
As Allah says in the verse, "They debar them from the path, yet they still think they are guided." (Surat az-Zukhruf: 37), these people think they follow the correct road. But the truth is not what they think. When the Day of Judgment comes, their thoughts, remembrance and regrets will be of no use at all.
And that Day Hell is produced, that Day man will remember; but how will the remembrance help him? (Surat al-Fajr: 23)