Islam and the Quran

Touching and Reciting the Qur’an Without Ablution or Ghusl

Question: In the 79th verse of chapter 56, it is said: “None touches it except the purified.” What does being “purified” mean here? Is it taking ablution? Is it permissible to touch the Qur’an without ghusl or without ablution?

The verse in Surah Waqiah is not related to minor or major ablution at all.  Let us read these verses together with the previous ones:

“I swear by the locations of the stars. And if you could know, it is a great oath indeed. (The Quran 56:75-76)

The importance of the locations of stars is explained in the 37th chapter:
Indeed, We have adorned the nearest heaven with an adornment of stars. And we protected it against every rebellious devil. [So] they may not listen to the exalted assembly [of angels] and are stoned from every side. Repelled are they, and for them is a constant punishment.   (The Quran  37:6-9)
The nearest heaven is the first layer of heavens.

Going back to chapter 56, and reading together with the first two verses:

I swear by the locations of the stars. And if you could know, it is a great oath indeed.  It (that which at the location of the stars) is a prosperous Quran in a ‘maknun’ book. None touches it except the purified. It has been sent down by the Master of all beings. (The Quran  56:75-79)

The word ‘maknun’ stems from a word root which means ‘scabbard’.  We know that a scabbard is a case that protects the sword and prevents contact with it.  As we will see, the word ‘maknun’ is mentioned in the very same chapter, in verse 23 to describe the female servants in Paradise: “They are like ‘maknun’ pearls”.  (The Quran 56:23)

Similar to a scabbard protecting a sword, an oyster is a case that protects a pearl, and there is no way to touch the pearls in oysters. It is apparent that the printed books of Quran which we currently touch and recite are not subject to such protection since we are simply able to hold them in our hands whenever we want.

So,  “the prosperous Qur’an in a maknun book” cannot be subject to contact, except by the purified ones mentioned in the verse. Devils are repelled from the first heaven according to verse 37:9, so that they cannot enter there.  When we consider the location of the stars as the first layer of heaven and the information that it is protected from devils, we conclude that devils cannot touch this protected book. Since human beings are also not able to reach there, the only purified beings who are mentioned in this verse are angels.

Then, the prosperous Qur’an which is the subject of these verses is the one in “lawh mahfooz”, which is placed and protected in the first heaven and can be touched by angels only. It is the resource of all divine books that were sent down to all prophets from Adam to Muhammad.

Another significant point about this verse is the following:
The expression “لَا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ = None touches it except the not an imperative sentence in Arabic. That means it does not decree a command, but rather it manifests the current state. “Nobody, except the purified -which are angels- can touch it” is the meaning of the sentence.
It IS, however, possible for all people to touch books of the Qur’an without extra effort. Then, this sentence cannot be about the Qur’an we have in hand on the earth.

Then, verse 80 goes on: “Sent down by the Master of all beings” because the Quran was in Lawh Mahfooz and was sent down so that we can touch and read on the earth. Otherwise, nobody could take it from there.

Ablution is a pre-requisite of prayer (salat) only. It is mentioned in the verse below:
“O believers, when you raise for prayer, take ablution.” (The Quran 5:6)

About the case of needing major ablution (ghusl) for prayer, it is commanded:
“And if you are in a state of janabah, purify yourselves.” (The Quran 5:6)

There is a famous hadith about ablution which states that Messenger Muhammad was commanded to take ablution only before offering the prayer:

“Once when Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam came out of the toilet, after relieving himself, food was served to him. He was asked: ‘Shall we not bring water for Wudu?’ He said: ‘I have only been commanded to perform Wudu’ when I want to pray.'” (Tirmidhi, At’imah, 40; Abu Dawud, At’imah, 11)
If ablution was a pre-requisite of touching or reading the Quran, he would mention it in this hadith.

The only pre-requisite about reciting the Qur’an is in the verse below:
“When you recite the Qur’an, seek refuge in Allah from the stoned devil.” (The Quran 16:98)
 That is, saying “A’uzu billahi min ash-shaitan ar-rajim ” before beginning to recite the Qur’an.

It is also interesting that nobody objects if non-Muslims read or touch the Qur’an. When Muslims, however, intend to touch it, they are questioned about ablution.

It is usually asked: “Wouldn’t it be better if people took ablution before reciting the Quran?”

We can simply answer: No, it is not better at all! Because you may need to touch the Qur’an to check something about your daily life or remember a verse of God quickly; but when you have to go for ablution before that, something else would most probably interfere with you. Remember, Devil has promised to avoid good deeds. Thus, ablution would become an obstacle between you and the Qur’an.

Consequently, lack of ablution or major ablution may hinder prayer only and nothing else about the Qur’an.