One word is capable of bringing true rebirth.
One word can change you from emptiness to fullness.
One word, with few letters, has the power to scatter darkness, shining through even the deepest and lowest of human depths.
Only it can illuminate souls, refine hearts, educate minds, and clothe bodies.
Short as it is, the first heavenly revealed word of the Quran expands into the whole message and mission of the Last of the Prophets, Muhammad (peace be upon him), for yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and his key to salvation – Read.
The Angel (Gabriel, peace be upon him) took me (Muhammad, peace be upon him) and powerfully embraced me until I was exhausted, then released me and said, “Read!”
I said, “I am not a reader (i.e. I do not know how to read).”
He took me and powerfully embraced me for a second time until I was exhausted, then released me and (again) said, “Read!”
I (again) said, “I am not a reader.”
He took me and powerfully embraced me for a third time, then released me and said, “Read in the Name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read, and your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not (Al-‘Alaq 96: 1-5).” (Al-Bukhari, 3)
By the command “Read” descending on Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah (peace be upon him), the illiterate Prophet, the concept of reading was freed from the strictures of alphabet and syntax into the rich world of meaning and practice.
Away from the narrow restrictions of concrete books, it flies gracefully across the open book of nature – reading the omnipresent Signs of God; every atom, every grain of sand, every breath of air, every fruit on every tree – and delves into the folds of human nature; every memory, every thought, every feeling, every good or evil tendency.
“Read,” the first revealed Divine Command, implies more than an exhortation or an obligation but is, rather, interwoven into the fabric and structure of the message itself.
In its broad sense, reading provides the only avenue through which subsequent articles of faith in God can be established and realized. Therefore, before prayer, fasting, charity, or pilgrimage was the Divine Command to the Prophet (peace be upon him) – and his followers after him – to read.
This was the new language, the new spirit, and the new theme with which the Prophet came to reshape the relations one has with oneself, with others, and mainly with God.
Adapted from Dr. Ahmed Khayri Al-‘Umari, Al-Buslah Al-Quraniyyah.