This was during my first two months in the Political Security Jail. This was a time when I was allowed no visitors, no contact with family, and no contact with other prisoners. In fact I wasn't even allowed to speak to the prison guards except in whispers and only for urgent needs. This was a time of complete isolation from the outside world.
I was in an underground solitary cell made up of four concrete walls with an iron gate on one side and on the opposite side a small window -rather a hole- covered with iron mesh to allow for some fresh air to come in. I couldn't see much from it because it was about four meters high. Then there was the roof with a bulb hanging from it which was on continuously day and night. Then the floor with a mattress 2-3 inches thick, a blanket, a worn off pillow, a plastic plate, a bottle for water, and an empty bottle "just in case."
And then there was a Qur’aan....
In this environment there is nothing to do and nothing to read but the Qur’aan, and that is when the Qur’aan reveals it secrets. When the hearts are clean; when there is nothing clouding the spirit, the Qur’aan literally overwhelms the heart.
I have never in my life felt the Qur’aan so strongly. Thoughts, insights and feelings that I would fail to describe would come with every new verse that I would recite. Reading Qur’aan then was not something I would force upon myself but I would recite it with eagerness for hours at end and never lose my concentration. The chapters of the Qur’aan would carry me outside of this world and I would completely forget about my situation until a warden would slam the door open for restroom time or to take me for interrogation. Then I would wake up again to the depressing reality of this world.
So does the Qur’aan speak to us differently in jail?
We approach Qur’aan with a more receptive heart when we are being tested. We also come to understand Qur’aan better when we are separated from the distractions of this world. Both these two elements exist in prison. One thing I came to realize is that the Quran does not open up its secrets to you unless you open up your heart to it. Qur’aan does not spill its pearls to the undeserving.
Ibn Taymiyyah wrote while he was in jail that he had been reciting Quran and reflecting on its meanings and that Allah has opened up the meanings of Qur’aan for him. He said he learned new meanings that scholars would wish to learn. He had learned from it meanings he had never thought of before and he went further to state that he regretted the time he spent in the past learning other aspects of knowledge and not focusing on the Book of Allah. Within a short period he said that he had read the Quran, from cover to cover, eighty times. This was due to the blessings of him being imprisoned. Allah says: "You might dislike a thing and in it Allah puts a lot of good." (Suratul Baqarah : 216)
During that blessed period of over two months when I was free of any distractions except for the interrogation worries, that is when I came to understand the statement of Uthman (r) when he said:
“If the hearts are pure they would never satisfy their thirst from the Book of Allah.”
Those moments are so strange to me now, and so different that they do not seem to be a reality, or even a far away memory, but rather seem to be a dream.
We ask you O Allah to make us of those who love your words and contemplate them.
"Indeed in that (i.e. Quran) is a reminder for whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present (in mind)."
(Surat Qaaf 37)