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Tilāwa (Arabic: تِلاوة) is the recitation of the Qur'an and reflection on it. The root of the word, al-tilawa, has appeared only once in the Qur'an, but its cognates appear more than 50 times. Many hadiths from the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the Imams (a) have emphasized the tilawa of the Qur'an. According a hadith from the Prophet (s), the tilawa of the Qur'an is a light and [leads to] blessings and the increase in one’s livelihood. There are specific manners for the tilawa of the Qur'an. One external manner is that it should be done with wudu' and a nice voice, and its internal manners include purity, humbleness, and reflection on the Quranic verses.

Literal and Terminological Meanings

Tilawa is an infinitive form of the Arabic root, “t-l-w” (ت-ل-و), which means reading or reciting. According to Ibn Faris, the root has one meaning only, which is to follow something, and since in the recitation of Quranic verses, the verses follow one another, it came to be called “tilawat al-Qur'an”. Al-Raghib al-Isfahani offered the same meaning for the root and said that tilawa means to read and reflect on the Qur'an. He also pointed out that tilawa is restricted to the recitation of holy books, unlike the word, “qira'a” (قرائة), which applies to every text. However, according to Ibn Manzur, some people take tilawa to be general as well.

Exegetes of the Qur'an have also taken “tilawa” to mean recitation, derived from its main meaning (to follow). For example, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, al-Tabrisi, and 'Allama Tabataba'i believe that the recitation of the Qur'an is called “tilawa” because the letters (or words) follow one another. The additional comment of al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Tabrisi is also noteworthy: the recitation is called “tilawa” because letters follow one another, and it is called “qira'a” because the letters are collected (vocally).

Difference between Tilawa and Qira'a

The semantic difference between “tilawa” and “qira'a” is that the latter means to read, and usually, regardless of whether one reflects on the meanings, but “tilawa” is to read the Quranic verses along with reflection on its meanings, instances, commands, and prohibitions, as if the verses are revealed to him or her at the time of recitation.

In the Qur'an

The Qur'an has emphasized the virtues of reciting the Qur'an. For example, the verse 29 of Sura al-Fatir, the proper recitation of the Qur'an is a transaction without any loss. The word, “tilawa”, has only occurred once in the Qur'an (Sura al-Baqara, the verse 121), but its cognates have been used in the Qur'an more than 50 times.

In the Qur'an, “tilawa” and its cognates are used to mean reading something which is required to be followed. The tilawa of the Qur'an has degrees the highest of which is “ḥaqq al-tilawa” (حق التلاوة), that is, to recite it as it should be recited.

Haqq al-Tilawa

There is a disagreement about what “haqq al-tilawa” (to recite the Qur'an as it should be) consists in:

  • Some people take it to amount to reading the Qur'an with humbleness, truthful commitment, and without any distortions.
  • Al-Kalbi takes it to refer to the recitation and reflection on Quranic verses concerned with the Heaven, the Hell while asking God to bless one with the Heaven and save one from the Hell.
  • Some people take it to refer to the Tartil of the Quranic words and the understanding of its meanings or to act upon the Muhkamat (explicit verses) of the Qur'an, and believing in its Mutashabihat (ambiguous verses).

In Hadiths

Many hadiths from the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) have emphasized the significance of the “tilawa” of the Qur'an. According to a hadith from the Prophet (s), tilawa is a light and [it leads to] blessings and the increase of livelihood. The Prophet (s) recommended Imam 'Ali (a) to recite the Qur'an (practice tilawa) under any circumstances. Imam 'Ali (a) has recommended the nice tilawa of the Qur'an in the sermon 110 of Nahj al-balagha.

Manners of Tilawa

Some Quranic verses and many hadiths have recommended specific manners for the tilawa, which can be divided into external and internal. Here are some external manners of tilawa:

External Manners

  • Having wudu' and washing one’s mouth before the tilawa,
  • Taking refuge to God (by saying “اَعوذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشیطانِ الرَّجیمِ” [I seek shelter in God from the rejected Satan]),
  • Tilawa with a nice voice and avoiding the tone of vice people,
  • Reciting with a heartbroken voice,
  • Listening and remaining silent while the Qur'an is being recited,
  • Respecting the Mushaf and practicing the tilawa on a regular basis,
  • An important requirement of tilawa is the mastery of pronouncing the letters and sounds properly with an eloquent Arabic accent, which is known as the practical Tajwid.

Internal Manners

Here are some internal manners of tilawa:

  • Purity (ikhlas) and avoiding hypocrisy,
  • Humbleness,
  • Reflection while reciting the verses,
  • Acting about divine rulings.

A number of books have been written in different languages, including Arabic and Farsi with regard to the tilawa of the Qur'an, its manners, and its virtues.