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Saturday, January 24, 2009

LRTQ: Reading and Comprehension

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Image hosting by PhotobucketIt's really funny how we can always learn something from even the most mundane of everyday things. You might be wondering what little everyday mundane thing that Walski wants to bring up. But more about that later on in the post.

The first chapter of the Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad is the Surah Al-'Alaq (96th surah):

Image hosting by PhotobucketSurah 96, verses 1 to 5 (from

(1) Read! (or proclaim!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-
(2) Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:
(3) Read/Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-
(4) He Who taught (the use of) the pen,-
(5) Taught man that which he knew not.
(Yusuf Ali translation, via

The importance of seeking knowledge is something that the Quran emphasizes in many places. It is, however, very significant, in Walski's view, that the very first command to Muhammad was Read.

Not Worship. Or Preach. But Read.

There are, incidentally, two types of reading - the type that comes with understanding what you read, and the other type where it doesn't matter whether you understand or not. Some people call the second type of reading "chanting". Because as long as you mouth off the words being read the way they're written, then your obligation to "read" is done.

But does eloquently mouthing off the words good enough to enable us to pursue the knowledge contained within the words? Of any reading material, for that matter.

Which is where our mundane everyday example comes in...
(the consequences of incomprehension, and more, in the full post)

One of the things about living in a house in Malaysia (tropical climate and all), that totally drives Walski up the wall, is household pests. Specifically, roaches. And to a slightly lesser degree, ants. And so one day, Walski and the Mrs decided that enough was enough, and engaged the services to a pest control company to handle the problem that we were having.

As you can see from the pictorial evidence below, it worked quite well.

Image hosting by PhotobucketThe killing fields of non-comprehension

Don't ask Walski why exactly he took a picture of the roach killing fields under the counters of his kitchen. But witnessing the carnage that the pest control chemicals wreaked, a few thoughts did cross Walski's mind:

  1. There's probably a good reason why God made cockroaches illiterate. Presumably illiterate, that is.
  2. But what if the cockroaches could mouth of the word P-O-I-S-O-N? Very eloquently. But had no clue what the word meant?
  3. The skull and crossbones is another story altogether, assuming the roaches were the head-banger types - something along the lines of "Cool, man...." - munch, swallow, stagger, die...

Walski's somewhat irreverant roach example underlines the important fact that chanting off words doesn't bring us any closer to understanding what the words mean. Of course, the sprayed stuff would've gotten them roaches whacked anyways... but let's not be nitpicky on details, okay?

And that, really, is the point of the entire campaign - to encourage more people to read and comprehend/know/understand what's contained in the Quran. And that necessitates "reading" in a language you understand - which, for Walski, would either be English or Bahasa Malaysia.

It goes without saying, of course, that one cannot possibly teach, unless one knows. And one cannot possibly know, without comprehending. And if one were to learn "by the pen", simply reciting (or chanting) words probably doesn't quite cut it. Some level of comprehension would be necessary.

We live in the age of online information access, and the online resources when it comes to Quranic translations are bountiful. Here's one that Walski finds useful, incidentally: - it's got about 14 different translations all rolled into one convenient reference site. In addition, it's also got Transliteration and Literal translations (but the other ones are much more useful). And of course the original Arabic text, too.

The one translation Walski's not been able to find, so far, is Roach. Then again, we don't really want to have our vermin up to speed, now, do we?