Will a person (a believer) be rewarded if he listens to the Qur’aan without understanding what he is listening to, but he knows that it is Qur’aan? Or will he not be rewarded unless he understands what he is hearing? I hope you could give some evidence from the Qur’aan and saheeh hadeeth.
Allah, may He be exalted, has commanded the believers to listen to the Qur’aan attentively, in a general command. He says (interpretation of the meaning): “So, when the Qur’aan is recited, listen to it, and be silent that you may receive mercy” [al-A‘raaf 7:204].
Shaykh al-Sa‘di (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
This command is general and includes everyone who hears the Book of Allah being recited. He is enjoined to listen to it and keep quiet. The difference between listening and keeping quiet is that keeping quiet is done outwardly by not speaking or being distracted with anything that would keep one from focusing on listening to it.
As for listening to it, this means that one hears it with an attentive heart, pondering the meaning of what one is listening to. The one who adheres to these two commands when the Book of Allah is recited will attain a great deal of good, beneficial knowledge, ongoing and renewed faith, increased guidance and insight into his religion. Hence Allah connected the attainment of mercy to them, which indicates that the one who does not keep quiet and listen attentively when the Book is recited to him will be deprived of the share of mercy and has missed out on a great deal of good.
The most emphatic command with regard to listening to the Qur’aan attentively has to do with prayers in which Qur’aan is recited out loud by the imam, in which one is enjoined to listen attentively, to such an extent that most of the scholars say that his focusing on keeping quiet and listening attentively takes priority over his reciting al-Faatihah etc.
End quote from Tafseer al-Sa‘di, 314
The greater aim of keeping quiet and listening attentively is so that the listener may ponder and understand the meanings, and act upon them. Imam al-Tabari (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
Allah says to those who believe in Him and in His Book, for whom the Qur’aan is guidance and mercy: “So, when the Qur’aan is recited”, to you, O believers; “listen to it”, i.e. lend your ears so that you might understand its verses and learn from its exhortation; “and be silent” and listen to it attentively, so that you might understand and ponder, and do not utter idle talk during it lest you do not understand; “that you may receive mercy” i.e., that you might receive the mercy of your Lord by heeding His exhortation and adhering to His limits and to what He enjoins upon you in the verses.
End quote from Tafseer al-Tabari, 13/244
If a person manages to achieve that, i.e., keeping quiet, listening attentively, pondering what is recited to him and understanding its meanings, that will bring him goodness in this world and the Hereafter.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
By means of this listening, Allah guides His slaves and sets straight their affairs in this world and the Hereafter; with this the Messenger (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was sent, and he enjoined it upon the Muhaajireen and Ansaar and those who followed them in truth. The early generations used to gather for this purpose. When the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) gathered together, they would tell one of their number to recite whilst they listened. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him) would say to Abu Moosa: Remind us of our Lord, and Abu Moosa would recite Qur’aan whilst they listened.
End quote from Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa, 11/626
As listening in the complete sense is that in which one understands and ponders, there is no doubt that the one who does that as much is he is able is to be commended for what he does, and he is excused for what he is incapable of. But what one is incapable of should not be an excuse for not doing what one is able to do of goodness. What is possible is not to be omitted because of what is difficult; in other words, whatever a person is able to do of obligatory or mustahabb actions is not waived because of what he is incapable of doing, because Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “So keep your duty to Allaah and fear Him as much as you can”
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked:
Will a person be rewarded if he reads the Qur’aan, even if he does not understand its meanings?
The Holy Qur’aan is blessed, as Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “(This is) a Book (the Qur’aan) which We have sent down to you, full of blessings, that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember” [Saad 38:29]. So man is enjoined to read it, whether he understands its meanings or not. But the believer who is enjoined to act upon it should not read Qur’aan without understanding its meanings. If a person wants to learn medicine, for example, and studies the books of medicine, he cannot benefit from them unless he understands their meanings and they are explained to him; in fact he will be very keen to understand the meanings so that he can apply them. So why do you think anyone should read the Book of Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, which is a healing for what is in the hearts and exhortation to people, without pondering and without understanding its meanings? For this reason the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) would not move on from ten verses until they had learned them and learned the knowledge they contained and how to act upon it. So they learned the Qur’aan and knowledge and action all together.
A person will be rewarded for reading the Qur’aan whether he understands its meanings or not, but he should be very keen to understand its meanings and to learn these meanings from scholars who are trustworthy in their knowledge. If he has no access to a scholar who can teach him the meanings, he may refer to the trustworthy books of tafseer, such as Tafseer Ibn Jareer, Tafseer Ibn Katheer and others which pay attention to the tafseer that is based on reports narrated from the Sahaabah and the Taabi‘een (may Allah be pleased with them).
End quote from Fataawa Noor ‘ala al-Darb, tape 85, side A.
And Allah knows best.