There is no contradiction between reciting the Qur’an and seeking to understand its meaning. Muslims who do not understand Arabic should still try to read the Qur’an in Arabic as best as they can, for after all, no matter how excellent a translation might be, it can never replace the original. It is true that the Qur’an is a message of guidance for humanity, and therefore, in order to benefit from this, we ought to try our best to understand it and act accordingly. This is why Allah repeatedly enjoins on us to read and reflect on the message: [Will they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein many contradictions] (An-Nisaa’ 4:82) and [Will they not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks on their hearts?] (Muhammad 47:24). (This is a Book that We have sent down to you, full of blessing, that they may reflect upon its signs, and that men of understanding may remember] (Saad 38:29).
Reading translations of the Qur’an in order to understand the message, however, should not be done at the expense of reciting it in Arabic. Because the Qur’an is Allah’s own words, reading it by yourself constitutes a deeply rewarding spiritual experience. The Qur’an is not meant simply to be comprehended intellectually. Mind you, we can never claim to comprehend its meanings in entirety, no matter how learned we are. Rather, we ought to respond to it spiritually as well. Thus, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us that when the Qur’an is being recited, angels descend and divine mercy flows.
This is also the reason why both the Qur’an and the Prophetic hadiths are replete with exhortations about reciting the Qur’an; this is apart from the many verses and hadiths enjoining us to reflect on its message. Allah says, [Those who recite the Book of Allah, and establish the prayer, and spend of that which We have bestowed on them secretly and openly, they look forward to imperishable gain, that He will pay them their wages and increase them of His grace. Lo! He is Forgiving, Responsive] (Fatir 35:29-30).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Those who recite the Qur’an beautifully are like the noble scribes (angels); but as for those who are struggling to read it with hardship will merit double rewards” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Therefore, no Muslim should be slack in learning to read the Qur’an properly. It may be hard to begin with, but with enough willpower and trust in Allah, the task will be easy. Allah helps those who help themselves. Until one is able to read the Qur’an properly, one should at least condition one’s self to listening to a recording of the Qur’an.
A muslim should try to find a copy of an excellent recording by a reputed reciter, such as Shaikh Abdul Basit Abdul Samad (may Allah have mercy on him) and start listening to it every day at least for a few minutes while trying the best to understand the message through a good translation, such as that of the late Muhammad Asad (may Allah have mercy on him). Once a muslim is exposed to a beautiful recitation of the Qur’an, he/she will never feel bored. Rather, they will feel as if they were directly communing with Allah; it is an experience that can never be described in words.
We must never forget that humans are not merely bodies or minds; rather, they are above all spirits dwelling in the bodies. Language of the spirit is not the same as the language of the intellect. That is why Muslims all over the world are moved by beautiful recitations of the Qur’an in spite of the fact that the vast majority of them do not understand a word of what they are hearing.