Q. According to a hadith, reading sura al-Ikhlas three times generates the same amount of blessings as reading the whole Qur'an. Is there any validity to this?
A. The hadith you mention is reported by Abu Ubayd in his "Fada'il," as well as by others, among them, Ahmad and Nasai, in a hadith allegedly from Ubayy b. Ka'b who said: "The Messenger of Allah said, "Who reads Qul Huwa Allahu Ahad," it is as if he has read a third of the Qur'an." Certainly because of the unique theological message this sura carries, it is one of the most outstanding ones in the Qur'an. It is reported that when the Prophet was asked to talk about his Lord, he recited this sura.
However, this has led to some claims that are not in conjunction with the tone of the Qur'an. For example, there are traditions that state, "Whoever recites it one hundred times, gets forgiven for 200 years worth of sin." Please note that these types of hadith -- including the one you asked about -- are included among those considered as "fada'il" -- and the hadith scholars are extremely lax on these matters, since presumably they have nothing to do with law, and encourage good deeds. The presumption is that as long as a good deed is the goal, then the authenticity of the hadith is secondary -- "the end justifies the means." The hadith you refer to presumably encouraged someone to read the sura so that it would become ingrained in his being, for indeed the sura is Islam's strongest statement of monotheism. If you read the sura carefully, however, you will see that it is to be considered as divine polemic -- debunking Christianity in its entirety.
It would seem to us therefore that the hadith was circulated in an environment wherein there was need for a heavy anti-Christian polemic. It goes against the concept of logic and focuses on the aspect of recitation only, when in fact, the Qur'an is a document to be taken in its entirety. We cannot state that one part of the Qur'an is worthier than another, although in particular circumstances, one verse certainly, or a sura may seem to be specific. The mathematical illogic of the hadith needs no comment. Therefore, we cannot take this hadith as a guide. Is it logical, in conjunction with Allah's justice, to reward the person who has spent so much time reading the entire Qur'an, that he receive the same blessing as one who simply reads a sura three times? Is it not disrespectful to Allah to suggest that the Divine One -- al-Hakim -- can be tricked by this ploy into giving more rewards to a lazy person?
Having said this, however, let us also state that we cannot dictate Allah's mercy, and it is possible that if someone reflects on this sura, recites it with special reference to its meaning, and perhaps it is all that s/he knows of the Qur'an, it is possible that Allah may give him/her the reward of one who may recite the entire Qur'an without due attention to its meaning. Indeed, it would seem that the reciter of al-Ikhlas would deserve more. On the matter of giving blessings and rewards, none including the Prophet himself (s) can tell us what Allah has in store and how He rewards, for that is one of the things that makes Allah unique. Wa Allahu A'lam.
Posted November 14, 2000