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In Love with the word

In Love with the word

Issue 7 Sept / Oct 2004

In the month of Ramadan, the Angel Jibreel would visit the Prophet every night to rehearse the Qur’an with him. During the last Ramadan the whole Qur'an was rehearsed twice. 

The oral tradition has always been the primary method of transmitting the Qur’an from generation to generation. Every year thousands of students are awarded ijaazas (certifi cations) from eminent schools of recitation. This means that the transmission of the Qur’an is guaranteed and documented. 

The Qur’an (lit. the Reading) is the book most widely committed to memory in full or in part by millions of people and every single praying Muslim has memorised some part of the Book of God. 

Parents have always had a role in encouraging their children to memorise the Qur’an as any hafi z will confirm. For this, they are recognised and their reward is great, as the Prophet said: “Whoever recites the Qur’an and learns it and acts according to it will be given a crown of light to wear on the Day of Judgement whose light will be like the sun. His parents will be clothed with two garments that never existed in this worldly life. So they will say, ‘What has caused us to be clothed (in these garments)?’ It will be said, ‘Your child taking hold of the Qur’an (memorising it) has caused this.’”(Al-Haakim) 

Having set their sights high with regards to the Qur’an, our interviewees set their sights high in all other spheres of life. Traditionally in Muslim societies, children and adults often take one or more years out to memorise the Qur’an full-time but our interviewees didn’t have that option. Moreover, the task of memorising the Qur’an is not something that can be left once completed; there is lifelong revision to be done in order to retain it. Imam Bukhari has an MA in Islamic Studies and an MA in English Literature. He is the Imam of London’s Finchley Mosque.

“I come from a Pakistani family of qaris (reciters of the Qur’an) and we were brought up to believe that the Qur’an was of paramount importance. My father taught me all ten Qiraa’aat (styles of recitation.)

The tradition of the qari was all around me during my childhood and I have fond memories of that time. We took part in recitation competitions held by the local authorities, provincially and at national level. I fi nished memorising the Qur’an at the age of 11. I wasn’t made to read Qur’an and at fi rst I felt I could relax but then I started missing it and I realised it provided a satisfaction that I craved. I went back to it by choice.

I took part in the national competitions and won three times before being sent by the government of Pakistan to Malaysia to compete in the International Recitation Competition. In Kuala Lumpur I competed with qaris from 70 countries around the world. My recitation had a slight Pakistani accent to it and wasn’t comparable to the likes of the Egyptians and other international reciters, so although I was very good in my country, outside Pakistan I felt I was inadequate. When I went back I felt really discouraged. Eventually my father said to me, “If you really want to learn you have to go to Egypt.” He then took me to Al-Azhar in Cairo.

 There I went in front of a panel of seven scholars who were deciding on admissions. Sheikh Mustafa Ismail – the famous teacher of qaris and the Head of Faculty of the Qur’an – was there. When he heard me he asked, “Where are you from? You can’t even read and you’ve come to us to learn the art of recitation.” They really didn’t like my recitation. Then they started testing me on my knowledge of the 10 Qiraa’aat. Though it was tough, I did well alhamdu-lillah. They said, “Very good! If you want a degree in the Qiraa’aat we’ll give it to you now, but if you want to learn the different vocal styles then forget about it. You can’t do it.” I literally started crying in front of them and said, “I can’t go back now. Either I’m going to die here or you admit me into the class.”

 Sheikh Mustafa Ismail then said to the interpreter, “This young man is so determined. Admit him into the college.” So, thanks to God, I was in. There were amazing vocal exercises, with high voices and low voices which we had to master. We were studying under Sheikh at-Tablawi and other Masters of recitation. Reciting is an art and we are artists. The Prophet encour- aged us when he said: “Beautify your voices with the Qur’an”. It is not totally dissimilar to singing so we read with a melodious voice.

 I went back to Malaysia eight years later in 1987 to take part in the com- petition again. It was a totally different experience. The Arab judges couldn’t believe I was Pakistani. That year I won First Prize. Alhamdu-lillah!

 I revise all year round. I want my recitation to be flawless especially my tarawih recitation, which I’ve been doing for 29 years now. I went on to complete two Masters degrees. Mastering one field gives one the confidence to take on other fields. Hifz gave me the confidence tostudyEnglishLiterature–asubjectI didn’t have previous exposure to.

 If you wish to study Hifz you need a proper teacher. I have two students who are memorising with me and they have completed eight parts of the Qur’an. They are very motivated. As for me I re- lax with a cup of tea, give them their lesson, listen to it, help them clear up their mistakes and then they go and memo- rise it that night. They revise it again at Fajr and come back after school to recite it to me. I also teach the local children to read the Qur’an. ‘Come on! You are an Arab. This is your language,’ I tell my students. They murder the recitation with their Moroccan-French accents. But actually I am a gentle teacher and I play pool with the children in the basement of the mosque.” 


Rifat Batool, 35, has a BA in Islamic Studies. She is a full-time primary school teacher at Ar-Risala school in Tooting.


“My earliest memories of hifz are of my sisters and me getting up for Fajr with our father. He would get us to memorise short surahs and then explain to us what they meant. It was later when I was 10 years old that my elder sister joined a local after-school hifz class and I said I wanted to go along too.

 It was not something my parents had steered me into doing. My father made sure that we had a good balance of everything in life. I had ample opportunity for recreation and play and we travelled alottoo, so by that age I had a real zeal to learn and learn! Qur’an memorisation became like a burning passion, helping me to focus my mind. There’s a difference between memorising surahs and doing hifz. Memorising surahs is just memorising some surahs and hifz is a structured intention to complete the whole Qur’an.

 I really felt it was a big responsibility and it does draw you closer to God. ‘Had We sent down this Qur’an upon on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself, and breaking asunder for awe of God.’ (59:21)

 Self-motivation is important and I discovered as time went on, it is tough. One day it just got too much and I went home and said to my mum, “I’m not going there any more. I want to do it at home with you.” She responded, “You don’t complete memorising 25 juz of Qur’an by heart and stay at home to do the remaining five.” Her faith in me proved worthwhile and a few months later I completed my hifz. Hifz classes have improved since I was a thirteen year old. Now they actively encourage self-motivation.

 Hifz isn’t just rote learning although it does encourage the development of a photographic memory. The Qur’an was never just a book to memorise - it was always a book of meaning and guidance. If there was any issue we faced, my father would open up a copy and say “refer to the Qur’an.” Reading the Qur’an is highly commended. But the reason for the great reward for hifz is that along with its memorisation you’re applying it to your life, and you can only apply it if you’ve understood it and that means striving to understand what the Qur’an is teaching you.

 Maintaining my memorisation is difficult, especially with my full time teach- ing job and having four children under six. When you do not have children your time is your own; even if you work, you still have the evenings. However, with children all sorts of unexpected things can occur and although I try and settle their routine invariably things happen. These are just the realities of young dependent children.

 I consider that the needs of the children and maintaining the Qur’an are both obligations and I try and fulfil both duties. If I do not revise my memorisation I feel a sense of unease, as if I have something pending so no matter what, I make sure I revise. On days when it is impossible like when we moved house, I revise it in my mind.

 Being a hafiza is still unusual - I know only of three others. It is important for women to have knowledge. However much a father is involved, a mother is the main teacher of the children. Know- ing the whole Qur’an off by heart had proved useful when teaching my eldest to read Qur’an. He would be reading to me and I would be getting on with all my chores. When he made a mistake I would correct him instinctively. I did not have to watch over him.

 I haven’t pushed him in to a hifz programme, though he has memorised many of the short surahs. Self-motivation has to be there otherwise it can become a battle. Hifz should be done as part of a routine, at a time when a child is enthusiastic and not distracted. Hifz can be as much part of their lives as playing and going to school. We mustn’t let them lose their childhood - things are very different to the days of traditional Islamic education. If a child starts feeling resentment in his heart, the Qur’an will lose its significance. I feel the experience of the Qur’an should be a loving delightful experience. If you give your children balance, they will love the Qur’an.”


Sejad Mekic aged 22 has a BA in Islamic Law. He is Imam of Hendon Mosque



“As a child in Bosnia I remember that whenever I met anyone who had memo- rised the Qur’an, I was always in awe of them - their faces seemed to shine with light. Everyone I met who had the Qur’an in his heart had excellent character and I knew that if I wanted to reach their level I would have to memorise the Qur’an too, but I needed somebody to give me the final push. One particular teacher had just finished his studies at Madinah University and was lecturing our class in my secondary school. Out of the blue he asked “Who would like to memorise the whole Qur’an?” That was my calling and I never looked back. He supervised us and we would follow his instructions. I was 16 years old at the time and I loved it. I remember seeing myself in a dream, going up steps leading to Paradise and it reminded me of the hadith in which the Prophet said the position of the hafiz in paradise ‘will be at the place of the last verse that you recite’ (Abu Dawud & Tirmidhi). This made me want to memorise as much as I could.

 Two hundred years ago in Bosnia you would have found a hafiz in every house. But when the decline of the Uthmani civilisation the Austro-Hungarian Empire dominated. They were threatened by how devoted people were to the Qur’an and Islam. They didn’t want Europeans to be like that so the first thing they did was to tear us away from the languages we traditionally knew. Instead of Arabic, Turkish, Bosnian or Persian, which were the languages of Bosnia, German, Russian and English became the languages to learn. Communism destroyed what- ever else was left. Most of the mosques and institutions which had thrived in Bosnia before that were closed down. Bosnian Imams had been famous for being able to recite in all 10 Qiraa’aat (styles of recitation) of the Qur’an; they would walk through the streets reciting. The result was that the next generation grew up without any Islamic education and lost that part of their identity. Now things are improving and Islamic institutions are emerging again. Last year I attended the ceremony for a woman who had just finished hifz in Bosnia. She was the first female hafiza in her town for a hundred years! 

 Memorising got easier the more I did it. Learning the first page took me about 45 minutes but eventually I could memorise a page in seven minutes if I really concentrated. A few minutes after I had learned it, I would revise it. I would memorise a line at a time and read the page every time I woke up, and before I went to sleep. Then at the end of the week I would go to my muhaffiz - my teacher - and recite to him. I think just memorising from tapes would be difficult, because when I recite Qur’an, I know that I am actually reading the page in my mind and can visualise it. The books about hifz encourage us to really look at the page. It’s good to have a Qur’an with big letters and it’s good to keep the same Qur’an throughout. If you keep changing your copy of the Qur’an you just complicate your hifz.

 Though your memory gets better, it doesn’t mean you can memorise anything word for word. I feel that the Qur’an is far less difficult to memorise than anything else, as are the words of the Prophet. I have struggled some- times to memorise a ruling written by a scholar but not the Qur’an. This is one of the miracles of the Qur’an - it is easy to memorise and starting at an early age is best. The parts of Qur’an I memorised when I was very young I can recall even if you wake me up in the middle of the night. The parts I memorised when I was older are easier to forget. The morn- ing is the best time for me to memorise, my mind is fresh and I feel real blessings at dawn. There are no pressures and I have had some relaxation, my mind is clear. My wife helps me by reminding me and helping me make time. 

People often ask me how much of the Qur’an I know, but I don’t think this is a good question to ask memorisers of the Qur’an because how much you know at any one time can fluctuate and the recitation requires constant revision. Though it is bad to forget what you have memorised by being neglectful, this shouldn’t put people off doing hifz because your intention is the most important thing. Forgetting some of what you have memorised may be inevitable as when a person becomes elderly he might not be able to recall everything he memorised before.

I have just completed a BA in Islamic Studies from the European Institute for Human Sciences in Lampeter, Wales and received a First Class Honours. Knowing Arabic helps me with my hifz and made the degree easier. The Qur’an helped me with my Arabic and my Arabic helps me with my Qur’an. I hope to start an MPhil soon, insha-Allah, on aspects of Bosnian Islamic law.”





Dr Usama Hassan, 32, has a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. He is a university lecturer and voluntary Imam at Masjid al-Tawhid in Leyton, London


“Reciting the Qur’an always brings joy to my heart, and has done so since I started, aged five. My elder siblings and I had read the whole Qur’an and then we memorised al-Fatihah, then the thirtieth part (juz Amma) and surah Baqara. All of this was under the constant supervi- sion and instruction of our mother. To me, it was the natural thing to do, and fun. We would have a party after I had completed several parts. I was fortunate to go on to complete hifz of the Qur’an at the age of eleven. 

 In the Indian subcontinent almonds are regarded as good for memorisation. My mum used to soak a number of almonds daily so that we could eat them without the skin in the morning before school. My siblings used to eat three almonds a day; I had seven per day since I was doing the full hifz! I once recited surah al-Saff to my grandfather and made a few mistakes, upon which he advised, ‘eat more almonds!’

 After eight years studying at leading UK universities I spent five years work- ing on cutting-edge artificial intelligence applications. Now I am in my second year as a lecturer. One of my latest projects is a result of just one verse of the Qur’an: I was intrigued by the mention of the star Sirius in surah al-Najm (53) and took up star-gazing as a hobby, which has resulted in my slide presentation entitled ‘Qur’anic Astronomy’. I have presented this show at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge amongst others. It has also resulted in our ongoing collaboration (on behalf of the MCB) with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

 When non-Muslims find out about my hifz they are almost always speechless. The only exception to this was one of my physics teachers, who jokingly said that it was a waste of time and memory. I casually mentioned our hifz training to a group of charming Anglican priests once and they commented that something similar should be introduced into Christian education. The oral tradition has not survived in the West the way it has in Eastern cultures.

 If you really wish to memorise Qur’an you can. I know a revert to Islam who is in her 70s or 80s and she has memorised the Qur’an with Shaykh Tijani in Leicester, driving weekly up and down the M1 to attend his classes. More female memorisers of Qur’an would help revive female Islamic scholarship. In my view, to learn one verse, repeat- ing it until the meaning penetrates your heart and changes your life for the better, is better than any amount of material possessions.”


For more information about Dr. Usama Hasan’s Qur’anic Astronomy project visit: tures.php?ann_id=259


Al-Mizan School – the new generation of huffaz : Based at East London Mosque, Al-Mizan boys’ school was established in 2000 to specialise in the memorisation of the Qur’an under the guidance of Hafiz Qari Abu Tayeb and Shaykh Hafiz Hossain Ibrahim. 





Abu Yusuf Rashid is aged 11 and is in Year 6 at Al-Mizan School :

For me, hifz was a like a challenge that I wanted to face but I know it’s a big responsibility too. I completed memorisation of the Qur’an last year along with another student at the school. I was really excited because Sheikh Sudais (the Imam of Masjid al-Haram in Makkah) came to the graduation ceremony. It took two and a half years to complete the hifz and now I revise every day. We come into school, spend the first few hours in the hifz class, and then after lunch study the national curriculum subjects.


Imran Ahmed, aged 8 is in Year 3 at Al- Mizan :

I started hifz earlier this year. My dad is a hafiz and I want to be one too. I don’t feel I’m missing out on any area of life, I’m actually gaining something valuable. It makes me realise I can achieve something difficult and now I think I can be successful at anything. 


Murshid Habib, aged 10 years is in Year 5 at Al-Mizan :

I have memorised 17 parts of the Qur’an since last year. I want to take ten members of my family to Jannah with me like the Prophet said the hafiz would. I hope I finish next year. I think I’m gaining something really special by doing this that will stay with me all my life. 



You might not feel able to memorise the whole of the Qur’an but committing even small amounts to heart is beneficial. Here are some top tips to aid your memorisation.


  • Start off with the pure intention of doing hifz for the sake of Allah.
  • Inform your family so they can pray for you and offer all the support you will need.
  • Find a committed teacher who can help you adhere to tajweed rules (pronunciation and rules of reciting) and supervise you by listening to you and testing you
  • Choose a copy of the Qur’an you find easy to read and keep it throughout. Set yourself weekly goals and stick to them.
  • Recite what you have memorised in rotation in your prayers, especially at night
  • Use tapes and CDs - the faster recitations are best for memorisation.
  • Always read the meaning of what you’re memorising, self-reflection can bring changes into your life.


Encouraging children

  1. Make the Qur’an a relevant part of your everyday life as much as playing or eating.
  2. Motivate children by telling them about the rewards of committing the Qur’an to memory.
  3. Encourage children to discover their favourite Qari whose style they wish to emulate.
  4. Find someone qualified to supervise a memorisation programme and be dedicated to it.
  5. You may want to start with the 30th part of the Qur’an, then the 29th, 28th, 27th and 26th before starting from surah Baqara because the shorter surahs are realistic goals your child can achieve.
  6. Hold competitions at home encouraging children of a particular age group to memorise certain surahs and give prizes.


Aids for Qur’an memorisation

  • Mushaf at-Tajweed: A colour coded Qur’an which prompts you as you go along, to observe the correct rules of recitation.
  • Pocket Qur’an: Have a small but identical version of the Qur’an you memorise from to take with you when you go out.
  • Baba-Salam: Children will easily memorise the many surahs recorded on this computer and can get to the exact surah they want straight away without having to rewind or fast forward.
  • Qur’an on CD: you can get the recitations of the Qari whose style you like to help you.
  • http://eQur’ memoriseonline.html 


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