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The experience of learning the Qur’an by heart

Abbas Di Palma asks if it is time to revive Quranic teachings in a way that could properly introduce to a contemporary audience

Muslims consider the Qur’an, the religious book of guidance for humankind. Its words bring peace, blessings and tranquillity to the hearts of the believers, both in the spiritual and physical realms.

The Arabic root ‘qara’a’, from which the term ‘Qur’an’ stems from, indicates something that is recited. The belief is, Qur’an is the word of God, so its recitation amounts to recite from a Divine and holy source.

It would be a mistake to limit the benefits of Quranic recitation for a class of experts. Nor it is correct to give the opportunity of learning how to recite the holy Qur’an exclusively to those who may make a professional career out of it. Having expertise in the recitation of the Qur’an is a necessity for all Muslims, and no one should be deprived of the spiritual uplifting that can be attained through its recitation.

By ‘recitation’ here, we do not mean a mere aesthetic art with the purpose to delight people’s feelings by listening to it. As the Qur’an says, real recitation has a connection with belief: “Those to whom We have given the Book recite it with its true recital. They are those who believe in it.” (2:121)

It follows that a sincere recitation should enable the reciter to connect one’s heart towards elevated and noble realities, witnessed in the path of faith. The recitation of the Qur’an brings a feeling of inner peace in the hearts and minds of believers, a sense of tranquillity that takes them away from their worldly routines and preoccupations.

Reciting the Qur’an with good intentions and true belief is undoubtedly the fundamental and starting point of a sound recitation and it has its utmost effect in the spiritual life of individual and society as a whole. Yet, a correct recitation implies also an adequate pronunciation of the Quranic words.

Due to this reason, many Muslim parents choose to send their children to learn the Qur’an at a very young age so that they can read, memorise and recite it. To be able to memorise and recite the Qur’an from childhood has many advantages: in this way, the Qur’an will be a companion throughout the life of the child which, God willing, will be subconsciously enlighten by it along the different stages of his/her life.

Some people get frustrated during the process of learning to recite the Qur’an as they think they are not good enough. It is true, that certain people excel over others in beautifying their voices and melodies during their recitations. However, it is also true that all humans have the basic ability to recite the Qur’an with all its proper rules. Consequently, most believers with the hope that the recitation of Qur’an will form a spiritual support in their life, can also master the art of tajwid (canonical recital).

Imam Jafar Sadiq(a) is reported to have said: “Indeed the one who is concerned with the Qur’an and memorises it while being difficult for him and has the scarce ability of memorisation, for him will be double recompense”.

In the UK with the assistance of qualified Quranic teachers, many Muslim children under the age of 14 have already memorised the whole Qur’an, reaching a good level of mastery of tajwid. Usually, commitment to memorising the Qur’an for children consists of up to two hours daily lessons in the presence of a teacher and some time spent memorising alone, preferably after the early morning prayer and before going to sleep. A path that represents an alternative, challenging and virtuous lifestyle for a young person. In a society where the risk of bad influences, drug addiction and other criminal tendencies is on the rise amongst the youth, Quranic learning circle for young Muslims can provide some defence against the moral corruption and other social dangers.

It is interesting to note that the Arabic word used for memorisation is ‘hifz’, whose etymological root is linked to the concept of ‘preservation’. The person who has memorised the whole Qur’an is therefore known as ‘hafiz’, literally ‘the one who preserves’. Here ‘preservation’ may not be limited to the physical recitation alone. A noble tradition from the great Imam Jafar Sadiq(a) points out: “The memoriser of the Qur’an who acts according to it will be with the noble and honourable messengers”. The complete hafiz therefore is, the one who acts upon the teachings of Qur’an and preserves its lofty moral and ethical meanings in his conduct and manifests them in his daily routines both in the private and public sphere. This means that moral teachings go hand in hand with Quranic education and therefore the complete ‘hafiz’ is the one who has mastered his ethical traits to a sufficient level.

In this regard, the best moment to learn and apply moral values is during one’s youth. A youth is like a blooming flower still uncontaminated by the negativity of its environment and if properly cared for can flourish in the best possible way. This is why; Quranic schools should be places of ethical learning where students learn the art of ethical living, which they are then able to transmit to others.

To graduate from a school is not, in fact, the end of a process but rather the beginning. The person who has learnt the ‘Qur’an by heart’ becomes a teacher and it is a duty of a teacher to provide quality teachings for his students. Even if he is able to pass his teachings to only five students, and these students, in turn, do the same to five more students, and so on, the word of God would spread very smoothly. People would learn to abide by a moral standard of great value and society, as a whole, would benefit from this spiritual improvement.

It is probably time to revive the pure Islam and Quranic teachings that have otherwise, been neglected or probably have not been properly introduced to a contemporary audience. Undoubtedly, being a student of the Qur’an can be an amazing experience, and it would be difficult fully comprehend the magnitude of it unless we have been touched by its special love that comes from practising its teachings with pure intentions.

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