Monthly Archives: June 2012

Reflections ongoing

‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz Amma’ by Umm Muhemmed and published by Greenbird Books launched in Houston, Texas, April 15th, 2012. Little by little, the book takes its own journey. Among the most recent stops: the Freeport Community Library in Maine (June 28th, 2012). Following a presentation about hifdh al Qur’aan, the motives behind the book, and examples of inter-faith and inter-cultural exchanges, there were many questions asked by attendees. Some were asked during the formal Q&A and some raised after. In the space below, I (the author) have attempted to capture some of these questions and provide answers. It should be noted at the outset, the group was incredibly diverse (and talented), but it was a non-Muslim audience, which may explain the nature of some of the questions and answers. The above-noted is not meant to discriminate but rather to clarify.
1) Does the memorization and recitation change you? Ideally memorization and recitation should be a transformative activity. The words, which are considered revelation by Muslims, are inherently holy, and therefore the mere utterance of such words should introduce an element of holiness into one’s being. This is the goal. Sometimes amidst our busyness it does not always occur, but we keep striving.  When I face a particularly contentious situation with family (children arguing etc), I often start reciting Ayat-ul Kursi (the Ayah/line of the Throne, 2:255) in an attempt to put positive energy back into the situation and dispel the tension. It is often effective, and has the potential to change the focus.
2) Do the children understand the Arabic of the Qur’aan? We always start each surah (chapter) by reading the translation, however, the children presently do not memorize the word for word translation. Sometimes, extensive understanding is quite taxing for younger children, and it is easier simply to memorize the ayaat (lines), first. Understanding is highly valued in hifdh al Qur’aan, however, it is often done in a second, later phase, when a child is slightly older. That said, our children are learning Arabic, apart from their Qur’aanic study, and we do pause our recitation to identify key words that they recognize. There are diverse opinions on this subject and our approach is one of many. Finally, it should be noted, that although a huge value is placed on understanding the text, since it is believed that the verses are revelation, there is an inherent value in saying them (even without full understanding).
3) Is Qur’aanic recitation a communal or individual activity? From observations, particularly of madressas in Central Asia, my understanding is that it is largely a group activity. How does that work in terms of what you are presenting, namely home-based hifdh? Qur’aanic recitation has both communal and individual elements, as seen with many sacred text. Madressa activity may often be communal, but even then, there is generally a time when students will recite on their own, and/or individually with a teacher. Likewise, learning at home, has the potential to be communal, as children recite with parents, other relatives and teachers.  In terms of group salah (prayer), there are portions that are said in unison and portions that are said individually. It is a constant interplay. Quite apart from dedicated learning time (at madressa and/or home), and salah time, Qur’aan is also often recited collectively and individually by Muslims as a further form of ibadah (worship) throughout the day.
4) Is there a belief of re-incarnation in Islam? There is no belief in reincarnation of which I am aware, but belief in an afterlife is integral to Islam. Furthermore, as we recite, in the same way that we aspire to introduce an element of holiness, ultimately, we seek to become ‘living Qur’aans’, i.e. our actions and our thoughts reflect the Qur’aan. This is not ‘re-incarnation’ per se, but it is intended to be a transformative and transcendental process that ultimately leads us (back) to the Prophetic tradition. Furthermore, there is a belief in an afterlife.
5) The memorization approach that you describe seems to resemble ‘the whole language’ approach to teaching. Could you comment on this? Yes, there is a slight parallel with the ‘whole language approach’, notwithstanding my previous comment about the children not grasping the full meaning of every ayah (line). We have focused on the building blocks of words through the Qur’aanic primer (or qaida) phase (more like a phonics approach). Then, we have moved into full words and full ayaat (lines), trying to make sense of the text in many different ways. This includes copying down the text as well as writing from memory, listening, repetition, inclusion in salah (prayer), drawing, recording our own voices (and sending voice memos) and even reenacting. It is my belief that the more the children can ‘see’ and experience the text, the more meaningful it will become inshaa Allah. Paramount is for them to begin to feel and appreciate that they are safeguarding the text–preserving and protecting it, in the true spirit of hifdh.
6) When you were reciting to us, why were you looking down? I was largely looking down to keep my concentration. There are many familiar faces in the room, here, and I wanted to maintain my focus. In reciting in prayer, I would also look down, with my eyes open, as is sunnah (practice of Prophet Muhemmed, peace be upon him). When I teach our children and others, I often look into the faces of the students in an attempt to connect the words to them. We often engage in a ‘call and response’, e.g. I say one ayah (line), they say the next. Going back to the earlier question of ‘communal vs. individual’ recitation, the position of the reciter changes based on the situation.
7) How did you come to Islam? As with many people, my conversion story is lengthy. It involves a considerable journey through the Episcopal Church, Syria, Pakistan, Middlebury Language School, and the Associated Press (where I worked as a researcher), among other places. It is one based on constant inquiry and truth seeking. It is also an evolving story. Although one makes a decision at a certain point in time, one reaffirms that decision each moment, each day, akin to a marriage vow. There is a certain date when we are married, however, we live our vows day after day, and hopefully seek to increase the love in our relationship.  Such is the faith quest, as well.

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June 28th 2012 Freeport Community Library (Maine)

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The End

As first ‘published’ via Quran Club, Friday, June 15, 2012. A special thanks to the ‘Club’ for spreading the word. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter in the sequel to ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz Amma’, published by Greenbird Books in April 2012. The sequel, ‘Ya-Sin’ narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma. Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text.

“Do you think we’ll ever get to the end?”

“Inshaa Allah,” I respond, patting Ibrahim gently on the back, in an attempt to encourage him.

“Ammi, there are six pages between me and Ya Sin,” says Ibrahim, looking down into his mushaf.

“You are six,” pipes in Amna.

“I am not six pages,” is Ibrahim’s response.

“Yes, you are,” responds Amna, starting to put on a fighting face.

“No, I am not,” sounds out Ibrahim slowly, increasingly frustrated.

“Just a minute, both of you, please,” I say stretching out my arms to keep them from coming to blows. “You’re right Ibrahim, you are not six pages, and you are also right, Amna, he is six. So how about rather than arguing about all of this, we try to channel some of our energy into memorizing?”

“Ammi, I really don’t think I can do this,” responds Ibrahim, shaking his head. “It’s just too long. It’s like four Surah Al Nabas lined up. You never did that when you were my age; how am I supposed to now?”[1]

“You’re right. I was definitely not on Surah Ya Sin when I was six, but I do remember hearing my Daadi recite, and I vaguely remember her trying to teach me… what if we take it one ayah at a time?” I say, then continuing, “and finish when we finish.”

“What is that supposed to me?” asks Ibrahim.

“Supposed to mean?” mimics Amna, nodding her head.

“There’s no due date. No expiry. We just start learning, and let Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala do the heavy lifting, like we did all throughout Juz Amma.”

“Ammi, I really don’t understand you. No expiry, like the milk? And what do you mean by ‘heavy lifting’?” follows up Ibrahim.

“We take our time, baita, and we hope and pray that Allah in His infinite mercy will help us. Anyway, 83 ayaat are actually not that many. Technically, it’s less than two Surah An Naziats if you think of it that way. And you remember that beautiful hadith on our bookmarks?”

“The one about running?”

“Yes,” I say smiling, and then read out from my bookmark: I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.[2].

“I speed,” responds Amna. In her customary way, she starts running in between the porch pillars, which accent part of our new backyard.

“I go faster,” says Ibrahim, leaping up and starting to chase after his sister.

[1] Surah An Naba spans approximately one and half pages in a 15 line Uthmani script mushaf (Uthmani script refers to the notation in the mushaf and may be contrasted with an Indo Pak script, with the latter providing additional notation for the non-Arabic speaker). For this reason, Ibrahim likens Surah Al Ya Sin to 4 Surah An Nabas. In terms of total ayaat, however, Surah Al Ya Sin is 83 ayaat, or only approximately double the ayah length of Surah An Naba (which is composed of 40 ayaat).

[2] The above noted hadith has been transmitted on the authority of Abu Hurairah, Radiallahu Anhu (RA), and related by al-Buhkari, as well as by Muslim, Tirmidhi and Ibn-Majah.

Continue reading…at A Qur’aanic Odyssey blog.

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A Journey to Ramadan

Alhumdulilah, as part of my own Qur’aanic odyssey, I have had the honor of working with many rising Qur’aan stars  this year, especially in first grade. Following are a couple of Qur’aan learning, preserving and inshaa Allah loving tips, which may be of interest, especially in the countdown to the blessed month of Ramadan. Please note, many of these tips have been informed and inspired by Fee Qalbee, particularly the ‘Ready for Ramadhan‘ series.

1. Have you had the time or opportunity to ask yourself/loved ones, the following about Ramadan:  what am I/we doing on a daily basis to prepare for the majestic month of prayer, fasting, recitation, reflection, charity and closeness to AllahSWT IA?

2. Start packing a bag: yes, imagine that you are going on a journey. What will you need during the month of Ramadan to help you? What might you put in your bag, every day, in the next month and a half to get ready? Will you put in an ayah from the Qur’aan, a box of dates, prayer timings? A recitation by your favorite qari? A new hijab? A new topi? A new prayer mat? By the same token, what about things that you will not take on your journey? Are there items you may start putting away to get ready for the month of Ramadan?

3. Start reviewing your Qur’aan (in salah): what new surahs did you learn last year, the year before? Do you still remember some/one of them? Start now and commit to refreshing your surahs so that by the time Ramadan arrives you are ready to recite the beautiful book of AllahSWT IA. Create a chart with your family members to track daily/weekly progress IA. Integrate your learning into your salah and just see how your memorization starts to take off IA.

4. What about making a ‘githir jar’ to help build your Arabic vocabulary and understanding of the Qur’aan over the summer; decorate an old glass jar and add to it ‘root’ (githir) words in Arabic (with the definition on the back) and/or frequently appearing words. Extra points for those who teach a word to another family/friend as well IA.

5. Do you have a favorite qari? How many different qurra have you heard? Do you have a favorite? What about a second favorite?  Are the recordings readily accessible? Do you know anything about the qari? From where s/he came? Studied? Listen, listen, but also make sure you take time to hear your own voice. Sometimes prolonged listening gives young (and old) learners alike a sense that they may know the surah, but they may simply be following along. Integrating the surahs into salah, as noted above, is a great way to ensure that the surahs are actually retained.

6. What are you planning for Eid gifts? What about writing out your favorite verses from the Qur’aan (in Arabic) and framing them (or laminating them and making bookmarks) and giving them as Eid gifts, or even pre-Ramadan gifts to help get friends and family in the spirit of Ramadan?

7. How about a little (healthy) Qur’aan competition among family members? Have you ever recited with your cousins? Your grandmother? Your father? Who knows the most? Who tries the most? Who has the most beautiful tarteel? Who has the most refined tajweed? One of our favorite games is ‘rapid fire’. An ayah is recited and the others have to say the next ayah together with the name of the surah. Remember ‘As’ are always given for extra efforts. There are really only winners in these fun, family-based competitions.

8. How’s your sequencing? Are you able to recite the surah names/titles in their proper sequence, starting with Al Fatihah? How about just the titles in one juz a month? Or how about simply starting with Juz Amma and trying to perfect that sequence before Ramadan? There are countless ways to make this activity fun, including hop scotch. Use your imagination to make sequencing fun. Add and subtract surahs. What surah is 3 more than Surah An Naba?

The most important elements are to inculcate love and lasting learning, and reverence for the Holy Qur’aan. Once we open our hearts to this great book and the transformative month of Ramadan, the possibilities are endless IA. Happy learning, and happy Ramadan preparation IA!

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