American writer spends year debating Holy Quran with Muslim scholar

What happens when an American writer and a madrassah-trained scholar debate the Holy Quran in a bid to find interfaith understanding? A powerful journey to help bridge one of the greatest divides shaping our world today.

If the Oceans Were Ink is American writer Carla Power’s story of how she and her longtime friend Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi decided to tackle the “ugly stereotypes and persistent misperceptions” that were dividing their communities.

“People are going back to the basic texts, and they’re stripping away centuries of culture and tradition and looking for what they see at the heart of the religion,” she says.

Power provides readers with details of her year with sheikh Akram and how the Quran provided her with many moments of grace. “I found comfort in how small I felt reading the text, as when I considered the images of the ‘lord if the heavens and the earth and everything in between, and Lord of all points of the sunrise.’  Even as a nonbeliever, I still found myself taking refuge in the Quran classes as a clam inlet from daily life.”

Carla Power

Power notes the greatness of the Quran by highlighting the triviality of worldly matters like the “close on Wall Street, the exam score or dress size, even happiness itself” that seemed nothing next to the fact that from God we come and to God we return. She describes this as “constant reminders of one’s own puniness and powerlessness.”

She also shares a personal experience that made her realise the essence of the word InshAllah. “When my mother died, I remember thinking how sensible it was, the Muslim practice of saying InshAllah after every plan, every promise, no matter how minor, since only God can be sure whether next Wednesday’s lunch date will indeed be kept. It was a comfort, in a season of grief, to hang out with a community that honored this world’s certainties.”

On her understanding of namaz, she writes about it as a symbol of devotion to God. She mentions studies on the postures of Muslim prayers by scientists who have concluded that they encourage calm and flexibility. While standing straight strengthens the arrangement of muscles in the body, bowing helps stretch out the lower back and hamstrings, and sitting after prostration keeps joints mobile. In relation to this, Power notes how “Akram’s prayers have rendered him culturally supple, too, stretching his humanity in surprising ways. The act of return, to his prayer mat, to his Quran and his classical text–has often afforded an expansion of his worldview, not a restriction of it.”

She beautifully describes the sheikh offering his prayers and the meaning attached to his every move. She writes, “In standing, kneeling, bring his forehead to the earth, then standing again, his attention returns to his origins and destination, which are one and the same.” She also shares the words of the sheikh, who connects the experience to a “feeling of returning to the arms of your mother, when you are a child.”

The author explains the meaning of existence for the sheikh revolves around God, in the shape of a circle. The circle has God at its end, beginning, and every point in between. This sheds lights on his belief that “from Allah he has come, and to Allah he will return,” with everyday circling back to God.

On starting her Quran lessons, as she was able to understand its message, she realised that it is more than just a book. Instead, she reflects on its reach to Muslims around the world as a “metaphor of return. It is a place to which the faithful return, again and again.”

She explains, “I’d come a long way from earliest encounter with the Quran, but I still hadn’t understood that it was far more than a much-revered book. Over the course of the year, I began to see that the Quran was not merely a set of pages between two covers. Calling it a book, something one can read from beginning to end, embalms it in expectations. It was just another way of limiting it into something small: an amulet, a manifesto, an instruction guide, a political tool. In the life of a Muslim like Sheikh Akram, its meaning is much more diffuse.”

On questioning the sheikh about how to better understand the Quran, she shares his response, “Read. Keeping reading the Quran. Read it, and read it again. Return,” echoing the command that Prophet Muhammad had heard upon revelation.

13th Quran Recitation Competition Held In Tokyo

The 13th Annual Quran Recitation Competition in Japan was held at the Arabic Islamic Institute, Tokyo on Monday December 31, 2012.

quran-competition

The event started at 1:30pm and ended at 1am (1st Jan 2013). This event was organized by Japan Islamic Trust, Masjid Otsuka, with the cooperation of the Arabic Islamic Institute, Tokyo, and was sponsored by The Holy Quran Memorization Organization, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (بجدة لهيئة العالمية لتحفيظ القرآن الكريم ا رابطة العالم الإسلامي) along with some local businesses.

The basic aim of the competition was to strengthen the link among the Muslim community members in Japan with the Quran, to help increase the knowledge of, and love for the Quran, to help develop interest in the Quran recitation, to motivate memorizing, reciting and reviewing Quran, and to help develop skills in reading and reciting the Quran, and invite Muslims to engage in a great religious activity on the new year`s eve.

Although, the event has been taking place for the past 13 years, however, the number of participants this year, was incredibly huge. More than 134 children participated in the competition.  Last year, there were around 80 participants from all over Japan.

saudi-ambassador-to-japan

The Chief Guest of this mega event was the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Japan, Dr. Abdulaziz A Turkistani. . He lauded the efforts made by the kids and their parents and teachers to memorize Quran.  He further expressed the hope that more and more children will participate in the competition in the coming years.

Japan Islamic Trust (JIT) plans to hold even bigger events in the future as well.

Quran Reading with Tajwid

Literally, ‘tajwid‘ means improvement and perfection. If you do something with tajwid it means you are trying to do it with the utmost quality and in the most perfect way possible. The term is technically used to refer to the science concerned with correct recitation and pronunciation of the Qur’anic words and verses. The relationship is clear between the literal meaning of the word and its technical usage; the literal meaning revolves around perfecting an action or a performance, which is the recitation of the Qur’an as far as the science of Tajwid is concerned.

After the rapid spread of Islam in its early centuries, especially among non-Arabs, Muslim scholars deemed it necessary to put down a set of rules that serve as a reference for the Qur’an learners. So, Tajwid has been the reference for people who wished to recite the Qur’an in a correct manner. This, however, does not deny the fact that the Qur’an cannot be learned independently, without the assistance of a skilled teacher. The unique isnad-based system of learning Qur’an continued to be the recognized way for teaching students how to recite the Qur’an and for training them on Tajwid. In the isnad-based system, a student recites the whole Qur’an by heart, from the beginning to the end, fulfilling the rules of Tajwid to a certified Qur’an teacher, and then the student is certified by the teacher to be qualified to recite and teach the Qur’an. The certificate is called ijazah (license). A typical ijazah lists the teachers of the granting sheikh (the isnad or sanad , an unbroken chain of teachers that goes back to the Prophet).

Tajwid, according to the scholars’ definition, is all about “articulating (the sound of) each letter from its proper point of articulation, and ensuring the correct pronunciation of the genuine characteristics of each sound as well as the occasional ones.” Here, by ‘genuine’ scholars mean the permanent features of a sound without which the sound is never pronounced correctly. The occasional features are those affecting a letter sound due to certain occasional reasons such as the place of the letter in a word, its tashkil, the features of the letters coming before or after it, etc.

A typical Tajwid book starts with an introduction clarifying the significance and manners of reciting the Qur’an, the prerequisites of a correct recitation, the Islamic ruling of observing Tajwid when reciting the Qur’an and the types of recitation in terms of speed. The main body of Tajwid, as clearly stated in the above definition, is concerned with the correct pronunciation of the Qur’an. This is dealt with in the following basic topics:

  1. Points of articulation (Makharij Al-Huruf)
  2. Letters Characteristics (Sifat Al-Huruf)
  3. Other rules of Tajwid related to the sound changes of certain letters due to their places in the word or their surrounding letters, such as the rules of a non-vowel N and M (ahkam an-Nun wal mim as-sakinah) and the types of long vowels (mudud.)

Students of phonetics will find the above topics familiar and similar to what they study. The concept of idgham, for example, is similar to that of assimilation as far as the phonetics is concerned.

It is obligatory, according to the scholars of Tajwid, to observe its rules when reciting the Qur’an. Allah Almighty said, {…recite the Qur’an (aloud) in a slow, (pleasant tone and) style} (Al-Muzzamil 73: 4)

The verse means reciting the Qur’an slowly with humility (khushu`) and reflection observing the rules of Tajwid such as lengthening the long vowels (madd al-mamudud) and shortening the short ones (qasr al-maqsur)… The command in the above verse indicates obligation as this is the original usage of the imperative form. There is nothing here to indicate otherwise. (Al-Marsafi, Hidayat Al-Qari’ ila Tajwid Kalam al-Bari)

Imam ibn Al-Jazari, one of the earliest scholars of Tajwid, maintained in his Tuhfatul-Atfal, a famous beginner-style Tajwid manual, that,

It is incumbent to observe the rules of Tajwid; those who fail to do so are incurring a sin because the Qur’an was revealed by Allah and transmitted to us with the rule s of Tajwid.

Some scholars, however, hold that it is recommended (mustahab) to follow the rules of Tajwid rather than being wajib(obligatory), as long as the words are pronounced correctly in terms of Arabic and no mistakes are involved of course. Nevertheless, it befits a Muslim to try his best to perfect his recitation. `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Qur’an will be with the honorable, obedient scribes (angles), and he who recites the Qur’an with difficulty and find it hard to recite will have a double reward. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Tajwid is just one of the manifestations of Allah’s protection for the Qur’an from any kinds of corruption. Going through books of the Tajwid shows the extreme care given to the minute details of the pronunciation of the Qur’an. All of this is to ensure that the way the Qur’an is recited fourteen centuries after the demise of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is exactly the same as how the Prophet recited the Qur’an. Besides, the isnad-based transmission of the Qur’an guarantees that the rules of Tajwid are fully put into practice in a way that ensures the highest quality and accuracy level when transmitting the Qur’an from one generation to another. Tajwid, after all, is one of a group of sciences created initially to serve the Qur’an and to guard it from corruption such as the Qira’at (science of the recitation versions) and the scripting of the Qur’an (ar-rasm wad-dabt.)

By Muhammad Fathi