Quranic Recitation

What does it mean to study the Quran while reciting?

Today’s journey begins beyond the walls of Darul Qasim College and places us directly inside the Prophet’s ﷺ Mosque in the City of Light, al-Madina al-Munawwara.  The floral, green carpets come into view accompanied by the soft smell of ṣalawāt (salutations) and the melodious sounds of Qurʾānic Recitation.  Mawlana Arif Kamal, department chair of Qurʾānic Recitation, is seated in a small circle of student’s awaiting the arrival of their teacher, Shaykh Abdullah Al-Jarullah.  One of the lead teacher’s in Madinah.  Like all of the students seated, Mawlana Arif has been invited to recite to the Shaykh.

 The act of “reciting to a teacher” is a part of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition, a tradition that our college holds onto and continues to utilize within the department’s development of courses, curricular materials, and teaching methodologies.  Furthermore, traveling in the quest for more knowledge is key to our faculty’s maintaining a high standard of teaching and research in their respective fields.         

 Against this backdrop, Mawlana Arif illustrates through his own study of the Qurʾān while reciting, what it means to “recite to a teacher” and how these experiences not only inform his own teaching, but more broadly has shaped the department’s approach to the advanced study of Qurʾānic Recitation.

How does faculty training and development shape the department’s curriculum and pedagogy?

A lot of my recitation wasn’t just recitation, it was a study of the Qurʾān while reciting. So that’s what we’re trying to bring here in the department of Qurʾānic Recitation as well.” 

Shaykh Ibrahim Al Akhdar born in Madina in 1945, has recited to many of the most qualified reciters of our generation.  He has recorded multiple recitations of the entire Qurʾān and is currently the Shaykh Al-Qurra of Masjid al-Nabawi.  

Mawlana Arif reflects on his recitation to Shaykh Ibrahim.  

“Qurʾān is about sitting with the teachers and benefiting from their experiences. It’s not something that you can just get from books, reading on your own. It’s also not something that you can get through your own individual studies. This speaks to how the Qurʾān and Islam has been passed from chest to chest, generation to generation through human interaction. Today, everything is digitalized, tried to be made easy,  catered to you, at your footsteps.  He really showed me that you have to make the higher efforts of travel to gain benefits.” 

“He asked me: ‘How was the speech of the Prophet ﷺ. I’m not asking about his ﷺ recitation. I’m asking about his ﷺ speech.’ 

“So he mentioned a Hadith that the Prophet ﷺ would recite in such a manner that you could count the number of words that he ﷺ recited.” 

“So, when you recite, anyone listening should be able to count the number of words. So that they can know where the word begins, where the word ends, and when the next word begins, and when the next word ends. This also speaks to that the art of the preservation of the Qurʾān or even reciting not just the letters not just the words, but in a manner that represents and emulates the speech of the Prophet ﷺ.” 

“Reciting Qurʾān to my teacher unties knots I didn’t know I had. The more knots I untie, the more the spiritual effects of the Qurʾān I am exposed to, and feel I am able to help others reach as well. My physical recitation, as I keep working on it, only humbles me more towards what I don’t know and hopefully elevates my spirituality.” 

“The Prophet ﷺ said “nothing brings the servants of Allah closer to Him than that which came from Him (referring to the Qurʾān).”

“When I would recite to my teachers, oftentimes, they would stop my recitation and say, 

‘Okay, what does this word mean? Why is it good for us to recite this word in this way? Why is it good for us to stop in this particular part? If we make waqf here, if we stop here, what meanings are brought out? And then if we stop on this other place, what other meanings are brought out? Considering these two things, which one is the best to stop on?’

What does an advanced, academic study of Qur’anic Recitation look like?

“A student who comes to Darul Qasim to study and recite is getting the full experience. Of course, the benefit of improving their recitation, but also understanding how recitation isn’t separate from the meaning. It isn’t separate from understanding its background. It isn’t separate from tafseer.”

“The goal isn’t just to study the text, but the goal is to have a broader understanding of the field. To appreciate the contributions of scholars from the past and into the present, so students can have a complete study of the science. Although, we utilize standard texts the way that we teach it here, at Darul Qasim College, isn’t a standard way.”

Entering Mawlana Arif’s Linguistic Tafsir class, brings to life many of the teaching tools and techniques he has acquired through his own study of the the Qurʾān while reciting.  It also gives you a taste of what an advanced, academic study of the Qurʾānic Recitation is.

The surah being studied today raises complexities. Mawlana Arif calls their attention to the deeper meanings of the words and how that impacts the translation. He discusses with them the common mistakes made in translation and how they can understand the word and the meaning of it correctly. He poses to them the question:  “What would be the best translation?”

Here, an appreciation of the language of the Qurʾān and confidence in its preservation is being taught alongside the relationship between recitation and the extraction of meaning. He reminds his students, “The the Qurʾān has been memorized by millions of Muslims but in terms of Tajweed, the fact that not just the words are preserved, but even the movement of the tongue when pronouncing each letter has been preserved.”

Why is confidence building and critical inquiry essential for the student of Quranic recitation?

Appreciation and confidence is further cemented through the tools of critical inquiry that courses like these build in our students.  

As confidence builds in the classroom, it is tempered with Prophetically inspired humility.  He shares:

“It is extremely humbling that despite your many improvements, perfection is still far. It is rewarding, knowing your aim is to sound as close to the recitation of the Nabi ﷺ. It is overwhelming, witnessing the various modes of recitation which the qirāʾāt uncover, like stepping from a shallow shore into the deep ocean. It is frightening, knowing that these verses must reach deep into the heart and never stop merely at the throats. It is a huge honor, which cannot be compared to any honor in the world knowing that the pleasure sought can only be of Allah and not of any other listening soul.

Mawlana Arif Kamal

Chair, Department of Quranic Recitation