Recitation of the Qur'an
A National Qirat Competition is usually held every year in most Islamic dominant countries. What kind of competition is that you ask? Qirat is an Arabic word that means "beautiful recitation". So, the competition is to find the boy and girl who can recite parts of the Qur'an with the best melody, the best pronunciation, the best memorization, and the best knowledge of the Qur'an. The competition has age categories that range from the very young to young adults. The YouTube video that accompanies this blog comes from The Islam Channel located in the U.K. This competition may have been in the U.K., but there are other competitions all over the world. My first experience hearing the recitations made me think of a singer, singing without instruments, sometimes referred to as "a cappella". The words a cappella mean “in the church style” in Italian. However, in Islam, this is not music. Music is not allowed in a mosque. This is qirat.
One of the topics I cover in my unpublished manuscript Muslim Mechanics is the importance that Quranic recitation plays in the Islamic culture. The Qur’an is the Arabic language word for “recitation.” Muslims believe the language of the Qur’an possesses divine power. The angel Gabriel dictated to Muhammad what Allah had told him to. Gabriel literally gave Muhammad the word of God. After Gabriel’s visit, Muhammad would then recite the verses to other believers or scribes as available. For the majority of Muhammad’s lifetime, a cadre of companions memorized the content of the Qur’an, who then could recite the entire dialogue as needed. The Quran’s intent was to be heard, not read. This situation was the case up until A.D. 632, when Muhammad died. Later that same year, during the Battle of Yamamah, where Muhammad’s successor Caliph Abu Bakr defeated a challenger, more than 70 Muslims who had memorized the Qur’an were martyred. It became evident to the newly appointed Caliph that the content needed to be collected and placed in one manuscript, which it was.
Reciting the Qur’an is the backbone of Muslim education. Traditionally, madrassas are institutions of higher studies, where students learn sharia law, Islamic studies, and philosophy. With the Qur’an being the leading textbook, madrassas are created as needed to provide poor and needy students a means to improve their worth. Their education is to study, learn, and recite the Qur’an. There may be additional studies such as agriculture or basic sanitation and medicine, but this is education on the cheap, financed primarily throughout the world by rich oil-producing nations.
The angel Gabriel dictated the words of Allah to Muhammad in Arabic. Arabic has, of course, many different dialects, and Arab literature is full of poetry. Even during Muhammad's days, poetry competitions were frequent, as one poet would challenge another, usually from different tribes or clans. Pageants were held in the major markets of Arabia to determine whose command of the language was best. The Qur’an was known to have rhythm and prose that vastly surpassed the best poets of the day. Muslims perceive the Qur’an as God’s dramatic monologue, recorded without a human filter. Even today, there is no higher goal in Muslim life than to become a human repository of the holy book; there is no more common sound in the Muslim world than the sound of Qur’anic recitation. The language of the Qur’an has the ring of poetry. The sentences are short and full of half-restrained energy, yet with a melodic cadence.
Madrassas populate the entire Muslim world. The best and brightest from these madrassas can wind up in tournaments that can attract audiences in the hundreds of thousands – the Superbowl, if you will, of the Muslim world. The winners’ C.D.s and other audio and video recordings become instant bestsellers. It goes even further – it is also possible to get university degrees from your ability to recite the Qur’an. In the meantime, most students learn Islamic principles that reinforce its powerful belief system.
Recitation of the Qur’an in Arabic or even reading it in Arabic will work for the believer if they know and understand Arabic. As Islam spread, how would the holy book be disseminated? After all, the content was to be heard, not read. One of the solutions to the issue of literacy evolved in the Muslim world. The madrassas, wherever they are, teach the Qur’an in Arabic. The student may not understand how to speak conversationally in Arabic, but they know how to recite the Qur’an in Arabic and what each chapter and verse means.
The strength of Islam's holy book is to be heard. By reciting it verbatim, practitioners digest its holy principles and they become part of the reciter's psyche. The strength of Christianity's holy book is to be translated into thousands of languages and be read in a native tongue. Reading affects behavior differently than memorization. But it is hard to say which method would be better to learn by.