Art in Islam – the first art of reciting the Quran

Dear Readers,

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you all!

May you all be and enjoying peaceful days wherever you are, and may peaceful days continue for you or reach you soon!

I began sometime ago on the beautiful art of reciting the Quran, explaining that tajweed (the science of correct pronunciation of Quran) is a exacting science and art that takes many years to master, and also that recitation of the Quran is to many Muslims a form of ‘music’ if you will. In fact, it is famously said that in Egypt – considered to be the place where Quranic recitation reached is pinnacle – large crowds will gather to sit throughout the night listening to famous master reciters intoning the Quran. Quran concerts! 🙂

Once the rules of tajweed are mastered, then great reciters are able to captivate listeners even further by using the ancient Middle Eastern musical forms to recite the Quran. These are called ‘maqamaat’ and are similar to the ‘raag’ of the South Asian classical music system to those familiar with it. I have explained a bit of this in this post. I think it is very neat that maqamaat can be employed to further beautify Quranic recitation and I think it also more neat that large crowds can sit the whole night listening to a master reciter and enjoy that experience.

Traditional Muslim societies enjoyed Islam a great deal, and there is everything good in that and nothing bad. I do not know why the old ways are dying out, nor why some Muslims object to the old ways. There is the very famous saying of the beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) who said ‘God is beautiful and loves beauty’. God willing, I will post on the multitudes of beautiful art forms in the Muslim world – carpet weaving, tile making, wood work, calligraphy to name a few – all so gentle in their execution and exquisitely beautiful. My personal opinion is that only those with hearts connected to the Divine can produce such works that touch on Divine traces of beauty…always gentle, always soothing, always peaceful and breathing into the soul of the viewer/user/partaker, the fragrance of the eternal existence with the primordial source of all.

For now, I wanted to share that the first Islamic art form was the beautiful recitation of the Quran. Many of the companions of the prophet (peace be upon him) were master reciters of the Quran and indeed he himself (peace be upon him) is reported to have had a wonderfully beautiful voice and to have recited the Quran with perfection. May we be blessed to hear his recitation one day (sallalaahu alaihi wasallam = peace be upon him).

The prophet (peace be upon him) would sometimes when tired, ask some of his companions to recite Quran for him. Some authentic narrations below;

Once the Messenger of Allah said, “The person who reads the Quran in the best way in my ummah is Ubayy.” (Bukhari, “Fada’ilu’l-Qur’an”, 8).

The messenger of God, peace be upon him said to Ubayy b. Ka’b, “Allah ordered me to make you read the Quran.” Ubayy asked, “Did Allah utter my name?” The Prophet said, “Yes, He did.” (Bukhari, “Tafsir”, 98; Tirmidhi, “Manaqib”, 33)

The Prophet asked Abdullah Ibn Masud to read him the Quran. Thereupon, Ibn Mas’ud said,

“O Messenger of Allah! Shall I read the Quran to you though it was sent down to you?” The Prophet said,

“Yes, I like listening to the Quran from others.”

Ibn Mas’ud started to read. When he came to the verse, “How then if We brought from each people a witness, and We brought thee as a witness against these people?”, the Messenger of Allah said,

“That is enough for now.” At that moment, tears were coming down from his eyes. (Bukhari, Fadailu’l-Qur’ân: 32-33)

I wish I could post some videos of gatherings of listening to the Quran. I have attended far too few and generally people at these gatherings don’t seek popularity, and are very modest in their bearing. So no one really bothers to record anything, being very much in the moment and enjoying the experience all the more for it.

But it is well known among Muslims that we derive great enjoyment and peace by just listening to the recitation. So in that sense our relationship to the Quran is unlike that of other faith communities to their scripture, at least those I know of. So this is something non-Muslims often misunderstand about Muslims when we talk about listening to the Quran, or our relationship with the Quran.

It is also a wrong opinion that Muslim women reciting the Quran is not common. Indeed some of the greatest reciters of Quran were women. In fact, one of the most famous international annual Quran reciting competitions (yes we have these, they test mostly perfection of tajweed and of course how well the Quran is memorised) is named after our lady Fathima, the beloved daughter of the prophet (peace be upon him). I will share a video from this competition below, they are hard to access by English users usually.

Please go to minute 3.45 where the recitation of our dear little sister Fariha will begin. Subhahanallah, her recitation is clear and beautiful… so very gentle. For those not familiar with Quran competitions, the judging panels can be rather daunting. Of all the Islamic sciences, the science of reciting the Quran is the most strict as even the slightest mistakes are not allowed, hence the judges look especially tough, and likely are. How these work is that a judge will recite from some random verse in the Quran and the participant has to complete it and go on reciting until he/she is stopped. Thus a participants perfection in memorization and how well they have mastered tajweed is tested. The melody with which they recite is entirely up to them.

 

 

 

And to finish, here is one video I found of a ‘Quran concert’, where Hajara Bousaq, a famous Moroccan reciter of the Quran, a ‘qari-ah’ (= female reciter of Quran) is reciting in a mosque to a full crowd. She will repeat many verses to emphasize meanings as she goes along. I hope you enjoy. Her recitation is masterful!

 

May peace be with you all.

Maryam Al-Siddiqah (=Mary, the truthful/sincere)

Dear Readers, Assalaamu alaikum (=peace be with you all),

I hope you are all very well. In today’s world, it is something indeed to be thankful for if you are in relative peace and prosperity, able to sit in a secure place and read this. So trusting, that your reading this is proof of the same, we give thanks and continue.

Maryam (=Mary), along with Fathima, is one of the most common names for girls in the Muslim world, a testimony to the depth of love professed for her. She is given the title Al-Siddiqah (pronounced ‘as-SiddiqaH’, and meaning ‘the truthful one, or the sincere one’. It means someone who is pure, sincere, trustworthy and never lies). It is a high honorific given to only a few, and the titling of Maryam appears first in the Quran, therefore, the title upon her is bestowed directly from God, and is a mighty word.

مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ ۖ كَانَا يَأْكُلَانِ الطَّعَامَ ۗ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الْآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ – Surah 5: verse 75

Transliteration –

Ma almaseehu ibnu maryama illarasoolun qad khalat min qablihi arrusulu waommuhu siddeeqatunkana ya/kulani attaAAamaonthur kayfa nubayyinu lahumu al-ayatithumma onthur anna yu/fakoon

English Interpretation by Shakir –

The Messiah, son of Marium is but a messenger; messengers before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman; they both used to eat food. See how We make the communications clear to them, then behold, how they are turned away.

Her story is one all us Muslim women constantly draw strength from. The task assigned to her – a virgin birth – was tremendous, extremely difficult and one in which she would have no human being to help her. There is no Joseph in the Muslim narration, no one who is by her side as she delivers, except her Creator. There is no man around who will help or honor her as she faces pregnancy at a very young age. Having being orphaned at a young age, she is looked after by her guardian the prophet Zachariah (peace be upon him), however when she is informed that she is to bear a blessed virgin birth, she herself makes the difficult choice to move away from him, in order to save his good name, recognizing that there is no thing he can do to save her or himself from slander once news of her pregnancy is known. This is an example of her deep wisdom, and her extreme strength of character, peace be upon her. These are some of the qualities we Muslim women absorb from her station and presence.Her story resembles the narrative of that of our brothers and sisters, the Christians, in many ways, and there are also certain notable differences. In a commendation of a academic book ‘Mary, the blessed virgin of Islam’ by Professor Aliah Schleifer (which I link here), praise is given to the work by Christian clergy, who say, it contributes useful information to the Christian narrative and therefore useful to all to read.

Among the commonalities, the most important is the virgin birth. Among the differences that are most striking is the manner in which she gave birth, which I mentioned above. A second point, Muslims commentators on the Quran will draw attention to is the story of the birth of Maryam herself. The lady Hannah (=Anne in English), her mother a devout woman, dedicated her child-to-be-born, to the service of God in the Jewish temple. This is given in the 3rd Surah in the Quran, called A’li Imran (=the tribe or people of Joachim…who is Maryam’s father). The important point is that she delivered a female child! and this was strange as only boys served in the temple.

So from the beginning we see that there is a male bias in society,  and God counters this by honoring and elevating a girl.

إِذْ قَالَتِ امْرَأَتُ عِمْرَانَ رَبِّ إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِي بَطْنِي مُحَرَّرًا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّي ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ – 3:35

فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ ۖ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ – 3:36

فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا ۖ كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًا ۖ قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَٰذَا ۖ قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ – 3:37

Quran Surah 3: verses 35-37

English interpretation by Shakir –

When a woman of Imran said: My Lord! surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.

So when she brought forth, she said: My Lord! Surely I have brought it forth a female– and Allah knew best what she brought forth– and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Marium, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed Shaitan.

So her Lord accepted her with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya; whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Marium! whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.

The above verses also show how lovingly God protected and nurtured the upbringing of this ‘chosen daughter’.

The second difference is the delivery itself. The Quran gives the delivery scene is terms strikingly revealing for ancient times. They are intimately related. It is mentioned how the labor pains were so great, that this great lady, Maryam (peace be upon her), chosen and purified and strengthened, was still driven crazy by it, and cried out wishing to be dead rather than bear this.

I especially find this narration very touching. It is nothing like what a man would write of a labour scene – one can imagine a man would gloss it over, be too shy to even mention it, or if very magnanimous, may cloak the mother in a saintly halo during the birth. There is none of this, there is very raw, very personal, very great – PAIN. I guess any woman who has gone through a natural delivery will say, ‘yep, that’s what it is’. Nothing reduces from the greatness of motherhood, of course, but biology is the way it is.

I am not sure if it is different or not, but it is her baby, the blessed beloved Isa (=Jesus), peace be upon him, who defends her honor, speaking miraculously as a baby. Indeed, even during the birth itself according to one way of reading  the Quranic text.

This beautiful part of the story is given in Surah 19 of the Quran. The chapter or Surah, is titled ‘Maryam’, and in Quranic recitation, the language of the Surah is known to be among the highest in musicality and is very beautiful to be listened to – its recitation.

The link is below. There is a great deal of rhyme and rhythm and most verses end with the sound ‘aiyyah’. It’s too much to copy the Quranic text refering to the scene here, but it comes between verses 20 to 29 in chapter 19. The part mentioned above, is from about min 4 to 6 in the video.

Recently there is a beautiful movie released on youtube made based on the Quranic narration on the story of Maryam, peace be upon her. I hope you can watch it. It is beautifully done and will provide much lost insight into this gentle, pious, sincere and completely honest lady, who the entire Muslim world honors, and deeply reveres. I do not think the scene of her delivery is done justice too and its a bit different from the Quranic interpretation I am used to, but then again, it is hard to do justice to, and likely the director (God bless him) is male :).

It is the last movie I watched with my beloved mother, who I call ‘Mumsy’. She had many qualities that remind me of Maryam – her gentleness and absolute honesty among them. As the anniversary of her death approaches (may God elevate her soul and make her grave among the gardens of the gardens of paradise, and join us to her swiftly in his highest heaven), I think of Maryam and so wanted to share the movie.

It is long, but well worth the watching. It does nicely capture the patriarchical attitudes in society then (which we still fight today), and which the Quranic narrative draws attention to. We watched the original Farsi version with English subtitles, but I am linking one dubbed in English (its strange watching Middle Easterners speak in English, but maybe easier for you my dear readers). I suggest you make yourself a nice cup of tea and sit down to this, this beautiful long weekend in Canada, and wherever else you may be.

 

Peace be upon you all.

 

Imam Haddad, the mujaddad (renewer) of his time, and ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’

Dear Readers, Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you,

Hope you are all well.

On this last day before the start of the blessed month of Ramadan (crescentwatch estimates a good chance of sighting the new crescent on the night of Friday May 26th, heralding the lunar month of Ramadan tonight in many parts of the world – hope you will go out to ‘sight’ the moon tonight!), I want to highlight Imam Abdullah bin Alawi Al Haddad (d 1719 CA), who many consider the mujaddid of the 12th Islamic century.

The mujaddid (=renewer), is a title given to a person who Muslims believe renews the faith. The muhaddid is said to be born once in 100 years and by his presence and teaching the message of Muhammed (peace be upon him) is renewed and continued. We are now in the 15th Islamic century, and while some have speculated as to who the present day mujaddid is, it is not for me to relay here who it may be.

The knowledge of the mujaddid is taught in a famous hadith (=narration) from the beloved, the messenger of God (peace be upon him)

“Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years the one who will renovate its religion for it.”

— Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), recorded in Sunan Abu Dawood, Book 37: Kitab al-Malahim [Battles], Hadith Number 4278

 

It is not always only one mujaddid, some centuries there are more than one. The mujaddid attains a stature in the tradition that is unquestioned and generally leaves behind a vast corpus of spiritual and other texts or a body of very famous students who become masters in their own right. As I mentioned in a previous post, they are often leaders who are shunned by or feared by the Islamic political leadership of the time, as they do often ‘call out’ sultans and qaadis (=magistrates) etc. Often they are persecuted by the ruling elite, as has been the case for so many of the great scholars in our tradition. The torture the founders of the four sunni schools of legal jurisprudence; Imam Malik, Ahmed, Shaafi’ and Hanafi is well known in the Muslim world.

In fact the present day descendants of Imam Haddad, who represent one of the oldest unbroken lineages of sound Islamic scholarship in the Sunni tradition, and who still call the city of Tarim in Yemen their home, were and are often still persecuted. If I recall correctly, Imam Habib Omar’s (who is the present day leader of the ‘Alawi scholars, who take their name from Imam Haddad) grandfather himself a great scholar, was tied to a vehicle and dragged through the streets of Yemen not too many years ago by the government of that time, and I believe his father was asked to appear before some government agency and ‘disappeared’ thereafter. So this is nothing new, sadly.

Spiritual Islam has always been attacked by ‘political islam’, constantly seeking to divide Muslims along sectarian lines and use the religion for power-grabbing. In fact, if we Muslims would stop listening to political leadership and start studying the religion we will find little difference among Sunni and Shias, and much that is the same. On those lines, I have often found it striking in my travels to the old Muslim Sunni cities, how deeply a love for the prophet’s family – his beloved daughter, Fathim Al-Zahra (= the resplendent one), her husband, Imam Ali, karamallahu wajha (=may God ennoble his face), Imams Hassan and Hussain – is evinced. For example, in old Morocco, the doorknobs are often shaped after a delicate female hand – said to be the ‘hand of Fathima’, that bringer of gentleness, healing and repose. Here is an image below, the lion’s head may represent Imam Ali who is considered a great warrior in our tradition…karamallahu wajha

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Imam Haddad himself is a descendant of this blessed couple, his lineage below (from www.muwasala.org, where you can read more of the Alawi scholars) Each time you read ‘bin’ think ‘son of’ – it’s like ‘Mc’ in the Scotts traditions:

He is al-Imam al-Habib `Abdullah bin `Alawi bin Muhammad bin Ahmad bin `Abdullah bin Muhammad bin `Alawi bin Ahmad “al-Haddad” bin Abu Bakr bin Ahmad bin Muhammad bin `Abdullah bin Ahmad bin `Abd al-Rahman bin `Alawi `Amm al-Faqih (uncle of al-Faqih al-Muqaddam), bin Muhammad Sahib Mirbat, bin `Ali Khali` Qasam, bin `Alawi, bin Muhammad Sahib al-Sawma`ah, bin `Alawi, bin `Ubaydullah, bin al-Imam al-Muhajir il-Allah Ahmad, bin ` Isa, bin Muhammad al-Naqib, bin `Ali al-`Uraydi, bin Ja`far al-Sadiq, bin Muhammad al-Baqir, bin `Ali Zayn al-`Abidin, bin Husayn al-Sibt, bin `Ali bin Abi Talib and Fatimah al-Zahra’, the daughter of our Master Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets ﷺ.

The Imam’s diwan (=usually used to mean ‘throne’, or ‘government’ or ‘seat’ as in politcal seat ..’Sultan’s diwan’ etc… but here used to mean generally a collection of poetry. For scholars, a diwan generally means their collection of artistic works, often poetry, as all great sunni scholars were great poets), became very popular and a number of his compositions are still sung today. By the way, the presence of a diwan of poetry itself, speaks volumes to the types of people true scholars really are – very much aligned to the spiritual inner workings of man – which all true poetry speaks directly to.

I would like to write of his scholarly works, of which, a very small but profound volume, I had the honor to study. But it would be too much here, so I will continue with his diwan. Among his many poems, one especially ‘Qad kafani i’lmu Rabbi’ (=My Lord’s knowledge has sufficed me) I adore, and the words in it, I can relate directly to, MashaAllah! (by God’s grace).

Here it is, with translation!

 

Many of his poems are sung, and you can find whole volumes of them sung by Indonesian Munshidas (=female singer of devotional music) on Youtube. The Alawi scholars have a great following in Indonesia/Malaysia/Singapore, where they are a major cause for the spread of Islam – again testifying to the falsity of the claim that Islam was spread by the sword – the largest Muslim population exists in Indonesia and certainly Islam only went there through scholars and merchants, the same is true for Western Africa, Central Asia, China… etc.

You can find munshidas singing many of Imam Haddad’s diwan at this website http://bukuhariannikita.blogspot.qa/. Unfortunately the translation is only in Bahasa.

And here is another very famous nasheed from the diwan of Imam Haddad, called ‘Ala yallah bi nadhra’

 

I found a rough English translation from http://ummualwi.blogspot.qa

Ala Yallah bi Nadzrah (Imam al-Haddad)

Chorus:

Ya Allah. Send down Your mercy by Your gaze
That will cure all my ailments in me

Oh my friend! Oh my friend! Don’t you be anxious and burdened
Leave everything to fate and you will be praised and rewarded
And be servants who accept what has been decreed by His Lord, which He has fashioned
And reject you not the decree of Allah, The Lord of the Throne

Be those who are patient and grateful
May you be successful and victorious
And be amongst those who have the secrets
That is, those who have hearts of light
Pure from filth; Pristine and refined

This world is dejected,
And the life of this world is insignificant, and life is short
And no one has greed for the world, except those who are blind
No intellect; that if he is of intellect he will reflect

Reflecting that this world does not last
And the sorrows are aplenty
And wealth is scarce
Hence, blessed is he, so blessed is he who is cautious of the world
And divorced himself from it, and prepares himself to obey Allah

Oh my eyes! Pour from you tears that descend
For a lover who had been sent

Slow tempo…

He was with us and now he has gone
Our hearts have become saddened at his departure

But suffice for me, Allah
That all things will return to You
And nothing lasts but You
May Allah pour down His mercy to the occupants of Basshar
And He is pleasured by them and sent glad tidings

There exists our masters and teachers
Our family and those whom we love
And they remain in our hearts
They reside in places where the dusts smelt a sweet fragrance

A resting place for the best of humanity
They are the leaders of mankind
In loving them there is happiness
How blessed are those who visit them with sincerity
And comes with awareness, so all his wishes will be facilitated.

 

Finally, as the ‘dawn’ of Ramadan of 1438 (Islamic year) is a few hours away, and as it is a month of great re-union with the Quran, family and all things delightful in our tradition, and as it is my first time to experience Ramadan living in a Muslim country (! – dear Readers, I moved to Qatar, so if any of you are here, do reach out! 🙂 ), I likely will not reblog to post my wishes for Ramadan unless I do it now.

So Ramadan Mubarak to all my dear readers, of all faiths, backgrounds, creeds and places – I wish you all a month of peace, blessing, generosity, re-connection with your inner soul and great harmony. May God, bring you all peace and prosperity and heal all our many wounds and bring peace to all countries at war, and especially bless and protect our children.

I will end with the Quran, as Ramadan is the month of the Quran. Here is a recitation from the very famous Qaari (=reciter of Quran), Sheikh Abdul Basit Abdul Samad – a great of the greats, Allah irhamhu (=God have mercy on his soul). He is reciting many verses from many different surahs (=’chapters’ roughly). I will not say which ones in order not to be tedious. The translation is given. He is reciting in the slow style, and using ‘makams’, which I blogged about before and here. I don’t know enough to say which makamaath he uses, but the effect is very beautiful mashaallah.

Peace be with you all

 

 

The ‘maqamaat’

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you

Continuing from the last post, where I talk about the tajweed method of recitation, here is more about the ‘maqamaat’ (=the stations). The maqamaat refer to the classical Arabic system of Music; similar to the Raga system in eastern music, a ‘maqam’ (=station, plural is maqamaat), refers to a “a set of notes with traditions that define relationships between them, habitual patterns, and their melodic development” as best defined by www.maqamworld.com.

In my last post, I mentioned that once the rules of tajweed are correctly implemented, the melody by which one recites Quran is completely improvised and up to the individual. Usually this just flows naturally and is not thought of. However, students of Quranic tajweed are advised to listen to ‘quraa’ (=reciters, plural of ‘qaari’=one who is specialized in Quranic recitation), who recite with as less melody as possible. Shaikh Khalil Husary of Egypt, God have mercy of him, is one of the best known in this genre and the ‘go-to’ sheikh for any student to listen to. A sample of Shaikh Husary reciting is below, mashaAllah impeccable tajweed!

Great qurra, have and do employ maqamat to beautify their recitation. There is a difference of opinion among the scholars about this practice; some consider it not permitted, others allow it but dislike it, others consider it part of the general Islamic teaching to recite the Quran beautifully. As in all things the principle is the hadith ‘verily, actions are by intentions’, and the important thing is to maintain sincerity about connecting with God, when reciting or listening to Quranic recitation. This is an excellent post about how maqamat play into beautiful recitation

Shaikh Mustafa Ismail (rahimahullah = God have mercy on his soul), is considered one of the greatest of the Qurra. He is known for his unique style, employing many maqamaat as he chose. He never formally trained in Arabic classical music. Many it is said, have tried to follow him, but none have come close. He was the official reciter for Egyptian radio, and requested his program slot be many hours long, as he would take hours to complete – often the entire night.

One of his ‘listeners’ (those who regularly attend recitations and listen, are known to greatly improve a reciter, as they become the best critiques and offer the most judicious advice, a bit like the peer review system for the academics out there :)) is Ahmed Mustafa Kamal. Sh. Mustafa Kamal, subsequently taught many a younger generation in the style of Sh. Mustafa Ismail, in the video below, he is reciting along with a young student of his, the qariyah Sumayya Edeb, while touring Turkey. It is beautiful to watch how he gently mentors her style. And to those who understand what is being recited, the beautification incorporated by sensitive recitation greatly impacts the heart. 🙂

A biography of some very famous names of qurra in the Muslim world is here…Abdul-Basit Abdul Samad, Minshawi, Husary…these names are as familiar to Muslims as the names ‘Bach’, ‘Mozart’ and ‘Bethoven’ are familiar to the English speaking world. The most famous qurra are from Egypt, no surprise as in the classical Muslim world a famous adage goes; ‘The Quran was revealed in Mecca, it is written in Turkey (old posts about this here) and recited in Egypt‘, meaning the art of calligraphy reached its pinnacle in Turkey, and the art of its recitation its pinnacle in Egypt.

Different maqams are said to evoke different moods/emotions (more here), and in the Muslim world, the call to prayer or ‘adhan’ can also be found rendered using different maqamat…more about that in another post inshaallah (=God willing). Common maqamat are; rast, nahawand, hijazi, bayati…

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into a very important aspect of Muslim culture. Below some select videos.

Peace be with you all

Shaikh Mustafa Ismail reciting verses from Chapter ‘Joseph’, which tells the story of the prophet Joseph (Yusuf in Arabic), peace be upon him

 

Shaikh Khalil al-Husary, reciting from chapter 4, Surah Nisa (The Women): verses 105-109

 

Shaikh Ahmed Mustafa Kamal with his protege, Sumaiya Edeb, reciting the opening chapter of the Quran, Surah Fatiha, I think on a Turkish TV program. At the end of the recitation, the call is made ‘al-fatiha’, signalling for all listening to recite the chapter to themselves, which you will see the audience do.

 

 

 

 

Islamic ‘music’ – tajweed of recitation

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)!

What a long time it has been since I last posted, my apologies. The past few months have been a period of transition as I prepare to move from one country to another. The state of my beloved mother, who suffers from a rare type of cancer, has also worsened, please keep her in your du’a (=prayer) my dear sisters and brothers. May whatever she is undergoing be a source of healing, purification and elevation of her state in this world and the hereafter! ameen.

وعنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم الله عليه وسلم صلى الله عليه وسلم ، دخل علي أعرأبي يعوده وكان إذا دخل علي من يعوده قال‏:‏ ‏ “‏لا بأس، طهور إن شاء الله‏”‏ ‏(‏‏(‏رواه البخاري‏)‏‏)‏‏.‏

Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) visited a bedouin who was sick. Whenever he visited an ailing person, he would say, “La ba’sa, tahurun in sha’ Allah [No harm, (it will be a) purification, Allah willing].” [Al-Bukhari, book 7, hadith 907]

 In the meantime, many an idea to share has come and hopefully, won’t be gone! Here is beginning with the first one; I want to introduce you to the ‘tajweed’ (=’elocution’ the rules governing the correct pronounciation of Quranic sounds/Arabic) and to the ‘maqamaath’ (=’stations’) of recitation.
The Quran, as you may know, means ‘recitation’ roughly. It comes from a root word ‘qira’a’ which means to ‘recite’ or ‘read’, composed of the three letters, ‘qaf’, ‘ra’, ‘alif’. I have spoken about the Arabic root word/letter system before. It is a fascinating mathematical model, that coagulates meanings based upon sound and the structures in which they are organized; incredibly mathematical. You can read more here, and from that source, meanings of the term ‘Quran’ below;

ق ر ا  = Qaf-Ra-Alif = to recite/read, compilation, collection, reading, recitation, explanation, study, investigation.

Therefore, in the preservation of the Quran, not only the original language (i.e., classical Arabic or ‘fus-ha’), but also the specific way by which the beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him), used to recite/pronounce the sounds, has been meticulously preserved.

The method of authentic pronounciation is called ‘tajweed’. There are ten authentic ‘qira’a’, or recitations that can be traced back to the beloved (peace be upon him). They differ in small details, that apply to a very small percentage of text. For example, the word ‘malik’ in the first chapter, in verse three, can be authentically read as ‘malik’ or ‘maalik’, when reciting. Reading it as ‘maleek’ is not allowed, as it is not a method the beloved (peace be upon him) ever used.

This is a lengthy topic, that those who are specialized in the arts of recitation among the Islamic sciences, will know volumes about. So I will stop,  hopefully by giving you an idea of a topic likely very unfamiliar to western understanding. Nevertheless, to end by saying the rules of tajweed are extremely exacting and the tajweed teachers known to be among the most strict! (cute video here of a little boy mimicking his tajweed teacher, that went viral in Muslim circles 😀 – reminds me of all the hours I’ve spent trying to get the back of my tongue to raise to elocute ‘ra’…can’t be a flat tongue!)

However, once the correct pronounciation is established, the melody by which a reciter delivers is entirely individualized. It is often very personal, and improvised. You can watch the fascinating documentary ‘Quran by heart’ made by a Western musicologist who lives in Cairo and studies the art of Quranic recitation on youtube, and thus presented in way familiar to a Western audience. There are many information sources about this in Arabic, but they would be very unfamiliar.

The documentary is woven around the annual ‘Quranic recitation’ competitions, that are global affairs, and where competitors from all around the world gather. The Quran (meaning the Quran in Arabic, in any other language, Muslims don’t consider it the Quran, but only a human interpretation of its meanings) is the only text known to be preserved without any change since the time it was first revealed. It’s preservation, is not in books or recordings, but in the hearts of people. Muslims do consider the Quran a living miracle, and the greatest of the miracles given to the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).

[By dedicating one’s life to its memorization and transmission, it has been preserved for us for close to 1.5 millenia. Muslims believe, that once the Quran is erased from the hearts of people, that that would be a major sign of the coming of the end of humanity.]

 

InshaAllah I will continue soon on the maqaamath, this post has become too long so I will stop now, leaving you with a taste for Quran recited in tajweed, this is verse 190-194 of the third chapter in the Quran, called ‘A’li-Imran’ (=’the people/tribe/family of Imran’, to whom belongs the blessed Mary, peace be upon her). Recited by Qariah (=’female reciter’, title given to one specializing in tajweed recitation) Hajjar Boosuq of Morocco.

Qariah Hajjar will repeat many times, phrases or sections of verses. I will give the translation and transliteration of the verses below, so you may try to follow her along as she takes you through the meanings. She begins with the ‘basmallah’, the traditional opening for Quranic recitation; ‘audhu billahi min ash-shaytaan ar-rajeem/ bismillah ar-rahman ar-raheem'(=I seek refuge with God from the accursed satan/ In the name of God, the most loving/kind, the most gracious/merciful/loving…hard to translate the basmallah!), and ends with saying ‘al-fatiha’, which means the audience is asked to recite to themselves, the opening chapter of the Quran called ‘al-fatiha’ (=the opening). The interpretation in English is by Shakir.

It is about 10 mins long, I highly recommend good quality earphones, and to close your eyes when listening. In Islamic spirituality, it is the hearing that is the sense that is most closely connected to the heart (not the sight), hence the Quran is fundamentally an oral transmission, and thus transmitted from ‘heart to heart’ 🙂

Peace be with you all.

 


 إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ 

Inna fee khalqi assamawatiwal-ardi wakhtilafi allayli wannaharilaayatin li-olee al-albab
[3:190] Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand.

الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ 

Allatheena yathkuroona Allahaqiyaman waquAAoodan waAAala junoobihimwayatafakkaroona fee khalqi assamawati wal-ardirabbana ma khalaqta hatha batilan subhanakafaqina AAathaba annar.
[3:191] Those who remember God standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee; save us then from the chastisement of the fire:

رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ مَنْ تُدْخِلِ النَّارَ فَقَدْ أَخْزَيْتَهُ ۖ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنْصَارٍ

 Rabbana innaka man tudkhili annarafaqad akhzaytahu wama liththalimeenamin ansar
[ 3:192] Our Lord! surely whomsoever Thou makest enter the fire, him Thou hast indeed brought to disgrace, and there shall be no helpers for the unjust:

رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا سَمِعْنَا مُنَادِيًا يُنَادِي لِلْإِيمَانِ أَنْ آمِنُوا بِرَبِّكُمْ فَآمَنَّا ۚ رَبَّنَا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَكَفِّرْ عَنَّا سَيِّئَاتِنَا وَتَوَفَّنَا مَعَ الْأَبْرَارِ

 Rabbana innana samiAAnamunadiyan yunadee lil-eemani an aminoobirabbikum faamanna rabbana faghfirlana thunoobana wakaffir AAannasayyi-atina watawaffana maAAa al-abrar
[3:193] Our Lord! surely we have heard a preacher calling to the faith, saying: Believe in your Lord, so we did believe; Our Lord! forgive us therefore our faults, and cover our evil deeds and make us die with the righteous.

رَبَّنَا وَآتِنَا مَا وَعَدْتَنَا عَلَىٰ رُسُلِكَ وَلَا تُخْزِنَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۗ إِنَّكَ لَا تُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ

Rabbana waatina mawaAAadtana AAala rusulika wala tukhzinayawma alqiyamati innaka la tukhlifu almeeAAad
[ 3:194] Our Lord! and grant us what Thou hast promised us by Thy messengers; and disgrace us not on the day of resurrection; surely Thou dost not fail to perform the promise.

How the Quran heals (me) -1

Assalamu alaikum (=peace be with you) dear readers,

I pray this finds you well and peacefully greeting this new year of 2015. Alhamdulillah (=praise and thanks to God) I am returned safely after some extensive travel. It was extensive in terms of distance, time and also in terms of heart openings and incidents.

Incidents during this journey and remembering where I was at this time last year refresh in the mind a strong memory. Something I have been wanting to post on for sometime but had not yet gotten to that ‘place’ from where I could. Now it may be time to start. Hence the number in the title above – inshaallah (=God willing) I will post more segments during this new year.

To begin with the first, let me keep it short. Approximately a year and a half ago (the date will never leave my memory I think) I had an answer to a very deep prayer manifested in the most unexpected of ways – by a near or perhaps a complete breakdown that left me helpless and sinking into a deep depression. The incidents that prompted this state were several, however they culminated in a very scary episode while I was driving. Without going into details let me say, that I was at one point on the verge of collapse while pulled over on the side of the road (by God’s grace, how I avoided an accident to pull over only God knows), very far from home and very unable to reach out to anyone to help.

I was sinking into a very bad place…hard to describe…when my phone beeped – a childhood friend whom I had not spoken to in years texted to ask how I was. It may have been a question out of the blue, or have been prompted by some news traveling through the grapevine that I was not well, I do not yet know. I had no energy to reply that message but the sound of that little beep pulled me out of wherever I was going and I summoned enough will of mind to get myself out of that place.

It was survivor instinct that told me I had to get home somehow. Somehow start up my car from its stalled state, get over a fear to drive again, and make the long drive home. I had been listening to a lot of Quran the months preceding this time…and a particular recitation I liked on youtube came to mind. I had enough data and charge left on my smartphone to find the recitation on youtube. By Allah, I swear it was the playing of it that got me home that day.

It is a recitation of Surah (=chapter) Maryam (=Mary), chapter 19 of the Quran. One of the most beautiful and profound chapters. One that has always been a deep favourite. In it, God relates the story of Mary and the miraculous birth of Jesus or Isa (peace be upon them both). A profound story for all Muslims. Something about the dignity, strength, resolve and purity of the beloved Maryam (peace be upon her) giving me immense inspiration as I am sure it does all Muslim women who ponder these verses and indeed Muslim men too. Not many of my non-Muslim readers may know how greatly Maryam (alaiha salam) is celebrated in the Muslim world. Maryam remains a favourite name for Muslims girls (I can’t count the number of Maryams I personally know!)

In terms of the rules of recitation, or ‘singing’ as one of my dearest friends put it (and she is well versed in Western musicology, so I shall trust her descriptor to be more apt!), it is one of the most beautiful passages in the Quran. Quranic recitation follows very strict rules that have not changed (not one beat of it) since the time the beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) first recited the revelation. Someday I will blog about this science. I am now training in this exacting art and adore it. There is something about the reverberation of the sound waves that I am convinced alters the electro-magnetic state of the brain, thus preventing depression.

The anti-depressive effects of the recitation of certain chapters of the Quran are well known in the Muslim world. For example Surah Baqara, the second chapter in the Quran, is often recited to protect from negative thinking/dark thoughts. And it is recognized that music has profound impacts on psychological states. So it is an obvious connection. Though I know of no literature in English that links the two, I am sure such studies must have existed or do exist in the Arabic speaking world.

Suffice to say, this recitation saved my life that day. And since that day, the recitation of Surah Baqara saw me through some very dark times sans medication. I wanted to share this publicly, where there is benefit let as many benefit as possible!

I will post the recitation here so you may enjoy it. The particular version I listened to that day is still on youtube, it’s by a Qari (=reciter) of the Quran that is not very well known. [Qaris in the Muslim world are famous – almost like famous musicians in the western world. Many can move entire audiences to tears]. His name is Ahmed Al-Omrany. Unfortuantely that version doesn’t have the translation. So I will post another Qari’s qira’a (=recitation) below, that of Sh. Moatesem Al-Hameedi, which does contain the translation in the video.

God’s peace and blessing be upon you all and His protection

Wassalaam (=and/with peace)

Eid Mubarak!

Eid-ul-Adha Mubarak ! (=May it be a blessed festival of sacrifice)

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (=peace be with you)

The rights of the Hajj pilgrimage are over and it is time to celebrate. The hujjaj (=pilgrims) will be shaving their head or cutting locks of their hair off to symbolize their completion of the pilgrimage and soon the ‘udhhiya’ will be carried out. Udhhiya is the term given for the religious sacrifice of an animal, where each pilgrim must sacrifice a goat, sheep, cow or camel and distribute it’s meat to the poor. There are rules governing the distribution, with at least 1 third being obligated to be distributed to the poor.

This year, there would have been over 2 mill pilgrims amounting to about 500,000 sacrificial animals at least. It’s commendable that the Saudi government has put in place a system whereby the meat from this massive sacrifice is processed in modern facilities and then distributed to the poor of over 30 different countries. And though some of you may find this hard to believe there are plenty of people in many parts of the world where this is the only meat they see the whole year. I personally have heard of many such cases.

The sacrifice is an enactment of the willingness of the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him, the name is rendered ‘Ibraheem’ in Arabic) to sacrifice his son Ishma’el (peace be upon him, the name rendered ‘Isma’eel’ in Arabic) upon the command of God and Ishama’el’s willingness to comply. At the last minute, God sends down a ram to take the place of Ishma’el. There are many other events from the life of Abraham and his family (peace upon them all) that the hajj symbolizes, which I won’t go into here. And there are many places in the Quran where God, Exalted and High, speaks of these events. Here are one set of ayaath (=verses, literally ‘signs’). Interpretation in English from Sahih international, surah Saffat (=those arranged in ranks, or who set the ranks), verses 100-106

Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-raheem

In the name of God, the Most Loving, the Most Nurturing

37:100
My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.”
37:101
So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.
37:102

And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”

37:103

And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead,

37:104

We called to him, “O Abraham,

37:105

You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.

37:106
Indeed, this was the clear trial.

 

The lesson from the Hajj is about trust I think. Certainly the sacrifice is all about trust. Both Abraham and his son (peace upon them both) completely trusting of the will of God and that it is good for them. The pilgrimage is arduous and one is forced into circumstances and situations where one’s usual ‘props’ are all taken away. Everyone dressed alike and stripped of all the illusion we surround our souls with in terms of material possessions, we are confronted with our humanity. Confronted with our utter need and dependency. No wonder all who go have something to say about this life-changing experience.

I was searching for a video to share for Eid, and I found this 8 min clip of thoughts shared by returning pilgrims. The last speaker said what I found to be especially enlightening.

 

Eid Mubarak once more! I leave you with a clip of the hujjaj performing their final circumbulation of the ka’aba, symbolizing many things, among which, the muslims willingness to rotate their life around the axis of God, and aligning oneself with the movements of the planets and constellation and galaxies that we also believe are rotating around the axis of the One Creator. They chant as they go the ‘eid takbeer’, which we also chant in our homes during the times of Eid as we celebrate with them.

 

The miracle of water

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be upon you all

Half of this blessed month has already left us, never to return, and one can’t help but be sad at that thought. But indeed then also still happy that the month is still in our midst and that the last ten days are soon to begin. Bi ithnillahi ta’ala (=with the permission of God, the Most High) I will blog about the last ten nights of Ramadan later on.

Many of my Muslim readers who have been fasting, and perhaps some of my non-Muslim friends who joined the fast this year, would have gotten a renewed appreciation for water the past few days. Here in Canada the days are long and where I live, we are having a spell of warm weather. There is nothing as delightful as that first sip of cool refreshing water at sunset when we break our fast. Indeed the du’a (=prayer/supplication) of the blessed beloved (peace of God be upon him) when he broke his fast is heartfelt by us as we also utter it. [He made other du’a when opening the fast, that we also say]

‘The thirst has gone and the veins are quenched, and reward is confirmed, if Allaah wills.’

While fasting has many esoteric benefits, one among them is  truly a deeper understanding of the suffering there is in the world. Some things just have to be felt to be understood! And yet, as I write this, I know it is true that the suffering of thirst and hunger we undergo is very different to that of people who really are suffering these tribulations. For we, we have some assurance in our heart of food and drink that will come at the end of the day. But for many thousands this is not an assured thing. Indeed this month reminds us that for many in the world, even in our post-modern context, starvation/malnourishment/lack of potable water is still a stark reality.

It is remarkable how much more energized I feel just after drinking that glass of water. It always strikes me how amazing it is, that this substance can bring about such a complete change in a matter of moments.

As a scientist-in-training I am mesmerized by water. It’s such a perfect molecule. I forget, but I recall reading that had not the bond angle between H-O-H (the two hydrogen atoms and the one oxygen atom) being the precise angle it is, all of life would not have existed. It is an amazing molecule – that when it is frozen, it weighs less than when liquid… one could go on and on about it.

So I looked up an old post that I want to share. It is taken from here. This was shared with us by one of my dear sisters, herself a post-doctoral fellow now mashaAllah (=by the grace of Allah). It was when we had been studying the water cycle as it is given in the Quran during our Quran study halaqa (=circle/group/class). It was blogged 4 years ago. A reminder of the 4th anniversary of our Quran study group and also of this blog, bi barakathiallah! (=by the blessing of Allah). A useful collection of ayaath (literally ‘signs’, meaning ‘verses’ in the Quran..as each verse is considered a sign of God)

 

“Also, since we were discussing the fact that Quran mentions that fresh and salt water do not mix. The reference to it is in the Surah 25 Al-Furqan: Ayat 53: “And it is He who has released [simultaneously] the two seas, one fresh and sweet and one salty and bitter, and He placed between them a barrier and prohibiting partition”

It is also in Surah 55 Ar-Rahman, Ayat 19 & 20.

 

I think we were all fascinated by water and how it sustains life.
Ayat 54 of Al Furqan is the one that says that humans are created from water: It is He Who has created man from water: then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things). 

Surah 21 Al Anbiya Ayat 30: “We made from water every living thing”

 

I wanted to share this video (http://videos.howstuffworks.com/hsw/17265-the-water-cycle-where-fresh-water-comes-from-video.htm) about the cycle of water which is also mentioned in the Quran at several places:

– Surah 23 Al-Mumenoon Ayat 18: “And We send down water from the sky according to (due) measure, and We cause it to soak in the soil; and We certainly are able to drain it off (with ease).”

– Surah 30 Ar-Room Ayat 48: “It is Allah Who sends the Winds, and they raise the Clouds: then does He spread them in the sky as He wills, and break them into fragments, until thou seest rain-drops issue from the midst thereof: then when He has made them reach such of his servants as He wills behold, they do rejoice! “

– Surah 7 Al-Araf Ayat 57: “It is He Who sendeth the winds like heralds of glad tidings, going before His mercy: when they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a land that is dead, make rain to descend thereon, and produce every kind of harvest therewith: thus shall We raise up the dead: perchance ye may remember.”

– Surah 39 Az-Zumar Ayat 39: “Seest thou not that Allah sends down rain from the sky, and leads it through springs in the earth? Then He causes to grow, therewith, produce of various colours: then it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then He makes it dry up and crumble away. Truly, in this, is a Message of remembrance to men of understanding.”

Let’s renew our appreciation of water, our thanks for it, and implement the sunnah (=way/habits/practices) of the beloved Messenger of God (peace be upon him) in how careful he was in using water and not wasting it.

Ramadan Kareem! (=May Ramadan be generous for you/wish you a generous Ramadan/God’s generosity be with you this Ramadan)