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.

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.