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.

The honored guest is less than a ‘moon’ away!

I am interrupting my series on Spain because I must express my growing joy that the month of months is so close upon us. The month of Sha’ban began a few days ago with the new moon. The next new moon will be Ramadan! Muslims all around the world wait for this month. For us, ‘she’ is an honored guest. We clean our homes in preparation of her coming, and look forward to Ramadan days of cleansing the body that prepares the way for the nights of cleansing the heart. [For my non-Muslim readers, we keep our body away from food, drink, sexual relations during the day, as well as keep our eyes and ears away from things we should not look at and what we should not hear as well as try to keep our tongues away from speech not pleasing to the Divine. Then in the night there are long communal prayers, these are optional. Usually the whole Quran is recited during them by the end of the month. The standing by night in the quiet with a body enjoying the feeling of food and drink after that long fast is a very peaceful beautiful feeling. Hard to describe, it needs to be experienced]

Only a heart clean is fit to reflect divine light and what a lot of dirt accumulates in a year! So Ramadan is the Muslims great yearly shake-out and rejuvenate time. And indeed, if our hearts cannot reflect that divine light while we walk on the earth, what a poor sojourn it is. May Allah purify all our hearts and strengthen them!

The early generations of the followers of the blessed prophet (God be pleased with them all) would divide the year into two- the six months following the end of Ramadan they would supplicate to God to accept their good deeds during the month and the other six they would ask God for the bounty of meeting another Ramadan. From here

Ma’la Ibn al-Fadhl said about the Salaf (the pious predecessors): “They used to call upon Allah for six months until Ramadan reached them, then they would call on Him the other six months that Allah may accept it from them.” And Yahya Ibn Abee Katheer said, “Their supplication used to be,‘O Allah, keep me safe until Ramadan, and make Ramadan faultless for me, and secure it for me as an accepted (month of virtue).’”

 

So much to say about Ramadan…may Allah give me the blessing of meeting it, and may He give me tawfeeq (=success, felicity) to share more about Ramadan with you my dear readers. For now, I leave you with an episode from a must watch series; “traveler with the Quran”. Sheikh Fahad Al-Kandari (Allah preserve him), whose adab(=etiquette, manners, comportment) is truly a coolness to the eye hosts this series. He is hafidh-ul-Quran (=protector of the Quran literally, meaning one who has memorized it) and he travel the world interviewing huffadh-ul-Quran (pluran of hafidh-ul-Quran). Amazing series – especially the episodes from Tunisia and Algeria etc (people used to be jailed for learning Quran there as recently as 20 years ago- unbelievable!) to China (it was forbidden to learn or teach Quran till as recently as 5 years ago). No wonder the Muslim world is in disarray – if its people have been so divorced from their book. Indeed the colonial period was a catastrophe, that many scholars say equals if not exceeds the catastrophe that was the Mongol invasion that decimated Baghdad in the 12th century. May knowledge return to the Muslim nation. May Allah bring us back closer to our book!

Since Ramadan is the month when we envelope ourselves with Quran, its recitation, its reflection, and since it is the month of its first revelation…I thought it apt to share an episode. It was hard to pick an episode to share, I love so many of them. Here is one from China. I think many of you wouldn’t know about the ethnic Hui Muslim Chinese community (not the Uighers of West China). Islam has been in China since about the 9th or 10th Century CE, and has existed peacefully side-by-side with its non-Muslim neighbours.

Please click on ‘CC’ for English captions.

I am also incredibly impressed by the fluent Arabic spoken by the Chinese teachers.

To end, here is echoing the prayer for meeting Ramadan

“Allahumma balighna Ramadan”

(=O Allah give us the bounty of meeting Ramadan)!

It is a prayer to be made often, may we have the blessing of life to meet the blessed month once more

 

Peace be with you all