The Qur’an is Islam’s Book of Divine Guidance. It is in Arabic, and is the spoken word, or “kalam,” of Allah (God). It was revealed to Prophet Muhammad via Archangel Jibrael more than fourteen centuries ago. It has laws and commands that govern how Muslims should live, communally and individually. Unparalleled by any other book in the world, it has the unique honor of being memorized in its entirety by hundreds of thousands of Muslims: those who understand its Arabic, and also those who do not. Another distinguishing quality of this “book” is that its recitation is an act of worship, one which draws the reciter closer to Allah and earns him or her a multitude of reward. It also exalts his or her status among the Muslims.
“Recite that which has been revealed to you of the Book and keep up prayer; surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest, and Allah knows what you do.” [Surah Al-Ankaboot: 45]
Several people get confused about how those people who cannot speak or understand the Arabic language can learn to recite the Qur’an. Others do not comprehend how reciting something which one does not understand can uplift a person spiritually. Because of these doubts and confusions, some Muslims have a laid-back attitude towards improving their recitation skills, or, in other words, their ‘tajweed.’
‘Tajweed’ literally means ‘to beautify or adorn something.’ In Islamic terminology, it means the skill of reciting the Qur’an. Among Muslims of South East Asia, from where I hail, the sad plight of most Muslims’ lack of recitation skills is caused by the similarity between Arabic and Urdu. Most Muslims in this region recite the Qur’an the way they speak Urdu – even some professional religious teachers and preachers! We should strive to recite the Qur’an the way it is supposed to be recited, observing all the rules of tajweed.
“Those to whom We have given the Book recite it as it ought to be recited. These believe in it; and whoever disbelieves in it, these it is that are the losers.” [Surah Al-Baqarah:121]
If you want to learn how to recite the Qur’an with proper tajweed, please read on:
Get to know the letters and their ‘makhaarij’ or articulation
Tajweed can be improved by understanding the “articulation” of each letter in the Arabic alphabet, or how it has to be pronounced correctly. This is known as its ‘makhraj’ (literally, its place of exit from the mouth cavity) – the place from the throat, mouth, palate, or tongue (or their coordinated movements) which emit that particular letter’s sound. This is of extreme importance.
The next step is to learn the sounds produced by the “harakaat” or ‘motions’ which are marked above or below each letter. These “harakaat” bring the letters to life, by elongating or shortening them in a certain way.
Finally, joining all the letters, along with their sounds, to pronounce the words of the Qur’an in a smooth, melodious flow results in the art of Qur’an recitation or tajweed.
Learners who are not too familiar with the Arabic alphabet may benefit from transliteration tables that are available online; these enable English-speaking learners to pronounce each Arabic letter correctly. You can view a sample of this transliteration in the screenshot taken from The Noble Qur’an ebook, below.
The tried-and-tested “self-tutorial” method of learning tajweed
While striving to learn tajweed, we must remember that the Qur’an was amalgamated into a physical book-form several years after it was revealed in full. Most of the early Muslims learned the Qur’anic verses by heart, via the method of “ilqa.” To date, this is the most effective method of learning Qur’an recitation and memorization.
Ilqa means “to put into” in Arabic. In this method, a teacher speaks the words of the Qur’an properly, then pauses as the students repeat those words exactly the way he has pronounced them. He then catches their mistakes or corrects them, asking them to pronounce again. The students thus learn, by constant repetition of this process of (i) listening closely and (ii) repeating.
When a non-Arabic speaker first starts making an effort at improving tajweed (particularly those who have converted to Islam), the first few sessions leave his throat aching and tongue tired, with all the stress on pronouncing the letters properly. However, with constant daily practice, the vocal chords get tuned to the new sounds being pronounced.
This method can be simulated in today’s era very effectively, by dedicated, determined and self-disciplined tajweed learners. They will need:
– A copy of the Qur’an
– An audio tape/CD/DVD/software/website (which will play one verse of the Qur’an at a time)
– A place to learn with no disturbance or distractions, such as a computer table
– Knowledge of how to perform Wudu, or ablution – the method of Muslim body purification – because the Qur’an should be recited in a state of purity.
Having the right attitude
Of course the ideal scenario is for a Qur’an teacher to personally tutor the person who wants to improve their tajweed or who has to learn recitation from scratch. Such tutors are available for home-tutoring for a fee or are accessible at mosques, madrassahs or Islamic centers, where they give regular, free tajweed lessons to a group.
However, no matter how good the teacher, or how many classes a student might attend, unless and until the latter is determined to put their knowledge of tajweed to practice by applying its rules into their daily recitation (if they do make it a point to recite daily, that is), and to correct themselves as soon as they make a mistake, their attending classes will be of little benefit. Some complain, “I have been studying and learning tajweed at various Islamic organizations for the past five years, but my recitation has shown no improvement!” and their attitude is that of blaming the teachers whose classes they have attended for their lack of progress. When they recite the Qur’an, they do not accept the mistakes they make, taking offense if the teacher picks out their errors. Such a defensive and narrow-minded attitude towards learning causes their own loss.
The ardent pursuer of knowledge of Qur’an recitation knows that this Book demands no less than the very best from him. He is humble in approaching it in any way, and ready to accept and amend his mistakes. Effective tajweed practice entails catching one’s error as soon as it is made, going back and reciting the verse of the Qur’an again without making the error, and repeating this action until perfection is achieved.
Online resources and websites that can be availed
Nowadays, it is easier to follow a self-help regimen of learning tajweed. Websites such as About Tajweed, Tajweed English and Islamweb tajweed articles are very good for learning tajweed rules and getting the do’s and don’t’s straight. The rest depends on the student’s discipline in practicing regularly. A daily 15-20 minute recitation session after the pre-dawn prayer of Fajr is a good option, since the house is quiet at that time, and the reciter’s vocal chords and larynx are rested after the night’s sleep, facilitating articulation.
“Surely the morning recitation is witnessed.” [Qur’an – Surah Al-Israa: 78]
A session of tajweed practice involves the following steps
– Turn on the tape player, software or website that will play the Qur’an out loud for you.
– Keep the Qur’an open in your hands, and focus on the words and letters which the teacher or Qari recites. Most teachers (whether live or on tape) recite one verse at a time if it is short, or break up a long verse into parts, reciting the difficult portions over and over, giving emphasis on the letters that are elongated or stressed upon. Look at the letters as they are being recited and listen closely.
– Most tajweed softwares or digital Qur’an players are designed in such a way that a pause can be manually introduced after each short verse, or after a part of a long verse. When the pause occurs, try to repeat the words exactly as the teacher recited them. If the teacher does not pause in your tape or software, hit the pause button yourself and repeat the words just as you heard them.
– Later, practice the same verses on your own, without listening to the recitation. Catch and amend your mistakes. Don’t be easy on yourself in this regard.
The above steps, when repeated on a daily basis, will guarantee gradual improvement in tajweed. With some students, however, astounding improvement occurs within just a few days! This is because hard work always pays off. The harder you practice, the faster you’ll improve.
Get a partner for your self-learning process
It’s good if you pair up with a friend or fellow student, to recite before each other at regular intervals, so that each can note the other’s progress and see how their performance has improved. A partner can help catch those of your errors that you may have overlooked, and they will provide motivation, encouragement and reassurance.
Listen to the Qur’an in Arabic as much as possible
Listening to Qur’an recitation has a great effect on the listener’s ability to recite and memorize Qur’anic verses. Listening to the Qur’an has never been easier than it is now – you can download and listen to the Qur’an on your computer (such as, by downloading the Qur’an Reciter), your notebook, cellphone, or iPod; or you can buy your own digital Qur’an player. You can play it on a CD while doing housework, or in your car while driving to work or school. The one basic etiquette of listening to the Qur’an is that one should not speak when it is being recited.
“And when the Quran is recited, then listen to it and remain silent, that mercy may be shown to you.” [Qur’an – Surah Al-‘A’raaf: 204]
You should find a reciter or Qari whose recitation touches your heart and soothes your soul. There are numerous famous Qurra (reciters) in the Muslim ummah, and all Muslims have a different favorite. Beginners of tajweed prefer Qari Ali ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Huzaify of Madinah, who has a very clear and deep, nasal voice, with slow, soothing recitation. (Listen online to his recitation of Surah Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur’an.)
Reciting the Qur’an has several benefits, not the least of which is the dissipation of stress, worry, fear and anxiety. It is one of the quickest means of bonding with Allah. The Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever does not beautify the Quran (i.e recite it melodiously), he is not of us.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari]
Prophet Muhammad also recognized the fact that there will be some Muslims who, despite their full effort and sincere hard work, might just not be able to recite the Qur’an as beautifully as those endowed with more innate talent; he encouraged them with the promise of a dual reward:
“Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering and stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Sahihain: Al-Bukhari and Muslim]