Tajweed Thoughts

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Every student is unique, as is every teacher. Keeping this in mind, how do you find the best Qur’an teacher and program to achieve your Qur’an learning goals?

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Determine what exactly you need to study, is it reading fluency, Tajweed, or are you looking to memorize?

2) Find a teacher that SPECIALIZES in this subtopic.

Not all teachers have experience teaching all of these subjects. While some teachers are amazing at strengthening a student’s Hifdh, they may never have taught a student how to read Arabic, because the students that came to them already knew how to read.

3) Know what learning method suits you best.

Are you someone who does well with intensives, or do you prefer to learn small bits of information over a longer period of time?

Do you have any learning disabilities or speech impediments?

Are you a student who loves working at his/her own pace independently, or do you feel more motivated in group settings?

Keep these things in mind as you choose a teacher/program.

4) What are your time constraints?

How much time do you have to devote to class, reviewing notes, and preparing a recitation portion for the next class per week?

Choose a program that will allow you to achieve your goals in the time you have available. If you have a lot of free time, look for a program that has multiple classes a week. If you feel you are pressed for time, then perhaps, once a week would be better.

5) Teacher/Student chemistry

It is very important that you feel a connection to your teacher. The knowledge of the Qur’an passes from heart to heart, requiring the student and teacher to care for each other for the purpose of the transference of knowledge.

If you feel that either due to personality or language barriers you are not able to develop a connection with your teacher, it would be best to respectfully not continue with the teacher/program.

6) Online or In Person?

Local classes allow you to be able to see your teacher and for them to see you. This isn’t always possible online. You also have the benefit of the teacher listening to you without any possible voice quality issues. Lastly, most students develop a stronger bond with a teacher that they meet with physically.

Unfortunately, there are not always enough qualified Qur’an teachers available in every area. Online classes allow you to have access to qualified teachers who may not live in your particular area. Also, for parents of young children, online classes are usually easier because it allows the parent to take class while the child is otherwise engaged, or to easily arrange child care with other family members for the duration of the class time. Online learning, however, can seem impersonal at times, and it is highly dependent on the voice quality that your device and internet service provide.

It is important that students consider all of these questions BEFORE choosing a program. Every teacher/program have their own way of teaching. It’s important that you as a student think carefully about your own needs, and find a program that suits you best.

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Tajweed Notebook

We all have been stuck in that awkward moment when we need to write something down, but can’t find a pencil or piece of paper. So, we find ourselves scribbling with crayons on the back of an envelope, or a random flyer. Sometimes, Tajweed notes suffer the same fate. They are written on a random piece of paper (with the intention of them being transferred later), or on a notes app on a smartphone.

Although the crisis is averted in the moment, unfortunately, it doesn’t facilitate mastery of the Tajweed Rules. One of the first things my Sheikh told me was that I was required to have a notebook dedicated to the rules he would cover in class. I still have this notebook, and till this day, I write down any new Tajweed rules I learn in the same notebook.

Organizing Your Tajweed Notebook

You can buy a simple spiral notebook, or a journal. Some students even use loose leaf paper that is filed in a binder. You can take notes in the order that you learn them in class, or you can create sections, and write your new notes in the appropriate section. Here is a suggested list of sections you might need:

-Makharij

-Sifaat

-Ghunnan

-Mudood

-Extra

You can use tabs to separate the various sections, or just fold the first page before a new section begins. You can also buy a multi subject notebook. Make sure to keep this notebook with your mushaf and have it with you at every class.

Benefits of a Tajweed Notebook

Having a notebook dedicated to Tajweed notes helps to know which rules you have covered and which you still need to learn. Also, it serves as a quick reference point for when you are trying to remember a specific rule. Lastly but most importantly, it allows you to easily review the rules you have learned in your previous lesson.

Remembering Tajweed Rules

In all the years that I have been teaching Tajweed, I have had only two students who always answer my questions about Tajweed rules correctly. Both of these students use the same study technique. Just as they set time aside to practice the recitation lesson for the next class, they also set aside dedicated time to memorize whatever rules were covered in the previous session. Overtime, they have memorized all the rules I have ever covered with them. Also, while preparing their recitation lesson, they identify examples of the rules we have already covered. This helps to solidify their understanding of the material, but also makes it easier for them to answer the teacher’s questions.

Your Tajweed Notebook is an essential part of your journey. For students who hope to get ijazah, it is indispensable, as mastery of the rules is just as much a requirement for ijazah as mastery in recitation.

I pray this post helps all of us to get our Tajweed Notebooks organized :).

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Approaching the Qur’an

We had traveled all day the day before. I have to admit that I was physically present at the conference, but was tired and sleepy. Sitting in the hall with dimmed lights didn’t help my situation much either, until….

The “Connecting With The Quran” Session started! It was my favorite session of the Pearls of Quran Conference 2017, other than the live recitations. It was a panel discussion with four speakers of diverse ethnic and ideological backgrounds. Each gave their own thoughts on how we can connect with the Quran on a personal level. I am summarizing them below:

Connecting With The Words of the Quran

Two of the speakers emphasized that we should not underestimate the power of the recited Quran, even if we do not understand it. Imam Magid mentioned that he developed a strong relationship with Surah Yaseen just because he heard his grandfather (may Allah have mercy on him) reciting it daily since Imam Magid was a child.

As Sheikh Recep Senturk is Turkish, and he comes from a non Arabic speaking culture, he talked about how non Arabs can connect to the Quran. This, I felt, was one of the most profound comments. He reminded us that “linguistic understanding” does not necessarily lead to “spiritual understanding.” I have seen this in my own life, as I have read the work of professors of Quran, who are not Muslim. At the same time, I remember my own grandmother who embodied the values and attitudes of the Qur’an, but I don’t ever remember her reading a translation. The recitation of the Qur’an has a transformative effect on us, even if we don’t understand it.

Connecting With The Meaning of the Quran

The speakers gave some very interesting insights here as well. Dr. Jonathan Brown told us about his personal experience of writing notes to himself and reflections as he read through the Qur’an at the young age of nineteen. He encouraged the attendees to establish a practice of reading the translation and basic tafaseer of ayaat on a regular basis and then writing down their reflections. He did not mention this link, but I think this sister explains Qur’an Journaling very well. What is Qur’an Journaling?

Sheikha Zainab Alwani brought out some fascinating points regarding questions that may come to our minds as we read the translation and try to understand the Qur’an. She advised that the Qur’an has to be read a whole text. So, if you are having trouble understanding a particular word or concept in an ayah, trace that concept/word throughout the Qur’an to get a clearer picture. One of the most powerful things she said, is that the Qur’an invites questions, so that the reader is forced to read and think deeper in order to find the answers.

I think I will remember this session at the conference for many years to come as a treasure trove for students and lovers of the Qur’an. We were reminded that connecting with the Qur’an is a multi-layered endeavor. We connect with our minds through reflection and understanding of the message, with our bodies through applying and implementing the commandments of the Quran, and last but not least, with our hearts by simply believing and confirming its truth, and letting its light illuminate our lives.

Photo credit: Zaid Al Balushi via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

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So, it’s 2017 and Sheikh Al Husary along with twenty other Qaris is in your purse and in your pocket.

We have lots of apps that start with the word “Qur’an” on our phones, our tablets, and we have tens of websites bookmarked on our web browser. Considering how many resources we have access to, one would think that reciting the Qur’an incorrectly is a thing of the past. 

The difficult truth, however, is that although awareness of the science of Tajweed has increased, its mastery, for the most part, has not. There are some extremely effective tools available to Qur’an students today that were not available to our predecessors, and yet, I would argue, our quality of recitation is not drastically better.

This leads us to today’s topic. How can we effectively use the technological tools available to help us improve our recitation?

Listening to Recordings of Expert Reciters

Whether you are memorizing or working on perfecting your recitation, listening to the recitation of expert reciters is always helpful. Unfortunately, many students choose a reciter for the beauty of their voice, or style of recitation. However, one of the drawbacks of the internet is that anyone, and I mean anyone, can upload their recitation. Often, they have beautiful voices, but are not trained reciters, and therefore often have many technical mistakes.

When choosing a reciter to listen to for the purposes of learning, students should choose a reciter that recites slowly, is known to be an expert reciter (holds ijazah), and that the recording is high quality. It is often difficult to hear the subtle points of Tajweed if the recording is of poor quality.

My personal recommendation, as always, is Sheikh Mahmoud Khalil Al-Husary. You can find good quality recordings of his recitation at www.QuranicAudio.com.

Reciting with Recordings of Expert Reciters

If you are using a recording to review a Surah that you have memorized, then you should recite with the reciter. However, if you are using the recording to practice your application of Tajweed rules, you will not benefit as much if you recite with the reciter. Instead, pause the recording, and recite the ayah that the Qari or Qariah just recited aloud. When we recite with Sheikh Al Husary, most of us feel like we must be reciting just like him, but unfortunately, this is often not the case. When we pause the recording and recite, we are more likely to hear our mistakes.

Recording Your Own Recitation

The problem with Tajweed mistakes is that they are the natural way we say that letter or sound. Our brain doesn’t necessarily identify it as a “mistake.” This means that sometimes when we are practicing, we are simply solidifying our mistake. One of the ways to prevent this is to record your own recitation and replay it to yourself. This will allow you to compare your recitation to that of the expert reciter, and identify mistakes. Most phones, even non smartphones, have a pre installed application that allows you to make voice recordings.

Another great time to record your recitation is while you are in class. This allows you to go back and listen to your mistakes, while also listening to your teacher’s corrections and explanations. Just remember to ask your teacher before recording a lesson :).

Use Quran Apps

There are so many wonderful Quran Apps available free of cost. One of the many benefits of these apps is that most of them follow the structure of the 15 line Madinah mushaf. Therefore, for those of us who have memorized or are memorizing using the 15 line mushaf, these apps provide us the opportunity to review on the bus or even while waiting in a doctor’s office.

One of my favorite Quran applications is Bayan Quran. Not only does it have a beautiful and easy to use interface, but also, it gives you the root word, the part of speech, and the meaning for every word in the Qur’an. You just need to press down on the word. This is great for students who find it easier to remember a word if they know the meaning. Bayan Quran is available for both Android and Apple products.

Podcasts and Videos to Learn the Rules of Tajweed

This is perhaps one of my favorite tools available. Although the rules of Tajweed are pretty standard, every teacher has a unique way of explaining them. Allhamdulillah, with the multitude of videos and podcasts available, we can access multiple explanations of the same concept. This allows students to develop a much deeper understanding of the rules.

These videos and podcasts are a great resource for teachers of Tajweed as well. Teachers can refer students to external resources, and use valuable class time to focus on perfecting recitation. Also, recorded lessons allow students to watch a lesson multiple times to solidify their understanding, and pause to take notes.

I will be sharing the best sites I have found for this soon :).

Like anything else, it is important that students use the many resources available to them in a systematic manner, and not haphazardly.

The science of Tajweed is the science of preserving the sound of the Quran. For the past 1400 years mastery in this science has only been achieved by sitting with a teacher of this art. While technology is a tool we can use to learn this science, it does not change the nature of the knowledge itself, or the meticulous system through which we have received it.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog does not benefit monetarily from the purchase or use of any of the resources mentioned above.

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5 Amazing Tajweed Textbooks

I am often asked about Tajweed textbooks. Although there are many useful resources out there, there is something about sitting down with a book, highlighting, and making notes in the margins that facilitates learning like nothing else!

In all my years of teaching Tajweed, I have to admit that I have yet to find the one perfect Tajweed textbook in English. There are multiple textbooks that I find beneficial, and each has its own merit. I chose the books listed below because they use language that is easy to understand, are well organized, and include charts and activities that facilitate comprehension and retention.

5. Azharia Educational Textbook

This rather short and concise Tajweed textbook is published by Dar al Ma’arifah in Damascus. They are also the publishers of the widely used color coded Tajweed musahif. I came upon this textbook at a local Islamic Bookstore, and found it a useful resource to have in my classroom. This book is not a reference book for Tajweed rules, but rather it mainly focuses on the correct application of the rules. Each chapter has a very brief explanation of the concept, and then a multitude of examples. This is a great textbook for teachers who are are teaching younger or beginner level Tajweed students. I found that this textbook would be best used to practice the rules in isolation, before expecting students to apply them when reciting longer selections from the Quran.

Availability: Not as widely available

Price: $10-$15 USD

4. Tajweed Untangled by Zaheer Khatri

This is by far one of my favorite textbooks to use with younger learners and beginner students of Tajweed. I remember sitting in Tajweed classes when I was young, and struggling to find examples of the rule we were studying. I would be searching through a long surah, and by the time I found the example, my teacher had moved on to the next topic. This textbook eliminates that problem. Although it only explains basic Tajweed rules, it does so quite effectively through the use of charts. It provides examples and worksheets that students can complete to solidify their understanding of the concept. The same activities can even be used as an assessment. The days of making your own Tajweed worksheets are almost over😉.

Availability: This book is published by Learning Roots in the UK, and is widely available at online Islamic bookstores and Amazon.com.

Price: $15-$25 USD

3. Let’s Beautify Our Recitation: A complete handbook on Tajweed by Haroon Baqai

This textbook is better suited for older learners, and goes into more detail about each rule than the two books mentioned above. While it provides a detailed explanation of basic Tajweed rules, it also provides worksheets and practice activities, which is not common in most textbooks. It begins with the basics of reading, such as letter recognition, vowels, tanween, and shadda. It then moves to explain Tajweed rules such as the rules of Meem Sakinah and the rules of Madd. Although it does not cover all the topics in the science of Tajweed, it is still an excellent resource for beginner and intermediate students.

Availability: Widely available at online Islamic bookstores and even Amazon.com!

Price: $17-$20 USD

2. اللْالِىءُ النّقيّة: Commentary on Al-Muqaddimah Al-Jazariyyah

This is a beautiful textbook written by Sheikh Muhammad Saleem Gaibie that follows the traditional method of studying a text. He begins the book with a detailed biography of Ibn Al Jazari, one of the foremost scholars of the science of Tajweed. The biography is detailed and is truly a treat to read. He even includes a picture of a manuscript in Ibn Al Jazari’s handwriting. He then goes through each section of the Jazariyyah by translating each line of poetry into English, and then provides a brief commentary. A very special element of this text is that Sheikh Muhammad Saleem also gives the word for word translation for each line. This allows advanced students to develop Arabic vocabulary while studying this text. I would recommend that a student complete at least one of the Tajweed textbooks mentioned above before working their way through this text.

Availability: Available online as a PDF

Cost: Free! You can download it here: Commentary on the Jazariyyah by Muhammad Saleem Gaibee

1. Tajweed Rules of the Quran by Ustadha Kareema Czerepinski

This is a unique Tajweed textbook. Most English language Tajweed textbooks focus on the basic rules of Tajweed, and often do not provide a detailed explanation of each rule. Ustadha Kareema has written this valuable three volume text, which is basically an English language commentary of the well known poem of Tajweed, the Jazariyyah. This three volume set is an essential resource for all advanced students of Tajweed. The only draw back is that sometimes English linguistic terms are used to explain some rules, and readers may or may not be familiar with those terms. That being said, this is still the most detailed Tajweed textbook I have found in English.

Availability: Widely available at online Islamic bookstores and even Amazon.com.

Price: As low as $10 USD for each individual volume. The three volume set costs between $35 – $50 USD.

I pray that you find this list of textbooks useful either as a teacher in the classroom, or as a student of Tajweed. May Allah Taala reward all the authors of the textbooks above for their effort, and may He make them a source of benefit for the Ummah of His Beloved (SAW). Ameen.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog does not benefit monetarily from the purchase of any of the books above.

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Struggling to Succeed

Does your journey to recite the Quran with Tajweed feel like the picture of the train tracks above?

You look at your beautiful mushaf, admire its calligraphy, listen to expert recitations, try to copy them, and even take classes. Even with all this exposure, why are you not able to achieve perfection?

There can be many reasons why you may feel like you aren’t going anywhere. My guess though: it probably has something to do with your practice routine…

Some of the common mistakes that Tajweed students make is not practicing enough, or worse, practicing their mistakes and making them even more entrenched, and lastly, relying solely on recorded recitations rather than reciting on their own.

Here are some tips to be help you effectively structure the time you spend practicing.

In Class

1. Make sure you can hear the difference between the correct and incorrect sound.

2. Also, make sure you understand what you are doing incorrectly, such as where exactly your tongue is supposed to be, etc.

3. MARK your mistakes! Circle your mistake, and then write the details in the margin or on a post it, so you remember what exactly your mistake was.

4. If possible, record your class, so that you can revisit your mistakes, and the teacher’s correction.

 After Class

1. Practice from the mushaf with your marked mistakes.

2. Isolate the sound or word you are having a problem with. Sometimes, students insist on repeating the whole ayah, and are not able to concentrate on the sound they are having problems with.

3. Record and listen to yourself saying the sound/word. Sometimes, it is easier to catch your mistake when listening to a recording.

4. You can listen to recordings of expert reciters such as Sheikh Al Husary. However, relying too much on recordings of expert reciters doesn’t give you chance to practice your own recitation.

General Advice:

Practice daily and remember to apply Tajweed rules whenever you recite the Quran, not just when preparing for class. (Daily prayers are an exception, as one should focus on one’s prayer and not on Tajweed.)

Do not regularly listen to recordings of other Qiraat (ex. Warsh ‘an Naf’i, Khalaf ‘an Hamza, etc.) until you have completed your ijaza in the riwayah of Hafs ‘an ‘Asim.

Lastly, remember that taufeeq (success) is only from Allah. Make the effort, and hope in Allah’s mercy. I pray that Allah Taala makes all of us among the people of the Quran, those who recite the Quran as it was revealed and embody its message. Ameen.

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A Lump in My Throat: How to get over recitation anxiety

Have you heard the words, “affective filter?” These two words are an important hypothesis in the theory of second language acquisition (which is what Tajweed is for non-Arab Muslims). Stephen Krashen explains that when the “affective filter” is high, students have a difficult time progressing in learning a second language. Basically, this means that while your stomach is churning, and you are struggling not only with the sound of ع, but also with the lump that seems to be permanently lodged in that makhraj, you will have a difficult time learning.

Does that lump sound familiar? It’s been around for so long, I think it may be a permanent feature of my throat now. However, even though we may feel nervous from time to time, consistent anxiety when reciting to a teacher (or even to oneself) can stall a Tajweed student’s progress.

The real question is: how do we get over it? As always, before looking for solutions, it is  best to list the problems first. Here are some reasons for why we feel anxious:

  1. We are reciting aloud in front of someone.
  2. We are afraid that we will make mistakes.
  3. We are aware of the immense weight that a mistake in reciting the Quran carries.
  4. We want to correct our recitation, but feel frustrated that it isn’t happening.

Believe it or not, sometimes all of this is happening when we are reciting one word! If all or even some of these thoughts go through your head while you are reciting, you will definitely have trouble focusing and enjoying your lesson.

In the following paragraphs, I will take apart each of these issues, and hopefully provide some useful solutions.

Reciting Aloud In Front of Someone:

This feeling is similar to stage fright. For most of us, speaking or singing in front of an audience is not something we do often. So, when we have to recite in class in front of a teacher and sometimes fellow students, it can be debilitating.  One of the ways to overcome this feeling is to imagine that you are sitting in a place of peace, like a garden, and reciting by yourself.

Secondly, do not allow yourself to think about what your “audience” is thinking. At the end of the day, we all have mistakes, and our reason for attending class is to correct those mistakes. None of us are trying to develop a fan club through our Tajweed classes! Also, recite in front of others, such as family members on a regular basis in order to gain more confidence.

On a higher spiritual level, we need to come to a place where we realize that every time we recite the Quran, we are reciting to Allah Taala, and the Quran is telling us something about our own condition. When we develop this higher spiritual relationship with the Quran, the size or the nature of the “audience” will no longer make us nervous. It is just you and the Quran in tranquility.

We Are Afraid Of Making Mistakes

While in Amman, I had a chance to recite to and make a khatam with a Sheikh who was known to hold the highest sanad (chain of transmission) in Jordan. You can imagine how nerve wrecking that was! Every time I made a mistake, I would apologize to him profusely. And, each time, he would say, “I love it when you make a mistake, because it allows me to correct it. If I correct it, you will not make that mistake again.” He would say, if you don’t make the mistake in front of me, you may make it later, and I won’t be there to correct it.

Tajweed mistakes help us to purify our intention and be aware of our reality. Anyone who is studying Tajweed for the purposes of feeding their ego, will not achieve mastery due to not being able to bear being corrected. Secondly, our reality. Our reality as human beings is that we are imperfect. Perfection belongs only to Allah.

Tajweed is an odd science. Its enthusiasts revel in their imperfection, and seek teacher after teacher to can pick out their mistakes.

My advice, don’t be scared. Make mistakes, get corrected.

The Awareness of the Immense Weight that a Mistake in Reciting the Quran Carries.

This awareness is something that is a gift from Allah Taala. This particular cause of nervousness is not something we should try to avoid, but rather, we should embrace. This nervousness motivates us to perfect our Tajweed even more. However, if it becomes overwhelming, take a moment to send salawat on the Beloved of Allah (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him).

Feeling Frustrated Because You Are Not Able to Fix Your Misakes

We all feel frustrated when we have done everything we can possibly imagine to fix the pronunciation of a letter or sound. We know the theory, our teacher has explained it to us, and yet, we just can’t get it right. Sometimes, this feeling lasts through one week of practice. Other times, it can be months before we can correct a sound. It took me three years to fix my sound of the letter “Ra.” This feeling can cause many students to give up, or to feel so frustrated that they are not able to focus during practice sessions.

Some practical solutions:

It never hurts to go over theory and to review multiple sources. Sometimes, another teacher may explain it in a way that makes more sense to you than the way your teacher explained it. For letter pronunciation, I would suggest visiting Tajweed In English as well as AQL Arabic Sounds in addition to listening to your teacher’s explanations. Also, take a methodical approach to practicing the sounds and letters. You can find a well outlined approach here: Makharij ul Huroof: A step by step approach to fixing your pronunciation

But, sometimes, we watch all the videos and follow all the steps, and yet we are still reading it incorrectly. This is an important moment in our spiritual development. Our frustration arises from the fact that we are relying on ourselves to achieve the desired result, not realizing that each and every sound that we are able to produce correctly is simply by the taufeeq given to us by Allah. It is only through Allah’s grace and mercy upon us that we can correct our recitation. The effort and time spent practicing a letter or a sound is like a dua, a prayer entreating Allah Taala to help us and to bless us with the treasure that each letter is.

My Arabic teacher, Ustadh Fahim Qazi of Quranic Linguistics, taught us this dua. Reciting this dua at moments of frustration will inshAllah remind us to keep our focus on Allah. While we rely on ourselves, we will always feel frustrated.

The dua: Ya Fattahu Al Aleem, Iftah lana fathan qareeba. يا فتّاح يا عليم افتح لنا فتحًا قريبًا

In this dua, we ask Allah: Ya-Fattah, the One who grants openings and victories over and over again, and Ya Aleem, the One who has absolute knowledge of everything, to give us an opening soon.

To conclude, Tajweed is not just a science to be studied. But, rather, the study of Tajweed is a spiritual journey that focuses us on Allah Most High and reminds us of our own imperfection and neediness as servants of Allah. I pray that the tips and thoughts above help us to overcome the anxiety that we experience when reciting.

Photo Credit: By Marius Arnesen from Oslo, Norway (Masjid-e Jami – Herat, Afghanistan) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

You Will Have to Take a Taxi

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You will have to take a taxi. The closest bus stop that I know of is at the mall. You could always walk from the mall, but remember the hills are quite steep in Amman. You can tell the taxi driver that you need to go to Masjid An-Noor. He won’t know where it is, and will probably ask five different people before he figures it out. In the meantime, enjoy the often breathtaking views of Amman, the city built on hills.

Here lives one of the saints that I have been honored to meet and spend time with. Perhaps, one of the most difficult aspects of studying and teaching Tajweed is maintaining the purity of one’s intention. I have to confess that even though I had been studying Tajweed for four years already, I had never really given thought to the significance of that word.

My cousin and I waited in a little store that was half restaurant and half grocery store until a little boy came to guide us to a small, first floor apartment. We entered and we were met with the hospitality that Arabs are famous for.

When asked what I had come to study, I replied, “Tajweed,” in my heart thinking “I think my sister mentioned that on the phone.” The reply I received was unexpected (which I came to expect from my teacher). I was told, that I hadn’t come to study Tajweed, I had come to receive the “secret” of Tajweed. I knew for sure that I wouldn’t be able to figure out what the secret was in that moment, because it was, after all, the “secret.” However, I did find the courage to ask how I would know if I had received it, and what if I didn’t receive it?

The answer till this day, makes my skin tremble, the saint responded, “Intention.” Intention wasn’t the beginning of learning knowledge, it was the condition! In that moment I understood that true knowledge is the “secret” that lies within sacred knowledge, and the condition (the word shart in Urdu describes this best) is the purity of intention.

How, I asked, was I to achieve this? Again, a short, concise answer, “Make your intention, and then forget about everything else.”

Sometimes, in the piles of papers, notebooks, recordings, and even our own Tajweed mistakes, we forget the point of it all, to attain the secret. The condition of which is, intention.

Activity: Find a quiet moment to reflect and write down your intention for studying Tajweed, and then “forget everything else.”:)

Photo Credit: Yassine Abbadi via Compfight cc

To Recite or Not to Recite

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Sometimes I find myself in gatherings and someone asks me to recite. It can definitely be an awkward situation and many times I find myself looking for a way to avoid such situations. What is it that stops us from reciting? Is it only self consciousness or a deeper spiritual hesitation? 

Although I have not found an answer to these questions yet, (and would love to hear your thoughts) I often think back to one of my teachers from North Africa who was a master of the variant recitations of the Quran. He had, MashAllah, memorized the one thousand line poem of the Shatibbiyyah, and would quote the exact lines from the poem when teaching me a difference between riwayahs. However, this Sheikh never lead prayer. He would purposely wait around in the stairwell and only join the prayer after it had started. 

One day, I asked him about this strange practice of his, and he gave me a worried smile and said, “I am afraid that the children in the congregation will listen to my recitation and copy my mistakes.”

Through him, I came to realize that achieving mastery in Tajweed and recitation of the Quran often makes us more aware of our subtle mistakes. The allusion of mastery is often more dangerous that not knowing at all. My dear teacher was keenly aware of the responsibility that Allah had placed on him. 

How do we carry the responsibility of teaching Quran while maintaining the caution and humility required? I will keep thinking about this question, and hopefully, one day will find an answer to the dilemma of reciting in gatherings. 

Makharij ul Huroof: A step by step approach to fixing your pronunciation

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Words are a string of sounds represented in some languages with symbols that together represent a concept, an object, or a person. In Arabic, three letters with distinct shapes and sounds come together to form the word “heart,” قلب, while at the same time reflecting the nature of the heart; it is easily swayed. Changing any letter in this little parcel will definitely alter the meaning. It is not just so with Arabic, but with English as well, saying “I love roses” is not the same as saying “I love noses.”

The little rhymes that we came up with as children by replacing the first letter of a word were indeed quite humorous. However, when we enter into the world of Quranic recitation, the substitution of letters is far from humorous. The beautiful word that represents our most vital organ can be changed to mean “dog,” only by a slight variation in the position of the tongue.

As the knowledge of Tajweed spreads, many Muslims are becoming more aware of the importance of pronouncing each letter as it should be pronounced. As we are trying, we are also realizing the difficulty of the endeavor. Our tongue naturally looks for a familiar sound similar to the one we hear, and automatically makes the substitution. Hence, using the sound of the letter “a” for the sound of ع.

How do we stop that automatic substitution? Although it can seem like a daunting task, I pray that the step by step approach outlined below will make the process seem much easier. I pray that students and teachers find it of benefit.

  1. Know the makhraj (point of origination of the letter). You can learn this through Tajweed books, or even through videos online.
  2. Make sure you can hear the sound correctly. Listen to recitations, and make sure you can pick out the sound that you are trying to learn. If you cannot do so, then you need to spend more time listening to a recording, or to your teacher, in order to make sure you can differentiate that sound from similar sounds.
  3. While trying to produce the sound, close your eyes, and focus on the position of your tongue, and notice exactly where it is. Or focus on the sensation caused in your throat when you say the letter correctly. (You will need a teacher to help you at this stage so you are sure that you are producing the correct sound).
  4. Remembering the sensation caused by the sound of the letter will help you to know whether you are saying it correctly or not.
  5. Another way is to record your recitation and to listen to it to determine whether you are producing the correct sound.
  6. Once you have produced the correct sound, (even once), you are ready to practice.
  7. One of the best ways to practice is to choose a name of Allah Taala that has that sound in it, and to say it after every prayer multiple times. Not only will you be making dhikr, but also, you will have a routine of practicing that sound. For example, if I am having trouble with the pronouncing the letter ح, then I could choose the name الرّحيم and say it multiple times after every prayer to practice the correct sound of the letter ح.

If you cannot hear the difference at all, it is often beneficial to think about the sounds that you do know in the language(s) that you speak. You are probably making an automatic substitution. Once you know which letter in your language you are using to substitute the Arabic letter, it may become easier to not make the automatic substitution.

There are many ways of correcting one’s pronunciation of the letters. These are the steps that have helped me and my students to correct our pronunciation :).

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The Door that Would Not Open

I sat in class, week after week, trying halfheartedly to understand the corrections of this perfectionist of a man. I wanted his knowledge, but I just couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. He spoke English for sure, but for some reason, I could understand the words but not what they meant. There was movement of jaws, there was lots of exaggerated smiling. I always thought that somewhere he must have got it wrong. I had studied Tajweed for so long, and no one had mentioned smiling jaws.

There I was at the door of knowledge, and I found it closed. My attempts at gaining knowledge were like a body without a soul, and all my attempts to resurrect it were unsuccessful. Until one day, in a moment of anger, I spoke harshly to my “teacher,” and discovered that I wasn’t his student at all. For a student, as he would teach me, not only respected her teacher outwardly, but rather respected her teacher in her heart. And, it was this respect, and this adab that was the key to the locked door in front of which I stood. 

It was in that moment of realization, and the moment of my sincere apology that this strange, meticulous man who barely spoke to us outside of class would become one of my greatest teachers. Tajweed he explained was not about correctness, it was about the preservation of the Quran. He was exacting; every sound had to be correct. Where did he get this energy, this constant motivation to keep correcting, patiently, the same student for three years? It was from his immense love for the beloved Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him).

He taught us, his students, that reciting the Quran correctly was a labor of love. He introduced us to the immense reality that we now, fourteen centuries later, can say each letter the way the beloved of Allah Taala said it. That was a heavy realization, the realization that Tajweed is not just a science of the Quran; it is a way of expressing our love for the Beloved of Allah (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him). 

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The House on the Narrow Street

Our car pulled up to a narrow street. There was a goat by the door. Yes, imagine, a goat in a metropolis, but this was Karachi, where goats and donkeys and people all lived in harmony, at least most of the time. I was about nine years old, and curious. What was this place to which I had been brought?

I moved cautiously behind my mother. Apparently, we had come here to meet a woman who recited Quran correctly. I, who had finished the Quran twice cover to cover, had no idea what correctly  meant. I remember her clearly, a frail, thin woman with large dark eyes lined with kohl and a lip that always pulled to one side when she spoke. Her hair was covered by a thin muslin dupatta tucked behind her ears. She was the woman who would introduce me to my deepest love, not my first, but the one that has stayed with me. Her name was Abida, and I called her baji.

Each day, she would call me to her, and teach me one letter, “Take your tongue out a little for this one,” I remember her saying, and teaching me to say ث. I would walk around her tiny, two room house practicing my letter of the day and reflecting on the life of this frail yet powerful woman. I did what she told me; I respected her. But, it would take me years to understand that it was one moment in my time with her that changed my relationship with the Quran forever.

I used to wash dishes in my parent’s Karachi bungalow. Water gushed through the faucet, and I had plenty of soap. I used to stand on a stool and listen to Jinn stories from the cook while I washed. But my baji used to squat in front of a shallow mud “sink” and wash her dishes under a trickle of water that only came at certain times of the day. And there she was scrubbing and rinsing in this trickle of water, when I caught her smiling. I couldn’t fathom what she was smiling about, until I noticed that she was smiling about the words that were coming out of her mouth in her immensely melodious voice. They were the words of Allah. Words that I had read so many times, but I never smiled. 

That memory, twenty years later is still engraved in my mind. It was that day that I became her student, when she gave me a little of what was in her heart to drink. And, I became addicted. Throughout my life, I have searched for and have been granted by the grace of Allah Taala amazing Quran teachers, who have given me to drink of that magic potion that fills their hearts. The love that makes them smile even when they are faced with a trickle of water, the love that makes them think of the fountain of the Prophet (SAW) in Jannah when confronted with thirst in this world.

What is Tajweed? Why learn it? Because it is the perfect excuse to spend time with your beloved, the Quran.

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Tajweed is Like Your Extended Family

There is a running joke among Tajweed teachers that if you want to test someone’s mastery of the rules of Tajweed, quiz them on the mudood. That might leave us wondering, why the mudood? Frankly, I found the Sifaat just as elusive. But unlike other rules, mudood are all interconnected, and yet they have definitions and lengths of their own. It’s like quizzing someone on the relationships between the members of a large extended family. So, this leads us to the question that I hear most often from students: How do I master the rules of Tajweed? The answer: The only way one can know all the relationships between random people, is by being a part of that family

Simply being told, even repeatedly, that the lady wearing the purple scarf and the huge ruby ring is the mother in law of your first cousin’s second daughter is never going to help. But, when you sit next to her, and listen to her praise her daughter in law, who happens to be your cousin’s daughter, now that you will remember! 

I can tell you from experience, that no matter how much your teacher explains a rule, you will not remember it. However, it’s when you make mistakes on that madd, and she asks you its name, and makes you say it again, and again, and again, that you will eventually remember, that yes, this is Madd Wajib Muttasil, and I have a problem with making it long enough. Tajweed is a labor of love, each letter, each Tajweed rule is a friend. You have a personal story with each one of them. Until this relationship is developed, it will always be difficult to remember which madd is which.

I am writing this, because many people think of Tajweed as a science like physics or even Social Studies. Sometimes, it can feel similar to memorizing the clearly printed definitions of the bold terms in a history book. Unfortunately, Tajweed is not that simple. It is more like an art, where the teacher teaches you the technique, and you spend the rest of your life perfecting it. Nothing in Tajweed is ever completely mastered. Right when you think you’ve gotten it, you’ll discover a slight new nuance, and you will start the process of practicing all over again.

Although metaphors are useful, we all need some practical steps too. Here is how I managed to store and organize all those large interconnected spider webs of Madd rules:

  1. Make sure you understand the concept. Ask questions until you get it. (This is where you need a teacher.)
  2. Do some basic practice to ensure that you have understood the rule. (You may need a teacher’s help with this step too.)
  3. Every time you recite the Quran, have your Tajweed notebook close by, and try to identify as many rules as possible.
  4. Find someone, a sibling, a friend, your children, even a stuffed panda and try to teach the Tajweed rule you are trying to master.

To close, it is easy to get lost in the delicious organization and detail of Tajweed Rules. But mastering the rules is a very small part of achieving our eventual goal, to recite the Quran as it was recited by the Beloved of Allah (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him.) He (SAW) recited the Quran to the Sahaba and they repeated it to him (SAW). Listen and repeat: the original and eternal method connecting us back to that wondrous day when the Beloved of Allah (SAW) heard the words “Recite: In the name of your Lord who created you.”

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