Sunday, January 29, 2012

Feats of Memory

Contestants as young as seven years old often demonstrate the extraordinary ability to memorise the entire 600-page Koran - without actually speaking Arabic. 

This can be seen every year in Quranic contests, which are popular throughout the Islamic world. Young people see it as an honour to represent their country and compete fiercely to do so.

One of the most prestigious competitions is held each year in Egypt, where during Ramadan more than a hundred of the best young students from more than 70 countries across the Islamic world converge on Cairo for the International Holy Koran Competition. Morocco has always sent entrants and many have done particularly well.

 Back in their home country, Moroccan children take part in their own competitions and this last weekend saw the conclusion of the 7th edition of Morocco’s International Quran Competition. It wrapped up on Saturday (January 28th) in Casablanca.

Winners of different categories were awarded at the closing ceremony held in the city’s Al-Hassan Thani Mosque. Forty-one young Quran reciters and memorizers from Islamic and Arab countries took part in the competition, which was organized by Morocco’s Awqaf and Charity Affairs Organization. 

Ten internationally acclaimed Quran reciters and experts in Quranic sciences made up the contest’s jury panel, which was headed by Muhammad Jamil Mubarak from Morocco. Other members of the jury panel included As-Salem bin Muhammad Al-Shanqiti from Saudi Arabia, Samih Ahmed Khalid Al-Asaminah from Jordan, Farajullah Shazli from Egypt and Al-Hadi bin Muhammad Rushu from Tunisia.

 Winner of the top title in the category of memorization of the entire Holy Quran, reading and interpretation was Amina Salamah from Algeria while Zakaria Muhammad Ali Al-Tirablusi from Lebanon came first in the category of memorization of 5 Hizbs (sections) of the Quran, reading and interpretation.

For those interested in finding out more about these competitions, there is an inspiring HBO documentary Koran by Heart that captures the drama of the 2010 edition of the annual event in Cairo, following three extraordinary ten-year-olds who have dedicated their lives to honouring their families, countries and culture through memorization of the religious text.

Nabiollah, from Tajikistan

Koran by Heart follows two boys and one girl as they go head-to-head with other children, some nearly twice their age, and spotlights the second and third-place winners, who inhabit an environment caught between fundamentalist and moderate visions of Islam.

Rifdha, for example, is from the Maldives and is one of only 10 girls in the competition. Although both parents want her to be educated, Rifdha's father insists that she grow up to be a housewife; her mother encourages her to work toward a career. Nabiollah, from Tajikistan, receives widespread acclaim at home and abroad for his masterful recitation skills, but is virtually illiterate in his native language. Djamil, from Senegal, is asked to represent all of Africa at the competition, but must travel to Egypt alone without any family or friends to guide him.

 Director Greg Barker says the greatest challenge in making Koran by Heart was “finding a way to make the ancient art of Islamic recitation accessible to a non-Muslim, Western audience. As ordinary people make decisions over how to educate their children, the future of the next generation of Muslims hangs in the balance.”

 Koran by Heart premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and was an official selection of 2011 Mountain Film in Telluride and 2011 HotDocs. The trailer is below.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And of course, this is why some see religion at best as simple indoctrination, and at worst as brain washing.
Traditionally, scholars in the Muslim world are those that are versed in the Koran and its interpretation. Historically,this locked out the true scholars, the likes that the western world has seen emerge after the dark ages.
This short sightedness still pervades in modern Islamic countries.
Contests like this one for memorizing the Koran are the best proof that enormous energies and efforts are wasted in a futile exercise of memorization.