By Asiya Akyurt.
Our beloved sister Asiya granted me permission to share her series of posts on Facebook with you. It’s the longest piece I have shared so far (50 mins read) and different from our usual posts. It’s well worth a read and I hope it inspires you and keeps you going! We love you all. — Qari’ Mubashir Anwar.
Once a person hits 40, there’s no turning back, and it’s better to start now than to wish I had later on.
I’ve always wanted to follow a blog about someone I could relate to, someone struggling to hold on to the Qur’an while living a very ordinary life with all its hills and valleys.
Sure, I’ve read the stories about people studying, learning and teaching the Qur’an, but they’ve been mostly second-hand narrations, summarized stories, and about men. Where are the women who decided to go on that journey?
In the spirit of “Be the change you want to see”, I’m starting.
I guess it makes sense to start my story from the beginning.
I was born the last of four daughters, into a family that loved and respected the Qur’an, that tried to follow it as best we could. Some of my earliest memories of my father are of him sitting on the cushions in the corner in his room, holding his Qur’an, and reading silently. I say cushions because we didn’t have couches back then; just mattresses on the floor with cushions to lean against.
I was blessed to be in a school that placed great emphasis on the Qur’an and its importance in our lives, so I grew up wanting to memorize it and learn it by heart. I remember often praying that I would memorize the Qur’an, even writing that dua’ in my journal entries.
My school, which encompassed all the grades from preschool to high school, would participate in annual regional Qur’an memorization competitions with other schools, making fancy ceremonies for the winners and honoring them with prizes and plaques.
When I was in seventh grade, my first year in middle school, I was chosen to be in that year’s competition.
I was horrified.
I didn’t know how to read it well. My memorization wasn’t that strong. And worst of all, I was really weak in speaking Arabic. How on earth was I going to compete against Arabic-speaking students who spoke fluently, especially in the tafseer (explanation of the Qur’an) part of the competition?
The surah for that year’s competition was Surat Al-Mo’minoon (سورة المؤمنون) and memorizing a surah of that length was not something I was used to. But alhamdulillah, I was assigned to a teacher – to whom I’m indebted forever – who patiently sat with me in every recess for week after week, helping me memorize and understand the verses.
Because of my weak Arabic skills and inability – as yet – to express myself correctly and clearly, I did not muster up the courage to try and talk myself out of this competition, and I must say I’m glad I didn’t.
I have no recollection of the outcome of this competition, not because I erased it out of my mind, but because I was chosen for every year’s competition until I graduated high school and my memories about specific contests are blurry. My records say that I won first and second place in a couple of them, but how that happened is a mystery.
I remember in 9th grade, my last year of middle school at the time, I memorized Surat Yousuf (سورة يوسف) for the competition, and during the contest I was asked to explain verse 69 of that surah. I got to the end of the verse and stopped to think of an appropriate word to explain بما كانوا يعملون and I could only think of the word (evil), so I said بما كانوا يعملون من الأعمال الشريرة
My fellow student sitting next to me at the table in front of the judges burst out laughing, and I saw the judges trying to hide their smiles. Boy, how embarrassed I was! I figured that wasn’t the right word to use, but if I was going to be forced into competitions then my school would just have to bear with me.
I mention them because these competitions were a true blessing later on. They made large chunks of the Qur’an that much easier to memorize, and to this day I find Surat Al-Mo’minoon, Surat Al-Kahf, Surat An-Noor, Surat Ibraheem, and Surat Yousuf easier than others to recollect.
Sadly, by the time I graduated high school, I had forgotten all of these surahs.
When I started high school, 10th grade at the time, I decided it was time to start talking and expressing myself more. I would be brave and speak, even though I knew I would make many grammatical mistakes.
At home, my mother – may Allah have mercy on her – never allowed us to speak anything but English. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, she figured we’d all learn Arabic easily enough, so nothing but pure, grammatically-correct English was accepted at our house. We could never say “Me and my friend did such-and-such.” No, it had to be “My friend and I…”
So I did not have a firm grasp of speaking Arabic, even though I understood it perfectly well (with a few funny bloopers here and there) and could read and write excellently. At the beginning, I confused masculine words with feminine, and gave my friends many a good laugh, saying هذه عنكبوت and الأرض وسخ, not knowing the rules enough to differentiate.
But I started paying more attention in our Arabic grammar classes, and slowly picked up the correct way of things. I was intrigued by the preciseness of the grammar, and memorized how to parse sentence after sentence.
This was a big step for me towards understanding the Qur’an, though I didn’t realize it at the time. All I wanted to do was speak without people laughing at me.
That year, my school started a new program of half an hour of extra Qur’an memorization before classes started, and the goal for my grade was to memorize Surat Al-Baqarah, the longest surah in the Qur’an. Day after day, week after week, month after month, we continued memorizing until we finished it. When we did, it was the sweetest moment for me at the time: knowing I had it in my heart to take it with me wherever I went and recite it when I pleased, when many an adult had not accomplished what I did.
My teachers praised “the Turkish girl who memorized Surat Al-Baqarah” so much that it encouraged me to try and see just how much I was capable of memorizing.
Progress at High School
After I memorized Surat Al-Baqarah in my first year of high school, I was encouraged to keep on going. So bit by bit, I memorized a little each day for the next two years, until I had finished memorizing to the end of Surat Al-An’am سورة الأنعام by the time I finished 12th grade. That was by far the accomplishment I was most proud of at the time. I had finished a bit more than 7 chapters out of the 30, and in my mind I didn’t have much left to go.
Then I graduated.
At that time in Saudi Arabia, there was only one university in Jeddah, and you weren’t accepted into it unless you had the Saudi nationality. It didn’t matter if you were born in the country, like I was, or if you lived there all your life; no nationality, no university.
My world was shattered, as I had high hopes of continuing my education, but I was prevented from doing so.
I looked around at what my options were, but sadly there weren’t many.
I could either sit at home and wait for someone to come asking for my hand in marriage (No thanks, my 17-year-old self-thought) or register in one of the many Qur’an schools located all across Jeddah.
I decided, bitterly, to go with the latter.
My father drove me over to a Qur’an School – women not being allowed to drive at that time – and from the moment I entered until I left after registering, my heart was shouting, “I don’t want to be here!”
There were three levels of tajweed (the correct way of reciting the Qur’an) classes, each being one year long, and I was placed in the second level. I tell you, I came back every single day crying, throwing myself on my bed and sobbing my heart out. I didn’t care that I was learning how to recite the Qur’an correctly, or that I was using my time wisely, or that I had something to get up for in the morning.
I was miserable, and in my sorrow over my situation I forgot every surah I had memorized throughout my school years.
My first year at the Qur’an school ended, and I passed on to Level 3. Near the beginning of my second year there, I started realizing that the knowledge I was gaining there was a rarity: not everyone I knew had it. By then I was 18 and maybe a tad bit more mature, at least enough to realize that I should be happy I was in that school.
I started making friends with my classmates; I really liked my teacher; and I was doing well, alhamdulillah. Things were looking up. The curriculum for that year was memorizing Surat Al-Baqarah (what I had memorized three years before, then forgotten) and reading through the entire Qur’an learning the perfect recitation for each word.
I started to feel that studying this science was exciting and challenging, especially since my non-native tongue often stumbled on many words, and it was a sweet experience finding out how they were actually pronounced.
I still didn’t have a strong personal relationship with the Qur’an yet: I was reciting it and learning its rules only because I was in that school and there were tests to be taken and I hated getting anything less than straight A’s. That started to change, however, the day we as a class finished reciting the very last surah in the Qur’an, near the end of the year.
I looked up at my teacher, sitting there at her desk at the front of the class, with our chairs against the wall around her, and I stared.
Tears were streaming down her face.
Could someone love the Qur’an so much she would shed tears to have finished reciting it?
That last year at the Qur’an school was part of a lesson I was going to learn over and over in my life, though it took on different shapes each time. The lesson was: When Allah tested me with something I didn’t like, I was not given what I wanted until I reached a level where I was completely satisfied with what He had given me.
When I first entered the Qur’an school because I couldn’t attend the university in Jeddah, my heart was filled with resentment. I couldn’t have hated my situation more. The next year I started accepting my predicament and learned to enjoy what I was learning. I even started planning was I was going to do next.
After completing Level 3 of tajweed, the next natural step was to try for the Teacher Preparation Diploma, which prepared students to be Qur’an teachers and taught them all the sciences they should know. The thing was, not everyone who applied was accepted.
That was the challenge I needed.
So I accepted that after two years passing without being accepted into the local college, I was never going to get a university degree, and I put all my efforts into passing the entrance exam so I could become a Qur’an teacher. After the interview section of the test, they told me I’d get the results in two weeks.
During those two weeks, which were in the summer, word came that the Minister of Higher Education had made a special exception for me and two other non-Saudis, and I was to be admitted into King Abdulaziz University that fall.
When I heard the news, I was so happy that I crumpled to the ground in prostration, making sujood ash-shukr (prostration of thanks) سجود الشكر.
Starting my memorization of the Qur’an
I graduated from my Qur’an school and enrolled in King Abdulaziz University. When the call came that I had passed the entrance exam to the Teacher Preparation program at my Qur’an school, I gleefully told them that I would not be attending as I was to start classes at the university. I never wanted to be a Qur’an teacher, anyway.
Once I started studying physics, math, chemistry and Islamic Studies, all else was forgotten. Gone were the days that I would sit and memorize pages of the Qur’an and review them over and over for the tests. I threw my whole self into soaking up everything I was taught, and I enjoyed every second of each class.
Week after week, and the surahs I had memorized began to fade from my memory. It got to a point that all I could recite in my prayers were the ones I had memorized in elementary school – only the shortest of surahs.
During my second semester, I was sitting in the hallway of the physics department in the college of science, and my Physics 101 professor – my favorite teacher then – came and handed me, as well as everyone else she passed in the hallway, a copy of an article she had written about the Hijri new year. In it, she mentioned that today was the first of Muharram, and how the new year should be a new beginning for all of us, and each one should look into their hearts and find the goal they’ve been wanting to accomplish all their lives, and start working towards it.
I read the article to the end, lowered the paper, and knew exactly what it was I wanted to do. The thing I’d prayed for all my life.
I wanted to memorize the Qur’an.
I went home that day, and decided I’d memorize one page every day and not stop until I was done. Then I opened the Qur’an and reviewed the last page.
I had begun.
The date was April 6th, 2000.
I was 20 years old and ready to take on the challenge of memorizing the entire Qur’an. I didn’t have a certain timeline in mind, but I did want to finish before I graduated college, so I set for myself the goal of one page a day, starting from the end.
The first few weeks were easy enough, just reviewing what I had memorized in my Qur’an school, which I appreciated that much more when I started memorizing, for I now knew how to pronounce each and every word.
Only when I got to the new parts that I had never memorized before did the task start to seem difficult. I would read the page a few times in the early morning before fajr (morning prayer), a few more times while at the university, then again after asr (afternoon prayer), maghrib (evening prayer), and by isha (night prayer) I would have it down pretty well.
I would catch friends here and there between classes and ask them to listen to me recite and catch any mistakes I made, and when the going got tough and I had tests to study for as well as Qur’an to memorize, I always had my sister (who memorized the Qur’an years before me) to encourage me. She would tell me that no matter what came up, I had to keep going. Just because I had a math test and a physics test on the same day was no excuse to not memorize my page for the day, and that Allah would bless my efforts so I could study in half the time needed. I trusted her and went on, finding that her words were true. My grades never dropped once I started memorizing.
When I was about half way through the Qur’an, I discovered that one of my best friends (a physics major, like me) was also memorizing the Qur’an, along with her cousin, a math major. They would recite to each other for half an hour each morning before coming to the university, and test each other rigorously.
Although I had no one following up on me, I thought I could compete with them.
The race to complete memorizing the Qur’an was on.
My first year of college finished and I was still memorizing the Qur’an, one page a day. Then my second year finished, and I started my third year.
There were times when I felt I just couldn’t go on: I would memorize my page and completely forget what I had memorized a month ago, and my efforts would seem futile. I would try to bargain with my sister over the phone, who was married and on a different continent, that I would review once I finished memorizing, but she would insist it would be too late then, and did I really want to have to memorize the Qur’an all over again? So I kept on struggling, memorizing one page a day and reviewing 20.
Now that my friend and I each knew that the other was working towards the same goal, we would recite to each other every chance we got, sitting together in the university library listening to each other read. Until now I remember the parts I recited to her, subhan Allah.
In my fourth year of college, September 2002, I finished memorizing the Qur’an. It had taken me two years and five months, and I had beaten my goal of finishing before graduating.
There were no fireworks; the sky didn’t rain gumballs; and no party was thrown.
The outer world seemed the same, but inside me, my heart was bursting. I couldn’t believe that I had memorized every word in the Qur’an, when ten years before I had been too shy to talk at school because I didn’t know Arabic enough.
I hadn’t told my parents that I was memorizing since I wanted this to be the one thing I kept to myself for the most part, lest I lose my sincerity. Shortly after, my friend finished, then her cousin, and we congratulated each other happily, but felt the weight of our responsibility now.
We couldn’t let ourselves forget what we had engraved in our hearts, so the journey of reviewing began.
Journey to get an Ijazah
After memorizing the Qur’an, I wondered what the next step was.
My sister had obtained an ijazah, a certificate in memorizing the entire Qur’an with perfect tajweed, six years prior, and I wondered if I could do the same.
In order for me to do that, I had to recite the Qur’an from beginning to end pronouncing each word correctly to a teacher, or shaikhah, who had in turn earned an ijazah from another teacher, in a solid chain of narration going all the way to the Prophet, peace be upon him.
So I spent the remaining year and a half of college reviewing my Qur’an every day, strengthening my memorization over time, in the hopes of starting my ijazah after graduating.
Graduation day came and went, and I called my former Qur’an school and asked for an appointment to go and be tested. In order to start reciting to a shaikhah, I had to first recite some verses in front of a committee so they could see if my tajweed was up to par. Oh, how I practiced day in and day out, and reviewed all the rules I had studied over 5 years prior. I had high hopes of passing and beginning my ijazah.
The thing was, since women couldn’t drive then, I had to ask my father to take me, but he didn’t know that I had memorized the Qur’an, so I had to break the news to my parents.
I first told my mother, who nearly cried with joy, then told my father. His smile was the biggest I’d seen. He turned to my mother and said, “Did you have any idea what our daughter was hiding from us?” and she said, “I guessed it long ago. Why else would she spend hours reading the Qur’an in her room day after day?”
Of course, my father agreed to take me on the day of my test, and my excitement was immense. Here I was on the brink of beginning something amazing, a feat I never imagined was possible for me to accomplish.
When I entered the room where the committee was seated, and I read to them the passage they requested, they informed me that my lisp was too pronounced and I would not be able to begin. My lisp! I knew I had trouble making the “s” sound, and I knew I couldn’t even say my name right, or bite an apple, or chew with my front teeth, but I never imagined my open bite would prevent me from pursuing my dream.
When I got in the car and my father asked how things had gone, all I could whisper was, “I didn’t pass,” and hot, salty tears streamed down my face all the way back home.
After graduating with a physics degree, I wanted dearly to continue my studies, but again, non-Saudis were not accepted into the Master’s program at the university, so I found a job teaching science to elementary students at a private school in Jeddah, Al-Bayan.
I hated it with every molecule in my body.
I would write my lesson plans each evening through a blur of tears, wishing I could have started my ijazah or that I was studying for my Master’s, like my Saudi friends.
My only solace was that, miraculously, my friend and her cousin – with whom I had memorized the Qur’an – had found jobs at the same school. We would meet up once in a while and discuss our jobs and how our review of the Qur’an was going.
After a couple of months, I came to accept my situation and started making friends with the other teachers, and actually enjoyed seeing my students learn. I was asked to give a short lesson in Qur’an and tajweed to the teachers of my department once a week before classes began, and that soon became my favorite part of my job.
Then, after only four months of teaching, word came that the Minister of Higher Education had given special permission for me and my two friends (not my two friends and I) to take the admission test, and we were accepted!
We met up that day at work, and the only words that came to me were these verses from Surat At-Toor:
﴿فَمَنَّ ٱللَّهُ عَلَیۡنَا وَوَقَىٰنَا عَذَابَ ٱلسَّمُوم . إنَّا كُنَّا مِن قَبۡلُ نَدۡعُوهُۖ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلۡبَرُّ ٱلرَّحِیمُ﴾
(So Allah conferred favor upon us and protected us from the punishment of the Scorching Fire. Indeed, we used to supplicate Him before. Indeed, it is He who is the Beneficent, the Merciful)
My prayers were answered. I gave in my letter of resignation, bade farewell to my fellow teachers who had become my friends, and returned to my studies.
Getting married and Ijazah
During my last year of college, at the request of my mother – may Allah have mercy on her – I agreed to be evaluated for braces. She felt that my open bite may have been a reason that I was still not married at 23, when all my older sisters had gotten married before that age.
My stubborn young self replied that if a man didn’t like the way I look or spoke because of my open bite, then he didn’t deserve to be my husband. But inside me I felt it may improve my chances of being able to get an ijazah in the Qur’an, so after consulting my sisters and praying for guidance, I agreed.
After a short time with braces, surgery was needed, and my teeth and jaws were finally where they should have been.So I began my master’s in physics with newly aligned teeth, and continued practicing my tajweed and reviewing the Qur’an, in the hope of passing the Ijazah Committee test one day.
I asked my mother to help me review, and every day after school she would come to my room and sit for half an hour and listen to me read. Although she herself had difficulty reading the Qur’an, she could very well pick up on a mistake when she heard one, and I was kept on my toes. Alhamdulillah, we were able to complete 7 khatmahs (complete recitations of the entire Qur’an) together, and my memorization went from weak to strong.
One thing the committee had recommended I do when I failed the test was to read the tafseer of the Qur’an, or its meaning. So I looked around at what we had at home and found the series “In the Shade of the Qur’an” by Sayyid Qutb في ظلال القرآن للشهيد سيد قطب رحمه الله.
Since I was no longer teaching and had time to myself with nothing to do but work on my master’s, I started reading the six volumes, 11 pages every day an hour before fajr, the first prayer of the day. Oh, how I enjoyed reading those words! I began understanding the Qur’an in a way I had not understood it before, and saw the beauty in each surah, and in every verse of every chapter.
I loved it so much that I began looking for other books Sayyid Qutb had written about the Qur’an, and I found he had written a much shorter book, “The Artistic Illustration in the Qur’an” which blew my mind. After finishing it, I could actually “see” the vivid illustrations in each verse, and “hear” the sounds in many of them.
My first semester of my master’s finished, and that summer I got engaged.
I got engaged in the summer of 2005, and our wedding was set for the next summer. The only problem was, my husband-to-be lived on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and I would be moving there.
My inability to complete my master’s, it being a three-year-program, didn’t bother me as much as my moving away forever from the possibility of getting an ijazah in the Qur’an. Could I try one more time and maybe pass the test?I got up my courage and told myself it didn’t hurt to try, and made another appointment with the committee. This time, as I entered the room, I was much calmer and felt ready to accept the result, whatever it may be. After reciting the passage requested, the judges looked at each other then turned to me and congratulated me on passing. I was elated, but told them I had one request: Could I finish it in 6 months or less, since I was moving to the U.S.?
A few days later, they called with the name of the shaikhah, or teacher/mentor, who was willing to do her best and help me read through the whole Qur’an from memory with the most perfect recitation.
Amazingly, my shaikhah agreed to have me come four days a week, for an hour and a half each time, and she patiently corrected my mistakes, no matter how many times I made them. My father would drive me 40 minutes to her house, pray the evening prayer in the masjid beside her house, then the night prayer, then drive me back.
After a few weeks of just correcting mistakes and trying to perfect my recitation, we started the official ijazah, and 15 weeks later I nearly finished.
Near the end, my shaikhah – may Allah reward her greatly – asked me to prepare a prayer for the khatmah, or the ending of reciting the entire Qur’an, to be read in front of those who would be attending the ceremony at my former Qur’an school.
I told her I didn’t know how to. I had never written out an official dua’ to be read in front of other people, and had no idea where to start or what to say.
I was nervous as I sat down to write the prayer at the end of finishing the Qur’an. Not only was this the moment I had been praying for over the last few years, but it also signaled an end of an era – an end to my life in Saudi Arabia. Where I had been born, where I grew up, where all my friends were, and where I felt I belonged. I had to pray for everything I could ever need or want, because I didn’t know what was going to happen after that, or how my life would be.
My dear shaikhah had advised me to pray for things that would benefit me in the next life, not this superficial, passing, temporary life. She reminded me of the prayer that Musa (peace be upon him) prayed for in Surat Taha:
وَٱجْعَل لِّى وَزِيرًۭا مِّنْ أَهْلِى ٢٩
هَـٰرُونَ أَخِى ٣٠
ٱشْدُدْ بِهِۦٓ أَزْرِى ٣١
وَأَشْرِكْهُ فِىٓ أَمْرِى ٣٢
كَىْ نُسَبِّحَكَ كَثِيرًۭا ٣٣
وَنَذْكُرَكَ كَثِيرًا ٣٤
Even though he asked for his brother to be a supporter from his family to help him, he explained in his prayer that he wanted him in order to better remember Allah (swt), not for worldly reasons.
So I went through the Qur’an and wrote down every dua’ I could find, as well as all the dua’s from the Prophet (peace be upon him) that I knew. And finally the day arrived: Wednesday, June 14th, 2006.
I sat at a table at the front of the room beside another sister who was completing the Qur’an, and looked around me. Rows of chairs were in front of me, filled with committee members, high-level shaikhahs, some of my friends, one of my professors from college, and my mother and niece.
After I recited the last few verses of the Qur’an and began to make the dua’, the paper I was reading from became blurry and my tears started flowing.
I thought of how much I had wanted this so badly all these years. I thought of my time after my orthognathic surgery when I couldn’t open my mouth to read Qur’an for weeks because my upper and lower jaws were wired together. I thought of my responsibility receiving this ijazah, and was I worth it. I prayed with my heart, wanting every word of the dua’ to be accepted.
And then I was done. My shaikhah hugged me and congratulated me, then my crying mother – may Allah have mercy on her – came over, then my shaikhah’s shaikhahs and everyone else.
My shaikhah, who had endured over 100 hours of listening to me recite, never accepted a penny for her time. Not a gift, not a thank-you note, not a bouquet of flowers, nothing was accepted. She had done this for the sake of Allah alone, not for anything else. When I tried to slip small boxes of earrings into her young daughters’ hands as a token of appreciation, she would have none of it. She returned them to me, saying, “I don’t accept gifts, I’m sorry”.
I continue to pray for her until this day. Less than three weeks later, on July 6th, 2006, I was on a plane to the U.S. to start my new life. Little did I know how different it would be.
Teaching Qur’an and Islamic Sciences
Three weeks after getting married I started teaching Qur’an and Islamic Studies to elementary students at a private Islamic school here in Virginia.
I took the job because I was talked into it by an elder in the community who made me feel it was my duty to give back and pass my knowledge on to others.
It didn’t take me long to start hating it. It was bad enough that I was a new bride trying to figure out my way around the kitchen (my mother discouraged me from cooking, encouraging me instead to “go and study”); how to balance work and life at home; how to drive a car; how to fill it with gas; and how to deposit a check at the bank. But in addition to that, I felt everything was so DIFFERENT. No matter where I looked I never saw anything that reminded me of home. The trees were different; the clouds were different, the buildings were different; the people were different; the streets were different.
Trying to adjust to this new life threw me completely off track.
Gone was my regular schedule of reviewing several chapters of the Qur’an a day, and I could no longer recite to my mother half an hour each afternoon. My only solace was that I was still connected to the Qur’an by teaching it to the kids at school, but slowly, without my realizing it, I began to lose it.
I started feeling like a fake when people would introduce me to others saying, “..and she’s memorized the whole Qur’an!” Bit by bit, the Qur’an that had been in my heart started to fade away.
My first year in a strange place ended, and I started getting used to life as a married woman in the U.S. but I still didn’t figure out how to keep the Qur’an from slipping away. I would tell myself that I needed peace of mind to be able to sit down calmly and read my Qur’an without worrying about lesson plans for school, meal plans for home, paying bills, and dealing with insurance companies.
Of course, I never found the perfect time, so I never got to sit down and recite what I wanted to.
A few months into my second year of marriage I found out we would be having twins. My morning sickness turned into afternoon sickness, which turned into evening sickness, until I was practically living in the bathroom. I could think of nothing but how awful I felt, and my beautiful, beloved Qur’an sat waiting for me on the table by the couch, untouched.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, until I was doing anything to keep my mind off of how terrible I felt. I needed something that reminded me of home, and all I could think of at the time was reading the Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls. So I dragged myself to the car, drove to the library, borrowed the series, and flopped onto the couch reading book after book.
Even after my nausea subsided, I still felt awful. I looked around me, trying to find something to make me feel better, and my eyes fell on it.
My mushaf (copy of the Qur’an), sitting on the table gathering dust, having not been touched in months. I dreaded opening it, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to complete the verses without looking, realizing that I had forgotten many of the chapters.
But I did.
I put it in my lap, opened it at random, and read just one page. Reading the words of Allah and understanding that He saw and heard everything and knew exactly what I was going through brought a wave of relief that washed over me.
It was all I could do before I felt nauseous again, but my broken link had been fixed, and my Qur’an and I were friends again.
Five more months passed, and I was still reading my Qur’an regularly, even while I continued my teaching job at the school. When I went into my regular 34-week checkup with my obgyn, I got hooked up to some machines to see how my twins were doing, and my doctor came back into the room looking worried, telling me she was putting me on bed rest lest I lose one of the babies.
For the next 4 weeks I sat at home, happily enjoying my time reading my Qur’an as much as I wanted, not being able to go anywhere, too heavy to move around much anyway.
Then my twin daughters were born.
Coming home from the hospital I wondered why no one had given us a manual on how to care for new babies. How was I supposed to know what to do? When both babies cry at once, whom do I choose to pick up first, when my husband is at work? How do I change a diaper while feeding the other? When do I sleep when each baby is on a different non-existent schedule, waking up every half hour at night?
The first 5 weeks were not as bad as they could have been, since my parents were in the area at the time and my mom came over 2-3 times a week to help with the babies, and my father came daily with a dozen donuts.
Oh, those donuts. They were the sole reason for my getting out of bed those days, and I looked forward to them as my lifeline. Other than that, my days were blurred and my sleep-deprived mind was mush. And my Qur’an was left on the table, completely neglected.
Week after week passed, with me being unable to get anything done except taking care of these strange new beings who depended on us completely for their survival.
Then, when they were three months old,…well, I’ll let my 28-year-old self explain what happened:
A Qur’an Buddy
When my daughters were around 3 months old, one of my friends called and asked if I would be her “Qur’an Buddy”. My first reaction was that I couldn’t do it, not with two new babies. I tried to find excuses or suggest others to be her Qur’an buddy instead, but she pushed and nudged until I agreed. The plan was to meet once a week for an hour and recite to each other: she memorizing a page a week, and I reviewing as much as I could.
I called it “reviewing”, but with all the months that had passed since I had read anything it felt more like memorizing anew than going over something I already had in my heart.
The most I could do was 10 pages a week. That was my goal, and if I could accomplish that much in any given week, I was happy and content. Of course, when a person is used to reciting quietly by herself with no outside distractions, it can be very difficult to recall from memory verses from the Qur’an with two babies that whine, cry, and need to be fed. I almost quit several times, but the thought of apologizing to my friend was worse than trying to find the time to review, so I continued.
An insistent Qur’an buddy was just what I needed, alhamdulillah.
Over the next weeks and months, I was able to increase it to 20 pages a week, and the chapters started becoming more familiar to me, no longer seeming like verses I had never seen before.
When my daughters were 8 months old, one of those verses popped into my mind just at the right time. Again, I’ll leave my 29-year-old self to describe what happened:
Nine years in and I’m still stuck
When my daughters were 8 months old, I was reviewing one juz’ (chapter) a week with my friend. That’s it. That is all I read during the week: one juz’. In Ramadan, I would read the entire Qur’an in one month, sometimes more than once. But during the rest of the year all I was doing was a seventh of what I should have been doing.
Nine years later I was still stuck in that rut.
Can a person contain the entire Qur’an in her heart when she’s reviewing one juz’ a week?
I somehow got swallowed by the superficial feeling of contentment that I was connected to the Qur’an with that one juz’ a week. I was also giving private lessons in Qur’an, Islamic Studies and Arabic to children, and I felt – at times – that those were enough of a connection for me. I say contentment, because for years I had no desire to improve my situation, and I thought I was doing pretty well Qur’an-wise. There were a few times in those 9 years when I was pulled back into time and my heart yearned for more. Like the time my husband asked me about a verse in the Qur’an and I was able to recite it to him. Although he knew I had an ijazah (certificate) in the Qur’an, it seemed like he just realized it then, and asked if he could see it, please. I hesitatingly pulled it out from under a pile of papers on a shelf in our closet, dusted it off, and showed it to him. His face lit up, and he said bursting with pride, “My own wife has an ijazah in the whole Qur’an!” His eyes were filled with tears as he said that, and that is when I burst out sobbing.
How could I have let myself fall so low? What had I done with my ijazah? My shaikhah had advised me to continue on with the ten qira’aat (recitations), starting specifically with the recitation of Warsh, and here I was, having done nothing to improve. Instead, I had regressed and forgotten even my one recitation. My heart ached with regret as much as my husband’s heart burst with pride.
And yet, I did nothing. I would tell myself that if I could read a juz’ a day in Ramadan, then surely I could read as much throughout the year. But one thing lead to another, and I succumbed to the familiar, boring rhythm of my life.
And that’s how nine years passed.
Learning something new!
I had now been giving private lessons in Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic Studies for 9 years, I had three children, and I was feeling discontent.
It was the beginning of summer, and I wanted change. I no longer felt satisfaction from my part-time work tutoring kids, because I just wasn’t challenged enough, and I was forgetting all what I had learned in my Qur’an school, some 19 years before. On top of that, I ached to study the Qur’an better and learn more.
Now, I knew that the first step in reaching goals was to set them, and the first step in setting goals was to write them down. So I got a piece of paper and wrote:
My goals for the summer:
Learn something new
Study the Qur’an better
Change private lessons
Review the Qur’an better
For each of these goals I absolutely had no idea how to go about reaching it. What on earth was I to learn? How would I study the Qur’an better? Just pick up a book and read it? If I don’t tutor kids, whom do I teach? I was homeschooling my children and didn’t want to take a full time job somewhere, and yet I enjoyed teaching. How do I review the Qur’an better? I had tried countless times to read more than 4-5 pages a day, and each time I failed after a few days.
The next day after I had written these goals, a call came from a friend saying she knew of someone who desperately wanted private Qur’an lessons, and she wanted to start as soon as possible. When I called her, she explained that she had been trying for years to memorize the last chapter of the Qur’an, Chapter 30, and had never been able to. Could I help? Well, of course I jumped at the chance, and I started a few weeks later.
I could now mark (change private lessons) off my list, and I was motivated to push forward with my other goals. Might I be able to do something about them?
I still wanted to learn something new and study the Qur’an better. I had no idea how to go about either, but I prayed and asked Allah (swt) to show me, and I had written my goals down, so other than that I felt there was nothing I could do.
That same summer my sister launched ITQAN Institute and asked for different teachers to teach various courses. One course that caught my eye was called “Excellence in Studying the Qur’an”, and consisted of memorizing half of the last chapter in the Qur’an, understanding every part of it, learning how to recite it, and learning the various recitations. It seemed a bit overwhelming to me at first, way beyond my capabilities, but with the encouragement of my dear sister and after praying istikharah (the prayer of asking for guidance), I accepted taking on the task of teaching that 7-month course.
Oh, what a blessing that would prove to be! By teaching that course I was forced to study the meanings of every word in the surahs, and use every tafseer (explanations of the Qur’an) book on my shelves (5 all together). Every night after the kids were in bed, I would bring out the books and stack them beside me on the couch, open one and be swallowed into the world of the surah I was preparing. Although I had read two of the books earlier in my college years, I still found meanings I hadn’t appreciated before, and those nights studying the tafseer soon became more precious to me than sleep.
By the grace of Allah (swt) my second goal of understanding the Qur’an better had been fulfilled.
But my yearning to learn something new still ached my heart.
I wanted so much to earn another degree. I had a B.Sc in physics and a B.A. in Islamic Studies, and I wanted to earn my masters’ which I had started over 12 years before and never completed. I spent hours on the computer searching the post-graduate programs in all the universities in my area: George Mason, George Washington, University of Virginia, to name a few, and none of them had what satisfied me. I would pore over their programs and imagine myself studying them, but none of them hit the spot or filled my void.
Subhan Allah, that same summer I learned of a course to be given online regarding a new qira’ah (recitation) of the Qur’an. It was taught by a teacher I had met 19 years earlier in my Qur’an school in Jeddah, and it was about the recitation of Ad-Doori from Abi ‘Amr.
Now, I had zero knowledge of any recitation other than what I was taught all my life, which was the recitation of Hafs from ‘Aasim, and I had never even heard of Ad-Doori, but I prayed istikharah and thought it wouldn’t hurt to apply. The timing of the class was 10 pm -12 am my time, so that was perfect in terms of not disturbing our homeschooling schedule.
After sending in a recording of my recitation to the instructor and waiting a couple of weeks, I got an email saying I had been accepted! Alhamdulillah, I was happy and excited.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that course was going to turn out to be the answer to my third goal: Learn something new.
Thursday, October 5th 2017.
That was the day I started teaching the “Excellence in Studying the Qur’an” course, and the same day I started the online course I was taking in the recitation of Ad-Doori.
It was a perfect fit, because I would delve into the meaning of one surah from 6-9 pm and help my sisters who had signed up for the class in their recitation, then I’d go home and from 10 pm until midnight I would learn all the mistakes I had in my recitation and how to fix them. That cycle of learning something and teaching it immediately was perfect, and if I had planned it myself I couldn’t have found a better way. Alhamdulillah for everything Allah (swt) plans.
In my online class we not only got our tajweed (perfecting the recitation of the Qur’an) corrected, we also learned all the rules of the recitation of Ad-Doori. At the end of January our teacher sent us an updated schedule for the classes and final exam, which showed that we would be ending in March.
My mind froze when I saw that schedule. This class I was taking was going to end? Just like that? No more Thursday nights gaining new knowledge? Was I supposed to just go back to my boring life of staying in my tracks and not advancing?
I panicked. This couldn’t be the end. I couldn’t just let this course be a bright blip in my life and have everything return the way it was before. But what could possibly come next? I asked the teacher if she would consider giving us an ijazah in this recitation, after we had learned all the rules and completed the course. She said that was possible, if we read the whole Qur’an to her with perfect tajweed in the recitation of Ad-Doori, with at least ten of the chapters being face to face.
I knew I wasn’t ready to apply for the ijazah, because unlike 11 years prior, when I was working on my first ijazah, I was not reviewing 3 chapters a day. Hey, I wasn’t even reviewing one chapter a day.
The days went by and I continued to learn and teach, until one day in February, while I was attending a lecture at the local Islamic center on the book: التبيان في آداب حملة القرآن للإمام النووي رحمه الله “Explaining the Manners of Those Who Carry the Qur’an” by Al-Imam An-Nawawi, it hit me.
I wanted to be from those who carried the Qur’an – the whole Qur’an – in their hearts.
I wanted to be among them. I wanted to have their beautiful manners. I wanted to be from أهل القرآن, the people of the Qur’an. And I knew that working on my second ijazah would force me to review the Qur’an and live with it again in my life.
That night, I went home after the lecture and messaged my teacher saying, “I want to earn an ijazah in Ad-Doori”.
Getting an Ijazah in ad-Doori
After I messaged my teacher saying I wanted to earn an ijazah in the recitation of Ad-Doori, she very kindly replied that she thought we could work things out, but I would first have to pass the recitation test and the memorization test.
Memorization test? Like, in the entire Qur’an?
Could I be tested in the chapters in chunks of 5?
Half the Qur’an, then?
No. That’s how the committee used to test, but now they test in the entire Qur’an.
My teacher asked me when I would like the test to be. I thought of asking for 6 months, but that would seem awfully strange. So I decided to ask for two months.
And just like that, on February 10th, the date was set: April 10, 2018 would be my memorization test in the whole Qur’an. Two months. I had only two months to get myself ready for such a test.I was used to reviewing 4 pages a day, but I planned to start reviewing one whole chapter (20 pages) every day for the first month, then two chapters a day in the second month, and I hoped I’d be ready by then.
I told my family I was going into emergency mode, and Mama would be on the couch reviewing Qur’an if anyone needed anything. I changed my schedule completely, waking up two hours before dawn to review my pages, and staying up late at night until I was finished. My children wrote me encouraging notes, knowing how important this was to me, and my husband helped me by testing me every so often. And my friend, with whom I’d been reviewing a chapter a week for the past 9 years, starting testing me in what I’d reviewed instead of my normal one chapter.
After one month I switched gears and started my second round of reviewing, reading two chapters a day and rarely going to bed. Instead, I’d nod off on the couch while I was reciting my chapters. Then finally, the big day came and my husband very kindly took the kids out for breakfast so the house would be empty during my test, and I turned on my computer and opened Zoom. My heart was beating like mad, but I felt inside me that I had done my best, and it was ok if I didn’t pass.
From each chapter I was asked one question, so there were 30 questions in all. And in each chapter, I stumbled. Time and again, the committee would say, “Be careful.” and I would try again. Several times I stopped in my tracks, my mind having gone blank, and each time my heart would sink lower and lower.
The test ended, I closed my laptop, and I sat there on the couch, numb. Well, I thought, I’ll soon enough know if I passed or not.
Tuesday passed and I didn’t hear back from the committee. By Wednesday afternoon I still hadn’t heard back, and an overwhelming sadness took over me. It wasn’t ok, after all. I left my children playing in the living room and went to my room, sobbing. What was I to do now? If I didn’t have a goal to work towards I knew I would regress and forget everything all over again. Was this going to be the end of my journey with the Qur’an? Failure?
My children tried to cheer me up and made sweet cards for me, but I couldn’t shake the sadness off.
Wednesday evening, after the kids were in bed, I sat down to continue preparing for my class the next day. The surah we were going to study that week was Surat Ad-Duha, the Morning Brightness, and it was the turn for Sayyid Qutb’s book, In the Shade of the Qur’an في ظلال القرآن للسيد قطب، رحمه الله, to be studied that night. I usually left his book for last because it was so meaty, and I liked to savor every word.
My heart was still heavy with sadness as I turned the pages looking for the surah, and upon reading the introductory passage, my eyes welled up. This was just what I needed to read:
هذه السورة بموضوعها، وتعبيرها، ومشاهدها، وظلالها وإيقاعها، لمسة من حنان، ونسمة مـن رحمـة، وطائف من ود. ويد حانية تمسح على الآلام والمواجع، وتنسم بالروح والرضى والأمل. وتـسكب البـرد والطمأنينة واليقين.
“This surah, in subject matter, expression, images, connotations and rhythm provides a touch of tenderness and mercy. It is a message of affection, the touch of a benevolent hand to soothe pain and remove hardship. At the same time, it generates an air of contentment and confident hope.”
I desperately needed to be told that everything was going to be alright. That it was for the best that I didn’t pass the test. That there was khair, goodness, in it.
I read the surah like I had never read it before, verse by verse, like it was sent down for me, and me only, with each word resonating with me in an unprecedented way:
By the morning brightness
It had been a bright morning in my heart all these weeks of reviewing the Qur’an in anticipation of passing the test and beginning my ijazah.
وَٱلَّیۡلِ إِذَا سَجَىٰ
And [by] the night when it covers with darkness
Yes, night had settled in after the test, and all was dark inside now.
مَا وَدَّعَكَ رَبُّكَ وَمَا قَلَىٰ
Your Lord did not abandon you, nor did He detest you
My tears flowed when I read this.
Subhan Allah, He had chosen to test me so I could explain this in my class with all my heart and feelings, instead of a cold, dry explanation.
وَلَلْـَٔاخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ ٱلْأُولَىٰ
And the Hereafter is better for you than the first
Yes, there must be khair in this somewhere. This is a promise from Allah, and Allah (swt) doesn’t break His promises.
وَلَسَوۡفَ یُعۡطِیكَ رَبُّكَ فَتَرۡضَىٰۤ
And your Lord is going to give you, and you will be satisfied
Aaah, a new wave of tears flowed. Yes. Somehow. Some time. When the right time came, Allah (swt) is going to give me until I am satisfied, and I have to trust in Him.
أَلَمْ يَجِدْكَ يَتِيمًا فَـَٔاوَىٰ
Did He not find you orphaned, and sheltered you?
وَوَجَدَكَ ضَآلًّا فَهَدَىٰ
And He found you lost and guided you
وَوَجَدَكَ عَآئِلًا فَأَغْنَىٰ
And He found you poor and made you self-sufficient
Yes. Yes, my Lord, You have given me so much in my life. You gave me a university degree, You helped me memorize the Qur’an, You gave me an ijazah, You gave me a husband, You gave me children. I can’t be ungrateful now and complain and object.
فَأَمَّا ٱلۡیَتِیمَ فَلَا تَقۡهَرۡ
So as for the orphan, do not oppress him
وَأَمَّا ٱلسَّاۤىِٕلَ فَلَا تَنۡهَرۡ
And as for the seeker, do not repel him
وَأَمَّا بِنِعۡمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثۡ
And as for the blessings of your Lord, proclaim them
Indeed, I will remember all the blessings in my life, and not yearn for that which I was not given.
I came to the last page of the surah in the tafseer, and I was satisfied. I now knew how I was going to explain this surah in my class the next day, and I no longer felt resentful.
I went to bed content, planning on reviewing the Qur’an much better, and asking the committee to re-test me in three months.
Thursday morning when I woke up before fajr, I found a message from my teacher asking for my info so the committee could process my application for the ijazah.
I apologized, explaining that I hadn’t thought they needed that anymore since I didn’t pass. She replied, “You did pass, with 91/100. We’ve been waiting for two days for you to send your information.”
Oh, subhan Allah! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had passed! Alhamdulillah over and over. I made sujood as-shukr (prostration of thanks) and woke my husband, telling him the good news. Oh, how Kind and Merciful Allah is! This had all been another test from Allah, the same one that had come to me over the years in different forms, and about which I had written a poem six years prior: I had to accept what Allah (swt) had planned for me and He would give me what I dreamed of.
Did you ever hear the story,
Of a woman called A,
Who was born and raised,
In a place far away?
She had finished her high school,
With honors and all,
But was not accepted into college,
Neither winter nor fall.
Feeling hopeless and despondent,
She sat home and wept,
Weeks turned into months,
‘Til she began to fret.
Was she doomed to stay home,
And lose all she had learned,
Was she destined to rot,
Is this what she had earned?
Then one day she felt,
Ever so slowly,
That where she was now,
Wasn’t so lowly.
And in her began to grow,
An appreciation of what,
Allah had planned for her,
Even with one door shut.
Then when two years had passed,
The news came one day,
She was accepted into college,
Hip, hip, hurray!
After four years of college,
During which time,
She memorized the Qur’an,
She began to pine.
Oh, how she yearned to continue,
On to graduate school,
But she was not allowed,
Though she was no fool.
See, you had to be a citizen,
To go any higher,
And requesting permission,
Was like playing with fire.
So with a grudge and some sorrow,
She took a job teaching,
Little ten-year-old girls,
Who were screaming and screeching.
The days would go by,
Coming home every day,
Where A would sit down,
Trying to keep tears at bay.
How she hated her job,
How she wanted to go back,
To the academic life,
To get back on her track.
It got so bad one day,
That she got physically sick,
And that’s when she realized,
This was not going to be quick.
This was a test from Allah,
To see if she accepted,
What He had given her,
Or had she rejected.
She tried ever so hard,
To find the good side of things,
To carve joy out of life,
And what each day brings.
Then – wham! – one day,
When she had least expected,
The news came that she and two others,
Would be accepted!
Oh, how good it felt,
To be in graduate school now,
To learn new things,
Why, where, and how.
But there was still something else,
She wanted so much,
She could almost feel,
Around her heart was a clutch.
She yearned to get certified,
In reciting the Qur’an,
In memorization and pronunciation,
And so her journey began.
She tried testing for it twice,
But each time she failed,
For her lisp was so bad,
That that was all that prevailed.
Her “seen” was a “theen”,
And her “sad” was a “thad”,
There was no use trying;
Her recitation was too flawed.
Then a time came one day,
When surgery was needed,
She recovered to find out,
That it had succeeded.
After many attempts,
And months going by,
She got her certification,
Almost felt she could fly!
However, deep down inside,
Was yet something more,
She ached to be blessed with,
Though she had blessings galore.
She so didn’t want,
To stay home and grow old,
With no husband to befriend,
With no one’s hand to hold.
As the years were going by,
She was just getting older,
And with every proposal,
Her heart was getting colder.
The suitors would come,
With all being rejected,
She liked none of them,
But still felt affected.
Was her destiny really,
To never get married,
To decay alone,
‘Til the day she was buried?
After years passing by,
She started to feel,
That maybe not getting married,
Wasn’t such a bad deal.
She could serve her parents,
Help them in their old age,
She would make that her path to Heaven,
And so she turned a new page.
All was serene now inside,
She could smile and laugh,
And one week later,
She met her other half.
I finally passed my test to start
I had passed the recitation test and the memorization test that qualified me to begin my ijazah in the Qur’an.
That was the easy part.
Now I needed to read the entire Qur’an from memory with perfect tajweed in a recitation I had just recently learned. My enthusiasm and elation at passing the test made me feel it was going to be easy, and alhamdulillah for a false sense of security.
My instructor who had taught the course now became my shaikhah – my mentor, guide and teacher, who would sit for over 100 hours listening to my recitation and correcting every word, guiding me to the way the Qur’an was recited at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
My shaikhah informed me that she would be stopping in town in three weeks and I could begin my ijazah by reading to her face to face, as I was required to read 10 chapters at least in that manner. I was excited and confident, as I had just spent the last 2 months reviewing the Qur’an vigorously and I knew the rules of the recitation well.
When her plane arrived, I met my shaikhah at her hotel and at 3 pm I started reciting the Qur’an. By 10 pm that night I had completed less than two chapters and I had a splitting headache. Who knew that my (alif)s were too heavy, and my (‘ayn)s were too tight and my lengthenings were too short? I hadn’t realized my Arabic L sound had changed over the years and become similar to the English L.
After I completed the first chapter, I sighed inwardly, thinking that I could now focus less on that chapter and concentrate on the coming chapters, until my shaikhah told me that the committee would be testing me after I read the first 3 chapters. My heart fell with a thud.
I was to go back to her the next morning right after praying fajr and continue reading to her for another few hours, in the hopes of finishing three chapters. When I woke up at 5 am, I looked at my sleeping husband and children, all warm and comfortable in their beds, and I started questioning myself: Do I really want to leave my warm house, go out in the early morning chill, drive for half an hour and subject my recitation to so much scrutiny? Yesterday I read not even two chapters, could I go on for 28 more? What if I just didn’t show up to my shaikhah, would that be so bad?
I decided to do what must be done. I would go to my shaikhah and read what I could, and then would decide my next step.
I read for over four hours that day and finished the first three chapters of the Qur’an, after which my shaikhah got on her plane and returned home.
A couple of days later I received a message from her asking when I could recite to her online. I hadn’t quite recovered from the first two days of recitation, and I let the message simmer on the back burner for awhile. What do I answer back?
“No thanks, never.”?
“I’ve had enough and decided it’s not for me.”?
I busied myself with my family and let the hours pass – until she messaged me again.
Alhamdulillah for a wise, kind, wonderful shaikhah who didn’t let me off the hook. Who recognized that I might need some prodding, and didn’t give up on me.
So I started reading to her an hour every Tuesday for a few weeks, until she asked if it would be at all possible to meet her in Wisconsin in late June, to read to her face-to-face a few more chapters. After discussing the matter with my husband, we decided we’d make the 16-hour road trip over two days and turn it into an adventure for our children.
When we arrived, my husband very kindly took the kids while I spent two days and three nights reading to my shaikhah what I could, along with two other sisters who were also reciting to her and working on their ijazahs.
The setting was a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin, which took me straight back to my days of binge reading the Little House on the Prairie books. It was set well back from the winding road, surrounded by trees, with a pond to the side of the cabin. There were all kinds of birds to feed in the morning, and wild turkeys and deer would often come for a visit.
With very limited internet and no worldly interruptions, it was an ideal place to spend a few days reciting to our shaikhah, focusing only on the Qur’an.
Since we had come to the cabin to recite Qur’an to our shaikhah, that’s what we spent our days doing, and what better time to start than bright and early – or should I say dark and early?
Having arrived Monday night, our shaikhah woke us up Tuesday morning knocking on our bedroom doors calling out, “أين المُبَكِّرون؟” “Where are the early ones?”, following the hadeeth that says (بورك لأمتي في بكورها) (Bless my nation in their early mornings).
I looked at the clock – it was 4:30 am.
I groggily put my glasses on, got out of bed and washed up. My shaikhah was in the living room waiting for me, having obviously been up for quite a while. I had prepared enough in the previous days that I felt ready to recite, so I read to her about ten pages, and was glad for the morning rays seeping into the room near the end of the hour, brightening everything up.
We students took turns reciting to our shaikhah, each one taking about an hour, stopping only for breakfast and dinner and innumerable coffee breaks. Not once did our shaikhah sigh, click her tongue, frown or show impatience, even when I would make the same mistake over and over, or hesitate frequently trying to remember the next verse.
The value of those two days lay not only in our ability to read a large amount at once face-to-face, but in that we lived with our shaikhah and could learn her manners and conduct, and how to treat our own students.
Thursday morning soon came, and it was time for my fellow students to fly back home, and time for me to reunite with my family and start the drive back.
Having recited four chapters in the cabin meant that it was time to be tested by the committee, something that I did not look forward to, to put it mildly.
Time to get the Ijazah
Being tested by the committee regularly not only caused great anxiety, but it also taught me a hard lesson.
The standard for me was to be tested every 5 chapters, but sometimes I would read more to my shaikhah and the test would end up being in seven or eight chapters. So for this ijazah I was working on it turned out to be a total of 5 tests.
These tests, or “interviews” as they referred to them, were held online and consisted of being asked to recite about 3/4 of a page by heart from any one place in the five chapters, along with a question or two about the rules of that particular qiraa’ah, or recitation. There were always three shaikhahs – all with ijazahs in the ten qira’aat (recitations) – present during the interview.
I’m not quite sure what caused my nervousness: was it the fact that I had to have 5 chapters perfectly memorized in my head, or being expected to recite without a flaw in front of three people, or was it the timing of these tests?
You see, because of the time difference, the tests for me were always some time between 12 midnight and 4 am, not a time I am usually awake and fully functioning.
With lots of dua’ of every kind, I managed to pass each test and continue reciting to my shaikhah, alhamdulillah.
But with these tests, I began to realize that focusing solely on what I was to recite to my shaikhah that week just wasn’t enough. Reviewing half a chapter every day wasn’t enough. I needed to review what would be sufficient to keep the Qur’an in my heart without letting it slip away. So I decided that no matter what, I was going to review a chapter a day other than what I was to read that week to my shaikhah.
And so I rolled up my sleeves and took it upon myself to review that chapter a day come what may, and I prayed to Allah to make it easy for me.
Almost one year after beginning my ijazah in the recitation of Ad-Doori from Abi ‘Amr رواية الدوري عن أبي عمرو البصري رحمهما الله I had nearly reached the end of the Qur’an, and I began thinking of what would come next.
Would I receive this ijazah, be happy for a few days, then start getting lazy again with my review? By now I knew myself well enough to realize that if I didn’t have someone or something holding me accountable, I would most likely start sliding backwards like I had done 13 years prior, right after I received my first ijazah.
Alhamdulillah again for a thoughtful shaikhah who asked me what I wanted to do once I was done.
I had heard that the recitation of Warsh was pretty hard, and very different than what I was used to, and at the same time it was the recitation used most by many sisters and brothers from Morocco and Algeria, many of whom reside in northern Virginia. So I suggested to my Shaikhah that I start an ijazah in Warsh right after I finish my Ad-Doori ijazah.
The plan was that I would recite to the end of the Qur’an in the current recitation, and when I looped back to the beginning I would read Al-Fatihah and the beginning of Al-Baqarah in Warsh.
Subhan Allah. How long it took me to get used to making my “laams” (L sounds) heavy in some of the words. The first time I tried it I couldn’t stop laughing, because it felt so different on my tongue and so strange to my ears. It didn’t help that my children thought it sounded hilarious, too.
I finally got it down until I was able to pronounce the words like a native, and the big day came when – again – my wonderfully kind shaikhah flew into town just so I could complete the end of recitation, or “khatmah”, face to face.
Tears were streaming down my face as I read the last few verses and made a prayer. How much I had wanted to get back in touch with the Qur’an, to review it regularly and have it become a major part of my life, and Allah (swt) with His mercy and grace had granted me what I had prayed for.
All praise is to the One by whose blessings good things are completed.
The journey still continues
My journey hasn’t ended yet, and I pray it never ends until the time of my death, but for now there’s nothing much else to say.
I documented this journey to help others avoid the mistakes I made over the years, so they don’t waste precious time like I did.
It takes one step, and a deep, burning desire inside, with certain conviction that Allah (swt) has promised to help those who try.
وَمَنْ أَرَادَ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةَ And whoever desires the Hereafter
وَسَعَىٰ لَهَا سَعْيَهَا and exerts the effort due to it
وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ while he is a believer
فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ كَانَ سَعْيُهُم مَّشْكُورًا
it is those whose effort is ever appreciated
Surat Al-Israa’, ayah 19
Ramadan is the perfect time to begin. It will be a benchmark you can always remember: “Oh, yes, I started 10 years ago during our first Ramadan with Covid-19”.
By Asiya Akyurt.
What an epic journey. Hope you enjoyed it.