Thoughts on Qur’an memorisation from Dr Ayman

Dr. Ayman bin Rushdi Swayd memorised the Qur’an at a young age using a Mus’haf called “Mus’haf al-Huffadh”. This copy was a unique and rare copy in those days. He once went to the shops and asked for it and they never knew what it was. It has verses that do not fall halfway on one side and the other half on the other. These are widely circulated today — 15 lined.

Dr Ayman is always asked about Tajwid, Qur’an recitation and Qur’an memorisation. In particular, he was once asked “I memorise little from the Qur’an yet I forget it, what would you advise?” And someone else asked, “I would like some advice on how I can strengthen my endevaours to consolidate and strengthen memorisation?”

These questions have something in common and that is dealing with past memorisation.

I want to tell you what the Shaykh told us but before that, let’s learn how he memorised the Qur’ān. He said:

“I would memorise a page from start to end. First, I’d recite over the entire page carefully paying attention to every detail including every vowel. I’d then read up the meanings of ambigious/unknown words (Al-kalimāt al-gharībah). I’d do this using a text called “Kalimāt al-Qur’ān, tafsīr wa bayān.” A text still available today written by Shaykh-al-Azhar Hasanayn Muhammad Makhloof. When I’d come across a word that was ambigious/unknown to me, I’d look it up there. Then I’d repeat that page looking at the Mus’haf (Copy of the Qur’an) continually until I could recite fast.

So I’d repeat the whole page from beginning to end first with a detailed scan. After that repeat it building up my speed. From slightly quicker to fast. I’d do this up till I was comfortable in the belief that I knew it. I’d then close the Mus’haf and try to repeat it. If I could do this, it meant I knew it. If I couldn’t do it without having the need to look once or twice then this meant I never knew it. Then I would repeat the page again until it was memorised.

This was day one.

On day two before memorising anything new, I’d repeat what I’d done the previous day. My advice here is to never move ahead unless you have first reviewed and ensured you know what you’ve previously memorised. Everyday I had a session fixed for review. It has to be done as there is no memorisation without it. If you don’t review, you’ll no doubt forget it. So set a part of the day for review and increase the amount as you move further and further ahead on a daily basis. I did this until I could recite 5 Juz a day. This remains my practice till today of completing one Qur’an every week. So let’s say, for example, I memorised 20 Juz, they were strong. Why? Due to this process.”

There are three types of Qur’an memorisers

There are three types of people that have certain habits. You will fall into either of three categories of people if you are memorising.

  1. The Solidifier — A brother or sister that has memorised a part or the whole Qur’an and has done so with strength.
  2. Getting there — A brother or sister that has ‘memorised’ a part or the whole Qur’an but has done so weakly. This person is stuck in the middle.
  3. Not preserved at all — A brother or sister who has failed to keep anything of it.

What are the habits and actions for each type of person?

The solidifier

This individual can recite the Qur’an without the need of looking at the Mus’haf. They can lead the Tarawih prayers and can recite when prompted. If this is present they have solidity in memorisation.

How is this achieved?

Only through constant review. If one doesn’t remain constant with something, they’ll forget it. Such is the nature of the human being. So review is the central means to achieving solidity in memorisation.

What’s the recommended path for review?

The best of the best in for review is a weekly cycle or at least a 10-day cycle. Reciting everything you’ve memorised in that timeframe.

The one in the middle

This individual is someone who is not sure if they know it. When they do believe that they do, it is often weak when recited by heart. This individual needs constant reassurance that they have memorised. Let’s say this person begins to take a page by page approach. They revise page by page, repeat it constantly and try to solidify them. Then they close the Mus’haf and try to recite from memory. When they can recite it from memory, they believe they know it well and open the Mus’haf again to work further. This person seems to forget things.

What should this person do?

For this individual it’s imperative that they repeat as much as they can. Whether that be a page by page approach or a verse by verse approach. They must do so up till it is solid! Review/revise one, two or three pages according to your available time and needs.

This individual also needs to treat carefully.

There are two reasons for the struggles of this individual

(a) The original memorisation was weak. Regardless of it being weak, they continued to memorise further ahead. Even the teacher of this individual disregarded this and allowed this to continue. Allah guide him/her.

(b) They memorised strong but then left it. The moment you leave it, it leaves you and so one needs to always remain constant with review.

Whoever falls into these two categories have two compulsory things to do.

  1. Review/revise on a cycle basis . Everyday revising a Juz or more until they complete a full reading of what they’ve memorised. [group 1]
  2. For the individual who have not yet reached solidification yet, they must revise page by page. Do not focus on moving towards a Juz by Juz approach until you can actually do it. [group 2]

How can you use this method of memorising the Qur’an?

There are many routes you can take but let’s break up the whole process.

  1. Vision (looking with the eye)
  2. Vocalisation (recitation)
  3. Listening with the ears (to yourself — pay attention)
  4. The Book (Copy of the Qur’an you have chosen, study the section)
  5. A plan (Intention — this is all about your relationship with the Qur’an and motivation)
  6. Seeking help from Allah (prayer)
  7. Focus
  8. Repetition
  9. Review

These are what Dr. Ayman calls the pillars of memorising the Qur’an.

Vision, vocalisation, listening and the book

This goes without saying, we must look at the part we wish to memorise. We must recite it and use a Mus’haf. This pillar is about more than what meets the eye. It’s about really looking and really listening. Many of us select a part we wish to memorise and dive in. You begin to recite and repeat, after that you try to do so by heart.

Memorisation requires attention to detail. These pillars carry each other. When you memorise, first fix your vision onto the page. Do not divert. Then begin to analyse and familiarise yourself with every single detail on the page. This includes the number of verses, the vowels, and the words. Most importantly this includes understanding.

So I add another pillar and that is understanding.

Dr. Ayman, of course was a young educated native Syrian. He knew Arabic but he still needed to study the words that are particular to the Qur’an. For those of you that are learning the language, you’ll have familiarity with things. Depending on your level at least, with basic syntax and makeup of sentences. The meanings of words and so you’ll find this process easier.

Those of you that have not studied Arabic, you can do a number of things.

  1. Begin to learn the language. Start by building a habit of doing just one lesson every day. Utilise free apps like Memrise and Anki droid where you can study over various books. Then build upon this. You can either learn the language first and then memorise. Learn a good basic foundation first and then begin to memorise. Or you can memorise as you are learning. You may also memorise a part first and then look into the Arabic. I’d recommend you any of the first three.
  2. Should you be eager to memorise more, and cannot commit to the learning of the language just yet! Memorise but look up the translation and look into the words. Check out and use the Qur’an Corpus. It is amazing.

After this is the recitation. As you made your way from looking at every detail and the meanings. You now turn to vocalising it. This part requires you to take those details and vocalise them. You must recite out loud, not in your mind. Out aloud because listening to yourself is another pillar. When you recite out loud you pay attention to every word, every vowel and every rule (Tajwid). Oh yeah, please get to grips with Tajwid too! Now you begin to recite well and shape it all with melody.

Intention and motivation

Everyone knows this one. I wrote about the importance of mindset. Dr. Ayman actually was most motivated and changed his intent after he heard a hadith.

Guess which one?

The Promise of Ten! The holder of the Qur’an being granted the chance to take ten people into paradise. This pillar then is about maintaining your pure intentions and constantly reviewing the single thing that motivates you. With it comes good execution!

Seeking from the Divine

This principle, you’ll be surprised is often forgotten. We get so busy we forget to ask from Allah. Make supplication before and after every single session you take to memorise. Even if you are not using the Mus’haf — suppose you use Qur’an Companion!

Focus

This is important. You need complete focus such that you don’t waver looking up and to your surroundings. Focus on the text. How do you achieve this? Remove things that are not allowing you to focus. If you have to change surroundings, do that. If you have to turn off your phone, do that. It is also imperative to not feed the mind with anything that will pollute it. Be that music, singing or otherwise — distraction!

Repetition (takrar)

If you want to memorise, you cannot get by just through repeating verses once or twice but rather 20, 30, 40, 50. Unless you have exceptional memory.

If you have a big page to cover spilt it up into parts. Let’s say a half. Take the first half and memorise it through repetition until you know it without looking. Such that the page is in your mind. If you can’t recite it without error, go over it again. Once done, move to the next half and repeat the same process. Then combine the two. If you need to spilt up the pages according to meanings, themes or even threes — do so.

Review (muraja’ah)

Without review, the page you memorised will vanish.

The human being has two memories, one short and one long term. The long term remains with a human for years and if you want to reach that level, it is a must that you always review.

Today we live in a world of speed. We hear about those who memorise within 60 days as if this is normal. This type of news and the act itself, according to Dr. Ayman is a product of today’s society.

When anyone memorises anything, the first point of entry is the short term memory. It never enters long term save without constant review over time. This is an important point — it takes time! When you get there certain signs can emerge. If you recite Juz ‘Amma for example, you can picture the pages in your mind and you know where is what on those pages. This is why our elders said memorisation in young age is like carving in stone.

The biggest mistake is to memorise within a fixed period and then leaving it all.

So when you get your memorisation right, you also need to get your review right. As your actions need to map what you want. When you review, it doesn’t mean you open the Mus’haf and simply read over it. When you review, it doesn’t mean mere repetition. It doesn’t mean you complain that it takes too long.

It means mastery and with it, are phases. You recite, you understand, you memorise, you repeat, you correct, you listen, you recite.

We’ve heard people recall stories about having memorised in 20 days, 50 days, 2 and a half months, and 6 months. These timeframes are not important, what is important are the lessons derived from them. A key trend in them is efficiency, smart use of time, determination and consistency. But we don’t often hear the stories of those who spent longer accomplishing the goal. They did it by doing less, consistently.

And mastery my friends, takes patience.

I hope this writing has benefit for you. Allah give you and us success here and hereafter.

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