This Is How The Sahabah Really Memorised Quran

Having already mentioning how the beloved Prophet (ﷺ) memorised the Qur'ān through the lens of the Qur'ān and the process of revelation - it is time to reflect on how this extended to the noble companions (the sahābah - may Allāh be pleased with them all).

What is the reality behind how the companions memorised the Qur'ān?

There's a lot to learn from them and their students (the tābi'een).

Many had a focus on understanding and taking it slowly

I have explored the role of understanding many times and it is no less apparent in the lives of the sahābah.

عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ قَالَ كَانُوا يعني الصحابة يَقْتَرِئُونَ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَشْرَ آيَاتٍ فَلَا يَأْخُذُونَ فِي الْعَشْرِ الْأُخْرَى حَتَّى يَعْلَمُوا مَا فِي هَذِهِ مِنْ الْعِلْمِ وَالْعَمَلِ قَالُوا فَعَلِمْنَا الْعِلْمَ وَالْعَمَلَ

Abu 'Abdur Rahmān (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported: The companions would learn to recite ten verses from the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). They would not take another ten verses until they understood the knowledge and deeds they contained. They would say, “We learned sacred knowledge and action together.” (Musnad Aḥmad 22971)

Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahmān as-Sulamī said: "Those who used to teach us the Qur’ān told us that they used to learn it from the Prophet (ﷺ). When they learned ten verses, they would not move on until they put into practice what those verses said, so we used to learn the Qur’ān and how to act upon its teachings together." (Tafseer al-Qurtubi (1/80))

In the commentary of al-Muwatta' by Imām az-Zurqānī, it is stated that this wasn't because they were slow in learning but they deep dived and immersed themselves in learning. So that they "learned the halal, the haram, the orders and prohibitions in those verses."

Further to this, according to what Imām Malik (may Allāh have mercy upon him) in his collection of the Muwatta' - 'Abdullāh ibn 'Umar (may Allāh be pleased with them) memorised Surah al-Baqarah in eight years! Although, in perhaps with a stronger chain of transmission, we learn that he memorised the surah in 4 years as well (al-Tabaqāt al-Kubra).

Ibn 'Umar (may Allāh be pleased with them) said, "We used to revere the man who memorises Surah Al-Baqarah and Surah āle 'Imrān." He said, as reported in the Tafseer of al-Qurtubi that 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb (may Allāh be pleased with him) memorised Surah al-Baqarah in 12 years!

When 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb (may Allāh be pleased with him) completed the memorisation of Surah al-Baqarah, it is said that he sacrificed a camel for the sake of Allāh expressing his gratitude to Him, Most High.

This method of memorising the Qur'ān was in line with the process of revelation. It was over a long period (23 years) and there were over 100 that memorised the entire Qur'ān in their lifetime.

Some found it difficult to memorise despite great memory

Imām al-Qurtubi narrated that 'Abdullāh Ibn Mas'ūd (may Allāh be pleased with him) said:

إنَّا صعب علينا حفظ ألفاظ القران، وسهل علينا العمل به، وإن من بعدنا يسهل عليهم حفظ القران، ويصعب عليهم العمل به
“It was indeed difficult for us to memorise the words of the Qur’ān but easy for us to act by them. And indeed (for people) after us, it will be easy to memorise the Qur’ān, but hard to act by it.”

It is reported that Ibn ‘Umar (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “The best of the Companions and the most righteous amongst them would memorise only one chapter of the Qur’ān or thereabouts. For the Qur’ān was weighty upon them, and they were given action based on it. But the last of this Ummah will find the Qur’ān light [and easy] – the child and the non-Arab will recite it, without action based on it.” (al-Qurtubi).

For those wanting to know about the hadīth narrated by Sayyidunā 'Alī (may Allāh be pleased with him), you can read "The Best Advice Ever To The Memoriser of The Qur'ān".

Some memorised the Qur'ān quickly

In Sunan an-Nisā'ī, in a sahīh narration:

It was narrated from Muhammad bin 'Abdur-Rahmān that: The daughter of Hārithah bin An-Nu'mān said: "I memorised 'Qaf. By the Glorious Qur'ān,'" from the mouth of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) when he was on the minbar on Friday."

She also says: I memorised "Qāf. By the Glorious Qur'ān" from no other source than the tongue of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) who used to recite it every Friday on the pulpit when he delivered the sermon to the people." (Sahīh Muslim)

Alqamah (the student of 'Abdullāh Ibn Mas'ūd (may Allāh be pleased with him)) said: ‘I recited/memorised the Qur’ān in two years’. (Introduction of Sahīh Muslim)

They used to use the rule of five

I have mentioned the rule of five a few times and the saying that whoever memorises five, never forgets. It's like others who say, five a day, keeps shaytān away!

Why is this the case? It's not just the experiences of our teachers and scholars but...

It is narrated by Abu Nadrah (may Allāh be pleased with him) that, “We used to learn from Abu Sa’īd al-Khudrī (may Allāh be pleased with him) five verses in the morning, and five in the evening, for he told us that Jibreel (peace be upon him) used to bring (on average) five verses at a time.” (Ibn Asākir's Tārīkh Damishq, al-Itqān)

Al-Imām Ibn Jazarī mentioned that the companions used to recite three by three (meaning three at a time), five by five meaning five at a time), and ten by ten (meaning ten at a time) and would not exceed this amount. This was the case for repetition (talqīn) and new memorisation. (Munjad al-Quqri'īn, Murshid at-Tālibīn, Akhlāq Hamalat al-Qur'ān lil-Bukhārī)

'Umar (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: "Learn the Qur'ān five verses at a time, because indeed Jibreel (peace be upon him) revealed the Qur'ān upon the Prophet (ﷺ) five at a time." (Shu'bul Īmān - al-Bayhaqī, Ibn Abī Shaybah, Abu Nu'aym and others)

From Ismā'īl who said, "Abu 'Abdur Rahmān used to teach us five verses at a time" (Ibn Abī Shaybah)

"Some of the people of knowledge have said, 'Whoever memorises five, never forgets'" (Shu'bul Īmān - al-Bayhaqī)

They gathered people to memorised the Qur'ān as a group

Suwayd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz said: When Abu’d-Darda’ had prayed Fajr in the mosque of Damascus, the people would gather to learn Qur’ān from him, so he would put them into groups of ten, with an instructor for each group, and he would stand in the mihrab watching them. If one of them made a mistake, he would refer to his instructor, and if the instructor made a mistake, he would refer to Abu’d-Darda’ and ask him about that.

It was narrated that Ibn Mashkam said: Abu’d-Darda’ said to me: Count those who are studying the Qur’ān with me. I counted them, and they were over one thousand and six hundred, and for each group of ten there was a teacher.

What do we learn from the companions and those who took Qur'ān from them?

We learn that they:

  • took understanding and implementing the Qur'ān as a real transformational experience seriously
  • they used to memorise at different paces, slow or fast - although many could memorise very quickly, they would avoid doing so
  • were young and old in age when they memorised
  • had memorised the entire Qur'ān but had become martyrs and we may never know how they did it
  • had memorised using the rule of three, five, or ten
  • had gathered people to memorise the Qur'ān and organise hifz classes

What would you add?

May Allāh grant us the best of guidance and the best of practice.

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