Memorisation of the Qur’ān for adults

The following is the story and advice of Dr. Mohamed Sabbahi (PhD, PT), a professor in Neuroscience, Electrodiagnosis & Physical Therapy at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), Houston, Texas.

Dr. Sabbahi, Image:

Dr Sabbahi began memorising at the age of 55 years and it took him 5.5 years to complete in 2007. Prior to serious memorisation, he had been memorising on and off. Until one day, a Shaykh at his Masjid asked for commitment to memorise the Qur’ān after Ramadan.

Five people commited to this and they completed memorising Surah al-Baqarah and began Surah Al-’Imrān. Dr Sabbahi then continued.

The following is his advice and presentation on:

  • The historical steps of delving into Hifdh al-Qur’ān
  • Learning methods and how they can be used to memorise the Qur’ān
  • The difference between the memorisation strategies used by young people and older people
  • Charting a plan
  • Behaviour qualities required to memorise

Who Said That Memorisation Is Only For The Young?

Most of the companions of the Beloved of Allāh, our Prophet (ﷺ) were memorising the Qur’ān at an old age (50+). Sayyidunā Abu Bakr al-Siddīq and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb (may Allāh be pleased with them all) for example. ‘Umar is oft quoted to have memorised Surah al-Baqarah within a period of 5 years. It is believed he did so due to memorising up to five verses at a time and then only after having lived those verses, they moved on.

This gives us a point of reflection and hope that it is not impossible.

[“Although there are strong arguments to suggest these narrations are not sound, they do not add up contextually etc — the point here is that ‘age’ is not a barrier, and we have many modern day examples like Dr Sabbahi around the globe.” — Qāri‘].

On The Goodness of Memorising The Qur’ān

Many are aware of the virtues of memorising the Qur’ān which include:

  • Illumination in your grave (noor).
  • Illumination to provide ease of passage along the bridge, Sirāt.
  • The Qur’ān will intercede for you before Allāh Almighty.
  • You will be elevated in paradise as high as the number of verses you have memorised from the Qur’ān.

On The Difference Between The Memorisation of the Young and The Old

The central nervous system of youngsters accept and absorb information at faster rate (neural plasticity). Such absorption of information reduces in rate beyond ages 40 yrs due to degenerative processes.

Likewise, retention of information in youngsters is faster. However, this correlates with protein synthesis and circuits modifications which lead to a long lasting memory. In other words, protein metabolism is faster in the young and they hold information longer. As we grow older, this metabolism is reduced.

Also, brain circuitries (that consolidate the information and promote learning) changes consistently in the young. So information processing is fast and solid. Whilst, in older brain some degenerative processes affect the speed of information processing. It results in slow learning.

These differences varies based on genetic and environmental factors. However, there are ways of boosting memorisation capacity for adults.

On Understanding the Divisions of the Qur’ān

The first step in memorising the Qur’ān is understanding the divisions of the Qur’ān and using them effectively. The scholars divided the Qur’ān into four divisions:

  • The Seven Long Chapters [At-Atwal — The Surah with more than 100 verses like Al-Baqara, Al-e-’Imrān, Al-Nisā’, Al-Mā’ida, Al-An’ām, Al-A’rāf (6) + Al-Anfāl+ Bara’a/Yūnus)
  • The Hundreds [Al-Ma’ūn/Al-Ma’een — all surahs that include 100 verses (plus or minus). These are after Yūnus.]
  • Large But Less Than Hundred [Al-Mathāni (following al-Maeen) — include less than 100 verses with repetition of some of its verses.]
  • The Short Chapters [Al-Mufassal/Al-Muhkam — the last section of the Qur’ān covering chapter after chapter with frequent separation by the Basmalāh]

The Al-Mufassal is divided into a further three

  • The Long [al-Hujurāt till al-Burūj]
  • The Medium [At-Tāriq till al-Bayyinah]
  • The Short [Al-Zilzāl till al-Nās]

If you first take a look at this, you can make a plan in figuring out where you want to begin.

More on the Division of the Qur’ān

  • Thirty Juz’ (each Juz’ is almost 20 pages +/-)
  • Each Juz’ consists of 2 Hizb
  • Each Hizb consists of 4 Rub’a (quarters)
  • Each quarter is almost 2 pages (+ or -)

This will help in making the most appropriate plan for Qur’ānic memorisation.

On the Length of Verses

It varies from one Surah to another, from one segment of the Surah to other segment. Examples:

  • The longest verse in the whole Qur’ān is in Surah al-Baqarah (verse 282, 15 lines long).
  • Surah Al-Mā’idah: most verses are ½ a page in length.
  • Surah ash-Shu’arā: each verse is 2 to 3 words.
  • “Mudhamatān” for example is one verse in Surah Al-Rahmān.

On the types of “Masāhif” — books of Qur’ān

You need to be aware of which copy of the Qur’ān you will be using, as this you will remain attached to.

Mus’haf Al-Huffādh.

These are the ones published with 15-lines from the Haramayn for those who want to memorise the Qur’ān. It is the Madīnah Mus’haf. Each page finished with a complete verse. Nothing overlaps onto the next. This is good for visual memory.

Example: Sura Al-Baqara, p3 end with “Wama Kano Muhtadeen”. P4 end with “U’iddat Lil Kafereen”.

Mus’haf Al-Azhar

This differs in that a verse may have half on one page with the rest of the verse on the following page.

Mus’haf Al-Tazyeel

Each page (usually the left side page) end with a verse. The first two words of the next verse of the next page is inserted in the left lower corner of the page. This will keep the continuity in the reading and memorisation. This is also good for visual memory.

You can see the verses of the next page as footnotes

On the Methods of Learning (educational physiology)

  • Auditory (hearing/listening)
  • Visual (seeing/word identification)
  • Kinesthetic (feeling/word or item configuration using skin senses)- Blind
  • Combined?

You need to define and discover your strengths. When I memorised with using my fingers, it helped for example.

Procedures for Qur’ānic Memorisation for Adults (25 points)

  1. Intention (Niyyah): To meet Almighty Allāh with His words in your heart and mind. Not necessarily to get the label “Hāfidh” or “Hāmil al-Qur’ān”.
  2. Perseverance: It took me 5 years to complete the task.
  3. Built-in, in your system of daily life.
  4. Determination and Consistency.
  5. Companionship.
  6. Selecting time for memorisation.
  7. Selection of site (facility).
  8. Use of dead time for your advantage.
  9. Electrical/electronic support.
  10. Use of visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensations to promote learning.
  11. A clear mind.
  12. Focus on the target.
  13. Break the assignment to attainable segments.
  14. Reward yourself.
  15. Read the contents in Nafl prayers.
  16. Use one type of Mus’haf (Madīna Qur’ān); Don’t change.
  17. Read short meanings of the verses before memorisation (Mus’haf King Abdulaziz University).
  18. Learning reasons for revelation of the verses support memorisation (use the compendium of the Qur’ān for Al-Zuhaily).
  19. Repetition, repetition and repetition.
  20. Keep with the Qur’ān (The Qur’ān is jealous).
  21. Seek the help of Almighty Allāh (Du’ā).
  22. Value the task.
  23. Keep an eye on the “Mutashābihat”.
  24. Easy Surah’s are those with Qur’ānic stories (Yūsuf, Tāhā, Al-Kahf..etc)
  25. Difficult Surah are those with Ahkams (Al-Nisā’).
  26. One page memorization with one Juz’ recall (al-Azhar method).

Let’s go into details…

Build it in your system of daily life

Similar to work, food times, sleep times, TV times, reading times, you must have a slot in your schedule for Qur’ān. Missing it will make you feel guilty. When you fulfill it you feel happy and content (sense of achievement). Sometimes you may go out-of town. This will require a different strategy [“You will need to have room for flexibility” — Qāri’].

Determination / Consistency

You must have a daily commitment. Have a daily “wird” of one Juz. Reduce the absentia or inconsistency to a minimum. Make-up for missed time.


  1. Read with a Shaykh/Shaykha: He/She will teach you correct pronunciation, and the Mutashābihāt.
  2. Have companions for different Surah or sections of the Qur’ān (Sahib Al-e-’Imrān, Sahib Al-Mā’idah…etc). Have a promise to recall some of those sections memorised with them whenever you meet.
  3. Companion’s memorisation will promote yours and vice versa.

Memorisation with a Shaykh/Shaykha

Memorisation with a Shaykh/Shaykha helps in improving commitment; pronunciation of the words and in getting more comments on the relations of verses to each other. It will also help in correct recitation of the Qur’ān.

Companion and the Shaykh/Shaykha must master the Arabic Language

The verbatim or the vowels (the “Tashkeel”) and the words meanings all are important aspects for perfection of the memorisation. This is really underestimated. Depsite that fact that I am also an Arab speaker (Egyptian origins), even I was making numerous mistakes. These mistakes alter meanings considerably.

Time selection

The best time is after the Fajr prayer. A fresh start of 30–60 minutes minimum every morning weekday. On the weekends increase this to 60 minutes and beyond.

Make sure you have enough sleep time before session of memorisation. Fatigue compromises memorisation.

The second best time between the Maghrib and ‘Ishā’ prayers. The best time to recall is during Tahajjud prayer before Fajr prayer.

The Selection of A Place to Memorise

Select a corner or fixed area in the masjid or your house. Such an area that is free from distraction and noise. Use it all time. It will connect a verse of the Qur’ān with specific fixed image. Your environment has considerable impact. I have a specific place in Masjid al-Faruq, a local Masjid where I have been sitting for the last 7 to 8 years.

So select a specific room at your home for Qur’ānic reading, memorisation and recall. You can connect verses with fixed surroundings.

Use of dead time to your advantage

How much dead time do we have? A lot.

Listen to the Qur’an recitation of recalled segments during driving time to work and on the way back. Mumble the wording with the reciter. This could be a good 30 to 45 minutes worth of reading.

Believe me, I live locally here but the time it takes me to travel to and forth, I can cover half of Surah al-Baqarah!

So do the same during any travelling time (in the airport, airplane….etc).

Keep a pocketsize Mus’haf with you for reading or recalling specific segments at waiting rooms or during dead times. Today we have mobile apps and PDFs which are perfect.

Use of Electronic Media for Memorisation

Use a Muhaffiz (Mp3) unit [“Basically a electronic Qur’ān, like PenMan” —Qāri’ ]. It has three speeds (slow, medium & fast). Use the medium speed for new verses. Use the fast speed for recall. Use the forward and backward buttons for beginning and end of verses. This will improve the connections between the verses. You can use the Muhaffiz in the car, aeroplane, during shopping as well as all other dead times. You can even jump between verses and different chapters.

Use a “Muhaffiz” or a similar device to a recorder to listen and to memorise some verses during your travel to work and back home.

Benefits of al-Muhaffidh:

  • You can select the reciter/Qāri
  • Select the sura, Juz’, Hizb or verse
  • Repetition of a verse several times (10x)
  • It has the meaning of the verses too

Use of Visual, Auditory & Kinesthetic

Recitation from Mus’haf promotes visual memory of the verses. You’ll recall the location of the verses in relation to the beginning of the Ruku’ (Rob’a), Juz’ and Surah. Recitation of the Qur’ān loudly promotes auditory memory. You’ll recall the tone of the verbatim of the verses.

Clear the mind

The more you clear your mind from worldly problems (work, family … etc) the faster you will memorise what you read.

A teacher told me that when a person recites the Qur’ān you will be associated with an angel that helps you while you focus on the Qur’ān. He’ll abandon you when your mind sways out. [“This is called Barakah” — Qāri’]

Focus on the Target

  • Recite the whole page first and try to connect the contents to each other.
  • Re-read each ayah 3 times.
  • Recall it from memory. Make mistakes (don’t worry).
  • Re-read it again from Mus’haf.
  • Recall it from memory again.
  • Then go to next ayah.

Breakdown the assignment to attainable segments

Segments may be selected for its theme. For example, in Surah al-Baqarah, the page that begins with the verse about the announcement Allāh makes to the angels, that He’s made a Khalīfāh for the Earth. This continues by way of a dialogue with the angels and stops before the introduction of Ādam (as) and Iblīs.

Then you can also connect segments to each other. Don’t loose the connecting statement (words). This will smoothen out during recall for the Juz’.

Reward yourself

Select your reward. Do it as you go. Don’t miss it.

Read the Contents in Nafl Prayers

This is important and if you are making mistakes, don’t worry. Go and open the Mus’haf for correction.

Use ONE Mus’haf all the time

I like Mushaf Al-Madīnah (Mus’haf al-Huffādh). Every page started with the beginning of an ayah. Every page ends with the last word of a complete ayah. The Mus’haf ending with the first word from next page (printed in the lower left corner) would help in connecting pages together.

Read a short meaning of the Āyāt before memorisation

Read over the meanings of the words and the āyah. Then go on to learn “Asbāb al-Nuzool”, the reason for revelation of the āyah. Then make a connection between those three items whenever possible. These are three components to be in a good condition.

Repetition, Repetition & Repetition

Keep with the Qur’ān

One time I was memorising whilst in Makkah, and in two lines ahead of me I saw Shaykh Muhmmad Jebril. The Egyptians know him very well and is well known. At the time of the Iqamah I moved forward and quickly found room next to the Shaykh. We prayed the Fard. Then I asked him, do you have any advice for anybody memorising the Qur’ān? He said yes and so I enquired as to what it was. He said: “Al Qur’ān Yaghar,” as in The Qur’ān is Jealous: “If you leave it one day, it will leave you for a week. If you leave it for one week, it will leave you for one month, if you leave it for one month, it will leave you for a year, and if you leave it for one year, it will leave you forever. It will desert you.” (Sh. Jebril)

This is very important wisdom, I believe in its truth. As part of business, I need to travel and during travel I may have missed my daily practice. When I came back, I found it to be very difficult to return to where I was. My teacher would notice this and say you are coming back in bad shape. So you have to start again.

Keep with the Qur’ān all the time!

Seek the Help of Allāh for memorisation

Make Du’ā often. With Du’ā, good intentions and good determination you will gain an acceleration. Acceleration will increase you to full speed as you become more serious and sincere about the task at hand.

Tips for memorisation from the Sunnah

There’s a well-known tradition (Hadith) of Sayyidunā ‘Ali (KarramAllāhu Wajhahu). When he came to the Beloved of Allāh (ﷺ) complaining about difficulty in memorisation and keeping up with the retention of the Qur’ān.

Value the Task

It is the tight rope to Allāh, Most High. It contains knowledge of the past, information about those to come after you and the status remembrance of those among you.

Keep an eye on the Mutashābihāt

Examples: Innama al hayat el Donya La’eb wa lahow’ OR Lahwo’ wa la’eb. The verses about prostration to Adam, is repeated in different ways in the Qur’ān. (We may need a whole lecture on “Mutashābihāt”).

Some tips to solve Al-Mutashābihāt

In al-Azhar, they use poetry to deal with the Mutashābihāt. For example:

Al-Lahw’ qabla al-La’eb Ya man Tamoot fi al-A’raf wal ‘Ankabut (Azhar). The poetry lines tell you where what is and in what order.

Iblīs: ABA wa Stakbar (both came jointly in Al-Baqara. They were split later in the Qur’ān

uSura Tāhā contain ABA…..

uSura “Sād” contain wastakbar……

uA book about mutashabihat !!!!

Easy Chapters are those quoting stories of the Qur’ān

  • Surah Yūsuf
  • Surah al-Kahf
  • Surah Maryam
  • Surah Tāhā
  • First 1/2 of Surah al-Ghāfir
  • First ½ of Surah al-Qasas

Other Easy Chapters

  • Al- Mā’idah.
  • Al-Anfāl.
  • Al-Hajj.
  • Ibrāhim
  • Al-Isra’
  • Al-e-’Imrān is more easier than al-Baqarah
  • Yā sīn, al-Najm, Qāf

In general, the chapters you memorised earlier or at young age can be recalled easier even after forgetting it.

Difficult Chapters are those with rules and legal value (Hukm/Ahkām)

  • Al-Nisā’
  • At-Tawbāh
  • Al-Nahl
  • Al-Hijr.

Important tips for memorisation

Read what you want to make Hifdh of five times immediately before going to sleep. Then read or recall them once in the early morning (before fajr) and recite them in Tahajjud. Learn the reported “reason for revelation”.

How to reduce the “Tafallut” (loss of flow) of the Qur’ān

“Tafallut” is loosing the flow and continuity between different verses, resulting in reducing the “Hifdh”. To reduce that:

  • While you memorise one verse, keep your eye on the beginning of the next verse. e.g. Alef Lām meem- Zalika…..La Rayba feehi- Hudan lil……
  • Always keep that system during your revision of the memorisation.
  • Tafallut is more common at the beginning and or end of the verse. Eg. End of ayat: Al-samee’un al-Aleem; Al-Ghaffor Al-shakoor, Al-Dhalemeen, Al-Kafereen.
  • Beginning of a verse: Watlu Alyhim Naba’a Nuh; W’azkur fil Kitab Isma’il Innahu Kana sadiq al-wa’adi wa kana Rasula’Nabiyya.

Avoiding SINS will improve your memorisation

Imām Al-Shafi’i complains to his Shaykh (Wakee’) about his poor memorisation (which was really incredible compared to us). He responded by advising him to avoid sins. “I complain to Wakee’ about my poor memorisation, He advised me to avoid sin. For Knowledge is light and the Light of Allāh is not awarded to a sinner.”

The more verses you memorise/day the faster you complete the Qur’an:

Losing the Qur’ān is like losing paradise (after entering in)

The more Khatm al-Qur’ān, the more it is cemented in your mind. Use it or lose it.

The Parable Of Those Who Memorise The Qur’ān Is Similar To Those Who Received Paradise In This Life

A large paradise with 114 sections, 60 different gardens, 240 types of orchards. You get in to:

Feel the smoothness of the roses (Rahma, blessing…etc

Smell the fragrance of the created perfumes

Listen to the holy music and rhyme of the verses (Yā sīn, Al-Rahmān…etc)

Reflect on the created glory of Allāh (sophisticated structures)

Hug the softness of meanings.

Taste the sweetness of the fruits (of your deeds)

Get knowledge of the antagonistic behavior

Literally select what you like most, when you need it.

Where do “YOU” fit into all of this?

Organise a class of memorisation of the Qur’ān. Whoever interested you have to be ready for the following:

  • Make a sincere Niyyah and attend fajr prayer
  • Devote 30 min-45 min. daily after Fajr (WD)
  • Buy a Muhaffidh (electronic)
  • Commit for 3 yrs. of consistent attendance

If I were to start again, what would I do?

I would start with the easy chapters first like al-Mulk. I started with al-Baqarah first but starting with the easy ones will help you. You can jump back and forth, if you like.

What is “Wird”?

This is your daily practice or revision. In Hifdh I completed one page in memorisation and for revision one Juz. This is all recalled from memory.


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