Let me start with some personal memories.
In 2001, I used to go to a local mosque to do Hifdh. I witnessed things unworthy of mention. Believe me, I saw it all.
I went to another mosque and the same thing happened.
There were no role models who inspired the kids. There was only “tension tension” as they say in the Asian community. Teachers didn’t inspire, teachers didn’t relate to the students and the students just about managed to get through the system. Once they finished, they left Qur’ān altogether.
Allāh, Most Generous, is ar-Rahmān and ar-Rahīm. The Infinitely Good, Kind, Caring and Majestically Loving. We should be wearing these characteristics. A teacher needs to not only show love but embody it. Both teacher and student need to show and embody love.
When I was in Cairo I saw the total opposite of what I experienced in those mosques. Teachers and students were having a great time. The kids sat where they wanted, all relaxed, learning in an open space. Teachers showed love and they didn’t work a student so hard that they would drive them away. They ingrained discipline but it was in an intelligent, gradual and experiential manner. You’d get praised, kissed, hugged and respected. I remember going to recite to a Shaykh and when I entered his room, he stood up for me and kissed me. He showed honour and respect for a student of Qur’ān. I’ve never witnessed a teacher rise for his students and treating them like his own. I never witnessed him raise his voice or display any anger. Allāh bless him.
I went to visit Qur’ān circles at various mosques in Cairo. At my local one, Masjid ar-Rahmān, I sat in a circle with kids and adults as equals. Some kids put the adults to shame and inspired them, while some of the kids learnt from the adults. I loved this and have replicated it in my own classes. In my classes it was organised chaos. The students were having fun while learning Qur’ān and Islām. Classes should be organised based on interest and passion. Like-minded people no matter the age have something to give each other. Ultimately this love can only be achieved if we are surrounded by it.
One of the things you must do is always seek the Love of Allāh above all. That should be one of your regular prayers.
Thinking about all of this, I wanted to introduce play into classes and that’s how I experimented with the play method.
The Play Method
Introducing play into Hifz can be beneficial for young learners, not only in the short term but long term. There are traditions attributed to different people that say:
“Play with them (your children) until (the age of) seven, teach them until (the age of) fourteen, and be friends until (the age of) twenty-one, and then let them be.”
“Play with them for the first 7 years (of their life); then teach them for the next 7 years; then advise them for the next 7 years (and after that).”
So I had some of my students try something for me.
One of the my students who was still trying to get to grips with the Arabic alphabet had concentration issues. He was the son of the age, growing up with screens and joypads, it was very difficult for him to sit and read the text. So I improvised and got a piece of paper to make a board game on the spot. It worked!
Then I had a similar situation with a Hifdh student but on a whole new level. As it was Hifdh it presented me with a new dilemma and one of high scale difficulty.
A game of ‘Throw and Recite!’
So I tested a method for them to enjoy the process and memorise effectively.
I tried a game of throw and recite on a group of 5 boys and a group of 5 girls. Each group consisted of different ages, the youngest at age 6/7 to ages 11/12. I chose a random chapter for them, and gave them 5 minutes each and I had a tennis ball in my hand. The boys got the chapter Suratur Rahmān, and the girls got chapter al-Kawthar (shortest chapter in the Qur’ān). Note this was an on the spot decision and four of the boys were Hifdh students whilst the girls were not. Three of them were just at the beginning of reciting the Qur’ān for the first time. One of them has never recited the Qur’ān as a whole and was memorising the Qur’ān.
The way it worked was that I would start them off with a word, Ar-Rahmān or Innā. Then I will throw a tennis ball at one of them (we weren’t in a circle but facing each other in lines). Then he/she would repeat after me. He/she would then pass it to another repeating the same word. In this way, everyone will have recited one round of reciting the words until the ball returned to me.
The results were fascinating.
Usually in the first set I found either of four cases:
(1) they were excited
(2) not interested
(3) really interested; or
(4) not bothered at all.
Those that were excited found it easy, those that were not so interested found it difficult, and those who were really interested did ok but kept going fuelled by interest. There was only one person not bothered and that was one of the girls, she didn’t contribute. This shows the importance of finding yourself and what suits you best – not everything will work.
At the end of the 5 minutes, three of the boys were able to recall the verse we learnt with ease. Whereas with the girls all of them were interested or excited but interestingly only 1 of them was able to recall the verses. That was because the interest of the other girls faded during the game.
But what was really interesting was that after a day or two and even a few weeks, those that were able to recall the verses at the time were still able to recall the verses to me. This method obviously worked for them. For the others, they would need something else to get them ticking.
Here’s the crucial thing. The students were able to recall the verses months after this situation without revision.
For this example obviously, one of you will need to know the Qur’ān by heart, or the chapter being memorised, or need someone who is a proficient reciter to lead from a Mus’haf (copy of Qur’ān). This can be done in groups to facilitate ease and aid from each other or one on one. Particularly with one on one, you can change things. The essence of these examples is that people learn through and by example – especially kids. We learn with our eyes. Instead of kids playing Catch! Your it! amongst themselves, join them, get them to memorise something and you too memorise alongside them
A sister told me that her teacher used this method with them in 4th grade for many surahs in Juz’ 29 and it worked wonders.
What is the benefit of the method? Who is it suitable for?
This method is suited to people that are of an active nature, they like to move around, or they may not really prefer to be reading books. Especially young children who can’t stay still to recite and concentrate on a text in front of them. If you or a student are like this or similar, this is worth a try.
In the case of children, whilst they can memorise very well, most of the time we do not instil in them a love for the Qur’ān at the very beginning. That is the key to this approach, to really develop a love for the text. The method is also aimed at parents and teachers.
Amongst its benefits are producing strong relationships between teacher, student or parent, child, and also with the Qur’ān. The other benefit is that it makes memorisation strong and fun. You will love it. Warning: it can get physical so this method may not be long-term.
The method can work great for revision as well. You can incorporate your revision into an activity or movement very easily, just as you would have with the memorisation.
Further ideas (for all the ideas revision would work in the same way):
- You can play throw and say, and then write the verses on a board.
- You can play swing and with each swing, you recite a verse and only swing again if the child is able to recall it.
- You can play pass the parcel with incentives for the child to memorise until the end and then win the prize (or if in a group, the first one to recall perfectly wins!).
- You play “Make Your Own Mushaf” – buy or make a book in which you have to write the Qur’ān yourself but with your own decorations (associations to verses).
- You could create a pathway or an obstacle course from the door of your house going along into a certain room at the end of which is a surprise. The way this could work is to have the verses recited at the start and familiarise the student with them. Thereafter tell them about how to navigate the course with each checkpoint being a point where they have to recall a part or a full verse. Let’s say they are memorising Surah al-Ikhlas. You say either: the first verse ends with Ahad (One) and so you place the number one at the checkpoint where they then must recall the call associating with the one. OR you have them repeat on the rote out loud the verse till they get to that checkpoint. Then they learn the next verse and do the same to the next point etc. In the end, they should be able to recall the verses. This keeps them engaged physically and keeps things interesting for them.
- Storytelling at bedtime – you take turns to recite before bed but with a twist. You tell a story but at the end of each chapter you recite a verse, they recite, and if they can recall it only then continue the story.
- Go for a walk and recite to each other.
There are many methods that can be adopted. If you are an adult and you go to the gym for example, or you go to play sport. I’m sure there is a way you could implement memorisation within that time. Give it a think. If you do try this method – send me your feedback!
How to make it work
- First things first, the idea sounds exhausting but it really isn’t. One of the beautiful things about memorisation of the Qur’ān is that it actually gets easier as you go along. Words and sentences become familiar, your memory becomes sharper and you know exactly the best way you should be learning it. You could be initially playing but then move on to less exhausting methods as by now the love for it and the interest should have developed.
- Establish what sort of activity you like – are you a ball person?
- Create a plan again – remember the memorisation of the Qur’ān is an investment project. You have to write/map out a plan. So plan for when, what time, how much and how you will memorise.
- Consider short and long verses – you want to play differently with each.
- Set the goals – not only set the rules and goals for the game but set the target goal for completion of the memorisation. In 5 minutes my students were able to recall 3 verses and still recall them days after. Based on this, if I were to put them on a plan I would create a 30-minute game with a 5-minute break in the middle to get started. We would be able to memorise a page at least each time.
- The focus is not playing, the focus is memorisation. So do not allow the play to dictate what happens but allow the memorisation to dictate what happens.
We live in an age where we feed our children with screens that keep them busy and entertained at high speeds. They know exactly what they are going to get. They are hooked just like us.
If we want to connect with the Qur’an, shouldn’t they know exactly what they will get in the same way? What hooks can we use? Love. We must root them with love and the sweetness of Qur’ān. The process begins with you. What makes you tick with the Qur’an? Make it known to them. Let them see it. Let them hear it.
My students will always hear me rant away but in their language and context. One thing I love to do is gamify every process. Make rewards real and not abstract. Let them have an enjoyable and fun time.
Usually, we’ll play with our kids but they are opportunities to use and get creative.
Playing Hide and Seek
I shared a video that so many of you saw of children playing hide and seek revising their Qur’ān. Instead of ip-dip-do-the-cats-got-the-flu or whatever other method used to pick who will go first, the teacher recites a small surah. Then the child that plays the seeker is told to recite from somewhere until she finds everyone else. In this way, they review Qur’ān in a fun and engaging way.
The Play Method for adults
There’s something for you too.
First, you have to recite out loud the entire section/portion that you are wanting to memorise. This is not based on any specific number. Instead, it is based on drawing pinwheels that look like this:
So as you recite, you draw a line. You keep drawing until you know it. You’ll get an idea of how many wheels you need to memorise on average. This is one of many ideas.
Now test yourself
- Get a ball and get hold of someone else to throw it to. You cannot throw the ball back until you can say the āyah fluently. Whenever you struggle, you know that is the one you need to work on. You must move around while you are doing it.
- Get a ball and throw it up and down with movement. If you struggle, know that is weak and you need to repeat it more.
- Take a walk and recite.
The ideas here are to put yourself in a situation where you need to focus and be able to recall under any situation. They build your memory muscles.
I hope these ideas give you something to think about.