How Bilal Memorized Quran and Forgot It

A few years ago I caught up with Hafiz Bilal Memon (USA), the founder of Quran Academy, and we had a live chat about his memorization journey. Here's how it went.

How did your memorization journey begin?

It began in 1999 when I was 10 years old.

When I was a 5th grader in elementary school, my older cousin (who was in 6th grade) was interested in doing hifdh. He wanted to go and memorize the Qur'ān. We lived in New Jersey at the time and there weren't many schools that taught hifdh. There was one in upstate New York. I then asked my parents if I could join the same school he was going to. My parents were very proud, naturally, any parent would want that. But little did they know, my incentive was just to have fun. Get some ice cream, make new friends, and go to different fairs. My parents felt comfortable because I had another member of the family out there too. A few months later I joined the hifdh school.

When I got to the school, there were students of various ages as young as 6 to as old as 24. Surprisingly, we were all put into the same classroom. As soon as I got there I quickly realized that unfortunately, this is not the happiest place. No one is giving out ice cream. My cousin wasn't having a positive experience either. The teachers at this school were angry all the time, and the kids kept fighting all the time. it wasn't a pleasant experience.

At that point I told myself, you know what, I'm not going to turn back from this. I know this is not going to be pleasant, whatsoever but I saw how excited and motivated my parents were. I didn't want to go back and tell them that I didn't want to do it. If I went ahead and did that and told my parents, they would have been comfortable with it but it was just me battling against it.

When I was at the school, they put a greater emphasis on new memorization. I just kept memorizing. Because I wasn't having a pleasant experience my goal was to get out of there as soon as possible. To get out meant I had to finish as soon as possible. So I kept on memorizing but there was no revision. So as a result, although I kept memorizing I couldn't retain much. So as soon as I finished memorizing the Qur'ān, I wasn't technically a Hafidh. I couldn't recite what I had memorized. When I had my hifdh ceremony, I didn't feel proud of myself. I knew that I didn't know all of it.

So when I finished my hifdh, I went on a rigorous revision cycle for 7-10 months. I just kept revising. I dedicated 10-12 hour days doing this. It was at this point that I could call myself a Hafidh.

Shortly after this, I stood behind the Imām, who was leading the Taraweeh prayers, and corrected him for any mistakes that came up while reciting. Many times, the Imām would be frustrated with me because every time he made a mistake, I would immediately correct him without giving him a chance. The reason I never gave him a chance was that I was scared that if he forgot it and I also forgot it, we would be in trouble. Throughout high school, I would lead the Taraweeh prayers with one or two other people.

And then fast forward to college, I moved out to New York, and was living in the college campus. When I was in high school I was still living with my parents and I would always be reminded to revise. There was accountability. Now during college, it was the first time that I had no accountability for anything. So during freshman year, I started revising Qur'ān but it wasn't every day. It was every two days during the first semester and I would make sure that I recited Surah al-Kahf every Friday. When I got into the second semester, I noticed that I started to revise 2-3 times a week. And then sophomore year, junior year, and senior year I barely revised.

Then I finished university and started working, I was now always busy with work in the financial services. And I remember I was at home one day studying for a financial certification for my job, and I looked at my very dusty bookshelf. There I saw the old Qur'ān that I used to use to memorize. I picked it up and I opened it randomly, it was chapter 21. Honestly, I looked at the āyah and then tried to recall it from memory, and the next āyah but I couldn't do it. At that point, it really hit me. I always knew that it had been 4-6 years since I've actually revised and knew that I forgot it, but maybe I was just ignoring it. But this moment really hit me - I had dedicated my early childhood to memorizing, and spent so much time after that for review and perfection, correcting the Imām and leading the prayers. I knew it so well and now I had forgotten it all. I felt like I was at square one again. It was extremely disappointing.

So I told myself that I'm going to rememorize and revise everything again. No matter what it takes. This was at some point during the summer. I told myself I will rememorize in a year and the next year I'll lead the Taraweeh prayers.

What I ended up doing was after coming back from work around 6pm, I'd have my dinner, and then for the next 6-7 hours, I would revise Qur'ān.

What was the method you used in order to rememorize?

I didn't start from al-Baqarah all the way to an-Naas. I made a list: How well do I know a Juz' on a scale of 1 to 10. There were Juz' that I still knew well like the 30th which I would rate highly but then something like Juz' 19 would be rated at the lower end.

Using this list I prioritized the Juz' I had some familiarity with and began to revise those first. Because I knew that I remembered some of those Juz' starting with them would build my internal motivation. If I started with a Juz' that was 1 out of 10, it would have been an uphill battle. Whereas if it was a 6 out of 10 and I got it to a 7 or 8, it would keep me going. This was the approach that I stuck to. Alhamdulillāh, I was able to revise the entire Qur'ān again.

Then I wanted to lead the Taraweeh but this time by myself. In the past, I would share the duty with others but this time I wanted to put myself to the ultimate test. I wanted to jumpstart the solidification process. I was accepted at a local mosque on these terms. I made so many mistakes every day. There was frustration from the public but I didn't care. For me, I was happy with the progress. You should measure yourself by the progress you make. After this for 7 to 8 years, Alhamdulillāh, I have been revising every day consistently. The more you revise and pay attention to the Qur'ān, the more you feel the darkness in your heart being cleansed out.

Alhamdulillāh, I'm grateful for the opportunity Allāh gave me to revise again and lessons learned, hopefully, I won't forget it again with the Grace of Allāh. One of the biggest lessons you realize is that Qur'ān memorization and revision is a lifelong journey. If you don't review it, you will forget it. So give it attention!

How did you actually revise?

So Alhamdulillāh, I didn't forget the entire Qur'ān to the point that I knew zero. I forgot a large portion of it.

In addition to prioritizing those that I knew well, one of the things that really helped me was the auditory component. Everyone is different. I always knew I was a person that learned through hearing. So what I would do is walk to work and during the walk, I'd listen to what I was going to memorize and revise for the day. On my way back home from work, I would do the same. This was 30 minutes in total going through what I needed to revise. This really helped me with the melody and rhythm.

Also, as soon as the reciter was reciting, not only did I try to recite with him but I would anticipate in advance what was coming next. Many times I would be wrong. But doing this, helped me a lot.

I would also, say when I reached the 11th juz', I would make sure I would revise 1-2 Juz' a day and keep alternating them. Let's say I'm on Juz' 11, after work I would revise as much as I could of Juz' 11 and then look at the first 10 Juz' where I'd take maybe Juz' 1 and Juz' 2. The next day, I would continue to review Juz' 11 if I'm still on it and then review Juz' 3 to Juz' 4. I would keep alternating like this.

The key also was to make sure that I didn't forget anything recently and so I put that into a regular revision cycle that would also keep alternating. This would mean not too many days would pass since I revised it.

Let's say I knew 20 Juz', I would then alternate doing Juz 1' and Juz' 11, then Juz' 2 and Juz' 12. I did this because it reduced the number of days. I wanted to make sure not too many days go by that I didn't revisit things. The reality is that the recently revised portions were weaker.

What do you do today?

Alhamdulillāh, I stick to something that is realistic. I now have a lot more responsibilities with work, marriage, and family. Never create such a stretch goal where you say I want to review 3 Juz' a day because once you don't achieve it, it's so hard to get back on track. So I review 1 Juz' a day by alternating in halves. So day one will be Juz' 1, day two will be Juz' 15, day three will be Juz' 2, and day four will be Juz' 16. I'm making sure not too much time is going by where I'm not reviewing the second half of the Qur'ān. so effectively, I'm reviewing both halves simultaneously.

I make sure there is consistency by usually doing it first thing in the morning. I'm not a morning person but I like to do it this way. The most important task is done.

What happens if you do it in the morning but you struggled?

When I review a Juz', I don't recite it once. I do it twice. In the first one, I can identify mistakes, so I'll take a pencil and highlight those. Before reciting the second time, I'll go through all the mistakes reciting the āyah before the one with the mistake, and the one after that. I don't revisit things later in the day, I'll do it all in the same session.

Are you doing it from memory initially and then highlighting mistakes?

There are people that will recite without looking but I'm not one of them. I need the Mus'haf in front of me. I open it to the Juz' I'm going to review and reciting from memory and where I need to look, I will take a peek. Then I'll highlight it. Then continue until the next stumble. I know people who have memorized 40 years ago and still make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Those that hardly make mistakes put in a lot of time behind the scenes every single day.

So after going over a Juz' and marking mistakes, I'll go over it again. Sometimes though, my schedule might not allow me to revise a second time and so I'll do it later on.

I used to be a very big night person but over the last few years, I've become a big morning person. I used to revise only at night but then lifestyle changes transitioned me to the mornings.

Have you ever tried reviewing through your salah?

Yes, absolutely.

When I would lead the Taraweeh prayers, during the day I would read nawāfil and recite whatever I needed to recite for that night. Sometimes I would have someone behind me that would correct me but mostly it was by myself. Then when leading the real thing I was comfortable.

Sometimes, you don't have anyone to listen to you which is something you need to do. If I didn't have anyone, I would record the entire revision that I needed to recite for that day. then I would listen to myself and try to catch any mistakes.

Frankly, I don't do that now because I have a strong familiarity with the mistakes that I have had. I have been able to conquer many of them and some of them are still happening. Alhamdulillāh, at this point, any mistake that I make now is forgetfulness. Either I forget what the next āyah is or the next word, or I'm confusing the āyah with another (mutashābihāt).

How do you deal with the Mutashābihāt?

I remember finding a document that has all the Mutashābihāt and spent some time identifying all of them. When you know where they are, and what the differences are, you are on the way. Sometimes, you can lose focus and slip with the Mutashābihāt and for me, focus is equally important. Doing dhikr and guided meditation helps me focus a lot more. It's allowed me to recognize when I lose focus.

There are times when I have made the same mistakes many times, I will make a note of it. I'll write the number and before I start my revision, I'll visit those areas first. This is something that really helps me too.

Scenario: What tips do you have?

"11 years old, memorized 8 Juz' and trying to memorize a page and a half of memorization and wants to memorize the entire Qur'ān by the end of the year. His concern is that he'll memorize by repeating every āyah 20 times, then the next 20 times, then combining them 20 times, all the way to the end. But at the end of it, he feels he still doesn't know it. Now he's trying to repeat the entire page 20 times, and then every individual āyah 20 times. At the same time, he's neglecting the 8 Juz'."

When I was 11 I wanted to complete it as quickly as possible but when I got older I wanted to know it as well as possible. Here's what I would do.

If you continue the way you are, you're going to feel extremely demotivated because you're going to find that you don't know what you're memorizing very well and that you've forgotten what you've memorized in the past.

So I would stop memorizing right now and then take Juz' 1 to 8. Get a sheet of paper and make two columns. All the 8 Juz' on one side and then write how well you know each of them on a scale of 1 to 10. Start reviewing those that you rate the highest and get them to a 9 or 10. Keep reviewing all the 8 Juz' until every Juz' is at least an 8 out of 10. This is the first step, know what you've already done really well. This will become a source of motivation to carry you forward.

Secondly, break down an āyah into smaller chunks. So instead of an āyah 20 times, maybe do a quarter of the āyah 20 times so that it's more digestible for you. You can even do less than that. Then move on to the next quarter of the āyah 20 times. Then do both quarters of the āyah together 20 times. Then move on in the same way.

If you're doing the last 10 Juz' rather than the first 10 Juz', since the āyāt are shorter, it depends on how long the āyah is. You can try to divide it in half to make it more digestible. Make sure as well not to progress to the next āyah until you know the current āyah without mistakes. So you can't go to āyah 6 without knowing āyah 1 to 5 without mistakes in the same memorization session.

Don't be in a hurry. Make sure that the āyah is digestible for you.

One of the things to do is also to listen to the Qur'ān multiple times throughout the day. If it helps, then use this. You might have to try various things but, again, focus on the past first. Sometimes you need to take these breaks.

Also, have an accountability partner.

What are your tips for those that have forgotten large portions?

Try to get someone to keep you accountable every week.

Identify the areas that you know better than others. Work on them and make them better. Then continue on.

Allāh grant blessing!

4 - Like and share!

Similar Posts