How We Memorised The Quran: A Primer on Quran Memorisation, Revision and Teaching

In 2014, I began writing a book called “How We Memorised The Quran: A Primer on Memorisation, Revision and Teaching.” That was a project that I eventually put on hold and eventually scrapped. Instead I have focused my efforts on teaching and writing the articles you read today, and exploring other, perhaps more beneficial initiatives for you.

So, yesterday, a student of mine sent me a WhatsApp message saying that she discovered a draft document of this book and that gave me an idea. That idea was simple. It’s time to share the drafts I wrote back in 2014 with you today.

The idea of How We Memorised The Quran

The basic premise of the idea was to share how you can memorise, revise and teach others the Qur’ān. The framework was through the 99 Names of Allāh. If there ever was to be a handbook for Qur’ān memorisation, this was to be it.

I had shared an introduction and two initial chapters with readers. Here’s the introduction and the first chapter…

Introduce Yourself

Glad tidings to he who loves the Qur’an.” [al-Darami, Ibn Mansur]
Glad tidings to he who recites the Qur’an.” [Ibn Abi Shaybah]

— As narrated by ‘Abd ‘Allāh (May Allāh be well pleased with him).

The above tradition mentions something really important: love. Love is what this book is really about. What is central to memorising or reciting anything is ultimately having a love for it. You have got to love something to do something, you have got to love something to talk about it. You and I have things in common and a love for the Qur’an will undoubtedly be one of them. I am a lover of the recital of the Qur’ān (Qira’āt) since an early age, I was around 10 years old when I first began performing in public gatherings. We are also similar in that we are imperfect, and go through struggles in order achieve our aims.

You and I are also different, we are not the same. It could be unlikely that you may have had to travel to another country at the age of 17/18 with a desire to memorise the Qur’ān without having even a place to stay or knowing the language of the land. You may not have spent the entirety of high school, sixth form, and after stressed out about memorising the Qur’an. You may not have had one of your best friends pass away during high school who spent his last days with the Qur’an.

Yep, it was Ramadan, if I remember correctly I was revising for exams either in year 9 or 10 at the time in Manchester, 2001/2002. Staring at the wall, I was supposedly revising but I wasn’t, I had just found out that Nabeel had passed away. I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t study.

“How?… so young… so talented.. so much planned.. he didn’t even do his GCSEs!” I began to ask myself.

I began memorising in around the year 2000 (year 8), and to my delight my younger brother and relatives joined me in the journey. Later, I convinced Nabeel to join our classes and he did. I still remember the games we used to play during classes, we used to race to see who would finish memorising first, who could read the best, and who could learn the most. Not being arrogant, or boastful but I won the battle (I was more experienced right?). I can still recall exactly the melodies Nabeel had adopted during Hifdh (memorisation).

Nabeel and I, were friends since primary and we lived on the same street. We played a good game of cricket here and there. He was very athletic, and intelligent. Unfortunately he sustained a knee injury in a football game and this eventually caught infection. The infection then turned into cancer which had already spread into his body. It was too late. As you can guess, he no longer attended classes.

The truth is that Nabeel never stopped. When I went to visit the family after he passed away, his dad spoke to me about what he was up to. He’d told me how he never gave up on memorising, at the hospital he would always be reading, make mention of me and his friends, he always had a desire to pass away with the Qur’an and in Ramadan. That wish came true.

This is a real story, and something should inspire us all. May Allah be pleased with him. This book is dedicated to him and the many individuals seeking the Qur’an and going through struggles in their lives.

Since then I kept on going on the journey, and oddly enough, everyone that joined me on the journey did not. Some of them stopped at half a Juz, others at a Juz and others at a few Juz. Only I somehow kept at it, and believe me, I had my moments. I wanted to stop, and I did for periods, I thought I couldn’t do it. There were people who even told me you will never do it (a teacher), and others you shouldn’t do it! (a well known Imam in Manchester). Mubashir! Are you serious?! Really I am, they did! You’d think one would encourage you to memorise, but they said to leave it because people in the UK are “too busy” and forget the Qur’an. I completely got his point, I’d done half of the Qur’an by the time I started A-Levels and had been to three places where I had learnt from with over 20 teachers. Then I stopped for a year. That was a bad break, I never read to my teacher and he would never communicate, there was a lot of tension because of talk that I would be leaving. You could imagine, I was so down, I didn’t want to continue.

I then ended up going to Cairo in November 2005, I was 18 and I was about to go there by myself without having sorted out a place to stay or even a place to study. I just wanted to go. It turned out that I knew a brother from London there as I found out the night before, so I rang him in Cairo. He didn’t have a CLUE who I was but I told him, pick me up at the airport and you will know who I am. After that let me stay at your place until I find a teacher and a place to stay.

So I stayed at his place for 2 weeks and found my own place. Lonely times were about to begin but things got much much better. I ended up meeting legends in the Qur’an world and sorted out teachers from Azhar to recite to, I sorted out Arabic classes at a local place near my house. Things worked out. I would get up at Fajr, spend 2 hours on Arabic, and then go have breakfast and recite all day till ‘Asr. Then I would take a 30 min drive to the other end of Cairo to read to my teacher. Sometimes he wasn’t there so I would make up for it the next time. I ended up starting again and finished memorising in 6 months, learning 3 pages a day.

This book is the result of a lot work, self-reflection, reflection on others, and teaching. It just occurred to me that I actually started writing a book like this but completely different back in Oct 2009 (more academic). I am glad that never went ahead, as what I have learnt in the time between then and now is amazing.

So what do you want the most?

If you think this book is going to give you one master blueprint on how you can achieve
success, it won’t. Instead this book focuses on ‘various tried and tested blueprints’ with the focus being around problems and personal circumstance. This book wants to help you identify who you are and what blueprint will work for you. Actionable methods and advice. I don’t want to give everything away in the introduction, you really need to read on.

Before you begin reading ahead you will profit much by knowing that if you want to be
entertained put this book away. It is not intended to be entertaining, or a textbook of how-to, but it is a practical walk the walk type book. You will want to read each part by absorbing its content, and making it your own. Organise, test and apply. Convert the actionable methods mentioned and find what is working for you. This is the only way you will get the most out of it.

You can even do this with your friends, or family or groups. Set up a club and discuss the content with others. Go through it with your students if you are a teacher. As I write this, I have students that are using and testing methods that I mention, and I look forward to you doing the very same.

My final introductory words…

Finding a dream and living it can give you purpose to get out of bed. Tomorrow, you are going to wake up and you are going to put on your clothes. I have a question for you, what are you going to do post clothing? We are told that we ought to ask ourselves each morning, What will Allah do with me today?

I want you to ask something else, what will YOU do with the CHOICES Allah presents to you every single day? Believe me, it is all down to you. Remember Nabeel.

If this is going to be an “Introduce yourself,” I’d like to get to know you a little bit too. Whether you wish to memorise or have done so, please send me a tweet at @MemorisingQuran if you are on Twitter, or get in touch via email, Facebook, or Instagram and drop a message about your struggles or dreams. I’d love to hear from you.

Pleasure to meet your acquaintance, fellow traveler.


Building a Foundation

Al-Fattāh, The Opener

Bismillah.

In the Name of Allāh, Most Compassionate, Ever-Merciful

“All praise be to Allāh alone, the Sustainer of all the worlds,
Most Compassionate, Ever-Merciful,
Master of the Day of Judgment.
(O Allāh!) You alone do we worship and to You alone do we look for help.
Show us the straight path,
The path of those upon whom You have bestowed Your favours,
Not of those who have been afflicted with wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.”

— The Opening, The Qur’ān

“I have come to love the sound of the names of God. Al-Fattāh is my favourite.
There is an opening that is beyond thought.”

— Coleman Barks, Rumi: The Big Red Book

We just need to open the Book and get started.


Chapter 1: The Fivers

ALLĀH – The Greater Name

“Actions are valued according to the intention, and every man is credited with what he
intended.”
[Sahih al-Bukhari]
— The Beloved Messenger of God, Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him)

“Man’s share in this name should be for him to become God-like, by which I mean that his heart and his aspiration be taken up with God – Great and Glorious.”
— Imam al-Ghazali [Ihya’ al-‘Ulum al-Din]

CAIRO, EGYPT, 2006

It’s scorching hot, I’m in Nasr city, otherwise known to us as the city of students. I was living in the tenth zone (al-Hayy al-‘Āshir). I knew very little Arabic, and certainly nothing of colloquial Arabic. The Egyptians worried me, they were making me laugh yet confused saying “eyes”, “ear” [ayz eh?].” I had one thing on my mind though, how was I to memorise the Qur’ān when I did not and could not communicate?

Lo and behold, one month later I was chatting away with all the locals, made friends and travelled about. Above all sixth months later I was in a position to say I was, if Allah accepts, a Preserver of the Qur’ān – a Hāfidh of the Noble Qur’ān, Āmīn. What got me to that position? INTENTION. It is the starting point of all action and what drives this intention is the desire for achievement.

I am about to share with you advice and methodologies that you can adopt both derived from the 99 Names of Allāh and experience.

Whilst I was in Egypt I met many professionals from various fields and backgrounds. Common questions then and still today are, “How can I memorise when I do so and so a thing? I’m not young anymore, my memory seems weak, I can’t do it. What do you propose?” ,“I’m working and taking care of the family” , “I’m a working mum/father and hardly get time” and even things from children and students, “It is too hard, I go to school and have homework and I can’t learn!” , “I go to college, I go to Uni, and then I work part-time and I can’t do it.”

They all want to do it, the intention is there but it is not pure enough. If it were pure they would be chasing it. When someone intends to do something they go and do it. So whenever I’ve been approached by these individuals my answers have always differed. The reason for that is simple: you and I are different. Everyone has has different capabilities and capacities to do certain things. If you say you cannot memorise the Qur’ān because of your memory, you’re pretty much saying Allāh has not made it easy for me even though He has promised He would (in the Qur’ān). Think about this for a second: you have been able to memorise so much since you were born. All those words, dates, numbers, names, sentences, songs and rhymes. You must first recognise that you have the capability but it might be different to that of your brothers and sisters.

The next step is to really understand who you are and where you want to go. The reason is simple: we need to memorise to our strengths not necessarily what is dictated to us. If you attend one of my classes, you will see those who are memorising are all doing it differently. I don’t like standardisation but personalisation. Some of them look like they are going crazy (seriously, what’s with all the hand gestures?), some of them look like they aren’t reading, some of them are on touch screens or using headphones (sometimes!). Some of us are very strong with visuals, some of us with audio, or combinations, or other means of learning.

This is why this book concentrates on actionable methodologies. If you can find your strengths, you will not only memorise better but you will do so with quality. Remember, the aim is not necessarily timeframe, it is not how quick but it is always quality. To memorise the Qur’ān, you are asked to do just one thing: aim for perfection.

First And Foremost : Set Your Intentions Right

Memorising the Qur’ān will change your life in more ways than you can imagine. It will not only change your life but the lives of those around you – family, friends, and the community. Just because you memorised it. More so if you memorise and internalise.

What is most important at the outset is that your intentions are put right and that you understand the significance of the journey.

“Why am I memorising or wanting to memorise the Qur’ān?”
“Is it for myself? For my parents? or for Allāh?”
“Is it for monetary or worldly gains?”
“Do I even know what a Hāfidh truly is?”
“Do I understand its significance?”
“I am teaching the Qur’ān – why am I doing so?”

If you are going to start this journey you need to realise first and foremost that Allāh has chosen you and He has favoured you. This is already the case by the mere fact that you are a Muslim. If you have a desire to do memorise but are not acting upon that desire then know Allāh is calling you. He is giving you the choice as He does everyday. When you eventually begin, it should be for the sake of Allāh absolutely. The word Hāfidh derives from the Arabic root of Hā-Fā-Dhā which denotes preservation. So a Hāfidh is in the truest form a means by which Allāh choses you to fulfil one of His promises:

“Assuredly, We alone have revealed this Glorious Admonition (the Qur’ān), and surely We alone will guard it.” — (al-Hijr, 15:9)

When you memorise the Qur’ān you embody this verse in one way – you have become a Guardian of the Qur’ān (epic!). That is something to really ponder over.

Once you are set with this intention you are ready to begin. Ease is facilitated by Allāh, but as always the one who He favours does not go about a journey in complete ease. There will be hardships, there will be struggles and tests of your zeal, drive and intent. The two evils: your ego and the Shaytān will get at you. It’s like one of those big job interviews, you set your intentions and then you start the tests and if you pass through you are rewarded.

“And indeed, We have made the Qur’ān easy for direction and guidance, but is there anyone who will take advice?” — (al-Qamar, 54:17)

Our scholars of commentary, amongst them Imam al-Qurtubi inform us that this verse means, “Have we not made the Qur’an easy, so is there anyone to memorise it?” Remember, this is a life investment, intend for Allah and doors will open. He will make it easy, no matter how long it takes you.

“The Fivers” Method

This method is based upon the number 5 and strong intentions. The Great Name Allāh is made up of 4 letters with an extra letter hidden.

“Alif – Lām – Lām – (Lām) – Hā = 5.”

The second Lām is Mushaddad (stressed) by a Tashdīd (doubling of emphasis) with three connections, which is why the Tashdīd is in three strokes. When this happens there is actually an additional letter within the middle (hidden). This is why I say 5. The blessed name, Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon the embodiment of this name) is exactly the same with different letters. There are so many amazing secrets to this and the number 5, but we can go into that another day (if we get the opportunity)!

How it works

This method requires you to transmute your intention into reality through five practical steps. Everything about it is in fives.

Memorisation

  1. You need to fix your mind on the memorising 5 verses for 5 days of the week at minimum. The days could be any but must fall consecutively – for example the 5 weekdays. (If you wish to memorise more, you must set an exact amount you will commit to daily). This is important, for psychological reasons one must be definitive.
  2. You then establish an exact date by which you intend to have completed memorisation by. This date can either be calculated by the amount you have chosen to memorise taking into account the date you began. If you have chosen 5 verses daily then we know that the Qur’ān has 6,236 verses. The year has 365 days with 52 weeks. If you take out 2 days from each week you are left with around 261 days a year. That would mean you will learn 1305 verses a year whereby you will complete a full memorisation in 5 years and a month or so. Otherwise ordinarily speaking, 5 verses memorised every single day would mean a full completion within a period of 3 years, 6 months and 7 days.
  3. Create a definite plan as above as well as appointing a time and a person who can listen to you. (We will discuss the issue of having a teacher or not later). You must then write out a statement consisting of each point. Describe it clearly.
  4. Read your written statement aloud, twice daily, once before going to sleep, and once after you wake up. As you read – see and believe you have already memorised the Qur’ān.
  5. Start at once. You can do this in either two ways: (1) learn one verse after each of the 5 daily prayers, learn and then combine them after ‘Ishā’. OR (2) Stick to a time in which you memorise and revise the 5 verses.*

You MUST follow these 5 steps, in this exact way. You might say there is no need for a statement or for you to read it out aloud to yourself everyday – that’s just crazy! It might be true but let me tell this: it works! If you truly desire and intend to memorise, there is nothing better than a strengthened determination, self confidence and a burning desire. What it does is help you attain any definite goal. The same process is used by many successful people in the world – hundreds.

If you do this, you will be well on your way to becoming not only a Hāfidh or Hāfidha, but God willing, one of perfection. Remember, it is not about memorisation but it is about perfection. What good would you be doing it you preserved something half-baked?

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” — Mark Twain

* What about memorising long verses?
This is a good question. Some verses are half a page, up to a page, or a few lines long which may make memorising 5 at that stage difficult. In these cases you should spilt up the verse into parts. If the verse is as large as for example, the verse of the Throne (Āyāt al-Kursī), then it may help to spilt that verse into the 5 for the day. Although this would mean you are now behind on schedule – the nature of memorising the Qur’ān is that it gets easier – you should be able to make up for it easily at a later stage by memorising slightly more.

What is the benefit of this method? And who is it suitable for? How would revision work?

This method ensures very strong memorisation and it’s easy to maintain. Another plus point is that it is suited to anyone of all ages. It is also flexible: you can learn 5 verses in one sitting or in 5 sittings. You can divide memorisation in others ways according to how busy you are. You can fit them around the prayers or around commutes. It also allows room for you to revise.

The following is said to be attributed to Sayyidunā Imām ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tālib who said, “The Qur’ān came down five verses at a time, whoever wants to memorise the Qur’an and not forget it, then memorise five at a time.” There were times in which a revelation had more then 5 verses too but there is wisdom in mentioning the 5. And many of our teachers, especially those that I have sat with in Cairo like Shaykh Ahmad Amir al-Azhari. All of them have spoken about the number 5. For example Shaykh Dr Ayman Suwayd, a great scholar of the Qur’ān from Damascus tells us:

“I revise 5 parts (ajza’) every day with colleagues at the mosque. When I was memorising I used to memorise 3 pages a day and revise 3 parts (ajza’) until I finished. Since then however, I do 5. In other words, every 6 days I make a completion (khatam) of the Qur’an. The method in which I do so is between two people. I will recite 5 pages to the one listening, then he will recite the next 5 and I will listen. Like this we complete the Qur’an. So we combine listening with recitation. This is my advice to all my brothers and sisters who have memorised anything from the Qur’an. Do not leave what you have memorised, if you will, you will regret it. You must revise, and especially for each new memorisation as that is still not penetrated into the depths of your mind. You must revise to the point until you can say you will not forget. We memorised a saying from our Shuyukh that goes as: “Man Qara’a Kulla Youm, Khams, Lam Yans.” Whoever reads 5 a day, will not forget. This is not a Hadith but an experiential fact from our scholars.”

What about revision as you go along with this method? We will mention more revision techniques as we go along exploring other methods.

Like this we have mentioned our first methods in memorisation and revision. Try it out at let me know how you get on.

Check out this video containing a poem of advice for memorising, it contains a similar method based on 5s.

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