Teaching and Motivating Children To Memorise Quran

The following are the experiences of Umm Khalid, a mother, a homeschooler, and much more. She shares her Hifth journey, how she teaches children Qur’ān and how to motivate them.

How Umm Khalid memorised the Qur’ān

She narrates her story as follows:

Before I talk about my own start memorizing the Qurān, let me begin before that, with the previous generations of my family.

Alhamdulellāh, there are a lot of حفاظ, huffāth, in my family. My father’s parents were both huffāth. So were their grandparents.

My dad’s mother, specifically, was taught the Qurān well by her own father, who was himself a hāfith and the headmaster of a sizable كتاب, kuttāb, which is a traditional Qurān madrassa for children and teens in Egypt.

In her father’s kuttāb, my father’s mother studied the Qurān alongside the famous qari, الشيخ محمود خليل الحصري , Shaykh Mahmoud Khalil Al-Hussary. He’s from our hometown of Tanta, Egypt. Al-Hussary would go to public gatherings with a certain group of kuttāb students with my grandmother’s father and recite nasheeds and Qurān for Eids and celebrations, and my grandmother would also go along to the gatherings to recite for the ladies. This used to be a widespread phenomenon in Egypt historically.

My dad was taught Qurān by his mother, with some occasional sessions with his father. But mostly by his mother, as she was home running the household and raising her six children. She would recite her morning surahs and her evening surahs (like Surat Al-Mulk, Al-Waqi’ah, etc) daily, as she went about her homestead chores of feeding the chickens and tending the vegetable garden and washing clothes. My dad and his three younger brothers would trail after her and recite by turn, and she’d correct them automatically as she went about her work, saying “مد!” (Do the madd, elongation) and “غنّ!” (Do the ghunna!).

When my father was in college and my grandmother was of course older, he would sometimes try to tease her by trying to catch her off-guard and ask her at unexpected times, “What āyah in what surah is that qāri reciting?” as the Egyptian Qurān radio channel played in the background. She never got it wrong. She suffered a stroke later in her life, which of course tends to affect a person’s speech and mobility, and memory. My father tried asking her the same Qurān questions after her stroke, and was surprised to see that she would still answer correctly. Of course, now “modern science” tells us that the very act of memorization, especially if done from a young age, actually physically enlarges the hippocampus, a small area of the brain. Processing information through the hippocampus is necessary for short-term memory to be encoded into long-term memory. Hifth, or memorizing anything, strengthens the hippocampus almost like physical exercise strengthens a muscle.

My father married and himself had children, whom he taught Qurān. He taught me and my siblings using the same exact method of memorization that his mother used with him, which is the same exact method that her father had used with her.

This is a tri-part hifth system, in which every day, you are working on three portions of Qurān simultaneously: new material (called اللوح), recent review surah (called the “recent past”, الماضي القريب), and old review surah (called “the distant past”, الماضي البعيد). This helps cement the previously memorized material while also gaining ground in new territory.

At first, when I was very little, my father would sit me and my older sister down with him, and we would repeat the ayahs of the short surahs after him. Then when I got old enough to read, he would have us صحّ اللوح, or read the new portion ourselves while he would correct any mistakes in tashkeel or pronunciation. Then we would be dismissed and would go off and memorize it ourselves, to be tested the following week by our father.

Qurān was almost always being recited in the background. We didn’t have a TV in our house because my father didn’t like it and saw it as a tool of destruction. He would call it “مفسديون” (“mufsid-ision”) instead of the Arabic تلفزيون (television), because he recognized TV as a means of fasād, corruption and warped values, and indoctrination of negative ideas. So he kept us away from TV, which gave us plenty of time for hifth, alhamdulellāh. And instead of TV playing in the background of our house providing a flashing-screen backdrop to our lives, we had the Egyptian radio Qurān channels playing in the background as a backdrop to our day.

Especially when my mother died when I was 6 and my father was grieving, Qurān was a constant source of comfort. We woke up to Qurān and fell asleep to Qurān. Sometimes الشيخ عبد الباسط عبد الصمد Shaykh ‘Abdul Bāsit Abdus-Samad, other times Al-Hussary, and other shuyūkh.

Our house in Egypt happened to have a partial wall that separated the living room from the salon, and I have vivid memories, maybe around age 6 or 7, of crouching behind this low wall and reciting Qurān very loudly and slowly, in the hopes that anyone hearing me would think that it was a reciter on the radio playing, not me. Nobody fell for it, to my knowledge. 🙂

Then when I was 9, my father moved our family to New Jersey, USA. We still kept up our hifth system alhamdulellāh, despite the hurdles of major family relocation, my dad working two jobs, us having to adjust to new schools in a different language. But we continued alhamdulellāh.

In high school, however, my hifth gradually slowed down. Now I was taking advanced classes, a full load of Honors and AP (Advanced Placement college-level) classes, and I was studying for the SATs, and working part-time at a cafe to help financially, and participating in school sports. My older sister was similarly busy. Our father was more busy and stressed than ever, with providing for a family of 7 and meeting ever-growing needs on a tight budget in a foreign land.

With my father, I memorized 22 ajzā’, from Surat An-Nas to Surat Al-A’raf. I had 8 ajzā’ still left.

Then I graduated high school, and went to college away from home.

Qurān was a stabilizing force in my life, alhamdulellāh. When I went to college, I felt moments of uncertainty and there was lots of change and novelty. I needed some stability, the comfort of the familiar. Harvard was five hours away from New Jersey and, as a new freshman, I felt far from home, alone, and nostalgic. Qurān was a way of self-soothing. I picked it up again because I needed comfort and I wanted to do something familiar and good, something to anchor myself in.

But I was busy trying to get used to the college system and attend classes and do my studying–how was I going to be dedicated to my hifth and stay consistent? My father wasn’t here to check my hifth. My older sister wasn’t here for me to memorize next to.

Alhamdulellāh, Allāh puts people in our path when we most need them. I met a wonderful sister in Cambridge, 9 years older than me, who became one of my Qurān buddies (I had multiple Quran buddies, but she was with me the longest). We memorized Surat Al-Baqara together alhamdulellāh. It was such an encouraging thing to have another person to memorize with, to help keep me motivated and accountable. Whenever one of us would get lazy or overwhelmed or demoralized, the other would pull her back up and cheer her on. We fell often but we pulled each other back up just as often, alhamdulellāh.

I got married in my senior year of college alhamdulellāh, and then shortly therafter, I found a beautiful tajweed teacher, also Egyptian like me. She held a sisters’ tajweed course at a masjid in Boston, which ended up being my first formal tajweed training. I asked my husband if I should take this tajweed class, and he answered immediately, “Absolutely!” I had never studied tajweed before and was a bit intimidated. The class cost $100, and as my husband wrote the check and handed it to me, he said with a smile, “Best hundred dollars I ever spent!”

Alhamdulellāh I fell in love with tajweed. I learned the qirā’a of حفص عن عاصم بالطريقة الشاطبية, Hafs by ‘Āsim in the Shātibiyya method. This teacher loved exceptions, and drilled us with many questions about not only rules, but the exceptions to every rule. By the end of the course, she encouraged me to teach other sisters the basics of tajweed, so as to introduce others to it and also to increase in my own knowledge.

My next teacher was a Syrian doctor who was also a hāfitha and a strict tajweed teacher who was certified to grant ijāzaat. I worked with her one-on-one to get my sanad. I memorized Ali Imrān, An-Nisā’, and Al-Ma’idah with her.

But then I became pregnant with my first child and was set to move from Boston, so we had to end our time together. My teacher asked me to recite for her one last time, and cried as I did. I gave her a hug, a bouquet of flowers, and I cried in the car.

I still had one surah left in the Qurān to memorize. But life was hectic and I was constantly distracted by various things. I had my first baby, moved, and struggled to find my footing as a new fledgling mother. I recited Qurān for the baby as I’d get him to sleep, to soothe him and myself.

Then, during my second pregnancy, I memorized Surat Al-An’ām, the remaining surah. The surah after this in the mus-haf is Al-A’raf, which was the last one I had memorized with my father, almost a decade before. I had finally completed my hifth, by the will and grace of Allāh.

Then the struggle is always to review. To retain. To be consistent.

I have taken three other tajweed courses with three other teachers since then, and had several lovely Qurān friends do the buddy system with me to help each stay consistent.

My current Qurān teacher is a Jordanian teacher who did her studying in Jordan and only recently moved to the US. I introduced her to the tri-part hifth system my father had raised me on, and she loved it and is using it now with me and herself.

I also am currently teaching my own four young children Qurān. I’m using the same hifth system that was passed down to me by my father, from his mother, from her father, and so on. Alhamdulellāh.

It is not easy to be consistent, for me personally, at times. I have periods of progress and dedication, intermingled with bouts of chaos and inconsistency.

The key, I am told by others and have found firsthand, is to make a dedicated time period in your day for Qurān. No matter what. Every morning after fajr, that’s daily Qurān time. Or every night after isha and before bed. Or every day after asr. Whatever your situation is and based on the flow of your day, find pockets of time to review your hifth.

I’m giving this advice mainly to myself, honestly. If it also encourages even one other person to be motivated to memorize or to be encouraged to review old material, alhamdulellāh. We have to help each other stay the course.

May Allāh make us of ahlul Qurān, and bless us with it being etched into our memories and our hearts, and grant us deep understanding of it, and the ability to act upon it in our lives, ameen.

How do you structure your Qurān class and what are the ages of your children?

At the time of writing, June 2019, she said:

Alhamdulellah my children are now almost 7, 5, 4, and just over 1.

This is how I structure our Quran class currently:

We begin our homeschool day with Quran class as the first period. After the kids finish eating breakfast and then doing their chores (inshaAllah a separate post on chores later), we start homeschool.

I follow something akin to the kuttab (كُتّاب) method in Egypt, where you have multiple children all seated together memorizing through repetition with a teacher.

More specifically, I follow the same method that my own father followed in teaching me and my siblings Quran, which is the same method his mother followed and also her father. My paternal grandmother and her father were both huffath of the Quran alhamdulellah, and they founded a كتاب / kuttab in our town in Egypt back in their day to teach children Quran.

This is a three-part system: there is the luh (لوح) which is the new material being just now memorized for the first time, then there is the maady qareeb (الماضي القريب) which is the “recent past,” ie the surahs you just finished memorizing most recently, and then there is the maady ba’eed (الماضي البعيد) which is “the distant past,” which is the surahs you memorized before.

To make it more concrete, this is what it would look like as an example: say you had finished memorizing the last 2 juz of the Quran and were about to start juz 28. Your new material would be surat At-Tahreem. Everything behind this surah is what you’ve memorized before, so we would split that in half into 2 blocks. Juz 29, from surat Al-Mulk to surat Al-Mursalaat, would be your recent past. Juz 30, from surat An-Nabaa to An-Nas, would be your distant past. You’d work on 3 different surahs simultaneously: your new portion in surat At-Tahreem, your recent review of surat A-Mulk, and your distant review of surat An-Nabaa. Then, surat at-Tahreem, al-Qalam, and An-Naazi’at. And so on. You would keep going this way every week, progressing with both new and old material.

Anyway, this is not quite as relevant for my kids currently, as they are very young and are just at the start of their Quran journey. But inshaaAllah this is the system I will have them follow as they get older and progress, with the will and mercy of Allah.

In our current situation, we start with some review first. I call on each child to recite a certain surah from the previously memorized bank of surahs, usually not in any particular order. Depending on our schedule that day and how my 1-year-old is behaving, each child recites between 1 and 5 or 6 surahs for review.

Next, I have each child recite the surah we are currently working on. This is the most recently memorized material. For us right now, this is surat Al-Balad. After each child has recited what we’ve learned of it so far, we go into the new material, the verse(s) of the day. Depending on the length of the verses in any given surah, usually we learn 1 or 2 ayaat as new material.

I recite the new verse, and explain the meaning in a brief, kid-friendly tafseer session. I try to give examples from their everyday life to make things more relatable and easily understood. This part often turns into an animated discussion about various topics; sometimes it is stories about people like Abu Lahab, or accounts of historical events like the incident with Abraha and his elephant and army attempting to destroy the Ka’ba, or ideas like imaan (belief/ knowledge of Allah), kufr (denial/ disbelief in Allah), the aakhirah, the dunya, Shaytan, the angels.

I use this session to also grow their vocabulary because they encounter, through the new verses, new words that I define. I also use this session to teach them manners and social etiquette, like how we should deal with the less fortunate (like اليتيم, the orphan, or المسكين, the poor or helpless) in surat Al-Maa’un, or how to avoid envy (الحسد) in surat Al-Falaq, or how to share what we have and not be stingy in surat Al-Humazah. Of course, this part isn’t always possible, but it’s fun whenever we can do it. I want them to understand what they are saying when they memorize, even if it’s a simple understanding.

Then each child repeats the new verse until it comes easily and is memorized. Then we tie it back to the rest of the surah so the new verse is anchored to it firmly. This part can take longer or shorter amounts of time depending on the difficulty level.

I teach my kids Quran with tajweed right off the bat. I incorporate the tajweed rules into the lesson as they come up, but applied and not theory. Theoretical study of tajweed rules will start when the kids are older isA. So far, they know the basics of applied tajweed, like qalqalah, madd, idgham, etc. They don’t hear the Quran recited without tajweed.

A disclaimer: I don’t want to give an overly rosy picture of things. The reality sometimes matches exactly the ideal layout I describe above, but sometimes it doesn’t. Of course my kids are still young, so they can sometimes be restless and fidgety, or try to whisper or giggle with one another while the third kid is reciting, or have a tantrum because they made a mistake and I corrected them. Not to mention my one-year-old, who is supposed to be playing near us but often goes rogue and brings toys to his big siblings which they play with, or needs a diaper change or wants to nurse, or just cries for no discernible reason. That all happens too. We just try our best.

At what age did you start teaching your children Quran, and how did you start?

I began teaching my oldest child organically, because he would see us, his parents, memorize Quran and want to do it too. Maybe around 3 or 3.5 years old. Super relaxed, nothing was forced or fast-paced.

We taught him the first few short surahs. He got lots of hugs, kisses, and high-fives when he succeeded. We reinforced the surahs he learned by reciting them in salah. He loved that, and would grin knowingly and giggle as he recognized it. This was real-life application of what he had learned. It was exciting.

Then each kid wanted in, little by little. Monkey see, monkey do and all that. Still nothing was formalized or forced. Their attention spans were very short and their capacity to sit still for any length of time was limited, which is perfectly natural. If they wanted to be done, we were done and they went back to playing.

So, in that beginning stage of the first 4 or 5 years of life, their learning of Quran was mostly passive. Kids naturally love to observe the world around them and most especially the adults in their lives. So they absorbed Quran by seeing it and hearing it. Aside from seeing Mama and Baba recite at home, the kids also heard Quran quite often, in the car during the drive to the fun places we were going: the park, library, a play date.

Also, I should add that we don’t do screens or TV for the kids, so Quran IS the most exciting thing happening usually. If the TV was blaring or if there was always music on in the background, it would have probably been different. But I remember so many times, I would sit and try to work on my own memorization, and within seconds, the kids would leave their playing to hop up onto the couch next to me and loudly recite their surahs too. I would catch myself getting slightly irritated because their loud and jumbled “recitation” prevented me from my own. But I realized that instead of getting annoyed, I have to be elated and say alhamdulellah.

Then, the next stage. I started to be more structured about having an actual Quran class maybe as of a year or so ago, when my oldest son was just starting his seventh year of life. I taught them the adab of learning, teaching them to respect the teacher (me in this case), to revere the material as it is the literal word of Allah, to sit down and be quiet(er), and how to behave during class, etc. My oldest seemed ready for his memorization to be more systematic.

I teach my kids Quran with tajweed right off the bat. I incorporate the tajweed rules into the lesson as they come up, but applied and not theory. Theoretical study of tajweed rules will start when the kids are older inshaAllah. So far, they know the basics of applied tajweed, like qalqalah قلقله, madd مد, idgham اضغام, etc. They never hear the Quran recited without tajweed.

Aside from basic tajweed, during this Quran class we do quite a bit of basic tafseer. I explain each verse I teach them, often word by word, and if there is a story involved, well then…it’s story time!

But my whole thing is to keep Quran (and in general, learning) fun and upbeat. Kids alhamdulellah already naturally LOVE learning new things and have boundless curiosity, and one of the cons of mainstream education is that it manages to extinguish that flame. So I don’t want to do that myself while homeschooling, by accidentally pushing them too hard or forcing things. When kids are ready for it, learning is easy and fun for them.

My tips for motivating children to learn Quran: Hifth Poster

One of the most common questions I get is: How do you get your kids motivated to memorize Quran?

My answer is multi-pronged:

1. Especially when they’re super young: Make it fun! Make it an awesome experience! (Try not to yell/ badger/ etc). You want your kids to love the Quran.

2. Show them the importance of Quran: explain that this is the literal word of Allah, and that the life project of a Muslim should be to study, memorize, and act on it. Let them see you reading and memorizing it, too. You want your kids to be attached to and revere the Quran.

3. Give them additional physical motivation, in the form of a Juz’ poster: it’s always helpful to have a goal in mind, and for kids, goals are even better if they’re tangible. This poster idea hopefully captures the ideas of tips #1, 2, and 3.

This is what I’m doing:

I took a big poster paper and made a chart of all the surahs in Juz ‘Amma جزء عم (the 30th juz) on it.

My kids (boys ages 7 and under) all LOVE construction sites and big trucks and machinery. So I went online and googled pictures of exactly those things and printed them out, and glued them onto the big poster. Then I labeled each picture with the name of a surah in the juz, from Surat An-Naba’ to Surat An-Nas. Every surah in Juz Amma is represented by a picture.

When the kids finish memorizing a surah, they get to color in the corresponding picture on the chart.

I made three identical charts for my 7-year-old, my 5-year-old, and my 4-year-old.

Alhamdulellah, the kids absolutely LOVE their charts! We have done this for a year now, mashaAllah.

They get excited each time we finish a surah, their eyes lighting up at the accomplishment and also at the prospect of coloring it in on the chart. We make this into a big milestone, an event! I bust out the big box of crayons and the kids all sit around the kitchen table, busily coloring in the picture that corresponds with the surah they just finished memorizing.

My aim is to motivate my kids to memorize the Quran and to keep going consistently. But using this poster technique is also a way to help kids learn the concept of how to achieve a goal of any kind: first you must set a goal for yourself and identify it clearly, then you lay out the steps that lead you towards your goal, then you must put in the work consistently to take each step. I want them to know the process for setting and achieving goals inshaAllah.

This poster also serves as a useful visual outline of where they are in their hifth journey. It’s motivating and energizing to track your progress, and see how far you’ve come from when you started. The satisfaction of seeing, visually and clearly, how much you’ve already done helps you to keep going inshaAllah. Seeing tangible proof of progress keeps you from being discouraged on the days when your motivation starts to dip.

You can do pictures of anything, whatever your kids love. If you have kids who are not as into construction work as my kids are lol, you can do a flower theme or an outer space theme, or whatever they like.

May Allah put baraka in our children and place the love of His book and His deen deep inside their hearts, ameen!

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