Exploring how students at a school in Malaysia complete their Hifdh of the Holy Qur’ān.

Ever since I started memorising the Holy Qur’ān, I was always obsessed with discovering different techniques and methods for the most effective Hifdh of the Qur’ān. This sent me across the world and over the last two decades the learning and discoveries still continue on. I’m still amazed by what I find and love to experiment with them.

This curiosity leads me to occasionally search for Google, and as we all do, we find ourselves stumbling across interesting bits of information. Recently, one such search led me to discover a 2013 study done at “Madrasah Tahfiz al-Quran” in Kubang Bujuk, Terengganu (Malaysia). The students at this Malaysian school were able to recite the entire Qur’ān by heart in just a 15 hour period — Ma shā’ Allāh. Don’t worry! They take breaks for prayer, food, and drink — Alhamdulillāh.

The study explores the method they use to complete memorisation but in particular answer a central question. What approach and technique are used in order to produce individuals that can recite the entire Qur’ān within a 15-hour period. The study, however, doesn’t explore why the method at hand produces these results. Secondly, it doesn’t factor in its application when used with different ages, genders, formats, and contexts. In fact, although it doesn’t mention the age groups, we are safe to assume that they will be young people.

What I will do here is present the method as presented in the study (without looking into it further through the people of Malaysia) and then deep dive into its application. The disadvantage of this is that there are a lot of assumptions when filling in gaps of information. The advantage of this is that it allows me to show you how to think about a method that you read about online. If you are reading this and you’re from Malaysia, you might know this method. If you do, get in touch.

Let’s take a look at it.

Stage oneSabak

Sabak is a new portion or lesson of memorisation.

How much do they memorise?

This is based upon individual ability. The standard approach is to begin by doing half a page and slowly but surely grow to four pages a day using the 15-line Uthmāni Mus’haf. Normally students, however, reach up to one or two pages. Those students that struggle are to keep to half a page a day. If we look at that on a scale of lines, pages, and years. We are talking about completion within 1, 2, or 3 years or more.

Where do they start and how?

They memorise a verse at a time beginning with the 30th Juz and following on to the 29th, 28th, 27th, and 26th. After this, they move on to Surah al-Baqarah onwards (Juz 1 to 25).

What’s the technique used to memorise?

It begins with no memorising at all. There’s prep work to be done. We learn that each student is required to repeat each verse 40 times before beginning the process of memorisation. Let’s call this the fluency and familiarity phase. According to the teachers at the madrasah, this approach makes the actual memorisation process easier and quicker.

Before reciting the portion to their teacher, however, they need to work with their fellow students and recite to them first. Let’s call this the testing phase. Students will check against each other whether they are reciting correctly with fluency, accuracy, and tajwīd. This reading has to be done 10 times. What isn’t clear is whether this is done from memory or by looking.

When a student is comfortable and ready to recite to the teacher, they will sit in front of them and be assessed. The teacher makes notes to record the students’ progress. Again, it is not clear whether this involves a recitation by looking or from memory. The assumption is that the fluency and familiarity phase together with the testing phase is done by looking. Only after this, a student can attempt it off by heart and that would be to the teacher.

This would mean, for example, if you are doing page 6 of the Mus’haf at a rate of half-a-page a day, you would have recited at least 3 ayat and 130 times altogether at minimum before reading it off by heart at number 131. What is also unclear is how the students link the verses together.

The thought that arises is that you can repeat an ayah 130 odd times but still not have memorised it. The picture being painted above is that through repetition you would have memorised it. My experience will say that this amount of repetition per ayah (40x) will have given you a strong fluency and familiarity. But not necessarily enough to ensure memorisation for everyone. This differs from person to person. So I would say when the study mentions they do further reading of 10 times to another student, this means they recite all the verses together 10 times. Ideally, this is off by heart. It makes more sense to me to do this.

What’s the timeframe for memorisation for these students?

They have a good 4 hours of memorisation time (5:00am till 9:00am) which means they have a lot of time to ensure solid memorisation and comfortable recitation. They’re part of the 5 am club! Early risers.

What we don’t know other than the timeframe is what days they are memorising and whether they have a day off. We also don’t know the age group.

Stage two: Para Sabak

Para Sabak means to recite the recent portion of the Juz memorised or the portion memorised during that full week. After a half-hour break, they resume for two hours to make this review between 9:30am and 11:30am (2 hours). Students have to engage with each other again before going to the teacher with someone their level. They will sit opposite each other and read to each other. One will recite and the other will look at the Mus’haf and keep a count of the number of mistakes made. That student now has to report that figure to the teacher. The process continues with the other student.

Stage three: Ammokhtar

This stage is called Ammokhtar. This is reviewing previous portions of their memorisation beyond the recent portions. This takes place between 2:30pm and 4:00pm (2.5 hours). So far this means they have committed 8.5 hours to memorisation and review. In this stage, students are given 30 minutes to review before going to the teacher to recite. This 30 minute period again is used by partnering up with another student. The amount to review is fixed at one Juz a day.

Stage four: Halaqah Dauri

This stage is called Halaqah Dauri and reserved only for those that have finished memorising the entire Qur’ān. This stage takes around 6 months to 2 years to complete where students approach review in three sets of Ajzā’. The first 10 Ajzā’, the second 10 Ajzā’ and the last 10 Ajzā’. They review a Juz a day but from each set a day. So sets of three as follows:

Set 1.

Day 1 = Juz 1

Day 2 = Juz 11

Day 3 = Juz 21

Set 2.

Day 4 = Juz 2

Day 5 = Juz 12

Day 6 = Juz 22

This again is done in pairs like stage three and then recite to the teacher but with one difference. Those who memorised but have weak fluency have to repeat stages one, two and three again. This process continues until they have done several cycles, in the same way, using the three sets. They read one Juz a day in the first cycle but then this grows to 3 Ajzā’ a day in the second cycle upon instruction. This then grows to 5 Juz a day meaning they would complete the Qur’ān in six days. If they do well with this round the student is put forward for a final exam. That exam is the 15-hour recital of the entire Qur’ān under the watchful eyes and ears of three teachers. The student cannot make more than 10 mistakes. If the student makes more than 10 mistakes, the student has to start stage four again.

This process produced 137 Huffādh between 2005 and 2011. That’s around 22 strong Huffādh a year. The students are so strong that many of them don’t review throughout the year and can still lead the Tarāwīh prayers.

Alhamdulillāh.

Further analysis and extracting lessons from this method.

The method isn’t too different from what many of us have heard of — the three-stage process of (1) new lesson, (2) previous lessons, and (3) the past. So many schools use this — whether part-time or full time. The real strength of this four-stage process lies in its rigorous review system. That’s the difference. But the real question is: how can you learn, benefit and apply this method to your context and lifestyle?

Firstly, most of us do not have 8–9 hours a day to dedicate towards memorisation. Secondly, many of us do not have memorisation partners. Thirdly, many of us do not have qualified teachers. Fourthly, many of you can’t memorise 1 to 4 pages a day, let alone have time to recite 15 hours straight. So what do you do? Take what you can from it. Apply the best of it and apply it to your situation. I’ll give you a few things to think about.

  1. What does your routine look like? Think about your free periods and energy levels.
  2. What minimum amount of time can you set per day?
  3. What minimum amount of time can you give to memorisation and review respectively?
  4. Do you have a partner in your hifdh?
  5. Do you have a teacher?
  6. Do you repeat less than you should be? Perhaps you need to increase.
  7. Have you set yourself a benchmark in terms of quality control? E.g. I cannot make more than 1–3 mistakes.
  8. What is the minimum amount you can memorise to reduce mistakes and maintain quality?
  9. Do you give preference to memorisation and neglect review?
  10. Do you have a minimum amount of review set per day?

Allāh grant us success. Āmeen.

Any questions or thoughts, polite disagreements, you can always contact me.

If you have your own memorisation story, get in touch too. We can share it.

Bless.

Update (16 Dec 2019):

A student made contact with the madrasah and learned “that they are all male; the youngest are 12 and they have students above 40. Those who are 16 and above need to memorize at least 10 ajza (one of two prerequisites), in order to get the entry. Every day they memorize and solidify the Quran. They set a target for their students to memorize the whole Quran in 3 years. Their students need to memorize 10 ajza in a year. I think with proficiency. Their class starts at 5 am till 10 pm. They have breaks for breakfast at 7–8 am, lunch 11 am-12 pm, and leisure at 5–6 pm. They are open to visitors with one week advanced notice by letter.”

Question:

Good article although, some questions arise in my head after reading the article such as, do students there have specific time to understand the meaning of all the verses (i.e not just memorizing the verses all the time)?, recall that their main language is Malay and not Arabic And have you ever heard hadīth which narrated (much or less in my poor English) like this, ‘you are not read Qur’ān, if you read it in less than three days’. Any comment on this hadīth?

Answer:

It is unlikely that they don’t study the meaning of verses during the memorisation process. It’s a purely a rote memorisation school, just like the majority of schools are. As for the ḥadīth, yes.

Your thought probably is, how could they be reciting the whole thing within a day, if this is the case?

The traditions that are reported about this all come from the great companion ‘Abd Allāh ibn Amr ibn al-’Ās (may Allāh be pleased with him) who was a ḥāfidh and a strong narrator of ḥadīth. He used to memorise and write ḥadīth. He used to recite the entire Qur’ān in a single night and fast every day. He was extremely energetic, talented and enthusiastic. The beloved of Allāh ﷺ advised him to be more balanced in what he does. The context is personal yet universal – the advice was specific to ‘Abd Allāh ibn Amr ibn al-’Ās, but spoken in a way that spoke to everyone else too. That means the meaning of the ḥadīth has a specific use. The use case is habit and routine. ‘Abd Allāh ibn Amr ibn al-’Ās had extreme habits of doing a lot in short periods consistently and persistently. This is what these narrations refer to.

These are Prophetic guidelines because the Qur’ān has certain rights of manners. It is understood that to recite the Qur’ān doing persistently as a habit in under less than three days is something we must avoid. But to do so on occasion is fine. Take for example the blessed times, such as the month of Ramadān, and especially on the nights on which Laylat al-Qadr is sought, or at sacred places, such as Makkah or Madīnah for those who go there and are not residents, then it is recommended to read a great deal of Qur’ān so as to make the most of that time or that place. Imām’s have been known to recite up to 60+ Qur’ān in Ramadān like Imām ash-Shāfi’i (may Allāh be pleased with them all).

For students of knowledge, as a memoriser, it is fine to recite like this as it is fixed to a certain occasion. It is not done habitually.

Here are some of the narrations:

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏”‏ صُمْ مِنَ الشَّهْرِ ثَلاَثَةَ أَيَّامٍ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ أُطِيقُ أَكْثَرَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ‏.‏ فَمَا زَالَ حَتَّى قَالَ ‏”‏ صُمْ يَوْمًا وَأَفْطِرْ يَوْمًا ‏”‏ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ اقْرَإِ الْقُرْآنَ فِي شَهْرٍ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ إِنِّي أُطِيقُ أَكْثَرَ‏.‏ فَمَا زَالَ حَتَّى قَالَ فِي ثَلاَثٍ‏.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said (to ‘Abdullāh), “Fast three days a month.” ‘Abdullāh said, (to the Prophet) “I am able to fast more than that.” They kept on arguing on this matter till the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Fast on alternate days, and recite the whole Qur’ān once a month.” ‘Abdullah said, “I can recite more (in a month),” and the argument went on till the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Recite the Qur’ān once in three days.” [Sahīh-al-Bukhāri 1978]

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، أَنَّهُ قَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ فِي كَمْ أَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي شَهْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ إِنِّي أَقْوَى مِنْ ذَلِكَ — يُرَدِّدُ الْكَلاَمَ أَبُو مُوسَى — وَتَنَاقَصَهُ حَتَّى قَالَ ‏”‏ اقْرَأْهُ فِي سَبْعٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ إِنِّي أَقْوَى مِنْ ذَلِكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ لاَ يَفْقَهُ مَنْ قَرَأَهُ فِي أَقَلَّ مِنْ ثَلاَثٍ ‏

”Abdullāh ibn Amr asked the Prophet (ﷺ): In how many days should I complete the recitation of the whole Qur’ān, Messenger of Allāh? He replied: In one month. He said: I am more energetic to complete it in a period less than this. He kept on repeating these words and lessening the period until he said: Complete its recitation in seven days. He again said: I am more energetic to complete it in a period less than this. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “He who finishes the recitation of the Qur’ān in less than three days does not understand it.” [Abū Dāwūd]*Remember the context of this is around habit! He had a habit of reciting a lot in a short period.

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، قَالَ جَمَعْتُ الْقُرْآنَ فَقَرَأْتُهُ كُلَّهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ ‏”‏ إِنِّي أَخْشَى أَنْ يَطُولَ عَلَيْكَ الزَّمَانُ وَأَنْ تَمَلَّ فَاقْرَأْهُ فِي شَهْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ فَقُلْتُ دَعْنِي أَسْتَمْتِعْ مِنْ قُوَّتِي وَشَبَابِي ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ فَاقْرَأْهُ فِي عَشْرَةٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ دَعْنِي أَسْتَمْتِعْ مِنْ قُوَّتِي وَشَبَابِي ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ فَاقْرَأْهُ فِي سَبْعٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ دَعْنِي أَسْتَمْتِعْ مِنْ قُوَّتِي وَشَبَابِي ‏.‏ فَأَبَى ‏.

‘Abdullāh bin ‘Amr said: “I memorized the Qur’an and recited it all in one night. The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said: ‘I am afraid that you may live a long life and that you may get bored. Recite it over the period of a month.’ I said: ‘Let me benefit from my strength in my youth.’ He said: ‘Recite it in ten days.’ I said: ‘Let me benefit from my strength and my youth.’ He said: ‘Recite it in seven days.’ I said: ‘Let me benefit from my strength and my youth,’ but he refused (to alter it any further).” [Ibn Mājah]

وفي رواية‏:‏ ‏”‏ ألم أخبر أنك تصوم الدهر، وتقرأ القرآن كل ليلةٍ‏؟‏‍‍‍‍‍‍‏”‏ فقلت‏:‏ بلى يا رسول الله، ولم أرد بذلك إلا الخير قال‏:‏ ‏”‏فصم صوم نبي الله داود، فإنه كان أعبد الناس، واقرأِ القرآن كل شهرٍ‏”‏ قلت‏:‏ يا نبي الله إني أطيق أفضل من ذلك‏؟‏ قال‏:‏ ‏”‏فاقرأه في كل عشرين‏”‏ قلت‏:‏ يا نبي الله إني أطيق أفضل من ذلك‏؟‏ قال‏:‏ ‏”‏فاقرأه في كل عشر‏”‏ قلت يا نبي الله إني أطيق أفضل من ذلك‏؟‏ قال‏:‏ ‏”‏فاقرأه في كل سبع ولا تزد على ذلك‏”‏‏.‏ فشددت فشدد علي ، وقال لي النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ ‏”‏إنك لا تدري لعلك يطول بك عمر‏”‏ قال‏:‏ فصرت إلى الذي قال لي النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فلما كبرت وددت أني كنت قبلت رخصة نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏.‏

‘Abdullāh is reported to have said: Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “I have been informed that you observe fast continuously and recite (the whole of the Qur’ān) every night.” I said, “Messenger of Allah! It is right, but I covet thereby nothing but good,” whereupon he (ﷺ) said, “Then observe fasts like the fasting of Prophet Dāwud (ﷺ) as he was the most ardent worshipper of Allah; recite the Qur’ān once every month.” I said, “O Prophet of Allah! I am capable of doing more than that.” He said, “Then recite it (the complete Qur’ān) in every twenty days.” I said, “O Prophet of Allah I am capable of reciting more than that.” He said, “Then recite it once in every ten days.” I said, “O Prophet of Allah! I am capable of reciting more than that.” He said, “Then recite it once in every seven days, but not recite more than that.” The Prophet of Allāh also said to me, “You do not know, you may have a longer life”. When I grew old I wished I had availed myself of the concession (granted to me by) the Prophet of Allāh. [Riyād as sālihīn]

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، قَالَ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ فِي كَمْ أَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ قَالَ ‏”‏ اخْتِمْهُ فِي شَهْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ إِنِّي أُطِيقُ أَفْضَلَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ اخْتِمْهُ فِي عِشْرِينَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ إِنِّي أُطِيقُ أَفْضَلَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ اخْتِمْهُ فِي خَمْسَةَ عَشَرَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ إِنِّي أُطِيقُ أَفْضَلَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ اخْتِمْهُ فِي عَشْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ إِنِّي أُطِيقُ أَفْضَلَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ اخْتِمْهُ فِي خَمْسٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ إِنِّي أُطِيقُ أَفْضَلَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ فَمَا رَخَّصَ لِي ‏.

‘Abdullāh bin ‘Amr : “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! In how much time may I recite the Qur’ān?’ He said: ‘Complete it in one month.’ I said: ‘I am able to do more than that.’ He said: ‘Then complete it in twenty (days).’ I said: ‘I am able to do more than that.’ He said: ‘Then finish it in fifteen (days).’ I said: ‘I am able to do more than that.’ He said: ‘Finish it in ten (days).’ I said: ‘I am able to do more than that.’ He said: ‘Finish it in five (days).’ I said: ‘I am able to do more than that.’” He (‘Abdullāh bin ‘Amr) said: “But he did not permit me.” [al-Tirmidhi]

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ اقْرَإِ الْقُرْآنَ فِي شَهْرٍ ‏”‏‏.‏ قُلْتُ إِنِّي أَجِدُ قُوَّةً حَتَّى قَالَ ‏”‏ فَاقْرَأْهُ فِي سَبْعٍ وَلاَ تَزِدْ عَلَى ذَلِكَ ‏”‏‏.`Abdullāh bin`Amr: Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to me, “Recite the whole Qur’ān in one month’s time.” I said, “But I have power (to do more than that).” Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Then finish the recitation of the Qur’ān in seven days, and do not finish it in less than this period.” [Bukhari]

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو، أَنَّهُ سَأَلَ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي كَمْ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي شَهْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي عِشْرِينَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي خَمْسَ عَشْرَةَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي عَشْرٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏”‏ فِي سَبْعٍ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ لَمْ يَنْزِلْ مِنْ سَبْعٍ ‏.

Abdullāh ibn Amr asked the Prophet (ﷺ); In how many days should one complete the recitation of the Qur’ān? He said: In forty days. He then said: In one month. He again said: In twenty days. He then said: In fifteen days. He then said: In ten days. Finally, he said: In seven days.

As it is Friday today, these narrations remind me of this:

عَنِ الطُّفَيْلِ بْنِ أُبَىِّ بْنِ كَعْبٍ …‏.‏ قَالَ أُبَىٌّ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنِّي أُكْثِرُ الصَّلاَةَ عَلَيْكَ فَكَمْ أَجْعَلُ لَكَ مِنْ صَلاَتِي فَقَالَ ‏”‏ مَا شِئْتَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ قُلْتُ الرُّبُعَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ مَا شِئْتَ فَإِنْ زِدْتَ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ النِّصْفَ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ مَا شِئْتَ فَإِنْ زِدْتَ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ قُلْتُ فَالثُّلُثَيْنِ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ مَا شِئْتَ فَإِنْ زِدْتَ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ أَجْعَلُ لَكَ صَلاَتِي كُلَّهَا ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ إِذًا تُكْفَى هَمَّكَ وَيُغْفَرُ لَكَ ذَنْبُكَ ‏”‏…

Ubayy said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allāh! Indeed I say send a lot of prayers (salawāt/darood) for you. How much of my prayers (salawāt) should I make for you?’ He said: ‘As you wish.’” [He said:] “I said: ‘A fourth?’ He said: ‘As you wish. But if you add more it would be better for you.’ I said: ‘Then half?’ He said: ‘As you wish. And if you add more it would be better [for you].’” [He said:] “I said: ‘Then two-thirds? ‘He said: ‘As you wish, but if you add more it would be better for you.’ I said: ‘Should I make all of my prayers (salawāt) for you?’ He said: ‘Then your problems would be solved and your sins would be forgiven.’” [al-Tirmidhi]

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