If you ask Google, it will tell you that a Hafiz is a “Muslim who knows the Koran by heart”. And that the origin of the word is Persian, from Arabic ḥāfiẓ ‘guardian’, from ḥāfiẓa ‘guard, know by heart’.
The reality is that it means so much more. We can learn many lessons from the “ḥāfiẓ” which comes from the root word: ḥa fi ẓa. From a linguistic approach, the meaning is not limited to memorising something or knowing it by heart, and therefore preserving or guarding it.
To be a ḥāfiẓ means to take care of something
The word also signifies taking care of something with mindfulness and consideration. Out of love and respect, you defend and prevent something from becoming lost. So it is the opposite of forgetfulness which is a state of heedlessness.
This is why the Arabs say, حَفِظَ المَالَ (ḥa fi ẓal maal) – as in he kept and tended, or pastured and defended, the camels or the like (of his wealth). Do you remember when I spoke about the camel? When you’re memorising the Qur’ān see yourself as an owner of a camel that is priceless. Look at how protective you get over your own wealth. Where is it that you stand with the Qur’ān?
The Arabs also use the word for keeping a secret (حَفِظَ السِّرَّ). When you take care of your wealth, you keep it secret and protected. You keep it. You hold onto it.
To be a ḥāfiẓ means to maintain the highest standards
The word also means to keep something in such a way that you prevent it from being used, or employed, on, or for, ordinary matters that do not concern you. There are no mean or vile use cases. There are no vile occasions or purposes.
For example, the word has been used for keeping your promises from being used, or uttered, on, or for, ordinary, mean, or vile, occasions or purposes. Allāh says:
وَٱحْفَظُوٓا۟ أَيْمَـٰنَكُمْ (5:89 waḥafaẓū aymānkum) meaning to “be mindful of your oaths”
وَلَا تَجْعَلُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ عُرْضَةً لِّأَيْمَـٰنِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوا۟ وَتَتَّقُوا۟ وَتُصْلِحُوا۟ بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Do not use the Name of Allāh in your oaths as an excuse for not doing good, not guarding against evil, or not making peace between people. And Allāh is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (2:224)
As someone memorising the Qur’ān, you don’t allow room for anything that is unworthy and not befitting of the Qur’ān.
To be a ḥāfiẓ means to be punctual
The word also means to be constantly punctual with something. This is being mindful, watchful, observant, or regardful over something. It’s the keeping, attending, or applying oneself, constantly, perseveringly to something. When you’re doing ḥifẓ or are a ḥāfiẓ, you’re expected to review consistently and remain connected to the Qur’ān. You will forget it otherwise.
This is just like being punctual to your daily prayers. Allāh uses the same for this:
حَـٰفِظُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلصَّلَوَٰتِ وَٱلصَّلَوٰةِ ٱلْوُسْطَىٰ وَقُومُوا۟ لِلَّهِ قَـٰنِتِينَ
Observe/guard the ˹five obligatory˺ prayers—especially the middle prayer—and stand in true devotion to Allāh. (2:238)
This is to establish them, to keep them, to attend to them, or apply yourselves, constantly, or perseveringly, to the performance of the prayers in their proper times and with the best of manners before Allāh. So to be a ḥāfiẓ means to be punctual.
To be a ḥāfiẓ means to be observant
It also signifies being mindful, or observant of a covenant. So the keeping, or fulfilling of a promise, with forgiveness, and holding fast to love or affection. Think about your relationships – parents, spouses, siblings, relatives, co-workers, colleagues, company, and friends. There are promises involved, there are clashes, there are arguments, and there are moments of love and affection. You will observe everything. To be a ḥāfiẓ of Qur’ān, therefore, means to be mindful of your surroundings and relationships. When you’re memorising the Qur’ān, you are also building a mindful relationship with Allāh. How do you relate and engage with your journey and task?
To be a ḥāfiẓ means to defend
It also signifies defending those persons, or things, that are sacred, inviolable, or that one is bound to respect or honour. It can also mean defending them on the occasions of war. This is why the Arabs say حافظ حَرِيمَهُ that he defended his wife, or wives, or the like. This is the level of protection, the level of care, and the level of attention that the word captures at a linguistic level.
Another way of looking at it
Has good intentions.
Involved in goodness.
Distinguished with discipline.
Holds onto his relationship with the Qur’ān for life.
I remember speaking to a student of mine some years ago who was struggling at home. He would bring emotions into the classroom. On one end, he wanted to do ḥifẓ but on the other end, he didn’t. On one end, his mother was really adamant about him doing it and on the other end, he wasn’t fully committed.
It was at this moment that I coined a basic acronym for the word ḥāfiẓ (حافظ) for him.
Hā – Hubb (Love)
You must love what you’re doing and develop a relationship of love. If you don’t have this, you won’t love the process. It is loving the process that matters most. You’ll have bad days. Those lacking in this relationship won’t be tolerant and have any patience with setbacks. But when you have this love, it keeps you going. This is Imaan in action.
Alif – Irādah (Intention)
If your foundation is love, you must be rooted in good intent. Everything goes back to Allāh and intentions for good.
Fa – Fahm (Understanding)
if you’re grounded in love and good intention, don’t you want to know and deep dive into the thing that you love? Don’t you want to understand why you’re reciting today and what you’re reciting?
Dha – Dhil (Shelter)
Become its shelter. If you have love, good intent, and understanding, don’t you want to protect it at any cost? Don’t you want to shelter it? Don’t you want to grow with it?
These are all elements of the meaning derived from the language.
It all comes down to one thing: relationships.
How do you relate and engage with your journey and task?
It’s beautiful. So much to learn. So much to be reminded of.
When you struggle remember this article.
May Allāh grant blessing!