12 Reasons That Make You Forget Sabaq

This is a non-exhaustive list of some common reasons (in my experience) why you might be forgetting after having memorised a new portion of the Qur’ān.

First things first, know that you’re not broken if you keep forgetting! Memorising the Qur’ān requires lots of repetition and patience. You are building something. You cannot build without resistance. Most of the time, it requires a tweak or two to improve things.
Start with the basics. Look at the way you’re doing things. Are you giving it enough time and effort? How about your own health and energy levels? Everything has a part to play.
Here are some things to think about.

1. Too Quick, Too Little Repetition

Often you’re memorising too quickly and not giving it enough repetition. For example, it’s common to find yourself memorising having done 10 repetitions and then once off memory. You find you were able to recall it correctly and so you can move on to the next āyah. If you’re doing something like this and you find that you don’t remember it the next day or even within an hour on the same day, increase your repetition. Especially the recall from memory, don’t just do it once, do it more than you did by looking. If you don’t have time for this or you can’t memorise rote, then there are other things you can do which I’ll discuss below.

How do you know if you’ve memorised an āyah to a basic level?

One of the key indicators of knowing something by heart is the fluency and speed of the recall. The faster you can recall it and the more fluent you are, the better you know it. A degree above that is where you can recite the āyah at any speed (slow, medium, and fast). A degree above that is where you can recite the āyah randomly without resorting to what is before it or after it.

If you show signs of stuttering, gaps, pauses, and a general struggle to recall, you don’t know it yet.

Why is repetition so important?

Whether you’re repeating 20+ times off memory, or you’re using spaced repetition, it’s all-important.

In fact, there’s a sūrah or two that you know very well due to repetition! You’ve never questioned yourself when learning it. You never got annoyed. You didn’t become impatient. You didn’t say I don’t learn by repetition. You just got on with it.

You heard it.
You repeated it.
You repeated it.
You repeated it.
You repeated it.

Think about the Fātihah! How do you know that so well? You repeat it more than anything else. At the start, it might have been difficult but you learned it. You needed to know it. Spaced repetition did all the work. You repeat the Fātihah between 22-48 times a day. You repeat it up to 1,420 times a month. That’s over 1700+ times a year of repetition. This works out to be around 9-10 reps 5 times a day. So you’re repeating something 50 times a day max.⁣

Let’s take a look at revision

Juz’ Revised Per DayTotal Amount of Repetition a Year (Juz’)
One Juz’12 repetitions a year
Two Juz’24 repetitions a year
Three Ajzā’36 repetitions a year
Four Ajzā’48 repetitions a year
Five Ajzā’60 repetitions a year

Extend this over decades and you’re in the thousands.⁣ But remember, this repeating is done from memory. Eventually, it becomes effortless. Wa lillāhilhamd

This is the power of sustained spaced repetition. Imagine you did this for all the other chapters (suwar)? So there are other suwar you recite in your prayers too right? You know them pretty well too. Why? Repetition.

The Fātihah is a reminder of and for everything. Even for your hifdh. Never become complacent.

2. You’re focused on getting it done as quickly as possible

I was the same, and so were many others. We wanted to finish as soon as possible. We wanted to always figure out what the best way was to memorise quicker. Why? Pressure from the parents, pressure from the madrasah, pressure from the teachers and society. You see, teachers have to keep up standards and if you’re not up to it, you lose. So that leaves us stressed and constantly in search of something to aid us.

Our first point of call is Allāh. It’s His Kitāb and it is with His Grace that we’re able to hear, recite, and memorise the Qur’ān. Our second point of call is to keep doing whatever we can. There shouldn’t be any pressure. There shouldn’t be any compulsion. There shouldn’t be any sour feelings.

This means you should remember your intention for the long game. This means you shouldn’t treat memorisation of the Qur’ān like a race. It is well known that the quicker something is memorised, the quicker it is forgotten. This is exactly what happened to me. Remember the principle: Whoever memorises fast, will forget fast. You might say but what about those that can memorise fast and don’t forget? That might be true but they’re not the norm. Yet there’s something that they must do just like everyone else: revise it or else you’ll forget it.

So don’t focus more on speed and getting it over and done with. If you do, fluency and accuracy get compromised. When you continue to move forward, you simply forget what you had memorised. Don’t move forward unless you’re super fluent and accurate in your recall.

3. Reciting in your mind and not aloud

This may not be the case for every one of you but it’s common. When you’re reciting in your mind, you can sound like Qāri Fulan Ibn Fulan. You can recite at a rapid speed such that you become reliant on that pace. When you’re reciting in your mind, you can do anything. You can even recall things 100% accurately. But what happens when you’ve memorised like that and you have to recite out loud? You don’t sound like Qāri Fulan Ibn Fulan, you’re not Imām Ferrari, and you struggle to recite. The Qur’ān is an oral phenomenon, an oral living entity and when you’re memorising, you need to recite with your voice, not your mind.

I’ve experienced this many times where I memorised something and recited it in my mind or next to silently (whispering) but when I recited it out loud to someone (and often this forces you to slow down) I made mistakes. I forgot things. I didn’t use my voice and tongue while memorising and reciting to myself when that is central to recitation. In terms of your recitation pace, it’s ideal to recite at a medium pace for memorisation and medium/fast for revision.

Let’s say you’re not able to use your voice and can’t recite aloud due to a health condition – in this case, seek medical advice and have treatment done where possible. It’s good to have a glass of lukewarm water next to you with some honey (and some ginger) for your throat. Also, remember to try to breathe through your nose.

4. What if you’re already reciting slowly, aloud, and repeating a lot, but still struggling?

Make use of your learning strengths and preferences. Are you more visual? Do you see the page when reciting from memory? Are you more audio-based? Do you memorise better by listening to something? Or do you need to combine things?

Supplementary elements or aids for memorisation might be required. You should try to build connections through understanding the āyah by using translation and Tafseer. You should use your strengths alongside it. You can combine looking, listening, visualising, movement, writing, and understanding. This will improve your recall.

Also, work on building your memory muscles. Memorise other things like words, numbers, or sequences. Engage in brain training. For example, the Dual n-back exercise. Scientific evidence shows this exercise can significantly boost your working memory. Working memory is a memory buffer of your brain, responsible for holding and manipulation of information. Multiple studies suggest that improving brain’s working memory increases fluid intelligence.

5. Binge memorisation (cramming)

Memorising the Qur’ān isn’t like binge-watching a drama series. People often try to memorise more than they can hold. Be realistic. It’s not important to be able to memorise two pages a day. It’s important to do whatever you can. You must recognise what you can realistically digest.

Those who binge forget more quickly than someone who is focused on quality memorisation. I remember when I first tried to memorise two pages a day. I did it for a week or two and at the end of it, I didn’t know the Juz’. It was too much. This was when I was in college, I was probably 16/17 years old. You don’t want to be overdoing anything. Don’t feel pressured.

6. Revising entirely by looking

This one depends on where and how it’s used. If you’re already solid in your Qur’ān, you can get away with it to a certain extent. Revision through looking is called a reminder. Reminders are effective for the brain to remember things better. The more you remind it of something, the more it thinks it’s important. But, great memorisation requires re-enforced recall – meaning that you’re always testing yourself. That’s done from memory. Make sure you’re not only reminding yourself but you’re actively memorising and revising. Recite actively off memory (with attention, sharpness, and awareness) and improve on mistakes.

7. Not building connections with what you’re reciting

Although this is something that isn’t a requirement for memorisation itself, it’s something that can and will help many of you immensely. When we understand something, we’re more likely to remember it better. Although understanding can different levels and depths to it. It can take time. The first stage is to read translations and listen to them. Watch animated videos of a sūrah. Visualise. Read the meanings in Tafseer. Listen to Tafseer lectures. Read them and ask yourself questions that would help you recall the āyāt. This will help immensely with the similar āyāt (Mutashābihāt).

8. Not self-reminding and self-testing

To remind yourself means to have regular slots to return to something you’ve memorised. Testing yourself is using means to test your memorisation which is something that helps you retain memorisation. After learning it’s useful to have different intervals to do this of up 2 to 3 times. For example, using your salāh. Try this – memorise something new and go back to it an hour later and see if you still remember it. If you don’t, do not panic. It means there’s a point between the hour where you need to remind your brain about what you memorised. So try the 20 or 30 min mark and see if you still remember it. Then do it again an hour later, and then if you’re still active and awake perhaps 2-3 hours later. These are forms of reminding and self-testing that allow you to retain what you have memorised better.

9. Not revising and linking your recent portions

When you’re memorising, revising is essential. This doesn’t just mean what you memorised beyond a few months or years ago. It includes what you memorised yesterday, last week, and the last month. That’s your recent memorised portions. When you’re memorising, you’re exercising the brain. It’s a muscle. When you do this. It needs some downtime to sink in but then it also needs a return.

10. Too many distractions and not giving yourself breaks

Taking breaks allows your memory to sink deeper. This can be done in between a memorisation session. You can work in 20-5-20-5 minute chunks for example. Or do a full session and then take a break that requires zero mental activity. Just make dhikr, go for a walk, take a nap or relax.

On the other side, distractions can be detrimental to your memorisation session and whatever it is that you memorise. Distractions during this period will punish you. They will suck your time. It takes nearly 20-30 minutes to refocus after you get distracted. It also depletes your memorisation quality and can drain your energy levels. Research studies have shown this to be the case. Be in a productive environment that is distraction-free. If you do get distracted while memorising, don’t rush back in. Take a short break. Stand up and walk around with some good deep breathing and then return to it.

11. Not paying attention to the body

If you go to your memorisation with little sleep, little movement, stress, anxiety, isolation, depression, too full of a stomach, or anything else, it can impact your performance and recall. Pay attention to your needs. Are there any nutritional deficiencies, a medication that has side effects, a bad diet, and no exercise or deep breathing? Consider anything that you may not have noticed.

12. Emotions and Sin

Before talking about sin, I want to mention emotions. Emotions are so powerful that they can give you brain fog and make you forget things. The relation between cognition and emotion has been increasingly explored in literature but few studies have explored the relationship between social emotions and cognitive performances. In this case: shame and guilt. When we sin and we have Imaan, we feel shame and guilt. It’s a heavy emotion. In a study, shame and guilt conditions were related to lower cognitive performances. Shame was a significant predictor of impairment in working memory performances. Shame-prone individuals were found to perform lower in working memory tests than guilt-prone participants suggesting a greater interference of shame (as emotional experience and as personal predisposition on working memory than guilt-related conditions). So if feelings of shame and guilt can impact the memory, what about the thing that created the shame and guilt?

This is something that can be hard to understand for many. We always hear that sinning can cause us to forget what we memorise from the Qur’ān. Many of us question this because we know or hear about people that have memorised the Qur’ān yet are sinning. They don’t appear to have forgotten the Qur’ān. I remember having a conversation about this with a student of mine who told me he knew brothers like this. I went on to explain that we cannot say outright that sinning is a cause for forgetting in its entirety. Likewise, we cannot say that sinning is not a cause for forgetting in its entirety. But what we can say 100% for sure is that sinning will have an impact, the degree to which will vary. You can sin at different scales and with varied regularity. The more regular, the more the impact and the more you’ll feel deprived. It’s actually more than forgetfulness. The impact can be expansive and it starts with a loss of attachment and feeling towards the Qur’ān. That in return means that you don’t memorise like you used to, or revise like you used to. Think of it as a spiritual thermometer. If you get ill, you check your temperature levels. We notice changes in the body, we know something is wrong. Likewise, the spiritual thermometer displays what’s wrong by showing you the degrees of your attachment and pleasure with good deeds. If you find it is good, offer thanks to Allāh and ask for more. If you find that it has been falling, then know something has damaged it. You need to be vigilant. How do you feel when offering salāh? Has it changed? How do you feel when fasting? How’s your relationship with the basics?

Sinning doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t memorise the Qur’ān! It means it will be harder. It will create blockages of attachment, ill feelings, hardness, lack of motivation, and discipline. The Qur’ān itself is a means to purify you. Do not tell yourself to not recite or memorise it because of sin! That’s the trick of Shaytān and his minions. You need to remove the sin, not the Qur’ān.

How can you do that? There are many steps depending on your situation but to leave the company that creates the sin is the core. By replacing these with good, will begin to replace the sin with good. If that means you leave Instagram, leave it. If that means you leave the internet, leave it and use it only when required. If it means that you leave your friends, leave. Our state is such that we are living inside a campus that has open gutters of water flowing around us. The stench of it is everywhere but instead of wanting to close the gutters, we’re running around looking for solutions from people. Can such and such a person give me something to read so that the smell can go? Can such and such a person give me an amulet so that the smell can go? Can someone make a prayer for the smell to go? Whatever you do, it won’t work because you’re not addressing the core issue.

These are all things that can contribute to forgetting your memorisation. Take an account of where you stand. Don’t give up. Make plenty of du’ā’ (prayer), istighfār (repentance), and salawāt (salutations and prayers on the Prophet (ﷺ)).

Allāh grant blessing!

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