With her desire to know Allāh, in May 2020, Raya Shokatford completed memorizing the Qur’ān and as she described “this was the best day of my life”. After nearly 30 years of daily memorization, she finished the entire Qur’ān and she was 73 years old!
I want to share her incredible story and I'm sure it will inspire many of you. Whether you're looking to start or have been memorizing the Qur'ān for a long time, this is for you.
How Raya Shokatfard found Islam
Raya migrated from the Middle East to the United States when she was a child with her five siblings. Raya eventually grew up to become a very successful businesswoman. The more money she made, the more she wanted. She never felt like she had enough of anything. She was even a model at one point in her life and proud of herself. Yet her heart yearned for something else.
She realised her life was really empty and full of materialism. This emptiness led her to get married at the age of 32 thinking that would give her happiness. She soon found out that wasn't the right answer. After becoming a mother of two children her marriage came to an end. This was one of the hardest times of her life. So she began looking for peace.
She had long forgotten Islam. Anyone she saw that looked like they had peace, she wanted their religion. So she became a Hindu because they had peace but she didn't find it. She then joined Buddhism, a new-age group, sun worshippers, and joined a Christian church for seven years. She never found what she wanted. There was something wrong with them all. She then took a copy of the Qur'ān and the Bible to a room she rented in the mountains. It was there that she cried and begged Allāh for guidance and purity. She then opened the Qur'ān and read the translation of Surah al-Fātihah. By the time, she finished reading it, she fainted. She finally found Allāh after 15 years! After searching for the right religion and joining many, Raya Shokatfard finally found Islam answering all her questions.
How Raya started memorizing the Qur'ān
She lived in Northern California and there were no Muslims. She was a mother of two children, a mother and had a business to take care of. Her own health wasn't great. So she first read the Qur'ān in English and begged Allāh for guidance. It entered her heart that she needs to memorize the Qur'ān and understand it. Convinced that the Qur'ān was the Word of Allāh, pure and unchanged, she committed to learning and memorizing it in Arabic.
Why did she want to memorize the Qur'ān? To know Allāh.
She would have been 40-43 when she started memorizing the Qur'ān and didn't know Arabic or how to pronounce things. So at first, she would only read the Qur'ān in English to get an idea about what the Qur'ān was about. She did two complete readings before starting to memorize. She taught herself the Qur'ān, learnt Tajwid and taught Tajwid. She was constant in the pursuit of memorizing the Qur'ān and she never gave up.
How did she memorize the Qur'ān over 30 years?
At first, she used to use a Qur'ān that had Arabic on the right side of the page and the translation with transliteration on the other. She would start with writing single words down working her way up to a page. She would write the words on a 3/5 card (see flashcards) and memorize them. This would lead up to her memorizing a page.
Someone eventually shared audio of Shaykh Khaleel al Husary (mu'allim version - used for teaching) with her and that changed everything. For the first time, she could listen to the Qur'ān being recited and so she began to follow the Shaykh. She would keep repeating after him and soon memorised Juz’ 30. She was also teaching her children how to recite at the same time and gave them 3 dollars for short surah and 5 dollars for longer ones.
After memorizing the 30th Juz', she felt like a hero. She didn't plan to do any more. she began from the first Juz’ and it took her about 4 years to complete Surah Al Baqarah. She struggled to move ahead, and she listened to one ayah about 100/200 times and repeat them after the Shaykh until she got it right and to a point where she could sound like him. This was a motivation for her - to try and imitate him.
She didn't want to memorize for the sake of memorization and so she never went past one āyāh unless she understood it. Her motivation was to know Allāh and the only way she felt to do so was to memorize the Qur'ān. So she knew what Allāh wanted from her. For her, the understanding was essential. She could visualise what was being said and she could feel the verses. She would memorize 5-6 āyāt at a time and wouldn’t move ahead until she’d done them. She kept focused but it took her a while to get going because she had to learn everything from scratch.
She would do a Juz' every few months and ended up studying tajwid and also studied Arabic at the Islamic Online University, a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies. She then moved to Egypt and then Malaysia in 2012 and started an Islamic centre and then started teaching Qur'ān to mums and kids. She would still keep memorizing on a daily basis. The more she memorized, the more she fell in love with Allāh and the Qur'ān. She made use of Quran Explorer to listen to Khaleel Al Husary. For each āyah, she learnt the meanings and the tafsir. She would sleep with the Qur'ān and wake up for fajr for reciting the memorized parts from the Qur'ān.
In this way, she memorized the Qur'ān in 30 years.
What happened after she memorized the Qur'ān?
Shortly after having memorized, she had a minor stroke. In 24 hours, she forgot everything, she couldn't recall it. Alhamdulillāh, she recovered but took things easy and let some months go by. It's all about revision now. She noticed that all of her early portions of memorization (in her 40s), she remembers well, but those that she memorized later are a lot harder to recall.
She started revising from the 30th and then going Surah by Surah alongside reading several pages with Tafseer. She estimated it would take her another six years to revise the Qur'ān. She has truly become a lover of the Qur'ān and cannot survive without it.
You can check out her content on her YouTube channel and follow her Quran memorization group on Facebook.1 - Like and share!