By Samuel Gonzalez
Unlike many other faiths, Islam actually encourages the active study of its own liturgical language. In fact, in order to perform the most basic ritual of salah, it is necessary to at least have memorized a few portions of the Noble Qur’an. Additionally, there are many benefits (both spiritual, emotional, and cognitive) to actively memorizing and reciting the Qur’an in the original Arabic. Muslims who attempt to memorize portions of the Noble Qur’an tend to take much longer than usual, simply because they do not implement the following techniques to aid their study process. This article will equip the reader with a few helpful techniques that will greatly improve their retention. After all, many ayat in the Qur’an are pretty short, a lot of material is repeated, and the human mind is capable of much more memorization than we give it credit for.
1. Assign meaning and purpose to the knowledge
This is the Book of Allah, there is no doubt in it, it is a guide for the pious. [The Noble Qur’an 2:2]
It is much easier to remember your mother’s birthday than what you wore three days ago. More is at stake when we are taking our semester final than when we are filling out a voluntary questionnaire on the internet. Hence, it is only in certain situations where we are forced to utilize more of our willpower in order to concentrate and recall information. New information is more strongly encoded when it is linked to already existing information, and new information crystallizes at its greatest when there are more logical connections linked to the new information.
When greater importance is placed on the value of the Qur’an for our lives, the process of memorizing its portions becomes easier. The laws and precepts it lays down are the means of attaining Allah’s pleasure and paradise: it explains our origins and the purpose of life, it teaches on the true nature of Allah and reality, it presents moral, spiritual, and social values as the most excellent attainments on this earth, and it employs logic and reason in order to impact our lives everyday. The greater its purpose, relevance, and functionality in our lives, the easier it will be to memorize.
2. Recite out loud and rehearse
And when the Qur’an is recited, give ear to it and pay heed, that you may obtain mercy [The Noble Qur’an 7:204]
A recent study from the University of Waterloo found that speaking texts aloud helps to get words into long-term memory. The study tested four methods for learning written information: reading silently, hearing someone else read, listening to a recording of oneself reading, and reading aloud in real time. Results from experiments with 95 participants showed that the production effect of reading information aloud to yourself resulted in the best remembering. Apparently, there is a powerful dynamic that occurs when speaking is linked with hearing.
The Qur’an was revealed in an Arabic tongue, as it states within its pages, to an illiterate Prophet (pbuh). The first codex of the Qur’an was not put together until about 20 to 30 years after Muhammad’s (pbuh) death, and due to the fact that the Qur’an was revealed in disjointed verses and chapters, there came a point in time when it was necessary for it to be gathered into a coherent whole. Its final composition, finalized by Uthman ibn Affan, relied on textual fragments scattered throughout Arabia and the memories of those who had memorized it in the Prophet’s (pbuh) lifetime. In sum, the Noble Qur’an was first intended to be received as an auricular and oral, live-action experience; memorizing and reciting and speaking the Noble Qur’an from memory prevailed as the primary mode of sharing it with others; hence it makes sense that reading it aloud is a powerful method for memorizing its contents.
3. Utilize memory devices
This step entails embedding information into mnemonic devices. A mnemonic device is like a cheat-code for those who struggle with memorizing a certain complicated subject, list, or concept. They allow us to use more memorable phrases that tie the concepts and images that we are trying to memorize, and they facilitate the memorization process in order to quickly and successfully learn and remember key concepts, regardless of their subject, number, and language. Some of these life-hacks include, but are not limited to:
- Chunking: remember larger verses in smaller chunks. For instance, dividing a longer ayat into five smaller portions.
- Method of Loci: visualize a familiar place and associate objects with it. For instance, a certain Arabic word or phrase may remind you of something else, which, as this article explained earlier, facilitates memory.
- Flash cards: excellent for recalling how the verse is split up. Some of us are visual learners and may choose to memorize the image of the card in one’s mind in order to recall later.
- Special Rhymes: while the Qur’an is not poetry, many of its surahs contain poetic elements – one of the more prominent of these elements is the poetic device of rhyme. Rhyming couplets and adjacent verses are much easier to memorize than, say, a passage on social law and, thankfully, many of its surahs have a rhythm that the reciter can follow.
- Music Mnemonics: ideas and concepts and lists are much easier to memorize when a tune is associated with it (for instance, the ABC’s or the Periodic Table Song). Professional reciters of the Qur’an have preserved certain vocal fluctuations in order to give richness and variety to the recitation. Try listening to the melodies expressed by these reciters and imitate their tones.
4. Utilize some colorful imagery
Allah made the human being as an industrious and curious creature. We are creative creatures who make art, compose poetry, and manifest beauty in a variety of forms. This is not merely limited to the physical world, but also extends to the inner world of the mind – just think of the last dream you can remember. My last dream included Godzilla, a pirate ship, and a spinning sun. Our minds can conjure up the most vivid and bizarre episodes.
The more vivid the images in your mind, the better the memorization. I usually visualize the different ayat in varying colors (I have associated more somber verses with cooler colors, and the more powerful ones with brighter ones). I have a friend who memorized Surah an-Najm by visualizing, in a fluid set of images and events, the different events that make their appearance in the surah. To each his own – everyone is different and different methods may be more useful for different individuals, just don’t let the technique distract you from worshiping your Creator!
5. Understand the knowledge of the text
Comprehending the meaning of Allah’s words is extremely important for memorizing the Qur’an, and can facilitate the memorization process. The Qur’an is arranged elliptically, which means that it often repeats the same idea over and over again, utilizing the repetition of certain key phrases, ideas, or concepts in order to get its point across. The repetition of these key phrases and ideas should be the foundation of any Quranic recitation, which is why new Muslims are strongly encouraged to at least become familiarized with the Arabic tongue. Repeat these easy-to-memorize portions as often as possible, until the tongue can recite them easily – even if the mind drifts away from the meaning. Our minds are capable of comprehending an entire sheet of information without having to read all the words verbatim, because our brains fill in most of that information by predicting and recognizing common patterns in our native tongues. The same is true for the Qur’an. So long as you know what to look for and what to expect in Allah’s Book, words and phrases having to do with tawhid, the Prophets, and the Day of Judgement, for instance, will be more easily recognizable the more we read and recite them.
6. Take a break
Recent studies in the field of neuroscience have discovered that taking a break, whether it be a coffee break, a short walk, or a siesta, is immensely beneficial for the retention of new information. Allah wired us so that our brains would constantly be at work, processing information and stringing together new bits of knowledge, so rest is immensely important for cognitive activity and brain functioning. Try interspersing your study sessions with frequent breaks, especially if you’re going for longer surahs or entire juz. Try to adhere to a daily limit and, if possible, do not go over that time limit. Resist the temptation to move on to another portion of the Qur’an when you have not yet perfectly memorized what you are working on!
7. Utilize them in prayer once you’ve got it down!
The Honorable Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is recorded to have said that “the reward for the one who recites the Qur’an skillfully will be his entrance into the company of the noble and righteous messenger-angels, and the one who reads the Qur’an, but stutters and finds it difficult, receives a double reward.” The one who recites with difficulty will be rewarded twofold: once for the recitation, and once for the hardship. But with difficulty comes ease, as Allah teaches us in the Noble Qur’an. And the ease in a difficult recitation is that, eventually, with constant practice, it will be locked into the mind in order to be easily recited. Even if the recitation isn’t perfect, it is the recitation that counts.
The Prophet (pbuh) once said to ibn Mas’ud: “Recite to me some Qur’ān” He replied, “O Messenger of Allāh! How can I recite it to you whilst it was revealed to you?” He said, “I love to hear it from other than me.” He said, “So I started to read from Sūrat An-Nisā until I reached the āyah that reads, ‘So how will it be when We bring from every nation a witness, and we bring you, O Muḥammad, against these people as a witness?’” The Prophet (pbuh), at this point, said to Ibn Masʿūd, “This is enough”. Ibn Masʿūd said, “I looked at him and he was shedding tears. [Bukhari and Muslim]
It doesn’t take much recitation to change the heart. With the recitation of the aforementioned ayah the Honorable Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) began to weep because of its depth and beauty. Don’t feel pressured to start big and memorize al-Baqarah or Yunus or Yusuf – there is a reward for the recitation of every letter. Start small! Every ayah that was revealed contains a guide for humanity and wisdom for the world, not to mention seven layers of meaning that can be unravelled from it. The one who recites, regardless of the passage and its length, will receive an elevation in their rank before Allah.
Leemhuis, Fred (2006). Jane Dammen MacAuliffe (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’ān. Cambridge. pp. 145–155.
Manoukian J., Chubb, J. Study Tips: Top Five Memorization Techniques. https://www.dal.ca/news/2013/11/20/study-tips–top-5-memorization-techniques.html
Media Relations. Study finds reading information aloud to yourself improves memory. https://uwaterloo.ca/news/news/study-finds-reading-information-aloud-yourself-improves
Sahih al-Bukhari Book 61, Hadith 576.
Sahih al-Bukhari Book 65, Hadith 458, No. 4937.
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