By Samuel Gonzalez
Unlike many faiths, Islam encourages the active study of its own liturgical language. In fact, in order to perform salah (prayer), it is necessary to memorize a few portions of the Noble Qur’an. Additionally, there are many spiritual, emotional, and cognitive benefits of actively memorizing and reciting the Qur’an in the original Arabic.
Many tend to memorize the Noble Qur’an faster when implementing the following techniques to aid their study process. After all, the human mind is capable of much more memorization than we give it credit for, subhanAllah.
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 taking a final exam than when filling out a voluntary survey. Hence, only in certain situations we utilize more of our willpower to concentrate and recall information. New information is more strongly encoded when linked to already existing information.
When greater importance is placed on the value of the Qur’an for our lives, memorizing it 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.
- It employs logic and reason in order to impact our lives everyday.
The greater its purpose, relevance, and functionality in our lives, the easier the Qur’an 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 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
- Reading aloud in real time
Results from experiments with 95 participants showed that 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 unlettered Prophet (pbuh). The first codex of the Qur’an was not put together until about 20 to 30 years after Muhammad’s (pbuh) death. Its final composition, finalized by Uthman ibn Affan (ra), relied on textual fragments scattered throughout Arabia and the memories of those who 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, reciting, 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 use memorable phrases and facilitate the quick learning of 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 explained earlier, facilitates memory.
- Flash cards: Excellent for recalling how the verse is split up. Visual learners may choose to memorize the image of the card in one’s mind in order to recall later.
- Special Rhymes: Many 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. Thankfully, many surahs have a rhythm that the reciter can follow.
- Mnemonics: Ideas and concepts and lists are much easier to memorize when a rhythm is associated with it. 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 colorful imagery
Allah made the human being as an industrious, curious, and creative creature. The more vivid the images in your mind, the better the memorization. I usually visualize different ayat in varying colors (I associate more somber verses with cooler colors, and more powerful ones with brighter ones). A friend memorized Surah an-Najm by visualizing 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 and often repeats certain key phrases, ideas, or concepts. The repetition of these key phrases and ideas should be the foundation of any Quranic recitation. That’s why Muslims are strongly encouraged to become familiar 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 can comprehend an entire sheet of information without having to read all the words verbatim. That’s 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
Taking a break (even a coffee break, short walk, or siesta) is immensely beneficial for the retention of new information. Allah wired us so our brains are constantly 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!
‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Qur’an will be with the honourable and obedient scribes (angels) and he who recites the Qur’an and finds it difficult to recite, doing his best to recite it in the best way possible, will have two rewards.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
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 and 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 revealed contains a guide for humanity and wisdom for the world, not to mention several 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.
Share your Quran memorization tips below!
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.
Sahih al-Bukhari Book 61, Hadith 576.
Sahih al-Bukhari Book 65, Hadith 458, No. 4937.