Memorizing or Studying?

There is a story in today’s NY Times about Muslim schools in the U.S. where young children memorize the Holy Koran:

Making the work even more difficult, the students, for the most part, do not understand what they are reciting. Muslims believe the Koran was spoken to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in Arabic. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean.

I don’t know about you guys, but what I would really frown upon is memorizing Koran without understanding it. We are asked to memorize Koran, but not only for the sake of reciting it. We are asked to memorize Koran in order to practice its teachings and to use the knowledge we learn from it to guide us in our lives. I think these schools should rethink the way they teach Koran; it may take much longer to memorize Koran and in the same time understand it, but it will be much more better for the students and the longer time spent on studying absolutely worth it.

12 thoughts on “Memorizing or Studying?

  1. Dear Saudi Jeans
    I dont agree, we make use of the yougsters ability to learn the Quran rapidly , eventually its to their greater benifit. Understanding many of what is said in the Quran , is a matter that is difficult for many adults, understand the theory and the directives comes to one with time..
    I have read the Quran several times, every time I find new information and new meanings.
    All the best

  2. It i s very common. When I took Arabic in school Pakistanis and others from the area had the advantage because they could read Arabic, which we were required to do in class. They could read it well and quick, they just didnt have a clue as to what they were saying.

    I know I was much slower, as I dont read Arabic that much, but at least I knew what I was saying.

    Reading something without comprehending is missing the point.

  3. Historically, Quran schools were just about the only schools outside of rich or royal homes. It was the sole door to literacy in any language.

    That works well where Arabic is the native language; less well where it isn’t. Being able to quote the Quran to support an argument (rightly or wrongly) too often becomes the mark of an “educated person”, without actually having to know what the verse says and means.

  4. Salam Alaekum.

    Most of the students in these Qur’an schools are of a very young age, and it would be difficult for them to memorize and understand the verses at the same time. The ultimate aim is always to understand what is being said, but it has to come at a later stage.

    Full-fledged Islamic schools teach the basics of nahw, sarf, balaghah, logic, rhetoric etc. alongside tahfeez classes. All these subjects are building blocks towards an understanding of the Qur’an.

    In smaller schools, memorization is just stage 1 of the process. The student is supposed to move to the next stage at another school, but very few actually manage to do that.

    I totally agree with your views on this – memorization is a means to an end, and not an end itself.

  5. Salam,

    I agree we need to understand the Quran, too.

    But as a teacher I found kids being quicker to learn Arabic while memorizing the Quran, since there is a certain rythm and rime.

    It´s a very good way of learning fusha Arabic, but should not, of course, be the only source for learning.

    I find the Arabic in our Quran beautiful and inspiring. That is why I like the old Arabic tradition of improvising poems while drumming.

    Modern people find this crazy, but it sure kept me from forgetting my Arabic (I was born and raised in Europe).

  6. That’s how I was taught, too. I don’t speak Arabic, but my parents taught me to read it, and to memorize Quran even though I had no idea what it meant. Personally, this didn’t help me much because I never really liked to spend so much time sitting and memorizing all those Surahs when I’d much rather be doing something ‘fun’. But now al-Hamdulillaah I’m slowly trying to understand what I’m reading… may Allah help us all become better Muslims and truly understand the Quran and apply it to our lives.

  7. yes, easy for you to say Arabic speakers what does Abuela translated in Arabic. honestly, i think you have an Arabic headstart. other people might need a little help. not every muslim speaks arabic.

    when i was a child, i memorize some surah too. i think it’s nice as learning it as a child do help. now in adulthood, I pray Allah will make it easy to understand the meaning, amen. thanks to good translators, now all muslims can understand the Quran, insha Allah.

    anyway, have you think of new non arabic speaking converts. how they learn praying in your arabic language. read the Quran. some even learn arabic. so count your blessing arabic speakers.

  8. you reminded me of an incident that happened a while ago; the Turkish “mufti” said that even though it’s better for turkish people to pray in Arabic, it’s ok for them to pray in Turkish. A turkish friend (among many others) was so happy, as it meant that now she’ll be able to pray in a way that she understands. However, scholars in Arabic countries such as Saudi Arabia announced that he’s “wrong”; no sufficient clarification or evidence from the Quraan or Sunna.

    In my opinion, understanding the Quraan is the point, not memorizing it.. That’s why in the quraan, phrases that encourage the reader to understand, think, analyze and so on are very frequently repeated.

  9. Please! I don’t know why your so uptight when people simply memorize the Qur’an without understand – a point which I actually agree with you on. However, with all the crap on your blog I think that you haven’t even read the Qur’an because most of the posts that you discuss having to do with scandalous women and men show your ignorance of the meaning of the Qur’an and ahadith. Therefore, as an Arabic speaker I would expect more from you. And by the way, non-Arabic speakers who read the Qur’an get double the reward. Salam.

  10. By simple memorizing what you get is a person who “parrots” the Koran, not who understands it. It would be useful for non-arabic-speaking muslims to learn it in both languages, if it is strictly necessary to learn it in arabic.

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