‘Allah is our Hafiz’ – What Ramadan is like for the Hafiz al-Qur’an
Wednesday, June 15th, 2016
Ramadan is associated with fasting, but it is also the month of the Qur’an. It was in this blessed month that the word of Allah was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and throughout the month, the memorisers of the Qur’an (Hafiz al-Qur’an) recite it in its entirety in Salah al-Tarawih.
Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari memorised the Qur’an at the age of thirteen and has led Tarawih prayers for the last decade in Leicester. Here, he explains what the month is like for those leading this special prayer.
Throughout the entire year, the Huffaz (plural of Hafiz; memorisers of the Holy Qur’an) will be conscious of their duties in Ramadan. Some prefer to revise in small sessions throughout the year whereas others work intensively a month before the first Tarawih. It is often said that Layla al-Isra wa’l Mi’raj (27th Rajab) is the alarm bell for the Huffaz. Those who lead the prayer in the same mosque year after year will sometimes recite the Qur’an to their partner (the one who listens for mistakes or reads some of the Tarawih prayers in partnership) in advance. All methods are found. Yet at the same time, all the revision in the world prior to Ramadan cannot really prepare you for the actual month. One can learn and memorise the Qur’an throughout the year, but there is still a need to revise thoroughly and intensively during Ramadan. Think of it like penalty shoot-outs in football. A player can spend hours on the training ground practicing penalties. But it is never a true reflection of penalties in a real match.
Every Hafiz will be nervous prior to the first night of Tarawih, no matter how experienced he is in the matter. Once the first few rak’ats are performed and he finds his rhythm, then it gets somewhat easier and less stressful.
Concentration is key in Salah al-Tarawih. If the Hafiz has spent time revising the Qur’an in the day and can remain 100% focused during the Salah, then he will rarely struggle. Sometimes however, the Hafiz’s concentration is tested through no fault of his own; mobile phones ringing behind him, relentless coughing, dodgy sound systems and even insects on the Musallah!
For quite a while now, Isha prayer has been considerably late and Muslims feel the need to get home after the Tarawihs as soon as possible. Pressure therefore mounts on the reciter to be as swift as possible. Personally, this is an issue for me, because I prefer reciting at a slower pace.
The break (Istiraha) after every four rak’ats is where the name ‘Tarawih’ comes from. I have read that this break should be as long as the four rak’ats that precedes it. Whilst studying in Cairo, I remember reading Salah al-Tarawih at the mosque of one of the Shaykhs of al-Azhar. After four rak’ats, tea was offered to the attendees! Of course, a lot of mosques in the UK barely allow thirty seconds break, which is hardly ideal for the Huffaz. They need time to rest and perhaps have a sip of water. Seldom do they get that moment.
The reciter will always require a Hafiz to listen to him during the Salah, called the Saami’ or Sa’me’a. A good understanding between the two is imperative. When the Hafiz struggles in his recitation, the listener needs to know when to refer him back to an earlier verse, to correct the mistake on the spot or to simply remain quiet and allow time. Many Huffaz have shared horror stories with me about how their recitation has been hampered by listeners who are too disruptive or too quiet. In that sense, I am extremely lucky to have partnered with Hafiz Sulaiman for the last decade, who instinctively knows when to interrupt and when not to. Mentally, this is a great source of comfort.
Are there particular parts of the Qur’an that are harder to recite in Tarawih prayers? Undoubtedly there are, but each Hafiz will have his own account of what he finds easy and what he finds difficult. For instance, some find Surah Taha difficult, yet I love reciting it. I find the twenty-fifth Juz (Spara) very difficult, yet many of my colleagues find it easy. The one part of the Qur’an that I suppose is seen as universally difficult, are the inheritance verses from Surah al-Nisa (4: 11-12). Muslims found this hard, even a thousand years ago. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463/1069) wrote that hadith masters would only allow students to pursue hadith studies if they had first memorised the Qur’an. They would test the student and most of the time, the first question would be to recite from Yū Sīkum Allāh fī awlādikum.
By far, Salah al-Tarawih is the hardest thing I do all year long. It is unbelievably stressful and difficult. Yet at the same time, it is also the most enjoyable part of the year too. The satisfaction of it is simply unparalleled and indescribable. In many ways, I suppose the same applies to our lives too; the things we take most joy from are also the ones that are most difficult. For a mother, no experience rivals holding her baby for the first time. Yet the child birth that precedes it is also the hardest thing she will go through.
What does it feel like when the Qur’an is finally complete? As every Hafiz al-Qur’an will testify, words cannot do justice to it. No other feeling in the world comes close. I suppose it is a mix of elation, relief, a sense of monumental achievement and unparalleled pride. A Hafiz is entrusted with guarding the Qur’an and each Ramadan, he is tested to see if he is looking after this Amana properly. Upon the completion of the Qur’an, the Hafiz feels like he has preserved the most precious thing on God’s earth, His miraculous words. This is only possible with the assistance of Allah Almighty. Or to word it differently, Allah is the Hafiz of every Hafiz in the land.
Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari.
Ather is an Imam, writer and researcher based in Leicester. He is a graduate of Jamia al-Karam, al-Azhar University (Cairo) and the University of Birmingham.