Alhamdulillah, this Ramadan, my family and me had the honour of spending the month in the company of Sheikh Fahad al-Kandari, an Imam of the Grand Mosque in Kuwait.
OK, let me clarify, when I say spending time with Sheikh Fahad al Kandari, I don’t mean literally, he did not spend the month in sunny Birmingham, nor did we spend Ramadan in Kuwait. Rather we spent the month as a family watching his excellent series ‘Traveller with the Quran’.
For those of you who are unaware of ‘Traveller with the Quran’ basically it is a series in which Sheikh Fahad attempts to motivate us into reading and memorising the Quran by traveling to various countries and interviewing various inspirational hufadh of Quran (a person who has memorised the entire Quran by heart). They in turn elaborate on their journey and experiences in memorising the Quran.
In series 1, Sheikh Fahad travels to Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Chechnya and Mauritania to meet the various hufadh, young and old, giving practical tips, advice and, more importantly motivation for memorisation. In series 2, he travels to Madinah, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia, China, Qatar and finally Kuwait to give more inspirational stories of hufadh of Quran. He shifts the focus from memorisation to contemplation. He explains how the ayat of Quran can affect and transform the heart of the believer so that he becomes the person whose personality is the embodiment of the Quran.
My wife, may Allah bless her, had the idea that it may be good idea to watch the series as a family this Ramadan. To be honest, I was a bit sceptical, mostly because the program was in Arabic and we would have to read the English subtitles, which is always hard work. Also, when she told me that series 1, by itself, was 30 episodes, I naturally started to think that I’d probably lose interest after episode 10.
Alhamdulillah we gave it a go, and much to my surprise I ended up loving it and it was one of the highlights of Ramadan 2014. As a family we gained so much from the program, from little Faatiha who would hum to herself the infectious nasheed that laced the program, to Rumaysah who is approaching her own hifdh program with renewed enthusiasm and vigour.
In this blog article, I want to share some of the gems that I overtly and covertly took from watching Traveller with the Quran series 1 and 2.
The Quranic atmosphere
One thing that really surprised me through watching the series was the impact it had on my family as a whole. Family time for us invariably revolved around food and the occasional trips, i.e. sitting around a dining table or a table in a restaurant, or going on a family outing to the park or a zoo. We made the conscious decision to get rid of the TV licence around 2 years ago, so unlike many families within the UK, life did not revolve around EastEnders, Strictly come dancing, X-factor or other organised distractions.
However, with Traveller with the Quran, family time took on a completely new meaning. Family time was now Fahad al-Kandari. We would all sit together around the TV, Nusaybah would type in her own unique spelling ‘Travll wiv qurn’ and, for some reason, even YouTube was part of the atmosphere and her search would pick up the series. The kids would sit snuggled between my wife and me. They would sing the nasheed, they would get excited when they recognised an ayat, and they would try and guess the country he was in. The Quran captivated us, invariably someone would feel the need to pick up a mushaf and read a page or two, in their best Qari voice after watching an episode.
Bringing the Quran into the family atmospheres is essential living in the West. Life has a very fast pace. From going to work, shopping, cleaning, cooking, there never appears to be time for anything else. But, we always seem to find time for some activity, whether that is series 6 of The Apprentice, going to the gym, playing computer games, or making those loom band bracelets. We tend to find time for everything, except Quran and as a result Quran never enters our family atmosphere and hence Quran does not affect the family.
One statement that struck me was the mother who said that she would continuously recite the Quran to her child, whilst her child was still in her womb in an attempt to expose the unborn child to an atmosphere of Quran. My wife is currently expecting, but how much emphasis were we placing on exposing her belly to the ayat of Quran.
Sheikh Fahad would always show a wide smile when he would visit the Quranic family, where the family would either all be hafidh or be a family that would recite Quran together, collectively. There is something unique about collectively performing an action. Similar to performing salah in congregation, it builds bonds and consolidates the love for the action and the performers of the action. In a similar manner reading Quran together, as a family, even if it is only once a week, will make Quran part of the natural atmosphere of the house and motivate all to read and contemplate upon the speech of Allah (swt).
Building love for Quran
From each episode it was apparent that the genuine love for the Quran was the main motivation behind memorisation. The Quran is the speech of Allah (swt) the Lords of the heavens and the earth and all that is contained within it. As one of the scholars in the program put it ‘The best speech, delivered by the best angel to the best of creation’. The knowledge that the mountains would shake and crumble would this Quran be revealed unto it, acted as a motivation to seek perfection in memorisation.
The program showed some unique personalities. They were not just content with memorising, but memorising with tajweed, and then memorising in the different qiraat, and then memorising the Quran by the ayat number and so on. That level of commitment requires immense dedication. One example was of the amazing Sheikh Shareef from Egypt, memorising 24 juz of Quraan in 4 months, when he was only around 10 years old. The episode where he explains by example the 10 different ways in which the Quran can be recited blew us away. Such expertise at such a young age can only be achieved through having a genuine love of Quran.
Motivating a child to study is one of the main difficulties for home educators. If the formula for motivation could be bottled and sold, many of us would be first in the queue to purchase it. But this formula invariably has a special ingredient and that is love. If I reflect upon my schooling, the topic I enjoyed the most was the one I loved and as a result it became easier for me.
Unfortunately, in many of our madrassas, Quran is taught devoid of love and passion. When you speak with hafiz of Quran and ask them to recollect their experiences, many will not have fond memories. In fact many will talk about the beating and may even recreate the murgi position maulana saab made them sit in. The child is often reprimanded when they make mistakes, not praised for each achievement. Often there is such a push to produce the next conveyor belt of hufadh, that the love is replaced by fear, leaving the child resentful of the Quran when they grow older.
Building love for the Quran is essential for anyone who is embarking on a journey with Quran. A child will have good days and ‘not so good’ days. In all instances the child should be encouraged and praised. Memorising one juz should be seen as an achievement, as should be memorising one surah. Even memorising one ayat is an achievement as that ayat will be presented on the scale of good deeds on the Day of Judgement. The constant linkage to Allah (swt), how He (swt) is pleased with those who both memorise and act by the Quran will result in a child like Sheikh Shareef of Egypt or the autistic Ahmad Mus’alam whose enthusiasm and radiant smile would light up the darkest of rooms. Masha-Allah that love was reciprocated by everyone that interacted with the hufadh.
The Quranic aspiration
In Western societies people are judged upon appearance and that has a direct impact upon aspirations people carry in the society. In capitalist societies, such as the West, people have material aspirations and happiness is generally sort in material things, such as cars, TVs, clothes, houses and so on. This thinking affects all strata’s of society, from parents to children and from upper class to working class. It also affects the Muslims living in these societies.
Many Muslim parents have high aspirations for their children. They want them to become doctors, pharmacists, engineers, accountants and other well respected professions. Having these aspirations is good, as it will create positive Muslim role models in the community. However, often there appears to be a trade off between academia and Islam with the ‘bright’ kids pushed into professional vocations whilst the ‘not as bright’ kids sometimes being the ones pushed into Islamic education.
In reality, this is a very dangerous idea, as it can lead to the divorcing of Islam from the affairs of life. The Quran is the most complete of books – Allah (swt) describes the Quran as a clarification of all matters. The Quran addresses the fundamental nature of man and of creation as a whole. It addresses the existence of the World, outlines our purpose in life, clarifies how to fulfil that purpose and explains the results of fulfilling or neglecting our purpose in life. This is the most comprehensive of thoughts that permeate through all aspects of life’s affairs.
So, in Islam, the best doctor, lawyer, economist will be the one who is aware of his / her relationship with Allah (swt), is an expert in their respective field, but is also close to Quran, both in understanding and in application. Often we choose between doctor or hafidh, but what is wrong with having a doctor who is a hafidh of Quran, whose knowledge of Quran shapes the way he interacts with patients?
The parents in the program truly epitomised the Quranic aspiration, from the father who described the day that his son completed the Quran as being the best day in his life, to the mother who was upset that she wasn’t present in the masjid when her son completed his hifdh.
Then there was the mother who took pride in naming herself Umm Abdul Wahab, after her disabled son who was hafidh of Quran. Interestingly her child, Abdul Wahab was born with down’s syndrome. In the West, down’s syndrome is a condition that an unborn child is tested for and if the foetus is discovered to be at risk of having down’s syndrome, the parents are often encouraged to abort the unborn baby. Instead of viewing the child as a burden, Umm Abdul Wahab gave her child the best opportunity by encouraging him to become Quran hafidh. He became the light of their house, in fact the light of the entire village.
The joy on the parent’s faces was apparent for all to see. May Allah (swt) raise them all with crowns on their heads as a result of the efforts they placed in motivating and encouraging their children in Quran.
Not just for the kids
When it came to memorising Quran, my goal was fairly simple; I would encourage my children to memorise as much as they could, even if that was only a few juz.
After watching both series of Traveller with the Quran, I was forced to reassess that goal. For my children, I would like them to try hard and become hafidh of Quran, but in addition to that I also have a goal for myself; to try and memorise by heart as much Quran as I possibly can.
As a revert to Islam I had the slight disadvantage of not having gone to madrassa in childhood. In fact I remember sitting in my early twenties in a house with small children reading alif, baa, taa from a qaida. I remember learning the rules to be able to read Quran and I remember struggling and stumbling through the verses. Alhamdulillah now I have become more fluent with reading, but hifdh? No way that was beyond me, I was too old to even contemplate doing hifdh.
But, traveller with the quran smashed that perception that I was too old, or it would be too difficult watching those episodes and seeing autistic children, mentally disabled children, blind children reading in Braille and all of them having become hafidh of Quran. Not only were they hafidh of Quran, but they excelled in their memorisation, able to distinguish between the mutashaabiaat (similar) verses of Quran. Watching the efforts of these less abled children brought tears to the eyes, they did not view their disability as an excuse, but rather a source of added motivation to add to their scale on good deeds.
I will never forget a couple of episodes, one where Sheikh Fahad interviewed the old Egyptian woman who completed her hifdh of Quraan in her 60’s and the episode where the young disabled boy, Muhammad, with the most amazing smile who would walk for over an hour, every day just to meet with his teacher. As Sheikh Fahad mentioned, if anyone would have an excuse not to memorise the Quran, it would be them, so how about us fully abled, what is our excuse?
The Prophet (saw) said: “It will be said to the companion of Quran ‘Read and elevate and beautify your voice as you did when you were in the world, for verily the position in Jannah will be the last verse you recite” [Abu Dawud]
We often focus on our children elevating themselves, we place great hope that our children will intercede on our behalf, but we forget that an opportunity also lies within our hands. If I am serious, motivated and set myself a program, perhaps I might achieve something and surprise myself and as a result Allah (swt) might surprise me with a high status on the Day of Judgement.
The Quran in application
The episodes in Turkey and, more specifically Tunisia really opened my eyes to the true nature of the Quran in society. In those episodes we discovered a new difficulty with memorising the Quran; the tyrannical regimes. In Turkey, the Uthmaani Khilafah was abolished and replaced by the Republican model by Mustapha Kamal in 1924. After that day the Quran was removed from the constitution of Turkey as the country adopted secularism. Prior and during the regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia, the Quran was a prohibited book. The recitation of Quran and it’s teaching was banned in the society.
This may appear strange to us Muslims living in the West as we always perceived these countries as being Islamic, but in reality the prisons were full of those that taught Quran and those that wanted to live by it.
The situation in the Muslim world is not much different today, the recitation and teaching of Quran is now allowed, but the implementation is missing. We see the images of the people demonstrating in Syria, holding the Quran aloft stating that it should be the basis of legislation in the society.
Allah (swt) elevates and degrades based upon this book. We have narrations which inform us that a time will come where the reciters of Quran are many but the implementers are few. The Quran came as not only a book to be recited but also a book to bring mankind out of darkness in to the light. One of the main reasons why the Muslim lands are in darkness is the absence of Islam governing her affairs. Allah (swt) honoured us with Islam and hence any legislation based on other than Islam will only bring about humiliation.
We pray that Allah (swt) brings the condition where the Quran will once again be the basis of the constitution of society.
When episode 30 of series 2 came to an end we all looked at each other with a resigned look on our faces. But, Alhamdulillah, even though the series has ended, the real work was about to begin. We now have a new mission, to become the companions of Quran, in the hope that the Quran will intercede for us on the Day of Judgement.
May Allah (swt) reward Sheikh Fahad al-Kandari and his team for producing such an inspirational program and may He (swt) make us those whose personalities resemble that of the best of speeches, al-Quran al-Kareem.
Link for series 1
Link for series 2