Memorizing the Qur’an: Interview with Ustadhah Kareema
As a belated part-two to our Seeking Knowledge series, sister Mariam E. and I conducted an interview with Ustadhah Kareema Czerepinski on memorizing the Book of Allah as a follow-up to our advice on the proper methods of pursuing sacred knowledge. It is the perfect time for students to start or renew their memorization now that the summer break is upon us and Ramadan is right around the corner inshaAllah. We hope that these answers are beneficial to you and us. May Allah make us from the Companions of His Book and unite us with His righteous slaves in the highest gardens of Paradise. Ameen.
Ustadhah Kareema Czerepinski, author of the three part book series: Tajweed Rules of the Qur’an, memorized the Quran and went on to receive an ijaazah in the way of Hafs ‘an ‘Asim, by the way of Shatibiyyah, and another ijaazah by the way of Tayyibat Al-Nashr. She then continued and received an ijaazah in the ten qira’aat min tareeq Ash-Shaaitibiyyah and Ad-Durrah. She is in charge of the non-Arab division at Dar Al-Huda Qur’an school for ladies.
What is your advice for the one who has embarked on the journey to memorize the Quran?
“Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.”
Assalaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. First of all, I thank you for the good supposition you have about me, pray that this is for the benefit of the Muslims, and ask Allah to guide me in my answers to that which is best and helpful to the Muslims who wish to learn and memorize the Words of Allah.
This question alone is one that books could be written on. I will try not to, but it is hard. The main three points of advice surround intention, schedule, and being tested.
Of course the first step is to make one’s intention solely for the pleasure of Allah and not for any earthly gain. I say “of course” thinking that it is hardly possible for one to embark on this journey without pure intentions, as it is one that requires great amounts of time, patience, and perseverance, continual supplication to Allah for success, and deep from the gut determination. Then again, lately there has been a rise in Muslims forging documents, claiming to have a certificate they don’t, or a chain of transmission that they don’t, all to charge others great amounts of money for the chance to recite to them. The stories get more and more amazing as the years go by and some Muslims lose track of the fact that Allah is always monitoring, watching our every move and knows what is in our hearts. For that reason, I feel like it is still the number one thing to say, even though it is obvious. The Muslim brothers or sisters who have embarked on or are going to embark on this journey need to be honest with themselves and clear up any kind of wiswas (whispers) that may occur in their intentions.
The student may want to research the sound ahaadeeth on the benefits of memorizing the Qur’an and the honor those who have memorized receive on the Day of Resurrection. One may put posters up in different part of the house with some of the ahaadeeth, then change them every week or so, to help refresh the intentions and feel motivated.
The next is to set up a reasonable schedule, one including daily memorization and review. It is of the upmost importance that this schedule is neither too ambitious, so the student of memorization doesn’t get frustrated and give up, nor too easy so the student feels unchallenged and loses interest. It is always best that the memorization and review are sequential and not random. This helps give the memorizer a clear picture of where he/she is and where he/she is going.
The best way for most is to be in an organized group with a set curriculum, time and days of class. This helps keep motivation up, as no one likes to be behind the class, and also formulates bonds of brotherhood/sisterhood between the students for mutual cooperation and assistance. There are some who do better on an individualized program, but with a group where each person recites what he/she has memorized to the teacher or individually has a set date for reciting his/her memorization to a teacher. Still others have the patience, perseverance, and self motivation and control to do the memorization by their selves. On the whole, this form takes the most struggle as it is easy to get distracted and fall out of the daily routine when there is no appointed time to recite to a teacher and no group for extra motivation.
It is important to set apart a specific time of day to memorize and review, the time of day when there is the least amount of noise, and least amount of chance of being bothered or distracted. This time is set by the individual circumstances, but if possible right after fajr is what I would recommend.
Don’t be in a hurry to finish memorizing and whiz through it without the memorization being firm. The student should be able to close the mushaf (copy of the Quran) and recite what he/she memorized completely without a mistake, then that same section should be repeated during the day. It is very important, no, imperative, that someone who is proficient in the Qur’an listens to what has been memorized and checks it. It is also crucial to be tested on a whole juz’ when finished, and then on groups of ajzaa, such as 3, 5, or 10 at a time as the memorizer progresses through the stages of putting the Qur’an in their memory.
The review part of the daily section is just as important as the new memorization. One cannot call himself or herself a haafidh when in fact he/she memorized piece by piece and never put it together or reviewed intensely.
How does one face a period of laziness that might attack in the middle of this journey?
The student of the Qur’an needs to realize before they start that shaytaan is going to come to them and try to dissuade them from their noble goal. The wiswas can be in the form of making one feel like it is never going to end, or seeing others having “fun” while the student is struggling forth, or any other sort of tool. Knowing this should keep the student on guard and help recognize the cause of the laziness or feeling of wanting to stop.
The worst thing to do at this time is take a break from memorizing. This will make returning to the memorization more difficult and usually one will feel like the task has become harder. The best thing to do is make dua’, renew one’s intentions, change the hadeeth on the wall to a new one and read all the previously hung hadeeth. Reading other’s stories of struggle can also help.
What is the best way to schedule memorization around work, school, and/or other responsibilities? Or is it recommended to take time off and devote oneself completely for it, for better results?
As previously mentioned, the student of memorization needs to find a quiet, consistent time where he/she can memorize and review. Memorization should have first priority in the day, and insha’Allah there will be barakah in the remaining activities.
It is hard to say whether it is better to take time off from studies and work to memorize or not. Oftentimes with a tight schedule and well planned time control one can do more than freeing oneself completely to devote all one’s time to memorization. For many, taking time off is not an option. Others do better in a classroom situation with a set curriculum and complete devotion to memorization.
Any tips on the best way to memorize the Mutashabihaat verses? (i.e. those verses that are repeated, similar, etc.)
Memorizing them isn’t nearly as difficult as keeping them straight when reviewing. Since memorizing is a slow build up, the first few mutashaabihaat are not too difficult to keep straight. It is later when firming up memorization and reviewing that it can become difficult. One tool is writing down the different stories of the same content or groups of aayaat and comparing them. As the same story comes up in different surahs, the memorizer can add the new aayaat to his/her comparative list and study them and review them all at the same time, finding the similarities and differences. The stories of the Prophets is one area in which this is especially needed.
There are numerous books in Arabic which help with the mutashaabihaat and there are poems. One specific poem which helped me personally was As-Sakhkhaawiyyah. I didn’t memorize the whole poem, but learned some parts and read through it and that helped keep many things straight. For example the lines outlining the places in the Qur’an which have abadan after khaalideen feeha really helped.
Some Muslims just can keep them straight by themselves, though, masha’ Allah and don’t need mnemonic devices to keep them straight.
Many Muslims feel that learning tajweed is not necessary; can you shed some light on why it is a critical part of learning the Qur’an?
The Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic language and was recited by the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, and the Sahabah with tajweed. Why would one want to recite it another way? The Arabs at the time of revelation spoke with idhgaam, ikhfa’, etc, all the rules we now study to be able to read the Qur’an with tajweed. There are parts of tajweed which were not in the normal Arab speech such as the lengthening of the sounds in the mudood, and this was then passed down in authentic chains of transmission to us and documented in the old books on tajweed.
There are parts of tajweed which are vital to know, since without applying them the actual letters can change in sound and a major mistake is made. This is the basic tajweed knowledge that all Muslims should apply in their reading, whether they are memorizing the whole Qur’an, or just memorizing a few for their prayers.
What level of tajweed does one need to possess before embarking on the journey to memorize Quran?
This would depend on one’s ultimate goal. If one is memorizing with the intention of never teaching anyone else and just to get the honor and reward, then it would be enough to know the basic rules such as the laam saakinah,mudood, noon saakinah, makhraj, and meem saakinah. I would caution however, that many times Muslims memorize, then later decide they want to teach or find themselves in a situation in which they are the only ones around who knows any amount of Qur’an, or change their mind and want an ijaazah, and then have to go back and learn everything in detail. This can be quite difficult.
For most Muslims I would say that they should learn the above, plus all the rest of detailed tajweed because those who have memorized are usually called upon to teach and have a duty to help other Muslims. One cannot teach properly without having a strong basis of knowledge themselves. One can start memorizing at a slow level while learning the tajweed rules and being corrected on its application in recitation, and later after learning the requiredtajweed step up the memorization quantity.
Is it possible for one to perfect their tajweed and pronunciation without a teacher, perhaps through listening to recorded recitations only?
It is possible, but not very likely. The way the Qur’an has been taught from the early days of this nation and will continue to be taught is by oral transmission, being taught and listened to and corrected by a trained, mastered Qur’an teacher. There are a few who are very good at imitating sounds and have the ear to pick up the small minute changes in sound heard from recordings and produce them with their own mouth, but this is not the average person, not even some, instead it is a rare case. Again, it can happen, but the general rule for the vast majority is that it is extremely important that one is corrected by a trained teacher.
Is it required to memorize the last harakah of each ayah if one does not have a solid background in Arabic grammar?
One doesn’t need to have a solid background in Arabic grammar to memorize the last harakah of the aayah. One needs to have a solid Arabic grammar background to explain the reason for the harakah. When we memorize the Qur’an we should pay attention to the last harakah and try to memorize it with the rest of the aayah. Manyshuyookh giving ijazaah request the student of the ijaazah to join aayaat together particularly in the shorter surahs to make sure the student knows the vowel on the last letter of an aayah. Knowing the vowel on the last letter of the aayah becomes particularly important in learning and applying the different qira’aat.
Many people associate memorization with being young. Is it possible for someone to begin memorizing after the ‘golden years’ of memorization? And what is your advice for such a person?
Youth on the whole can memorize easier, but age should not stop anyone from memorizing. Sometimes Muslims have a mental picture of those over 40 or 50 not being able to memorize, but there are many stories of Muslims memorizing the Qur’an later in life, some even starting in their 60’s and succeeding in completion.
With purity of intention, lots of dua’ asking Allah to make it simple, and determination, nothing is impossible with Allah’s help.
I know of a sister in her 30s with 5 children who memorized the whole Qur’an in 3 years and went on to get anijaazah. She had to sacrifice sleep and many other things we generally hold important, but she did it for Allah, and by His will, she accomplished her goal. My advice is to never give up.
What advice do you have for new Muslims and older Muslims who face difficulty with memorizing and pronunciation?
The same advice as above, do not give up. Turn to Allah, don’t be afraid of the struggle and devote yourself to the Qur’an. You do have to sacrifice, but the reward of Allah is great for all your efforts. Some give up too easily, but be stubborn in your pursuit of reading the words of Allah correctly and keep trying. Don’t make excuses for yourself and don’t let your ego get in your way. The students who do the best on the whole are those who are eager to be corrected, do not complain, and are not afraid to make a mistake.
What are some habits that a student of the Qur’an should implement?
You probably mean study habits, but more important is improving themselves as Muslims and making that a habit. Pray tahajjud, fast extra fasts, make sure you implement the aayaat of Qur’an in your life and are a shining example of those of the Qur’an.
Stay away from sin, repent for all your sins and stop anything that is not suitable for “ahl al-Qur’an.” (the people of the Qur’an)
Do not waste time, it is a precious commodity for the student of the Qur’an, so use it wisely and use it for the sake of Allah. This is something I can’t say enough. Many Muslims have lofty goals, but lose their precious time searching the Internet for different recordings of recitation from multiple shuyookh, looking up details of theqira’aat and other advanced details of tajweed when they themselves are relatively beginners or have not progressed far in their memorization. Focus on the task at hand, and listen to one of the masters of tajweed such as Sheikh Al-Husary or Sheikh Abdullah Basfar.
What should be the goal(s) of a student who has completed their memorization and what should they do after this?
This is really up to the student for most aspects, but the goal that should be shared by all after memorizing the Qur’an is to firm up the memorization and have a very strong review program to keep themself a hafidh. Once the memorization is complete it is not the end, it is just the beginning.
If the student of the Qur’an would like to achieve an ijaazah of the Qur’an after memorizing and firming up the memorization, they should approach a sheikh or sheikhah with an ijaazah and be evaluated by them. If the student has not memorized the Jazariyyah poem, and wished to get an ijaazah in the Qur’an, he/she should memorize the Jazariyyah and study its meaning. After the evaluation, the sheikh or sheikhah might give them points to work on, or start an ijaazah with them.
After an ijaazah in one riwaayah or qiraa’ah, the student can then pursue knowledge of the 10 qiraa’aat. There is much to learn and each step is more beautiful than the previous one.
In your opinion, what is the best method of reviewing the Book of Allah, so as not to lose it by Allah’s will?
The scholars say, “[Review] five, you won’t forget” (خمس لا تنسى), meaning if you review five ajzaa’ per day, you will not forget. This is a very true statement. If one cannot keep up reviewing 5 per day all the time, they should try to do this strong program of review for at least six months after completing memorization. After that the student who cannot keep up with five ajzaa’ per day can decrease the amount to 2 or 3 a day, or the very minum, one juz’ per day; any less than this will not keep the memorization strong.
How much repetition is required for one to completely solidify the hifdh? What has worked for you/your students?
It is hard to quantify and varies from individual to individual. Suffice it to be said that it requires a lot of repetition, and for six months the review should be quite intense with five ‘ajzaa per day reviewed, if at all possible.
The school I studied at has special classes for tathbeet (firming up memorization). As a class we went through the Qur’an six times, the number of students in the class, and each day recited three ajzaa’ to the teacher as a class, but we didn’t know which section we were going to be asked to recite as individuals. We were required to recite at a quick pace, trying to keep our tajweed up as much as possible, so the memorization needed to be quite firm. The teacher would keep track of which sections we had recited to her and at the end of the year, each of us had recited the whole Qur’an to her, but in pieces. This was and is a very good program and I thank Allah for giving me the opportunity to be in this class.
Please recommend a Tafseer suitable for beginners. Which tafseer did you benefit from the most?
The translations into English of the meaning of the Qur’an give only a general idea of the aayaat, and it is quite important that a deeper understanding of the Qur’an and the background for a surah or aayah be known, as well as any explanation given by the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, and the Sahaabah. Ibn Kathir is a great tafseer and al-hamdu lillah it has been translated into English. May Allah reward those who did this with a great reward and make it of the deeds which continue accumulating for them after their deaths.
How important do you think it is to study tafseer along with memorization? Does it aid in memorizing?
It is extremely important and yes it aids greatly in memorization, especially if word by word meaning is given to the students as they memorize. There needs to be study of vocabulary words along with the memorization and tests given on the vocabulary words.
How can we instill love for the Qur’an in our children and youth?
By showing them how much we love it and by employing the Qu’ran in our life in every aspect. Teaching them that Qur’an is first is something they will carry with them to adulthood. I heard a lecture once recommending that parents always start their children with Qur’an homework, then any other deen related subjects, then the other science, math and literature subjects. This will show the children the importance of Qur’an.
There is no doubt that one who carries the Book of Allah must also carry beautiful conduct and character. Can you please shed light on some of the most important characteristics of Ahl-al-Quran?
There are so many, as “ahl Al-Qur’an” should be examples of the best in character and conduct. We should aim to have our manners as [what is in] the Qur’an as Aisha may Allah be pleased with her, described the Prophet peace and blessings of Allah upon him. Even though we are far from his example, we should try our utmost.
I think the one encompassing characteristic is that of Taqwaa. If one has taqwaa, everything else will be correct,insha’ Allah.
The following are what came to my mind, and are under the category of taqwaa:
First and foremost, those who are “carriers” of the Qur’an should have truthfulness and honesty. It cannot be thatahl al-Qur’an tell lies or are dishonest.
Another very important characteristic is standing up for the truth and not wronging anyone or allowing someone to be wronged.
The inside of Ahl Al-Qur’an should be like their outward appearance, meaning there should be no hypocrisy.
Patience is also a very important characteristic which those who are carriers of the Qur’an should have.
May Allah grant us the best of manners and characteristics, may He purify our intentions in all that we do, may Allah make us of “ahl al-Qur’an,” and give us the honors promised those who have memorized the Qur’an on the Day of Resurrection. I seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent to Him alone.