Recitation of the Qur’ān

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Recitation of the Qur’ān

The vocal rendition of the Qur’ān. Tilāwat al-Qur’ān is to render the Arabic Qur’ān in voice. It is a branch of the sciences of the “readings” (qirā’āt) of the Qur’ān (see readings of the qur’ān ). In the Qur’ān, the term tilāwa (which appears in both nominal and verbal forms) often refers to the signs (q.v.) of God that are “rehearsed” therein, i.e. the narration of accounts of previous messengers and communities in sacred history (see narratives; messenger; generations; punishment stories ), as well as the actual act of the recitation of the Qur’ān itself. In general, when the word tilāwa refers to the practice of reading the Qur’ān aloud, it conveys a sense of “following” the qur’ānic message as it is rendered in human voice.

The practice of reciting the Qur’ān is performed according to a set of guidelines known as tajwīd. Tajwīd, although not a qur’ānic term, is the fundamental system of rules for the correct pronunciation of the Qur’ān as it was understood to have been revealed to the prophet Muḥammad (see revelation and inspiration ). Recitation of the Qur’ān according to tajwīd has many names across the Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority worlds. Some of these terms are variants of the qur’ānic expression tartīl, which conveys a sense of “measuring” out the speech of the Qur’ān in a careful and deliberate manner.

Some recitation of the Qur’ān is always required of Muslims for the performance of one of the canonical acts of Islamic worship (q.v.), prayer (q.v.; alāt ); reading ¶ the Qur’ān aloud is also a key observance of supererogatory Islamic piety. In Muslim traditions of learning and education, the oral/aural recitation of the memorized Qur’ān is the most authoritative mode of its transmission (see teaching and preaching the qur’ān ). In some contemporary societies, promoting engagement with the recited Qur’ān is the basis of popular Muslim revitalization movements (see orality; traditional disciplines of qur’ānic study ).

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The Qur’ān on its recitation

The word “Qur’ān” is often said to be a form of the root q-r-’ meaning “to read, to recite.” When understood in this sense, “Qur’ān” could be said to be as much an action as an object. Besides the actual word, the Qur’ān includes other names for itself that also emphasize the active components of engaging the Qur’ān in voice, such as dhikr, “reminder” (see memory; remembrance; names of the qur’ān ). Characteristic of the self-referentiality of qur’ānic content, the Qur’ān also contains many descriptions of its own recitation. Because of the Qur’ān's unmatched authority as a guide to thought and action in Islamic systems, the Qur’ān's own descriptions of the recited Qur’ān are also directives for believers.

The Qur’ān conveys instructions about its proper recitation in general terms, although not in specific or technical ones. The verses of the Qur’ān that are said to have been among the very first to have been revealed to the Prophet, those that open q 96, are interpreted as a command to voice the Qur’ān: “Recite! In the name of your lord (q.v.) who created, created humanity from a clot” (see creation ). The Qur’ān provides some instruction about how to perform its own recitation, in the ¶ form of tartīl, as in q 73:4: “Recite/read the Qur’ān with tartīl(wa-rattili l-Qur’ān tartīlan). The verbal form tilāwa appears in q 25:32, where it refers to the reading of the Qur’ān as an act of chanting distinctly. There is also qur’ānic instruction on reading the Qur’ān, e.g. q 75:16-8: “Do not move your tongue concerning it in order to make haste with it; it is for us to collect it and to read it (qur’ānahu); when we recite it (qara’nāhu), follow then its recitation (qur’ānahu).” Believers are also told in the Qur’ān to “remember” (i.e. udhkur), “preserve,” (i.e. ta ) and “read [aloud]” (i.e. qur’ān; tartīl; tilāwa) when reciting. The ideal reading of the Qur’ān is described as occupying the full concentration of the reciter; this activity is said to be one of which God, who is omniscient, is aware ( q 10:61). The Qur’ān also recommends its reading at night as an act of supererogatory piety (q.v.; q 3:113-4; see vigils ).

The Qur’ān contains many descriptions of its effects on listeners even as it is being recited; these, naturally, also function prescriptively in a qur’ānic context (see ritual and the qur’ān ). The Qur’ān provides numerous depictions of embodied, emotive responses to itself when it describes the normative response among believers to hearing its message recited to them. For instance, the recitation of the Qur’ān causes the senses of the faithful to react with “shivering” skin, “trembling” heart (q.v.), and weeping (q.v.; e.g. q 19:58 and 39:23). Descriptions of such embodied responses to the recited Qur’ān's message are often immediately followed with an affirmation of a corresponding change in the listeners' moral state, such as the following: “When it is recited to them, they fall down upon their faces, prostrating (see bowing and prostration ), and say: ‘Glory be to our lord (see glorification of god; laudation )! Our lord's promise is fulfilled.’ And they fall down upon their ¶ faces, weeping; and it increases them in humility” ( q 17:107-9); and, “And when they hear what has been sent down to the messenger, you see their eyes overflow with tears because of what they have recognized of truth (q.v.). They shout: ‘Our lord! We believe’; so you will write us down among the witnesses [to the truth]” ( q 5:83; see witnessing and testifying ).

Traditions on recitation

Throughout the formative history of the development of the sciences of qur’ānic “readings” (qirā’āt) and tajwīd up to the present day, Muslims have based the theory and practice of the recited Qur’ān upon the most authoritative of sources: first, the Qur’ān and accounts relating the practice of the prophet Muḥammad (ḥadīth; see adīth and the qur’ān ); and, second, accounts about the Companions of the Prophet (q.v.) and those who followed them. Within this material, it is ḥadīth reports that convey the ideal intensity of qur’ānic engagement through the ethico-legal injunction to follow the model of the Prophet ( sunna [q.v.]; see also law and the qur’ān; ethics and the qur’ān ).

Ḥadīth collections include many separate accounts indicating that Muḥammad valued beautiful voices among readers of the Qur’ān, such as the following reports of statements ascribed to the Prophet as collected by al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870) and others: “He is not one of us who does not sing (yataghannā) the Qur’ān,” and, “God has not heard anything more pleasing than listening to a prophet reciting the Qur’ān in a sweet, loud voice.” Also transmitted in al-Bukhārī and other collections, on the authority of Abū Mūsā l-Ash`arī, there is the report that the Prophet said, “O Abū Mūsā! You have been given one of the musical instruments [voice] of the family of David (q.v.)!” Compilers of traditions also ¶ relate accounts about the Prophet's reaction to hearing the Qur’ān, such as his shedding tears.

Ḥadīth accounts also preserve information about the prophet Muḥammad's own recitation of the Qur’ān. Ḥadīth material includes detailed information about particular sūras (q.v.) recited by Muḥammad; they report, for example, which sūras the Prophet preferred to recite at particular times of day (see day, times of ), as well as which parts of the Qur’ān the Prophet would repeat in his recitation (related to this is the abundant ḥadīth material on the merits of the recitation of particular sūras of the Qur’ān). Ḥadīth accounts provide some detail about the Prophet's comportment in recitation, such as the following report in al-Bukhārī: “`Ā’isha (see `ā’isha bint abī bakr ) narrated: ‘Whenever the Prophet went to bed every night, he used to cup his hands together and blow over them after reciting Sūrat al-Ikhlāṣ ( q 112, “Unity”; also termed al-Tawḥīd), Sūrat al-Falaq ( q 113, “The Dawn”) and Sūrat al-Nās ( q 114, “People”), and then rub his hands over whatever parts of his body he was able to rub, starting with his head, face and front of his body. He used to do that three times.’” (aī, viii, 110, no. 4372). The Prophet also enjoyed listening to the recitation of others, and there are many reports about weeping when hearing the Qur’ān recited (e.g. Bukhārī, aī, viii, 122-3, nos. 4411-3), based on his practice.

In general, accepted ḥadīth accounts and other authoritative material from the earliest period of Islam emphasize the occasions and merits of recitation rather than practical technique. Later authorities continued the precedent of collecting reports about the recitation practice of the prophet Muḥammad, also compiling further information about the recitation habits of other pious people. This material on the proper comportment (adab) of ¶ recitation documents the recitation practices of famous religious figures, such as the first four caliphs in Sunnī tradition (see caliph ). These reports provide information on matters such as the desirability of completing the recitation of the entire Qur’ān at nightfall, daybreak, and just before prayer times (see dawn; evening ); they also treat common challenges that reciters face, like confusing pauses and starts in sectioning. Issues that recur in this recitation literature include, for example, questions of how rapidly to recite and what is the proper portion of the book to complete in a given amount of time. One report transmitted by Abū Dāwūd (d. 275/889) and al-Tirmidhī (d. 279/892), for example, states, “Whoever recites the Qur’ān in less than three days does not understand it” (Nawawī, Tibyān, 103). Al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) sums up many such reports that were in circulation about the reading of the Qur’ān, from canonical ḥadīth collections and elsewhere, in his Iyā’ `ulūm al-dīn (Book 8).

Much of the authoritative material on the adab (comportment) of recitation addresses the intents behind recitation, such as that of seeking a worldly reward or payment for teaching or performance (see reciters of the qur’ān ). It also includes strong prohibitions against reciting the Qur’ān ostentatiously or for show, a matter addressed in accepted ḥadīth traditions. For example, al-Bukhārī reports (aī, viii, 123, no. 4415): “Abū Sa`īd al-Khudrī narrated: I heard God's messenger saying: ‘There will appear some among you whose prayers will make you look down on yours, and whose fasting will make you look down on yours, and whose (good) deeds will make you look down on yours; but they will recite the Qur’ān and it will not exceed their throats.’” Another well-known report in most collections compares the piety of ¶ Qur’ān readers with the sweet and bitter smells and tastes of different plants and fruits. In this literature, the danger of such hypocrisy is balanced by the instruction to focus on the voicing of the speech (q.v.) of God (see also word of god ). There is a ḥadīth, for example, that the Prophet said: “Read the Qur’ān as long as your hearts are in harmony with it. When they are not in harmony, get up and stop reading it” (Bukhārī, aī, viii, 124, no. 4417; also reported in Muslim's aī).

Within the material known as Adab tilawāt al-Qur’ān, “Comportment of reciting the Qur’ān,” and Faā’il al-Qur’ān, “Excellences of the Qur’ān,” there is strong emphasis on the idea that the recitation of the Qur’ān brings both individual and collective rewards. This is, for example, expressed in the following statement of Abū Hurayra (d. ca. 58/678), cited in sources such as al-Ghazālī's Iyā’ `ulūm al-dīn (Book 8): “Surely the house in which the Qur’ān is recited provides easy circumstances for its people, its good increases, angels come to it [in order to listen to the Qur’ān] and satans leave it. The house in which the Book of God is not recited provides difficult circumstances for its people, its good decreases, angels leave it, and satans come to it” (Ghazālī, Recitation, 25; there are many versions of this report). In addition to describing the immediate peace and tranquility ( sakīna; see shekhinah ) that descends when the Qur’ān is read by the pious in this world, the results of the act of recitation, including knowing the Qur’ān by heart and not forgetting it, as well as “learning and teaching” the Qur’ān, are emphasized many times in numerous accounts found in the major ḥadīth collections. Such consequences of piety and committed action are not only described in terms of this world, but also with respect to the accounting of the day of judgment ¶ and future existence in the world to come (see last judgment; reward and punishment ).

In an eschatological mode (see eschatology ) of devotional piety, it is said that the Qur’ān itself will testify to the pious practice of the reader in his or her lifetime. In many ḥadīth and other pious literature such as al-Ghazālī's Iyā’ `ulūm al-dīn (Book 8), rewards for reciting the Qur’ān that will be credited on the day of judgment are calculated sūra by sūra and even āya by āya, based on reports in collections such as Abū Dāwūd, Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Muslim, al-Nasā`ī and al-Tirmidhī (see Wensinck, Handbook, 131). Not only sūra by sūra, or āya by āya, but there are even claims that rewards may be achieved letter by letter (see arabic script; numerology; magic; popular and talismanic uses of the qur’ān ), such as the report transmitted by al-Tirmidhī: “For every letter that you read you will get tenfold reward,” and the report that Ibn Mas`ūd (d. 32/652-3) said: “[The Prophet] said ‘Read the Qur’ān for you will be rewarded at the rate of [the recompense of] ten good deeds (q.v.) for reading every letter of the Qur’ān. Take notice, I do not say that alif lām mīm [a combination of three letters that opens q 2; see mysterious letters ] constitute one letter. Rather, I should say that alif is one letter, lām is another, and mīm is [still] another’” (Ghazālī, Recitation, 24).

The development of early traditions of ascetic piety lent heightened emphasis to such material within Islamic tradition (see asceticism ). Among the heirs to this early qur’ānic tradition of piety, Ṣūfīs especially developed the soteriological and interiorized qur’ānic traditions (see polysemy; ūfism and the qur’ān ). Statements of well-known Ṣūfīs represent the Qur’ān as having a palpable presence for practitio-¶ ners in their dreams as well as in waking states (see dreams and sleep ). This presence is depicted as an ongoing intimacy, at times framed in terms of the key concept of “friendship” ( wilāya; see friends and friendship; clients and clientage ). This is indicated by personal accounts, as well as in prophetic narrations, such as: “Those who are concerned with the Qur’ān ( ahl al-Qur’ān) are friends of God ( awliyā’ Allāh) and are special to him,” which al-Ghazālī, for example, relates on the authority of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 241/845). Ideally, engaging the Qur’ān in practice should conform to the reciter's close and immediate experience of the reading in his or her “heart.” This ideal is central to the tradition of the recitation of the Qur’ān in pietistic circles.

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Tajwīd and systems of recitation

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