بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
One of the most beneficial legacies that a Muslim parent can leave behind for their child, is to facilitate their connection with the Qur’an from early childhood in such a way, that it leads to them having a heart that is steadfastly attached to the Qur’an, a tongue that recites it ― correctly and melodiously ― with fluid ease, and a soul that pines for daily connection with it, ― all, in order to get closer to Allah.
Teaching little children how to get started upon reading the Qur’an is a complicated (and often, largely misunderstood) concept, and is approached in a rather unwise and rushed manner, especially among most non-Arab South Asians (Indians and Pakistani’s).
It is often implemented according to a strategy that results in Muslim children gradually lose touch with the Arabic recitation of the Qur’an as they grow older and start practical life, after hitting the age of puberty. When higher studies, marriage, and careers enter the picture, the young Muslim adult finds it tough to willingly, properly, and fruitfully recite even two pages of the Qur’an every day, let alone with strict adherence to its rules of recitation, deep reflection stemming from sincere interest, and a cursory understanding of the Divine Arabic words that lead to righteous actions.
What I have noticed in the adults around me, who are mostly born (non-Arab) Muslims, is that they struggle throughout their lives to correctly pronounce/recite the Arabic words of the Qur’an, in a rhythmic manner. They also struggle to practically implement the Qur’anic injunctions in their practical (domestic and professional) lives (and yes, and I do mean the obligatory injunctions, not the supererogatory ones).
Pure Faith, Belief, & Intention: The Key Ingredients of Qur’an Learning
How adults should go about this process, viz. trying to learn how to recite the Qur’an and how to teach their children to do so as well, and how soon they will find success in their endeavors, depends upon the beliefs they have about the Qur’an in their hearts. In addition, it will also depend upon the vision they have in mind as the desired outcome of the whole practice.
You see, there are several ways that a Muslim can, and should, connect to the Arabic “text” of the Qur’an. We must recall, however, that this “text”, which we now hold in a the form of a bound book, was and is actually the spoken word of Allah.
The Qur’an was revealed by archangel Jibreel upon the heart of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the form of audible words, which the latter memorized and repeated to his companions, who also memorized them.
For years, it was repeated like this to others i.e. verbatim, who listened to it attentively, memorized the sacred words, then repeated them in their prayers. The Qur’an was an extremely soul-stirring, poetic kalam (“word”) that penetrated the hearts and souls of those who listened to it attentively and understood its meanings.
The question that remains for us, is: how necessary is it for a non-Arab Muslim to be able to recite the Qur’an properly?
The answer is: it is an absolute necessity if they desire to get exponentially closer to Allah throughout their life, and to taste the sweetness of faith more and more, as the years.
However, the connection that a Muslim has with the Arabic text of the Qur’an, should not be limited to just being able to read it and recite it properly. It should also be accompanied by the intention to understand the Arabic words of the Qur’an directly, and to use the understanding of these words for personal guidance that leads to doing better deeds and getting more and more close to Allah during the life of this world (not for any other worldly gain, including praise, admiration, and recognition from people).
Now, how one goes about doing the above, is something that requires deeper analysis. So, I will suggest a multi-stage strategy about how a child should be introduced to the Qur’an, with a deep emphasis on doing it step-by-step and gradually, fueled by genuine interest and ability (which varies from child to child).
This is because, I think that a child who has yet to learn how to read and recite the Qur’an, is not much different from an adult who wishes to do the same i.e. a grown-up Muslim who has drifted away from the Qur’an (after having been
forced taught how to read its text during childhood) and wishes to come back.
The only difference between the two ― and Allah knows best ― is perhaps their recognition of the Arabic letters and their consonants, and basic Arabic phonics (more on that at the end of this post).
So here we go.
At this point, I think it would be helpful if you go through my article: Define the “Qur’an Vision” For Your Family. Seriously, do go ahead and read it in order to decide what exactly is it that you envision for yourself and your family regarding the Qur’an, in the future.
Because, like I said, the wrong vision based on paltry, worldly intentions (primarily, showing off) will not yield long-lasting and permanently beneficial results.
Then, you should continue to read this post, below:
Listening: The Start
In the Qur’an itself, Allah has repeatedly mentioned how listening to the recitation of His blessed word, with a heart that is present and focused upon it, and sans distractions and other noises around, has a profound effect on a person.
Also ― and note this point very carefully ― this close listening of the recitation of the Qur’an should be done with an expert, righteous and Allah-conscious Qur’an reciter, who understands what he or she is reciting, and feels the effect of the words upon their hearts.
Sad to say, this practice, of listening closely and attentively to the Qur’an being recited aloud by a righteous reciter who understands what they are reciting, and recites it without making any major mistakes, is greatly undermined today.
Even when someone listens to Qur’an recitation, they treat it more like a background ‘filler’ sound, or put it on just for receiving blessings in their homes, or in their business/means of earning provision. They also might talk to others when the Qur’an is being played aloud (e.g. on a CD). All of this undermines the positive effect of the Qur’an upon their hearts.
Muslims should believe that the Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic language for good reason; that it is an Arabic spoken word that Allah Has made easy for them to understand, as He has Himself said so in the Qur’an; and that if a person (even a non-Arab) will attentively listen to the Qur’an being recited, without getting distracted i.e. with full attention upon its Divine words, it will help them to understand it, absorb it in their hearts, and eventually, to connect to Allah through it.
This is the most useful and beneficial way to start young children off on their journey of learning the Qur’an i.e. reading, understanding, reciting, and memorizing (and not in that particular order). A human being should be made to listen to Qur’an while they are a mere embryo in their mother’s womb. The moment an embryo developing inside her womb develops its hearing system (ears), the mother should make it listen to the Qur’an. This happens when she enters her 4th month of pregnancy, more or less.
If you want this strategy to be successful, however, you cannot allow other bad influences to trickle into your innocent child’s life, along with the positive ones. In most homes, children tune into “laghw” programs on television not too long after their daily Qur’an class with the maulvi/qari sahib is over. This greatly undermines (or even undoes) the positive effect of the Qur’an upon anyone’s heart (even adults’).
My advice: up until age 7-10, keep all kinds of music (even halal nasheeds), video games, cartoons, TV, and films away from your child, and expose them (day and night) to only the recitation of the Qur’an.
Easier said than done, yes, but not totally impossible. Stop whining about having no control over the tarbiyah (moral character-building) of your children, and take a firm, polite stand for it.
In addition, enforce the rule of absolute silence when the Qur’an is being recited. Young children pick this rule up and act upon it very quickly. Your children ― being the pure, clean slates that they are, with pure hearts that are upon the fitrah (natural dispositon) ― will soon not only come to love listening to the Qur’an, but will also hastily be able to memorize it (subconsciously). This is because their pure, sinless hearts absorb the Qur’an more quickly than an adult’s does.
Do allow younger children (ages 0 to 7) to play with toys or do any other activity when the Qur’an is playing aloud, though (such as building or coloring). They are too young to sit still, let alone pay constant attention. So, let them do something else, as long as they do it quietly.
Natural Memorization & Recitation (Repetition of What is Heard)
Children who have been made to listen to the Qur’an since their early years, eventually begin to recite what they have been hearing….and guess what? They recite it exactly (and I do mean, exactly) the way they heard it being recited.
They will even pause at the exact place where the reciter paused, repeat the portions of verses that the reciter repeated, and emphasize with a loud voice the same words that the reciter emphasized with a louder voice!
It is truly amazing!
However, there is an interval between the time when a child starts to listen to the Qur’an, and when they reproduce it on their tongues.
This is what I have noticed with each one of my three children i.e. they would be listening (and quietly absorbing) the Divine words of Allah daily, for weeks, months, or even a few years, before they started to reproduce them verbatim.
This interval varies according to each child’s innate development system. So do not hasten them along or get impatient with their progress. Let each child connect to the beautiful words of Allah at their own pace, and according to their own interest. Each child is different.
Lastly, kindly refrain from making your child recite the Qur’an in front of others with the intention of garnering praise and admiration. An innocent little child who associates their recitation of the Qur’an with the reception of praise/admiration from people, won’t go very far in acting upon the Qur’an in adult life, unless they repent and check themselves in time.
So, be careful. Do not use your child’s early & strong grasp of the Qur’an as a means of acquiring an ego boost as their parent.
Listening Combined With Textual Reading
Finally, we come to the reading the Arabic script/text of the Qur’an: the much coveted result we all seek for our children, as quickly as possible.
Please remember the following learning sequence that any human child follows as far as learning a language is concerned:
- Reproducing (i.e. verbally speaking it)
- Reading (the symbols/letters/script)
- Writing (using the hand)
It might take some time before your child willingly picks up the Qur’an mushaf to endeavor to read the hitherto illegible script inside.
You must be thinking, “But I cannot just let my children randomly listen to the Qur’an day in and day out without doing something more!”
Fine, have it your way. Do “something more”. Force them to sit still, and force them to read a text that they do not feel connected to. Force them to pronounce Arabic letters that they haven’t even heard being properly pronounced yet, by a speaker who deeply understands what he is reciting.
It is your choice.
If your own recitation of Qur’an is still lacking, and if you are not satisfied with the level at which you have connected to the Qur’an throughout your life (starting from childhood), then perhaps you can open up your mind a little bit more about my method, and then give it a shot? OK?
I am an unschooling mother, remember? I never force my children to learn anything they do not have an interest in, but I do have strict limits about any pastime/company that I think is morally detrimental for them. Also, I do introduce them to morally beneficial pastimes gradually, with love, encouragement and using gentle motivational techniques.
Anyhow, for any reader of this post to really be able to understand and benefit from what I am trying to say here, they will have to be unschooled a little themselves. By that I mean, they should try to ‘unprogram’ and ‘unlearn’ whatever they hitherto know and believe about learning and education, and allow new, alternative ideas to enter their brains.
Anyhow, a child who has been made to listen to the Arabic of the Qur’an according to the above strategy (remember, this has to be accompanied by an absence of anything “laghw” viz. music, television, addictive games, and films ― for it to work) for some years, e.g. from age 1 till age 7, will eventually want to pick up a Qur’an mushaf and try to read it. Willingly. Longingly. With a deep wishfulness and desire to know it more.
Yup. Not exaggerating about this at all!
They actually want to pick up and read the blessed Divine writ that they have been listening to and absorbing since so many years, which their heart is so attached to. The words of which resonate and move around in their brains, and on their tongues, day and night.
This will happen at different ages for different children, however. Some might pick up the mushaf sooner, others later. But it will happen.
Just like the writing and binding of the Qur’an was the last stage in the preservation of the Qur’an during the first generation of Muslims (the first being its verbal recitation, memorization, and then repetition in prayers), Allah will also make your child gravitate towards the written/printed text of the Qur’an after they have been listening to it and repeating it verbatim for some years.
Their eyes will seek out those beautiful Arabic letters that combine on paper to form the lovely words which are resonating in their brains, ensconced in their hearts, and rolling off so beautifully from their tongues in such a pronounced, vocal manner.
Children love the Qur’an! When not forced to, a child who has been listening closely for years to the Qur’an being recited by a righteous reciter who understands, and is affected by, the words that he or she is reciting, will gravitate towards the Qur’an and its reading the way a honeybee gravitates towards nectar-producing blossoms.
Now, this is the time that you introduce them to the practice of the reading of the Qur’an, by asking them to adhere to the following simple method:
- Let an older person (e.g. you, their mother) recite a particular portion of the Qur’an, while the child has that portion open in the mushaf before them. Recall one very important point regarding this that I have already mentioned above: the child should only be made to listen to the Qur’an recited by a person who understands what he or she is reciting.
So if you, or their maulvi sahib, does not understand the Arabic of the Qur’an directly, nor does it touch their heart whilst they recite it, I would suggest that you use the audio/CD of the recitation of one of the more credible and well-known reciters in the world today, whose heart trembles with the effect of the beautiful words of the Qur’an, as they recite. Sheikh Abdur Rahman Al-Sudais is our favorite. Sheikh Mishary Rashid Al-Afasy is also very popular among children.
- Ask the child to place a finger on the words in the text of the mushaf as the reciter/Qari recites them. If the child has been introduced to the Arabic letters of the alphabet already (this is explained further, under the heading below), it will not be long before they pick up the correct words in the text as they are being recited. That is, they will know which word is where.
And that is it! It will not be long before they child is reading the Qur’an on their own! Without being forced to, with correct pronunciation of the Arabic words. Insha’Allah. 🙂
When to Introduce Letters
A child should be introduced to the shapes/symbols of the letters in the Arabic alphabet and their correct sounds (phonics) in the age range of age 2 to 7.
How soon they effectively pick them up and learn to identify each letter correctly, is a milestone that will vary from child and child. The key is to introduce them to Arabic letters and phonics in a slow, gradual, enjoyable, and unrushed manner, preferably in the form of games.
I have found magnetic Arabic letters attached to the fridge a great way to combine early learning with fun. A child will keep looking at these letters on the fridge ― and move them around to form words, as they grow older ― whenever they come into the kitchen to eat or drink something (which they do a lot). Learning will be complacent and subconscious, and also tactile/kinesthetic (when the letters are moved).
Please keep in mind, though, that the Arabic and Urdu alphabet & script (two languages that have many letters in common, ― with Urdu having some more) are not as easy for a child to grasp as English, whether we are talking about individual letters, or the bigger, 2-5 letter words (to form whichm these letters are joined together).
This is primarily because Arabic/Urdu letters change their shape when they are joined together to form words.
Different children show an interest in learning Arabic letters and phonics at different ages. The key is to introduce them to these letters slowly and gradually, making the process fun and easy.
And it is absolutely imperative that the person introducing them to the Arabic letters (and consonants), pronounces the phonics correctly.
Otherwise, once a child hits adulthood, it will be very difficult for them to learn to pronounce the more difficult letters (such as ط ― ‘tuaa‘) with their correct phonic (makhraj).
Speaking from personal experience (sigh).
The key to “making” a child learn to read, recite, understand, and act upon the Qur’an, lies in making them love it first.
They have to believe in their hearts ― without a shadow of doubt ― that it is the Divine word of Allah. They have to be kept away from negative influences and laghw pastimes in order to be able to connect to and absorb the Qur’an deeply.
When a child who has been able to connect to the Qur’an deeply like this throughout their childhood becomes an adult, it is only a matter of time before they ― with the will & help of Allah ― are able to seek out the resources and people needed to help them better understand the Qur’an, and act upon it.
Remember one last thing: in the era of our pious predecessors, Muslim children were taught just the Qur’an during their childhoods, before being allowed to move on to other branches of (religious and worldly) knowledge.
For more insights, buy my book, “How to Benefit From the Qur’an” from Amazon.