R'11 Day Twenty-Five: The Struggle to Understand

Alhamdulillah, I'm blessed and fortunate that despite not having come from an Arab cultural background per se, my parents did teach me how to read Quranic Arabic from a young age. I remember us having these books with the front cover falling off (they were from my parents' day!), and we'd read from them over and over again to try and memorize the Arabic alphabet. And then once we knew all the different intonations of EACH letter then we'd progress to 3-letter long words (THOSE were my favorite, I WHIZZED through them), and then onto short verses and finally (EEEEK! SQUEAL!), we went onto Sura Fatiha (which is recited during prayer and is a must know!). Then my grandparents on my dad's side visited, and suggested we continue on with Sura al-Baqarah, the longest chapter in the Quran.

But it didn't feel long to me at all. Something about how beautifully rhythmic the verses flowed when they were recited (MashaAllah amazing!) and how easily I memorized them really helped me recite through that chapter in shorter of a timeframe that I thought was possible. After our daily weeknight lessons (my grandparents visited us in the summer when we were off from school), my grandfather would read the English meaning, and I remember the book being old and therefore the English somewhat Shakespearean! But it was a good bonding time! My grandmother would encourage and peer over her glasses, occasionally saying "Shabaash" which means "well-done' in Urdu. Being the smarty-pants I was, I'd occasionally ask "Shabaash?!" from her and peered hopefully at her with wide eyes, causing her to laugh. I admit that reciting the Quran everyday at age 7 was a little tough and there were days I was tired of it and it was a struggle...but we were NEVER let off the hook! Which is a good thing I suppose.

To this day, Sura al-Baqarah holds great personal meaning. It's the first (LONG!) Surah I mastered and having heard it recited over and over again in my car and from reciting it myself, I've memorized a good chunk of verses, Alhamdulillah. My favourite reciter to hear this Sura is Abdul Baasit...his nephew (another amazing reciter!) Mohamed Yusuf is in Calgary this Ramadan and yet I have only heard him recite twice as he Mosque hops from night to night and no one (AHEM!!) seems to know which Mosque he'll be at on which night.

Ok, back to my whole point...while I did learn to recite Quranic Arabic, I wasn't really taught the meaning of individual words. So when I recite in Arabic, I have to go to an English version to try and understand what each verse is saying. Which is great and convenient, but I've never been satisfied with this arrangement. I've always WANTED to know what each word means, especially since I notice patterns with words that are repeated or appear in various conjugated forms. Yet I've never really found a way to do it without taking actual classes which conflict with working full-time...until now that is!

There's a page on Facebook called 'Quran for Busy People', and they have been advertising a program developed in the UK to teach people such as myself the meaning of individual Arabic words. I was skeptical, since the ads were a little too "infomercially" for my liking, and any program claiming to teach you to understand 70% of the words from the Quran in 60 days seemed a little preposterous! So my investigative side decided to investigate...

I watched the opening video and my interest in cognitive sciences peaked as the developer of the program justified why his program worked. And from my experience with language learning programs such as Rosetta Stone, and having studied learning and memory processes, this guy actually seemed to be onto something. His main premise is that the Quran consists of 300 words that compose 70% of the words you recite. So essentially, if you learn those 300 words, you would understand 70% of the Quran...let's add an "Inshallah" in here!

The 60-days part seemed a little much, considering especially that I started mid-way through Ramadan and my brain computational powers were sucked dry! I found it so hard to retain and focus and remember a single phrase, and Alhamdulillah not to brag, but I find my memory for details to be quite strong. However, after going through the first two lessons which covered Sura Fatiha and a couple of spoken duas that can be recited, I was STOKED!!! The feeling of knowing the meaning word by word, especially since Sura Fatiha is one everyone is comfortable with, was priceless! And what a smart move to make that the first two lessons, it's a confidence booster for a scared learner such as myself, and made it seem actually manageable.

And then my "it's like I'm back in school" instincts creeped back and I thought it was a stroke of genius to make actual flashcards for each of the 300 words (bare with me, I have logical reasoning behind this!). Knowing about learning processes, writing helps consolidate information into memory, and I KNEW that if I can picture myself writing out the Arabic that it would help me remember the meaning of each word. And OH MAN, I felt like a child learning to write the English alphabet for the first time, writing Arabic was very humbling. I had written small sentences before, but this was so much more challenging...

However, I will admit that writing out the Arabic words has helped me remember them. And I faintly write the English meanings of the words on the other side as a means to check that I'm right without cheating to try and read the English should it have been written in pen. I am my own worse enemy!!

So I really think that this program has promise. I know it's going to take dedicated and sticking to it everyday, yet i was prepared to put in the work for the outcome I desire. And I'll let you know how my struggle to understand turns out! 

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