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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

14-year-old memorizes Quran

He can recite all 114 chapters, making him key figure at mosque

JEFF DIAMANT

Religion News Service


PISCATAWAY, N.J. - For three hours a day, every day for four years,
young Asahn Kadeer has practiced memorizing the Quran, its curvy Arabic
letters, dots and dashes dancing in his head.

When not immersed in class work, PlayStation 2 or watching the
Philadelphia 76ers, the 14-year-old learned to recite all 114 chapters, or
surahs, of Islam's sacred book, mastering the precise inflections of the
words.

During Ramadan, which began Oct. 4, the teen stands up before more than
50 Muslims at the Dar-Ul Islam mosque in Elizabeth and recites one part
of the Quran each night of the Islamic holy month. Asahn's
accomplishment is rare in America, where there are few native Quran reciters; so
few, that many mosques have to pay to host reciters -- known as hafiz --
from another country.

The shortage makes Asahn in demand with area imams. He continues to
work hard, though, practicing each night so the words don't slip from his
memory, and to improve his command.

"I read too fast, which I shouldn't," Asahn said, assessing his
abilities on a break from memorization class at An-Noor Academy, an Islamic
school in Piscataway. "I read low, I don't read that loud. ... Sometimes
I feel like I think I'm going to have some mistakes, or I feel like,
`I'm going to miss this word.' "

Muslim leaders in New Jersey who know Asahn, however, are thrilled with
his aptitude, and say young people like him who can recite the Quran
signal a coming maturity for the American Muslim community.

"There has been less and less emphasis, especially in the Western
countries, on memorization as a means of learning, but throughout the Muslim
world, it is still very strong," said Imam Raouf Zaman of the Muslim
Center of Middlesex County, which is associated with An-Noor. "I think
personally it is an important tool for learning."

In predominantly Muslim countries, most people who know the Quran by
heart began learning it as children, imams say. The tradition of hafiz
began in the early days of Islam, when written copies of the Quran were
scarce. The religion was under constant threat, making the hafiz
essential to preservation. A hafiz is accorded certain privileges within his
community -- as well as in the hereafter, it's taught.

More American Muslim children are trying to memorize the Quran. In
Lawrenceville, Ga., a 6-year-old boy was honored by his mosque in July for
memorizing it, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Asahn's school is among just a few in New Jersey that teach
memorization of the Quran. The program is three years old. Some 30 of An-Noor's
195 students opt to take it, said Sheikh Ahmad Salem, the principal.

Memorizing the entire Quran, more than 400 pages, usually takes
students three or four years, Salem said.

It is an important feat, he said, because "we need to keep the Quran
saved in the hearts. On Ramadan we are (supposed) to read from the heart,
not read from the book."

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