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The Art of Quran Recitation

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The Noble Prophet (s) said, “Recite the Quran with a good voice, for a good voice adds to the beauty of the Quran.” We learn from the above narration that reciting the Quran melodiously and with a good voice dates back to the early days of Islam: the era of the Prophet (s). In this article featured on Islam4u, we will dive deep into the ocean of the art of Quran recitation.

How Should We Recite the Quran?

The Quran has told us how we must recite the Quran in verse four of Surah Muzzammil:

وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

And recite the Quran in a measured tone.

Interpreters and exegetes have given different commentaries as to the meaning of tarteel, also spelled tartil. However, what they all agree upon is that tarteel means reciting the Quran consecutively and with a steady rhythm. This steady rhythm beautifies the words of Allah and implementing melodious tones simultaneously will result in a beautiful Quran recitation.

What Types of Tarteel Do We Have?

Scholars of Quran recitation have divided tarteel into three branches. The basis is how slow or fast the recitation is. The three types of tarteel are as follows:

1. Tadweer: This means that the Quran is recited at a medium to fast pace while maintaining a steady and constant rhythm, observing the rules of tajweed, and making use of Quranic melodies at the same time. This type of tarteel is usually used to record a recitation of the whole Quran. There are many compilations of the whole Quran recited by famous reciters in this style of recitation.

2. Tahqeeq: Tahqeeq is a slower rendering of the Quran. The rhythm is similar to the tadweer style, but the speed is much slower. This type of recitation is accompanied by a much more melodious performance by the reciter. Therefore, tahqeeq is mainly used in live gatherings where people want to listen, enjoy, and ponder the verses of the Quran.

3. Tahdeer: Tahdeer is a very fast recitation of the Quran. It is essentially a faster form of tadweer where the rules of tajweed are still observed, yet the tempo of the recitation is much faster. This style of recitation is used for listeners who want to quickly recite the whole Quran along with the reciter.

Who Is Eligible for Reciting the Quran?

Not any person who knows a little about Quran recitation is qualified to recite the Quran melodiously even if they have a good voice. There are certain prerequisites to reciting the Quran. First and foremost, a reciter must be well-acquainted with the rules of tajweed. Tajweed consists of the phonetic and articulatory rules of the consonants, vowels, and other elements of Quran reading and recitation. Only a master of tajweed is qualified to recite the Quran melodiously. However, knowing tajweed is not enough. A reciter must also know waqf wa al-ibtida’, that is, the science of stopping and continuing. They must know on what words to stop and on what words to continue.

What Else Must a Reciter Know?

After mastering the science of tajweed and waqf wa al-ibtida’, a reciter must learn the Arabic musical modes, known as maqamat. They are vocal musical modes that have been passed down from one reciter to the other by word of mouth. As a result, the best way of learning these modes is through listening and imitating the qualified and world-renowned reciters of the Quran. Fortunately, nowadays with the advances in technology, the recitations of almost all professional reciters of the Quran are available on the internet. Some good reciters one can learn the maqamat from include Sheikh Mustafa Ismail, Sheikh Muhammad Siddqi al-Minshawi, Sheikh Abdul Basit Muhammad Abd al-Samad, Sheikh Shahat Muhammad Anwar, and Sheikh Kamil Yusuf al-Bahtimi.

Is Learning Maqamat Without a Teacher Possible?

Learning the maqamat without a qualified Quran teacher who knows the maqamat is not very practical. This is because one would not know which maqam is which. In other words, differentiating the maqamat would not be possible. Therefore, a student of Quran recitation must seek the guidance of knowledgeable teachers of Quranic maqamat. They would tell them which maqam is which. After passing these three stages, meaning (1) mastering tajweed, (2) mastering waqf wa al-ibtida’, and (3) mastering maqamat, an individual can now begin reciting the Quran melodiously and artistically.

What Are the Maqamat?

Learning the maqamat, their names, and the correct way of using them is crucially important for those who wish to recite the Quran melodiously. There are eight main maqamat:

1. Saba (صَبا)

2. Nahawand (نَهاوَند)

3. Ajam (عَجَم)

4. Bayati (بَياتي)

5. Sikah (سیکاه)

6. Hijaz (حِجاز)

7. Rast (رَست)

8. Kurd (کُرد)

The first letter of these maqamat can be joined together to form the phrase صُنِعَ بِسَحَرِك.

Maqam Saba

Each of these maqamat evokes a specific vibe and emotion that must conform with the meaning of the verses being recited. The choice of maqamat to be used for different verses is sometimes subjective. That is, some reciters prefer specific maqamat for certain verses while others prefer other maqamat for the same verses. For example, both Saba and Hijaz are considered sad maqams. A reciter may choose to use either for verses that talk about punishment and the wrath of Allah. Using these two maqamat may cause the listener to take heed of such warnings and avoid going against the commands of Allah. Most experts believe Saba is a more sad maqam than Hijaz.

Maqam Nahawand

Nahawand is neither too happy nor sad of a maqam. It is said that it evokes strength, grandeur, and valor. It may be used for verses that tell stories that involve battles and epic encounters. Once again, the use of maqam Nahawand is subjective. Some like to use it in verses about Allah’s might and majesty and His attributes.

Maqam Ajam

Maqam Ajam is generally considered a happy maqam. Therefore, it is often used for verses that are about the glad tidings of paradise and the rewards of believers. Maqam Ajam is a very soothing and delicate maqam that has many ups and downs, making it a very beautiful maqam.

Maqam Bayati

Maqam Bayati is known as the “Mother of Maqamat” due to its frequent usage and wide range of family members. Maqam Bayati is a maqam used to start and end one’s recitation. Of course, it is also used in the middle of one’s recitation, making it the most used maqam. In general, maqam Bayati is neutral in that it is neither too happy nor too sad. It strikes a balance between happiness and sadness. As a result, maqam Bayati can be used for many verses.

Maqam Sikah

Maqam Sikah is one of the happiest maqamat. It is used in verses that talk about paradise, the rewards of believers, and Allah’s blessings and beauty.

Maqam Hijaz

Maqam Hijaz evokes feelings of loneliness and sadness and is usually used when Allah is warning us about different things such as not committing sins or reminding us of the punishments of the hereafter.

Maqam Rast

Maqam Rast is a very powerful maqam and as the name indicates, it is upright and assertive. Rast is not a sad maqam. It resembles happy maqamat much more than sad ones. Maqam Rast is usually used in verses that talk about facts and true things. For example, verses that talk about how the Quran is incapable of being distorted can be recited in maqam Rast.

Maqam Kurd

Maqam Kurd is an extremely emotional maqam. It has sadness, but the kind of sadness is out of spirituality, enlightenment, and mystical joy. Imagine a person who has woken up in the middle of the night and prays to Allah while shedding tears. These tears are out of joy rather than mourning. This is exactly how maqam Kurd is. Maqam Kurd is a very delicate and difficult maqam to perform in a Quran recitation. Interestingly, blind reciters of the Quran are particularly adept at and inclined to use this maqam in their recitations. Verses that are about Allah, His attributes, grandeur, might, and compassion are good instances to use this maqam.

The Three Registers of the Maqamat

In the recitation of the Quran, there are three registers in which the maqamat may be used. They are:

  1. Qarar: The lowest register of a maqam. Qarar could be different from one reciter to another. In other words, one reciter may have a lower or higher qarar than another reciter. However, what matters is that qarar is the lowest tone a given reciter can recite in.
  2. Jawab: Jawab is known as the middle register. To be exact, it is seven notes higher than qarar, meaning the eighth note on the first octave. All reciters can recite in this register.
  3. Jawab al-Jawab: Jawab al-jawab is the highest register of a maqam. It is the highest note, meaning the eighth note on the second octave of a maqam. Not all reciters can recite in this register. Only those who have a powerful and flexible voice can recite in this register.

Mastering the Maqamat and Other Techniques

It takes years of practice and hard work to master the maqamat. One must find a proficient master of the maqamat and Quran recitation and train under their care. They will tell you what to do, which reciter to imitate, which maqamat to learn first, and will give many other tips for perfecting your recitation of the Quran. Of course, these teachers of the Quran must also be masters of tajweed and waqf wa al-ibtida’ so that they could help you in those areas as well.

Maintenance of a Quran Reciter

A reciter of the Quran must recite the Quran for life. Reciting the Quran is not something one does intermittently. If you want to become an artistic Quran reciter, you must practice and recite the Quran every single day. The best times to practice are not just at home, but also during live performances in front of an audience, and better yet, in front of your teacher and mentor. Think of Quran recitation as bodybuilding. If a bodybuilder decides not to train for months, what will happen to their body? It will get out of shape. Likewise, a Quran reciter must keep reciting the Quran if they wish to remain a Quran reciter. You must enjoy reciting the Quran melodiously. It should become your hobby.

Is Reciting the Quran Melodiously Halal?

Many ask this question. Under what circumstances is a melodious recitation haram? The answer is straightforward. If a recitation of the Quran resembles singing, the kind of singing that is done in centers of sin, such as discos, night clubs, and even concerts, that recitation of the Quran is not permissible. However, if all the rules of Quran recitation are observed and the reciter recites the Quran in a way that is more like reciting the Quran than singing, it is permissible.

Conclusion

The art of Quran recitation has existed for centuries. Reciters have handed down their knowledge and skills of Quran recitation from one generation to the next. Quran recitation requires much effort in different areas including tajweed, waqf wa al-ibtida’, and maqamat. After years of practice under a knowledgeable and skilled master of Quran recitation, one can become a successful reciter of the Quran. It is important to continue performing Quran recitations if one wishes to maintain their skills in Quran recitation. In the end, Quran recitation has to become a lifestyle for an individual if they wish to remain an artistic Quran reciter.

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