Saturday, September 03, 2005
Boy, 6, has committed Quran to memory
By BILL OSINSKI
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/27/05
The little boy can barely comprehend the Quran, but he knows it word for word.
It took Safiyullah Khan
about 16 months of studying more than six hours a day to memorize the holy book of Islam, according to his father, the imam of the Georgia Islamic Institute in Lawrenceville.
What makes the remarkable achievement even more so is that the language of the Quran is Arabic, which is not Safiyullah's native tongue. More remarkable still is the fact that Safiyullah is still about four months shy of his seventh birthday.
Safiyullah, who was born in America, has American toys and loves to devour books from the local library. Yet, in his little boy's voice, he can rattle off any passage of the centuries-old foundation of his faith,according to his father and other religious leaders who've tested the boy.
The son's accomplishment is a source of pride to his father, Hafiz Ghaffar Khan. "It is very rare for a young boy of this age to be able to do this," said Khan, adding that he had not been able to find a record of anyone younger than Safiyullah having memorized the entire Quran.
More importantly, however, it demonstrates the central role of prayer in the life of a Muslim, he said. "Prayer is the most important duty of every Muslim," Khan said.
Other religions also place a high value on memorized prayer, sometimes in languages foreign to the student. Jewish students memorize passages from the Torah in Hebrew. Until church reforms in the 1960s, many Roman Catholics learned prayers and hymns in Latin, and studies in that language are still required of candidates for the priesthood. Memorizing Bible verses has long been a standard drill for children in Protestant vacation Bible schools.
But there is an added dimension to the memorization of Quranic prayer in Islam, Khan said. At most mosques, the five-times-daily prayers are typically led by a man who knows the prayers from memory, he said. During the holy month of Ramadan, memorized prayer is a requirement for the prayer leader at virtually all Muslim houses of worship. Also, it is typically required that an imam who knows the Quran by heart stand behind the prayer leader to offer corrections in case any mistakes are made.
That is why most Muslim boys start memorizing the Quran at an early age, Khan said. Making this more challenging is the fact that the book must be memorized in Arabic, no matter what the student's native language is.
In Safiyullah's case, Arabic is his third language. The family's first language is Urdu, the language of Khan's homeland, Pakistan. Safiyullah is also fluent in English, and his skills in that language are such that he can pick up an adult religious book and read it flawlessly.
Safiyullah does not yet fully understand the Arabic passages he has memorized, Khan said, but that will come, he said. Khan said he reviewed the boy's progress practically every day to ensure that the passages were being memorized correctly.
It is his hope that his son will follow in his footsteps and become an Islamic religious leader and scholar. He wants Safiyullah to earn the same name he earned, "Hafiz," which means "one who protects or preserves." But for at least a few more years, Safiyullah will also be a growing boy.
Inside the mosque, he usually wears a traditional costume of an embroidered silk tunic and pants, with a small knit prayer cap. Outside, he likes to ride his bicycle and play soccer or basketball with his older brothers. He plays computer games and Legos.
Safiyullah is being home schooled, but he doesn't have to be coaxed to go to the library; rather, he pesters his brothers to take him, and he typically goes more than once a week and comes back with eight to 10 new books each time. His favorite literary character is Arthur, the decidedly human-like young aardvark from the PBS television series.
Memorizing the hundreds of pages of the Quran he usually holds close to his small chest was a challenge, but not a chore, Safiyullah said. "It makes me happy," he said.
In late July, there was a brief recognition ceremony at the Lawrenceville mosque to honor Safiyullah's achievement.
Qazi Fazlullah , an imam from California and a longtime friend of Khan's, came for the event and tested Safiyullah on the sacred book. In a recent telephone interview, Fazlullah said he called out the chapter and verse designations of several passages. Not only did the boy recite them correctly, but his Arabic pronunciation was flawless, Fazlullah said.
"He is a child gifted by God," Fazlullah said, adding that in his research, he had to go back 350 years to find an account of a Muslim scholar who had memorized the Quran at the age of 7.
Shabbir Mansuri, founding director of the Los Angeles-based Council on Islamic Education, said it would be practically impossible to verify definitively the claim of a historical precedent for the boy's achievement. It is common for young boys to study to memorize the Quran, and in many Muslim communities, the age at which the complete book is memorized is usually not recorded, he said.
"What is celebrated is that the child has finished reading the Quran in Arabic," Mansuri explained.
"The age is not as important as the completion."
Others can assign historic significance to his feat, but the child prodigyis focused on the next level of the merging of the spirit and the mind.
"Very soon," Khan said, "he will be able to recite the entire Quran in one day."
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