Friday, July 31, 2009

Are we reciting the Qur’an correctly?

Listening to beautiful recitations of the Qur’an is enough to soften the hardest of hearts. We feel this even more in Ramadan when we are praying the Taraweeh. The difference between an Imam who recites with Tajweed rules and one who does not can easily be distinguished. We as Muslims are obligated to learn the correct recitation of the Qur’an. We recite the Qur’an in every Salah, but we do not realize the mistakes we may be doing because of incorrect recitation.

What is Tajweed
The word Tajweed linguistically means ‘proficiency’ or ‘doing something well’. It comes from the same root letters as the word ‘Jayyid’ in Arabic (meaning ‘good’). In the context of the Qur’an, Tajweed means to give every letter of the Qur’an its rights and dues while pronouncing them. Apart from the essential characteristics of letters, the rules that apply to them in different situations should also be observed.
The Qur’an was revealed with Tajweed rules applied to it. Angel Jibreel recited the words of Allah to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He recited and showed the Prophet (peace be upon him) the ways in which it was permissible to recite the Qur’an. So it is upon us to observe those rules and recite it in the way it was revealed.
At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) there was no need for people to study Tajweed because they talked with what is now known as Tajweed. It was natural for them. When the Arabs started mixing with the non-Arabs as Islam spread, mistakes in Qur’an’s recitation started appearing, so the scholars had to record the rules. Today the common Arabic that Arabs speak has changed so much from the classical Arabic in which the Qur’an was revealed that even Arabs have to study Tajweed.

Purpose of Tajweed
The Qur’an is the word of Allah, and its every syllable is from Allah. Its recitation must be taken very seriously. The purpose of the Science of Tajweed in essence is to make the reciter proficient in reciting the Qur’an, observing the correct pronunciation of every letter with the rulings and characteristics which apply to each letter, without any exaggeration or deficiency. And so through this the reciter can recite the Qur’an upon the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who received it from Jibreel who received it from Allah Almighty.

Categories of mistakes
Scholars have divided the types of mistakes one might fall into when reciting the Qur’an into two categories:

1. Clear mistakes
Mistakes in words which are clear and inconspicuous, usually changing the meaning. Mistakes related to correct pronunciation of letters so that letters are not mixed up. Examples of clear mistakes:
• Changing one letter into another. For instance, reading Qaaf as Kaaf.
• Changing a short vowel (harakah) into another. For instance, changing Fathah into Damma
• Not observing the elongations (Madd) at all. Reciting them quickly as if there is no Madd so that they turn into the length of a vowel.
• Elongating a normal harakah as if it were a Madd.
• Stopping or starting at an incorrect place so that the meaning is spoilt. Like stopping at ‘Laa ilaaha’ (There is no god), without completing ‘illAllah’ (except Allah).
Majority of the scholars agree that learning Tajweed rules to avoid clear mistakes is an obligation on every Muslim (Fard ‘Ayn).

2. Obscure (hidden) mistakes
Mistakes that have to do with perfecting pronunciation. They are not obvious and are known only to those who have studied Tajweed rules or are experts in this field. Common Muslims may not be able to identify them. Examples of hidden mistakes:
• Not being exact in the elongation of letters For instance, reciting the Madd shorter or longer by a 1/2 or even 1/4 degree.
• Not observing the attributes of each letter perfectly. For instance, slightly rolling the Raa or exaggerating the ‘N’ sound in Noon.
• Not observing the rules of pronunciation of some letters when they are next to each other. The rule of Idghaam, for instance.
• Pronouncing light letters heavy and heavy letters light. However, by doing this, if one changes a letter into another, it will become an obvious mistake.
Learning these rules to avoid the not-so-obvious mistakes is a collective responsibility on the Muslim Ummah (Fard Kifayah) and not necessary on every Muslim. There must be students of knowledge who have learnt it. This is because the Qur’an was revealed with these Tajweed rules applied to it and the Prophet (peace be upon him) recited it back to Jibreel in that way and the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) read it in that way. So reciting the Qur’an with complete Tajweed rules is an established Sunnah.

“And recite the Qur’an (aloud) in a slow, (pleasant tone and) style.” (Qur’an, 73:4)

Tips to learn Tajweed

• Find a Qur’an teacher who has studied Tajweed to teach it you. He or she will listen to your recitation and correct you. Tajweed cannot be learnt from books, because the movements of your mouth as well as the sounds are important. Only a teacher can correct you and make sure you are applying the rules correctly. Most local mosques run Tajweed and Hifz classes. Qur’an recitation is a science that is being passed down from generation to generation through teachers, not just books, with a direct chain to the Prophet (peace be upon him), even till date.

• Find a book containing the rules of Tajweed and learn each rule little by little, applying it as you go along with the help of your teacher. There are many concise Arabic books and in English there are some books as well as tapes to help. Look for books with some drawings showing you how to pronounce each letter.

• Listen to Qur’an tapes of reciters who recite very clearly, at a medium or slow speed like Sheikh Hudhaify or Sheikh Muhammad Hosary. Listen to how they apply the different rules of Tajweed. Repeat after them while trying to apply the rules you’ve learnt. Try to copy their tone and melody as well and see how it changes as the meaning of what they are reciting changes.

• You can get a new Mushaf (copy of the Qur’an), called Mushaf At-Tajweed, which has the rules of Tajweed incorporated in the text of the Qur’an in colour coding. This is very helpful as it prompts you as you go along. There is also a computer program you can buy which highlights Tajweed rules with recitation.

Ref: Qawaa’id At-Tajweed by Dr. Abdul Azeez Abdul Fattah Al-Qari, a teacher at the Islamic University in Madina.

By Fatima Barakatullah

Dubai : Looking for Space

George O’Donohue

Days after the launch of DubaiSat-1, the Dubai Astronomy Group explains the huge spectrum of benefits an interest in the stars can reap. George O’Donohue reports

Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei used the first astronomical telescope to get a closer look at the night sky. He wasn’t the first by any means to take a vested interest in the bigger picture beyond the clouds; civilisations beginning (as far as we know) with the Egyptians 6,000 years ago worked out and recorded how to measure time, space, geographical positions and directions using the stars and planets above us.

Astronomy has played a large part in Arab history for many centuries. Building on discoveries by the Greeks and Romans, ancient Arabs used navigational techniques to aid Middle Eastern trading and have promoted this strain of science at local universities since the 13th century.

Fast forward to 2009 and astronomy is once again at the forefront of people’s minds. This month saw launch of the first UAE satellite, DubaiSat1, into space; a breakthrough that will enable a new level of local data collection on a whole range of subjects.

“It will definitely be the beginning of a new era,” says Ankur Bhatia, an Indian engineer who is a member of the Dubai Astronomy Group.

The Dubai Astronomy Group has been active in the UAE since 2000 and now boasts more than 1,200 members. It is headed up by Hasan Ahmad Al Hariri, an Emirati who has been passionate about the subject since his brother brought home a book on the stars in the 1970s, when he was only 14.

“I even slept with that book,” he laughs. “I am not a researcher, I am an amateur, but I am trying to fill up other people’s lives with something more meaningful than just commuting between home and work. To give people a passion towards their environment, and get them to look at the bigger picture.”

He continues, “Astronomy is the model for all science, it is at the root of everything. There is so much meaning in it, ranging from giving someone enjoyment from the beauty of the stars, to serious scientific research.”

The Dubai group is open to anyone and membership is free. Hasan and his board run a range of activities from lectures and seminars, to training courses and star gazing trips at astronomer ‘hide-outs’ in the desert mountains. They have the largest telescope in the UAE and plenty of resources for anyone interested in learning more about the great unknown. Better still, Hasan’s passion is infectious.

“Astronomy is fun for your soul and fun for your mind,” he says. “What we are missing in Dubai is an appreciation of the beauty of science, it’s important to have something other than work and home to have a rich life.”

His members couldn’t agree more. Kaizad Raimalwala has been a member since he encountered the group at university in Sharjah in 2005. “Imagining the unthinkable enormity of the universe gives me a sense of perspective and humility. It makes me realise there’s more to life than the hatred, crime and war that plagues our world.”

His enthusiasm is echoed internationally. This year is also the International Year of Astronomy, which celebrates the science’s contribution to society and culture. Basic concepts that we live our lives by and take for granted as having always existed such as time, dates, years, the decimal point and the realisation that we live in a heliocentric (or sun-based) universe on a round planet (not a flat disc) all have their roots in star-gazing.

“Many civilisations have a rich past in astronomy,” says Lee Fullen from the International Year of Science organisation (IYA). “It is our hope that people will gain an increased appreciation of how astronomy is a modern, dynamic and fascinating science with many real world applications.”

This sentiment is echoed by Hasan with a very specific local perspective. His group runs summer camps for children and has been working with UAE schools since 2005 to set up and fund clubs for kids to fuel their imagination in the possibilities of science.

“We want to empower children and teachers to love science. Today in the UAE, there are only a small amount of nationals and we have to excel at something that will be beneficial and useful not just for us, but for the international community as well. What I’m trying to do is empower them with knowledge and help them to be citizens of the world,” he explains.

Talking to the group’s members, this approach seems to be working. Astronomy brings perspective to anyone that becomes involved in its wider world, but potential astronomers can take as little or as much from it as they wish.

Indian Ridhi Kantelal will be combining her interest in the stars with her university course of Material Sciences. She explains, “Astronomy combines the creativity of an artist and the rigidity of a scientific mind. During space voyages, more environmentally friendly materials are needed. I hope to conduct research and find materials that will at least aid a leap in the progress of astronomy.”

Hasan himself is an example of what a passion for astronomy can lead to. Thanks to his passion he speaks fluent English and learnt computer programming, which lead to his career in telecommunications engineering.

“I had to learn English because I kept sending NASA questions and the replies were in English, then I learnt more with computers, geology and electronics because my special area of interest is spacecraft missions and robotics,” he says.

The potential held in the universe beyond our own world is exciting and inspiring, yet it can be taken for granted by a modern society more concerned with their short-term, Earth-based pursuits, than a life-time of learning and study. But the members of the Dubai Astronomy Group are positive about a future of international co-operation.

Ankit Choudhary has been fascinated by space since he saw Star Wars as a child, and has been a member for six years, “I see astronomy as helping to bridge gaps between different cultures.”

Others echo his sentiments whole-heartedly. “This feeling of universal brotherhood is something people come to realise after they get involved in astronomy,” says Amol Mane, whose interest sits separate to his job as an IT manager at a real estate company.

But this isn’t just idealistic thinking. The very scope of astronomy requires international collaborations. “You learn to co-ordinate with various people who are sometimes not even living in the same country. Most astronomy projects are on a grand scale, so people from all parts of the world join together to make it happen,” Amol explains.

Similarly, the IYA is spending this year organising and promoting events in 140 countries to encourage young people especially to take a wider interest in the world around them, to a share an experience which transcends nationality or geography.

“If you look at our planet from space, you won’t see political borders piercing through our lands, marking them into territories. You will see big green and brown continents interspersed by blue oceans of water — signs of life. By gazing at the heavens one can appreciate life and it’s immense potential,” says Kaizad. Astronomy might be inspiring for its followers, but listening to them speak is in itself inspiring and encouraging, for the future of not just space exploration, but also here down on the ground.

Talking about the future, the UAE’s first satellite marks a new chapter in Arab astronomy, launching 40 years after man first walked on the moon.

“It is a huge achievement and a beautiful thing,” says Hasan. His own group also have grand plans for a renewed effort in space exploration. They have proposed a space facility on Indonesian Sumatra near the equator, to HH Shaikh Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President, and Ruler of Dubai, and hope to collaborate with the Indonesian government.

“We could do a great job, and a space facility could develop new technology that would raise the region’s profile in the international community. We would collaborate with NASA, ASA, the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese, everyone to create something international that could help the entire world,” enthuses Hasan. This international collaboration is already happening; this month’s satellite launch took place with the aid of a Russian-made rocket.

A fellow founding member, Yousif Marhoon looks forward to the day when the group is recognised by Dubai’s government, realising a dream he has had since childhood.

“I always dreamt of running an observatory and being able to contribute to society in a positive way through spreading science to the next generation.” A manager of assets strategy and policy at the RTA, he recognises the potential to change lives that astronomy has, both at an individual level and a wider one for the world, “We really feel that we achieve something valuable with the group, which makes you feel like a productive individual in society.”

It may seem like a diverting folly to launch a renewed interest in the possibilities of space when we have so many pressing problems on the ground, but our biggest leaps in understanding the world around us have come from our interest in a galaxy, far, far away.

“I believe all the answers we’re looking for are right there above us, be it the beginning of the universe or the mystery of dark matter, or even our very own existence. If only humans would spend a little more time looking at the sky, we’d find them,” says Vidya Gopalakrishnan.

Her interest also stems from a childhood film, the 1984 classic, ET. “Satellite monitoring of the Earth maintains a vigil on ice caps and forests, as well as tracking climatic conditions,” adds Lee. “Solving environmental problems on a global scale would be incredibly difficult without astronomy.”

The breadth of areas that astronomy can feed into is exemplified nowhere better than asking different astronomers to name the most exciting discovery since that infamous one step for man. No answer is the same. From planets outside the solar system, to the river beds on Mars to worm-holes, microwave radiation, dark matter and the fact that the universe is accelerating and expanding. As a never-ending voyage of discovery, often these new findings open more doors than they close, but as with all good voyages, it’s in the journey that meaning can be found.

“Dark matter makes our world even stranger and mysterious than previously imagined. This opens up entirely new frontiers in astronomy,” says Amol. For Ankur Bhatia, it is what’s yet to come that spurs on his interest. “I’m looking forward to some positive results from the Keplar mission.” This mission’s objective is to find similar size planets to Earth within a habitable range of stars.

It is this anticipation of the future that this month’s launch of DubaiSat1 hopes to reignite. The Middle East has spent thousands of years tracking the stars. It now has the skills and technology to take its first steps in getting closer to them. Further projects include a new observatory in the mountains, science foundations and museums.

(For more information on astronomy in Dubai, go to or


It’s been four decades since Neil Armstrong set foot on our nearest neighbour, and yet the interest in the moon shows no sign in waning. Some of the astronomers above are currently undertaking a moon mapping project. Since it has been inactive for a long time, the surface of the moon is a preserved landscape that can offer us clues to our own planet’s geological history. This sub-group have been mapping this landscape through high resolution photographs, focusing on the most visually striking part, the ‘Terminator.’ Forget the science fiction films, the science fact means this is the line that separates the illuminated part of the moon from the side that is in darkness. The shadows thrown by the Sun’s low rays pick out with dazzling clarity the details of lunar craters. Kaizad explains the project’s appeal, “I hope everyone gets a chance to see the moon up close through a telescope; it’s a sight you will never forget. It still leaves me in awe after many years of moon-watching.”