MOORESVILLE – At 11 a.m. each Wednesday, a group of women make their way to the Islamic Center of Lake Norman. Their ages may vary, as well as their ethnic background, but the reason they meet unites the women in the mornings – the desire to read the Qur’an in the way Muslims believe it was revealed in Arabic.
And it’s more than just reading the text verbatim. It’s about each letter and the sound it makes, how it marries the letter before and after it and how pronunciation emphasizes and helps with the overall translation.
Qur’an teacher Afsheen Waheed initially learned the practice of tajwid, or pronunciation rules, while reciting the Qur’an in Canada. Waheed, who teaches the women at the Islamic Center, recalled the time she was a student learning the same rules.
“My teacher would give me one rule a day,” she said. “That was my homework and so I would practice my lesson that evening and then recite my lesson to her in the morning.”
Waheed, who is not a native speaker of Arabic, said although she read the Qur’an cover to cover numerous times, it wasn’t until she was in adulthood when she focused on the accurate pronunciation of the text.
“Whenever I learned from (my teacher), I used to teach it to my mom and extended relatives as well,” she said. “The more I taught to them, the more my own pronunciation got better. The way I had learned it was not correct. It’s hard to relearn something when you’ve memorized it in a certain way.”
There are seven letters that a student must learn first, Waheed said. They are the heavier letters, which are used from various points of the tongue, nose and throat.
Saima Khan, who attended the classes, said she went because she wanted to fix her mistakes when it came to recitation, and she was grateful that Waheed was hosting the class.
“I wanted to learn the Qur’an the right way,” she said. “When (Waheed) recites, it sounds very beautiful. It makes me want to recite just like that. She makes you want to learn the Qur’an, and she helps you understand every detail.”
What makes it important
Because the Qur’an is in Arabic, Waheed said, too often non-Arabic-speaking countries miss a lot of the rules and disciplines when it comes to the correct sound of each letter. Each country puts their own spin on the text, reciting it to the best of their knowledge. While good intentions may be there, she said, it’s important to use the rules of the sounds. If a word is pronounced incorrectly, she said, it can change the entire meaning.
“Some people argue they don’t need to change, that the way they are reciting is OK because God knows their intentions. Well, sure that can be true,” she said. “But it’s also true that, for example, when we came to the United States, some of us already knew how to speak in English, but we’d try to fix our pronunciations for the benefit of this society, so we can receive the maximum benefits from this side of the world. Well when it comes to the words of Allah, why not put the same effort in? Why say it’s not important then?
“When my students take my class, I tell them, ‘You are here for a big cause, a big reason,’ so I don’t lose them. I tell them, ‘You left everything from the outside world to sit in the masjid (place of worship)’ so, don’t worry, Allah will reward you. We can’t be perfect, but we can show our efforts.”