Ramadan Reflection | I Cannot Read the Quran

‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) relates that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم said:

Indeed, the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have TWICE that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

When I became Muslim, I typed and printed up my own salah manual. I included the transliteration and the meaning in English underneath. A simple two rakat of fajr might take me half an hour reading and fumbling through, trying hard to remember and not make any mistakes. Now with practice, the time is shorter but I’m not sure the baraka is greater. May Allah increase us in our steadfastness and khushu, ameen.

My first experience with the Quran was through reading English translations then through transliteration, and eventually through reading the Arabic script. While on a trip to New York, I purchased my first Arabic Quran. It was a red-letter version with each mention of Allah’s name or variation of it highlighted in red.

I carried that Quran back with me on the flight home. Once settled in my seat, I opened the mushaf and began “reading” as I flipped through the pages even though the only word I could identify was the word “Allah,” highlighted in red.  I was so happy to be able to read or rather recognize that one word.

My very first Quran was a red-letter version

When Jibreel recited the first revelation to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), “Read,” the Prophet (s) said, I cannot read. The Prophet (s) persisted and did not give up and neither should we if we struggle to read or recite the Quran fluently.

Once, I was in a Quran class and we were trying to come up with a set amount of Quran to read each day. So our teacher asked us how long it took us to read one page of Quran and I said, “half an hour.” She looked at me incredulously and said, “half an hour, thirty minutes, why?”

I can read what I’ve memorized very quickly. I can probably read all of Juz Amma in less than 30 minutes. But for sections of Quran that I’m unfamiliar with, I read the Arabic, verse by verse, trying to implement the rules of tajwid to the best of my ability. After each verse, I turn to my Dr. Muhammad Mohar Ali word-for-word translation so that I can learn the meaning and improve my vocab and then I might re-read the verse or spend some time reflecting on it. So after one blessed hour, I might have only made it through two pages, somewhat exhausted by the effort.

When we struggle to read the book of Allah or perfect our tajwid or get up for our after-fajr tajwid classes at Ilm Summit or be patient with our Quran teachers, let’s remember the great reward promised to us for that struggle.

If you feel shy or embarrassed by your reading or memorization skills, use that emotion to your advantage along with the hadith mentioned above to motivate yourself to learn, ask for help, and read more even if it’s only one verse a day. It will get easier.


Make dua that Allah will open a way for you to understand his words.

Be consistent. Read each day, even if it’s only one line or one verse.

Be humble and open to learning and correction. We don’t like to admit to our own ignorance or weakness. In order to grow and reach new heights, we have to admit we’re at a state below where we want to be.

Know what you’re reciting, reading with understanding will humble you as you apply the verses to your own life.

Get a teacher and recite to them, anyone who knows a bit more Quran or tajwid can help you.

IlmSummit Day 6 | Textual Reinterpretation & Feminism

Ilm Summit Arrival, Delayed

The fourth annual Ilm Summit hosted by AlMaghrib Institute began last Friday but due to my NicheHero workshop in Toronto, I did not arrive until mid-morning on Sunday. It was nice to see the familiar faces of the hotel staff and my fellow students and teachers. Because I arrived late, I was stuck until the break for lunch in the very back row at the last table but my friends from California (SoCal) went out of their way to take care of me and help me settle in, which was greatly appreciated.

Over the course of the next few of days, several people came up to me and asked where I had been because they hadn’t seen me for the first two days. It’s heart-warming to know that one’s absence was noted. Those of us who come here, year after year, have become like a strange extended family. Many of us only see each other once a year, but when we do, we pick up right where we left off as though no time had passed between our annual meetings.


Things are generally very good and run smoothly for me as a student at Ilm Summit. The volunteers are always there working hard behind-the-scenes, which allows us to chill and benefit as much as possible. Our instructors are on-point teaching us new and exciting topics and making themselves available for quite a bit of personal interaction. The diverse menu offerings are appreciated. Even the pairing of roommates is appreciated, I’ve never been disappointed, and always meet some extraordinary sister.

Feminism and Textual Reinterpretation

When Yasir Qadhi announced to the students that this Thursday’s wild card session would be on the topic of feminism, I was intrigued. Two years ago, Julie, the 2008 Ilm Summit top student presented an overview of different movements within Western feminism. Despite the grumblings from some student and the heightened awkwardness of the situation, her presentation was a step forward for AlMaghrib and the mostly conservative audience.

Quite a few sisters suggested or nominated me to join with the group of sisters that would be participating in the wild card discussion. However, when I heard the topic was not feminism per se but rather a discussion of the issues and difficulties Western Muslims face relating to marriage I was less intrigued. I’m sure those who are involved will do a good job and hope there will be some fruitful discussion.

Kicked Out of the Front Row

I’ve always liked the side by side classroom seating setup here at Ilm Summit and I often find myself in the front row ready to listen, interact, and take notes. So it came as a rude shock Wednesday evening when those of us who sit in the front row were told quite unceremoniously that we would not be permitted to sit in our front row seats for that the Quran Night wild card session.

No real reason was given and when I returned from dinner to gather my belongings from my front row seat, I found a gaggle of young kids comfortably sitting there. Please remind me again how Islam honored women, and how being forced to give up your seat to a kid probably not even 10 years old is respectful to the women who gave up their time and sleep and made an effort to come early before the end of the lunch break to obtain that seat? I was annoyed and thoughts of staging a sit-in protest crossed my mind. Instead, I took a fourth row aisle seat.

Around conservative Muslims, I sometimes get the feminist label. In this context, the feminist label means that I don’t like to be treated poorly or unfairly by my co-religionist and that I sometimes voice my disdain when I encounter such degrading treatment.

Modernist Textual Reinterpretation

I find it fascinating the way some clerics (that word is growing on me) do a modernist dance around “problematic” verses in the Quran or hadith. Even as they claim to affirm the original text and meaning such as in Nisa 4:34 or in hadith of the women with deficient aql these interpretations seem apologetic and quite like some other modernist interpretations, which conservatives criticize. If we can open this door, responding to the issues conservatives have a hard time saving face on, then the door is also left open for similar interpretation on other issues.

It may seem contradictory but I think those grounded in orthodoxy and modernity are the way forward for the American Muslim community. Yet, I am aware of the limitations I see in many of our teachers. No doubt, there is still much I can learn from them and I try to take the good from them but increasingly recognize how in order to grow and learn I must move beyond them.

Ilm Summit | Behind the Scenes of the CNN Interview

In my earlier post on Deborah Feyerick’s story partially filmed at Ilm Summit this past August, I mentioned I would blog about some of the behind-the-scenes happenings. After interviewing the various instructors at Ilm Summit, counterterrorism expert and occasional Muslim Matters’ contributor Mohamed Elibiary helped arranged an interview with bloggers from Muslim Matters.

Meanwhile, I was eagerly awaiting the start of that night’s wild card session with Jamaludeen Zarabozo. A respected and self-taught convert to Islam with extensive knowledge of the Islamic sciences, his classes and books are popular in conservative Muslim circles. It was expected that he would share some of the key elements of his story of conversion and how he learned the Islamic sciences with us.

I was all set to learn something new and take notes and just as Zarabozo sat down to begin, someone came up to tell me or passed me a note (should have written this earlier, memory is now a bit hazy) that my presence was requested outside the banquet hall, which had been converted into our classroom. I was pretty disappointed to be leaving the session I had most looked forward to all day especially as I was not at all sure of what was in store for me outside. As it turned out there was a bit of a Muslim Matters huddle, preparing for an interview opportunity with CNN on a story about online efforts within the Muslim community to counter the message of extremism.

Courtesy of MM

So often in the media, Islam is represented through the voices of men so it was seen as desirable to have at least one woman join in the interview and that’s how I ended up there as the token Muslim woman. I was a bit anxious to return to the wild card session, now in progress, but was somewhat resigned to the fact that I would miss it. Perhaps, I could have caught the end of it had there not been some miscommunication. For what seemed like at least 20 minutes or more, both the MM team and the CNN team were sitting near each other at tables in the cavernous lobby. As it turned out, we were both waiting for the other group to signal readiness to commence the interview.

Once it was sorted out that both sides were ready, a few awkward moments soon followed. I didn’t intend to wear my black AlMaghrib hoodie but the videographer wasn’t sure where or how to clip on my microphone due to my hijab. So I quickly put my hoodie back on and he worked out the mic issue in a way that made me acutely uncomfortable threading the mic over my clothes and hijab but under the hoodie. I thought to myself, is this what I’m missing the wild card for? I then made a mental note to always do the microphone myself and most likely could have worked out clipping it to my hijab. Though, I must admit the CNN mics were nice.

Next bit of awkwardness, in order to fit all four of us on camera for a wide angle shot, we had to sit rather close together. Much closer than one might sit naturally in order to maintain a level of personal space. Not much that could be done about that.

As the interview progressed my colleagues made some excellent well-packaged talking points. I don’t think I said anything extraordinary. I rambled through my first response, distracted, I briefly lost my train of thought. A small crowd of students had gathered around us to watch the interview. I just hoped someone was taking good notes inside the hall. By the time we finished, it was pretty late and Deborah Feyerick, her producer, and the videographer had had a long day but were still very cordial and gracious.

After we wrapped up the interview, I headed back into the hall but the wild card had ended. I had missed the whole session despite being prepared for it and staking out my seat in the front row, which at Ilm Summit is no small feat. To get a front row seat, one has to come early, eat quickly, leave off sleep and socializing, and sometimes negotiate with the crew from California who would like to think they own first dibs on those seats.

I asked my trusted note-taking companions about the wild card session to see if any of them had notes but none did. Continue reading “Ilm Summit | Behind the Scenes of the CNN Interview”

Ilm Summit Special: Uthman Khan Reciting al-Hijr & al-Alaq in Multiple Qira’ah

Only those fortunate enough to be present and awake during our post-fajr tajweed sessions at Ilm Summit 2010 know the story behind the recitation of these verses.

I didn’t realize Shaykh Uthman was going to recite to us in this manner or I would have started recording sooner but you can enjoy Surah al-Hijr from the 88th verse until the end as well as Surah al-Alaq.

On the final Saturday, he recited Naba in the same manner but I was too far away with many distracting noises and was not able to capture it. Did anyone get it?

Visit to Hakeem Olajuwon’s Masjid

Olajuwon's MasjidIn 2006, I posted a link to a New York Times article about a historic bank building that was purchased by former NBA basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon and converted into a masjid. A couple of weeks ago, during Ilm Summit, we had the opportunity to visit, have lunch, and offer the Friday prayers in this masjid  in downtown Houston.

We had lunch downstairs in the multi-purpose room before listening to a powerful khutbah by our own Shaykh Yasir Qadhi about the importance of dua. We were reminded that we should never despair and think that our duas will not be answered when Allah azza wa jal even answered the dua of Iblees, after he disobeyed him.

View from balcony
View from balcony

One awkward moment was just as we were about to head back upstairs for the khutbah, a brother, not one of our Ilm Summit brothers, but just someone from the community, began filming and taking pictures of the sisters that were not paying attention, relaxing, chatting, preparing to make wudu, etc. So I began to approach him and ask him why he was taking filming and taking pictures but just as I was about to reach him he turned and ran up the stairs and disappeared into the brothers’ section.

After the khutbah, we went upstairs to the balcony, where there was an exhibit on Muslim achievements and accomplishments throughout history in various areas such mathematics, science, travel, and medicine.

Two of the old bank vault doors have been preserved and one leads to a library/display area and another leads to a women’s bathroom. Continue reading “Visit to Hakeem Olajuwon’s Masjid”

Ilm Summit Reflections #6: Are we spoiled?

IMG_0676Of course, we are spoiled.

AlMaghrib spoils us by having the instructors travel to us, in order to teach us so that we may benefit when rather it should us students traveling to them. In sha Allah, one day we will have an Islamic university here in North America, where we can travel and reside for a number of years and learn and benefit from our instructors. Bayyinah Institute is working an Arabic immersion dream, Al Huda Institute is focused on Quran, Zaytuna has a dream like the one AlMaghrib has to teach a university-level curriculum leading to a degree in a single location.

Those of us who were fortunate to attend Ilm Summit, enjoyed four-star accommodation, three well-planned and solid meals with plenty of drinks, healthy snacks, and desserts each day, our classroom was within our hotel, and our schedule began with early morning fajr salaah and continued until 10-10:30 for isha and for many of us well into the night so that we could review and study the material.

During the last week, it was rare for me to sleep before 3am and of course I was back up by 5:30-6am to start the day. Alhamdulillah, our lunch breaks were from 1pm-3:30pm so I could catch a few zzzs to feel refreshed for the rest of the day. But the schedule was too intense for some of our companions and some skipped the 6am after-fajr tajweed class and other classes and breakfast in order to sleep.

Many of us who were awake, ate our breakfast quickly so that we could stake out and reserve our seats in the front rows closest to the instructor for the day. I was almost always in the front row, I like to be close to the instructor, to learn from his manners and  to focus by minimizing distractions from the people behind me. Shaykh Yaser Birjas (hafidhullah) told us that when he was a student in Madinah, he and other students would gather in the Masjid an Nabawee with all of their books and papers from Asr time until after the taraweeh just so they could be close to Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah) for his post-taraweeh talks and question and answer session, which makes our gathering 45 minutes to an hour before the start of the morning session look meager.

Shaykh Yaser Birjas (hafidhullah) reflected upon his summers spent in Unayzah with Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah). He said, in his first year in Madinah, he asked some of the older students if he should accompany Ibn Uthaymeen to his summer retreat in Unayzah and they dissuaded him and until today, more than 15 years later, he still regrets heeding their advice. He made sure to go his second year and every year after that until he graduated from Madinah university.

The first year, Shaykh Yaser traveled light and went with a group believing that they would be well-cared for within the dormitory that housed other students but when they arrived the shaykh in charge told them that they would have to sleep in the masjid although they would be allowed to eat and shower in the dormitory. The students were not prepared for that reality nor the extreme heat of the summer nor the numerous bugs that feasted on their flesh while they slept in the masjid.

This seems to have been a natural weeding out and selection process, students that were not focused and determined would have given up at this first major hurdle. Continue reading “Ilm Summit Reflections #6: Are we spoiled?”

Ilm Summit Reflections #5

As I’ve matured in Islam, my understanding and approach to the religion has also matured. This is something I have struggled with and continue to struggle with each day.

Some issues:

My name: Have blogged extensively about the name changing issue but essentially I have moved from knowing that having an Arabicized name was not obligatory but using one, mostly out of a desire for immediate recognition and to fit in to the Muslim community to a complete reversion to my birth name with affirmation that  using such a name makes it a Muslim name and that it may be preferrable for many, particularly for those of us in the west and those of us with non-Muslim families to maintain our distinctive cultural names.

Holidays: I know I’ve said it at least once on this blog that I’m content with our two Eids, and I am, but I no longer share the view of those who say it is an innovation to celebrate or participate in any other celebrations. At some point in my teenage years, well before coming to Islam, my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July and all the rest became rather insignificant to me and they still are for the most part so it wasn’t an issue for me to continue to marginalize them when I accepted Islam. Yet, now I feel this opinion is too harsh, I don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter but don’t have any issue joining my family on Thanksgiving Day and yes, even eating the turkey, I cannot count how many times I’ve discussed whether or not to eat the turkey with other Muslims. I don’t really celebrate the Fourth of July, per say, but do enjoy watching the fireworks.

Fitna-filled family gatherings: When my grandmother died a few years ago, I agreed to help my family set-up and bring supplies for the wake that was held in a church hall but declined to attend. There was of course the usual late-night until dawn mixing, music, dancing, drinking, Christian prayers, suspect food, video camera, etc that is common place at Ibo wakes. I thought that my helping to set-up and using my faith as a cover would be enough to satisfy my family, particularly my mother. But it was not enough, and of course some of my mother’s Muslim colleagues showed up, which never helps your case when making an argument on religious grounds with your non-Muslim relatives. The rest of my family went to Nigeria for my grandmother’s burial but my mother specifically mentioned that she did not want me to go because I most likely would not have attended some of the more problematic events. And for some time afterward, whenever my mother was upset with me, she would say, “…and she didn’t even come to my mother’s wake,” ahhh, talk about a dagger in the heart, it still pains me each time I reflect on that but alhamdulillah she hasn’t said that recently. Continue reading “Ilm Summit Reflections #5”