Auspicious start to Ramadan coverage

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began yesterday. During the month, participating Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Muslims believe Ramadan was the month during which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The month is based on the Islamic lunar calendar and moves back about 11 days each year. So I guess that’s why it seems to come earlier each year.

I’ve been seeing a few feature stories here and there but wanted to highlight this one from the Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee.

Written by Annysa Johnson, the article describes the work of a hafiz, a term that describes Muslims who have memorized the Koran. It is a great way to advance annual stories about Ramadan while also doing the important work of basic education about Muslim practice:

The boy rocks gently on his knees, eyes closed, as if lost in meditation. The young imam tilts his head to listen, and the boy begins to chant.

It is a rhythmic, almost musical, intonation in Arabic as he recites, from memory, long passages of the Qur’an.

Like the imam before them, the boys at Masjid Al-Huda in Greenfield are working to “make hifz,” to memorize and recite the Muslim holy book in its entirety.

One who succeeds will become a hafiz, a guardian of the faith, whose job it is to preserve the Qur’an – not on the printed page, but in his heart and mind.

“He is preserving the word of God,” said Al-Huda Imam Noman Hussain, a Chicago-born hafiz who at 22 has mastered the Qur’an in all 10 Arabic dialects.

The article, which does a great job of succinctly translating each of the terms it uses, explains the particular significance of the hafiz during Ramadan. During the month, the Koran is read from beginning to end, one chapter each night. Some of the boys mentioned in the lede will take part in that:

“It’s a great responsibility,” said Omar Syed, 12, whose older brother was chosen to recite last year. “When you’re in class and you hear the voices, you want to be like Shuraim and Sudais,” he said – a nod to the two famed huffaz of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

We get a lot of detail about the classes at this particular mosque as well as context to how they compare to others. The reporter includes details about the pious postures of the students down to the physical description of the mosque.

More than anything, we get great quotes:

“I’m looking for that most perfect pronunciation – but also that he is living according to the Qur’an,” said Hussain, who can trace his lineage as a hafiz 40 teachers back to the Prophet Muhammad.

“If one recites beautifully, but does not practice upon it, you won’t call him a great hafiz.”

That is one of the reasons Al-Huda instituted the hifz and Qur’an study programs, said Aijaz Noor, a Milwaukee physician and president of the masjid. Those who commit violence in the name of Islam, he said, “don’t understand their religion.”

“We want them to be good Muslims and good citizens of this country?.?.?. and not on the fringe,” Noor said.

Again, the article is full of detail that anyone unfamiliar with this aspect of Muslim religious life will appreciate. Do let us know if you see any other particularly good or bad coverage of Ramadan this month. I, for one, am glad to see something that’s not related to parsing the words of President Obama’s annual greeting or something else more political than religious.

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  • Ivan

    Unfortunately, I think an explanation of the 10 styles of Qur’?nic tajw?d got bungled as “all 10 Arabic dialects.” The Qur’?n is in Classical Arabic (pointedly not a conversational dialect) and its text is non-negotiable. Since good reporting is made by the little details, it’s sad to notice a small oversight like this one.

  • Jerry

    One part of the story stood out to me:

    Knowledge of Arabic isn’t necessary for a hafiz, though some students go on to study the language to enhance their understanding. Although many Muslims consult translations for study, they believe the only true Qur’an is that in Arabic, the language of the Prophet Muhammad.

    I’m reminded of both the Latin Mass and some Jewish traditions for reading the Torah.

    A minor nit is that the story could have been enhanced by a side-bar showing how translations of passages can be quite different as an illustration of the point about Arabic.

    In terms of related news stories, I’m not sure if this poll was done in relation to Ramadan or just is a coincidence, but I did notice this poll that affirmed that the vast majority of Muslims are loyal but had this surprising closing paragraph:

    On many key questions in the poll, it was American Jews whose answers most resembled those of Muslims. Jews were the most likely of any religious group besides Muslims to say that Muslims are loyal Americans, and that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Jews were just as likely as Muslims to say that American Muslims face prejudice.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    It was 110 degrees in North Texas yesterday, so most of the coverage concerns the fasting (including drink) in the heat. Oddly, the Dallas Morning News has a link to a Detroit story, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has international stories. The Houston Chronicle had a local story on the heat. The religion in the telling seemed fairly standard, if not rote.

  • kristy

    I appreciate that this story wasn’t just about “No food or drink all day – in this oppressive heat!” It dug into what Ramadan is and then spread out into the nobler aspects of being a Muslim in the Milwaukee area. Good job!