Chaplain Chats – Intro to Reciting the Qur’an

The following are some loose notes from a talk I delivered at the University of Pennsylvania on March 12th, 2012, on the topic of qira’at al-Qur’an or the Recitations of the Qur’an. I will try to provide some succinct information on some of the terminology, also known as istilahat (اصطلاحات) as well as the various qurra’ (قراء) or reciters.

Listen to the audio from the Chaplain Chat here.

When we say there is a qira’ah of the Qur’an, what we mean is really three things:

  1. Qira’ah (قراءة): it is that which relates to one of the Ten Reciters, a qari’ (قاريء). These Ten are sometimes known as al-‘Ashr al-Ma’rifun (العشر المعرفون). For example, Imam ‘Asim and Imam Ibn Kathir are from this group. Each of the Seven Reciters (known for their chains of narration (sanad), which are mutawatir, had two students (the next group).
  2. Riwayah (رواية): it is that which relates to one of the narrators, a rawin (راو). These narrators took the recitation from the above group and dispersed it. Such examples might be Hafs ‘an ‘Asim or al-Susi ‘an Abi ‘Amru, with ‘Asim and Abu ‘Amru being the teachers of Imam Hafs and Imam al-Susi respectively. Think of it as student ‘an teacher (lit., Hafs the student of ‘Asim, Qunbul the student of Ibn Kathir, etc.) (الطالب عن شيخه).
  3. Tariq (طريق): these are in a sense the students of the rawaya (روايا أو راويون) or narrators. An example of this might be a mushaf (physical copy of the Qur’an) which has the title of Qunbul  ‘an Ibn Kathir min Tariq al-Shatibiyyah, or Qunbul, the student of Imam Ibn Kathir from the chain of al-Shatibiyyah. For time’s sake, we will not be delving into al-Azraq or al-Shatibiyyah but do know that there is this third component.

The Seven Mutawatir Reciters are:

  • Imam Nafi’: his two students were Warsh and Qalun. Therefore you have the recitation of Wash ‘an Nafi’ or Qalun ‘an Nafi’. Imam Nafi’ is from the Madinah school.
  • Imam Ibn Kathir: his two students were al-Bazzi and Qunbul (incidentally, these are sometimes also pronounced al-Buzzi and Qanbal). Their recitations are known as al-Bazzi ‘an Ibn Kathir and Qunbul ‘an Ibn Kathir. Ibn Kathir is from the Makkah school.
  • Imam Abu ‘Amru: his two students were al-Susi and al-Duri*. Their recitations are known as al-Susi ‘an Abi ‘Amru and al-Duri ‘an Abi ‘Amru. Abu ‘Amru is from the ‘Iraqi school (al-Kufah).
  • Imam Ibn ‘Amir: his two students were Hisham and Ibn Dhakwan. Their recitations are known as Hisham ‘an Ibn ‘Amir and Ibn Dhakwan ‘an Abi ‘Amir.
  • Imam ‘Asim: his two students were Hafs and Shu’bah. Their recitations are known as Hafs ‘an ‘Asim (the most commonly recited narration today) and Shu’bah ‘an ‘Asim. Imam ‘Asim is also from the Kufic school of ‘Iraq.
  • Imam Hamzah: his two students were Khalaf and Khallad. Their recitations are Khalaf ‘an Hamzah and Khallad ‘an Hamzah. Imam Hamzah is also from the Kufic ‘Iraqi school.
  • Imam al-Kisa’i: his two students were Abu al-Harith and al-Duri*. Their recitations are Abu al-Harith ‘an al-Kisa’i and al-Duri ‘an al-Kisa’i. Imam al-Kisa’i is also from the Kufic ‘Iraqi school.

* al-Duri is the only student to have taken narrations from two Master Reciters: Abu ‘Amru and al-Kisa’i.

The Three Mash’hur Reciters:

  • Abu Ja’far.
  • Ya’qub.
  • Khalaf.

Three major conditions for being classified as a qira’ah:

  1. Sound chain of narration: narrators were continuous, well known for their piety and were known to possess Sound memories. The recitation must also be dispersed by a large number of narrators after the Sahabah (this is the condition of mutawatir). Narrations which did not fit this stringent category were considered either mash’hur (as in the case of Abu Ja’far, etc.) or irregular (shaddh).
  2. The recitation had to match the grammatical rules and constructions of the Arabic language. This was acceptable even if they matched styles only found in the Jahiliyyah poetry (pre-Islamic poetry).
  3. The narration had to agree with the script of one of the copies of the Qur’an disseminated by Khalif ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan in the ‘Uthmani script (al-Rasm al-Uthmani/الرسم العثماي). This is why it is acceptable to have differences in the “dot placement” (تعلمون أو يعلمون) so long as the other conditions are met.

When time permits, I will try and upload more audio files of the various qira’at/riwayat of the Qur’an, in sha’Allah.

Chaplain Chats – Islam and Blackamerica

The following are notes from a talk I gave as part of the Chaplain Chats series on February 21st, 2012, at the University of Pennsylvania. You may listen to the audio here:

Why the apparent connection between Blacks and Islam? What does Islam deal with in terms of Black America?

  • The continued struggle of Blackamericans to “settle upon a self-definition that is functionally enabling and sufficiently “authentic”;
  • The power and influence of white supremacy and its value system as a “seminal force of the contemporary global cum American sociopolitical order;
  • The hegemony of modern, Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims.
  • Blacks relate to Islam as blacks [i.e., “oppressed people”] and there is nothing unique or interesting about the link between BAM’s and Islam.
  • Blackamericans often saw a liberating agent in Islam that was not there for them in Christianity. Ironically, it was not present for Muslims living in the Muslim world either. The following is from the South African Muslim Judicial Council during the reign of apartheid:

“Has the [apartheid] government forbidden the worship of Allah? Has the government closed down or ordered the demolition of any mosque in a declared white area? If our government has ordered our Muslims to desert the faith of our forefathers, then our ulema would have been the first to urge us to resist, even to the death.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

What is Black Religion? Def: “a pragmatic, folk-oriented, holy protest against anti-black racism, an orientation shared with many, though not all, Blackamerican Christians and Jews.

Challenges of Islam & Black Religion

  • Post-immigration, many Blackamerican Muslims founded it difficult [and still do!] if unable to address their cultural, political and social realities in ways that were effective in an American context and simultaneously recognized as validly “Islamic” on the other.
  • The proclivities of immigrant Muslims who were assumed to be the inheritors of a “super-tradition of historical Islam”, rendering all of their cultural practices as normative if not desirable.
  • Such norms as the thawb have been subsumed under the “Sunnah”: والقوعد من النساء التى لا يرجون نكاحا فليس عليهن جناح أن يضعن ثيبهن غير متبرجت بزينة “As for women who are past child-bearing age and no longer have any hope of getting married, there is nothing wrong in their removing their outer clothes, provided they do not flaunt their adornments” Qur’an, 24: 60.
  • “America … produced the distinctly racial understanding of difference.” “American whiteness has always reigned as the most prized public asset a citizen could own.”
  • 1965: U.S. immigration law renders Muslim immigrants [Middle East/SEA] as legally “white”.

False Universals

  • Universalisms are ultimately neither as transcendent nor as enabling as they might like to be imagined. Such universals only serve the psychological and or material interests
  • Human rights, freedom, beauty, good, “Islamic”.
  • FU: to speak in universal terms but from a particular cultural, ideological or historical point of view. “’Human,’, ‘Islam,’ ‘justice,’ and the like are all taken, thus, to represent not particular understandings but ontological realities that are equally esteemed and apprehended by everyone, save the stupid, the primitive, or the morally depraved.”
  • To give obeisance or risk castigation.
  • Immigrant Islam “universalizes the particular”.

In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Taking Ownership: the function of the heterodox groups

  • They transformed—if not the creed certainly the “idea” of—Islam for Blackamericans and allowed them to lay claim to it in a way that historical/Traditional Islam had/has as of yet to do.
  • This, more than anything else, I believe what has grafted Islam onto the broader psyche of Blackamericans, rendering Islam a valid religious choice amongst the possibilities of Blackamericans.
  • In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Blackamerican Muslim History

  • First Resurrection: from slave times to 1975 with the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
  • Second Resurrection: from Elijah’s death until the divided leadership of Farrakhan and W.D. Muhammad.
  • Third Resurrection: the mastery of the Sunni discourse. The 3R seeks to “thwart the power and pretense of false universals”. Still waiting.

Lessons & Take Aways

Why/how did Islam fail to convey itself to modern Blacks unhampered/unmolested?

“The argument goes that Africans, unable to speak one another’s languages or being of rival cultures and living together on disparate, isolated farms, could neither fully maintain nor successfully pass on their traditional cultures to future generation.  Therefore, with each passing generation, more and more of the slaves’ African heritage disappeared or became incomprehensible to their American-born children.  Whites, seeing African cultures as uncivilized or the breeding ground for rebellion, accelerated this process of cultural disintegration by prohibiting most public displays of the slaves’ ancestral customs.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

Scarcity of resources available to Blacks led to the decline of African religions [Islam included].

In regards to assimilation [versus indigenization]:

“Given the increased vulnerability of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, there is a perduring temptation among many immigrant Muslims to seek acceptance by mainstream America in exchange for a domesticated Islam that can only support the state and the dominant culture and never challenge these. This entails an attempt to identify Islam with the proclivities and sensibilities of the dominant group. On such a reconciliation, however, Blackamerican Muslims who feel penalized, threatened, or devalued by the dominant culture are effectively called upon, now in the name of Islam, to abandon protest and the legitimate aspects of Black Religion and acquiesce to the indignities implied by white supremacy.”

Embracing God By Embracing America: American Muslims, Shari’ah & the Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – Preamble of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

What is the Shari’ah? Is it taking over America? Can American Muslims embrace the United States’ Constitution as believing Muslims?

Extra Reading

Maqasid al-Shari’ah handout/cheatsheet [PDF].

Dr. Sherman Jackson’s response, ” ‘Soft Shari‘a Fundamentalism’ and the Totalitarian Epistemology of Vincent Cornell” in [PDF].

Vincent Cornell’s article, “Reasons Public and Divine: Liberal Democracy, Shari‘a Fundamentalism, and the Epistemological Crisis of Islam.” [PDF].