To experience the Quran, you cannot simply read a translation of it, especially if the translation is written by an Orientalist wedded to obscurantism. Many people who only read a translation of the Quran find its phrases to be clunky and awkward. This is usually due to them judging the eloquence of the Arabic language by the standards of the English language. But if people listened to the Quran, they will find that no clunkiness or awkwardness exist. The melodies and music of the recitation of the Quran move a person to serenity and sadness. During Ramadan the Quran is heard more than in any other month.
Many Muslims are not fluent in Arabic. They will undoubtedly know several Arabic terms and phrases, even entire sentences, but if they were to open the Quran and read it directly in Arabic, they would understand very little of it. That’s why many copies of the Quran now have accompanying translations in languages ranging from Hausa to Hebrew. But even such Muslims will attest that listening to the Quran is a way of experiencing its beauty, a beauty that no translation can convey.
The Quran is recited during Ramadan not only in Tarawih prayers, but also in houses and cars and shops. In Egypt, you know exactly when the bazaar, market, and shops open by the sound of the Quran being recited by Abdel-Basit, the famous Quranic reciter. Each shop turns on his recitation as soon as the shop opens. To hear the Quran recited melodiously in the morning market when you have just woken up is to like getting your dosage of caffeine.
The Prophet said, “God does not listen to anything (more approvingly) than He listens to a Prophet reciting the Qur’an aloud in a melodious voice” (Muslim). Based on this Prophetic tradition, Muslim reciters have applied classical musical meters and rhyming patterns to the recitation of the Quran. They have classified the different meters and have identified exactly how each meter, when applied to reciting the Quran, will effect the listener.
To many non-Muslims, the closest equivalent to the art of Quranic recitation would be the singing of the liturgy. The difference, however, is that the art of Quranic recitation is more complex, nuanced, and diverse than the singing of the liturgy; Quranic recitation cannot be accompanied by musical instruments while the singing of hymns is accompanied by them; the absence of musical instruments in reciting the Quran has, naturally, made Quranic reciters focus solely on recitation, while Christian choirs include many other musical aid elements.
It is usual for a Quranic reciter to animate his audience, and for some of the audience members to lose control and chant “Allah, Allah, Allah”. This is found especially during grand recitations held in mosques. It is these scenes, of grown men being reduced to blabbering children, that show the power of the Quranic music to penetrate a person’s very senses and shake him at his very core. In the long past, famous reciters of the Quran were moved so much by their own recitation that they swooned on the spot. Orientalists have considered these events to be mere acting. Their dry, academic study of Islam from within stuffy lecture halls can never grasp the melody of the Quran as it weaves its way through a packed mosque.
It has been said that the Quran is extremely repetitive. Some unsympathetic observers have observed from their translations that such repetitions are a bore. Quranic reciters, however, deal with these repetitive verses in an interesting way. Expert reciters can recite the same verse in more than a dozen different melodic styles.
link to a Quran reciter reciting in different Qiraat:
Some reciters have been able to recite a single verse over thirty times, with each time sounding musically different from the previous times. The listeners do not hear a tape record on repeat; rather, they experience the same verse in a fresh way, as if it were the first time they heard it. It is common, also, for reciters to repeat verses to build an effect. The audience think the reciter will move to the next verse, but no. The reciter raises the spoon to the audience’s mouth then just before they can taste the syrup, the reciter pulls his hands back. The repetition of verses builds up expectation in the audience so when the reciter moves to the next verse, a dam is broken, a climax reached.
During Ramadan, reciters lead the Tarawih prayers, a special prayer that is performed at night in every mosque around the world, and only during Ramadan. Ask any Muslim and he will tell you of numerous instances when the reciter broke down in tears while reciting the Quran, or people behind the reciter screeched and cried uncontrollably. The first time I saw my father break down in tears in the mosque during prayers I felt a little ashamed. I thought he was being a little indiscreet. But then the person next to him began to cry. Then the person next to me began to cry. Then the person behind me, and the one in front of me began crying. The entire mosque was filled with tears of grown men, women, and children. I, of course, added my own tears because I didn’t want to be the odd one out. But that was when I was younger; now I do not need my father to trigger my tears in prayer.
These sights, sounds, and scenes show the living aspect of the Quran and highlight how humans can interact with the Quran in ways more intense than scrutinising it from a far-off shelf. I grew up listening to all the major famous Quran reciters and also quite a few of the lesser known reciters. This Ramadan I started going through my “collection” of recordings. What strikes me most is the individuality that each reciter imparts in his recitation. Each reciter not only recites the Quran but interprets it. His interpretation isn’t by long dense commentaries in margins of the Mushaf. His interpretation is in his recitation’s tone, style, balance, and transitions from verse to verse. Let me give a concrete example: the famous reciter Minshawi imparts a sadder tone to his recitation than Abdel-Basit who gives the verses energy. Both reciters can recite the same verse but one interprets it in such a way that your heart crashes earthwards while the other interprets it in such a way that your heart soars skywards. Or take someone like Mustafa Ismail, my personal favourite reciter. He can recite a verse and interpret it to mean calmness. He can then recite the same verse and interpret it to mean chaos. He can then recite the verse again to mean calmness followed by chaos. Again, he recites it to mean chaos followed by calmness. The multidimensional aspect of the Quran is not only linguistic, but also tonal.
Most Muslims listen to all six hundred pages of the Quran during Ramadan. This may seem daunting, especially in an age where everyone’s attention span encompasses half a tweet. But Muslims have done this since childhood, so the Quranic cadences are more familiar to them than the latest music lyrics which have taken the world by storm, lyrics which will be forgotten the next day in our age of instant fame. Listening to the Quran in Ramadan is not like listening to an Amazon Audio Book, especially since during Ramadan Muslims listen to the six hundred pages while standing up. I doubt the harshest military dictator could keep his nation standing up to listen to his six hundred page book being read out. But Muslims do stand and listen to the entire Quran during Ramadan, and they do so because they are enchanted by the beauty of its music and melodies. It is the second day of Ramadan and I have just listened to one of my all time favourite reciters, Muhammad Al-Luhaidan.