Learning Tajweed, Part Five

 Learning Tajweed, Part Five

My tenacity brought a big blessing. I inserted myself firmly into that madrassa, never missing a day, and always fully prepared for the lesson. I was surprised to discover that most of the ladies had no problem learning the special rules of tajweed, but all of us had problems discarding the accents of our native languages.

The other women were Arabs, but from various Arab countries.  A Pakistani or two, an Indonesian, and I, rounded out the group. As you know, the various dialects of Arabic are different from one another not only in word usage, but in pronunciation of letters. The two letters most distorted by dialect are Qaf and Geem. The dialect furthest from classical Arabic is the Egyptian dialect, and half of the ladies were Egyptians.

So, I did not feel as odd as I expected I’d feel. My pronunciation issues were not more severe than theirs.

I practiced every day at home, when my husband was at work and the girls were at school. I derived an inner contentment from reciting the Qur’an, as opposed to reading it, or reading the translation of it. I started paying attention to the various recitors; some were easy to understand, and some had melodious voices.

Ahmed Al-AJami became very popular at that time, but I knew people who did not like his style because they thought it was too close to singing. I must confess, I liked his style for that very reason!

During  the year, I discovered that my one and only neighborhood friend, an Egyptian woman, also studied at the same madrassa and was enrolled in the highest class available, with the best teacher. This was the class I wanted to enter, but the waiting list was long, with the requirement that you finished all the other classes first.

My friend spoke to the teacher about me, and I was allowed to sit in. Then I was allowed to read for the teacher, and she invited me to join the class!  I’m not sure she was  comfortable with me, but she  recognized my diligence, desire, and accomplishment to date, thanks to Allah.

I spent the entire next year in that class, learning more than I’d ever expected to learn. To this day, I thank Allah for the blessing of putting me in that class. I am not worthy of it, especially since I’ve neglected the Qur’an since repatriating. The good news is that my solid foundation still stands.


Learning Tajweed, Part Four


At home, we poured out the whole story to my husband, who then said,”I know the husband of the mudeera. I will go pray Isha with him and find out what’s going on.”

He was gone longer than usual that evening, but we were waiting for him at the door when he returned.

“Everything is OK now,” he said, “they will phone you tomorrow and ask you to come back.”

What?!”  For the second time that day, I was in shock.

Turns out, one of the madrassa teachers recognized my girls as daughters of an Egyptian woman who had been a teacher several years ago. She told the mudeera, who was then suspicious. Why were these Egyptian girls coming with an American woman who pretended to be their mother, and they pretended to be her children? Stranger yet, why did this American woman read Arabic but did not speak it very well? And where was the real mother of these girls?

The mudeera decided that I was a spy for the government, though for which government, she did not know. However, that was the most plausible explanation. So she kicked us out, not wanting any trouble.

When my husband told the mudeera’s husband that he had divorced the girl’s mother and sent her back to Egypt, and later married an American Muslimah, the other man understood, and explained the situation to his wife.

My girls’ dignity had been insulted to the extent that they said, “We’re never going back there!” but I said, “Let’s go back and show those people that they cannot push us around. We want to learn tajweed, so let’s make them teach us.”

The next day, a woman phoned and said, “Well, are you coming back or not?” and I said, “Yes,” and hung up the phone. No salaam, no sorry, just that question. I knew these women were not of a more fortunate social class, but I was surprised at their crude manner and narrow attitude. I needed all my courage to go back the next day and convince my girls to go with me.

We did. We were reinstated and everyone acted as if nothing had happened. That was fine with me. All I wanted was instruction, nothing more, nothing less, and I got it. We stayed for several months, but the biggest blessing was yet to come.



Learning Tajweed– Part Three

Kicked Out!

I spent a fruitful term sitting in the circle with the “literate” ladies.  We read, but the class focused on memorization. That was fine. I wanted more, however.  I knew that tajweed had rules of its own apart from grammar and I wanted to learn them.  My husband suggested I enroll in a new madrassa that was opening in the neighborhood, so I took my girls and enrolled.  There, I was put into a class with barely literate women, but that was fine, as long as we were reading and learning the rules of tajweed. My girls (whose native language is Arabic) went to a more advanced class.

After a few days, the mudeera (director) pulled us aside as we headed for our classes. She said, “We have a special class starting soon, a class for Western women, and I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable there.”

“Fine,” I told her, and started for my classroom so I wouldn’t be late.

“Wait,” she said, and then gave me a speech about how, as a Westerner, I would want to learn with other Western women, therefore I should wait for the new class to start rather than continue. Something sounded fishy. I knew I was the only Westerner who lived in the neighborhood within a twenty-five mile radius.

“OK.” I said, “but I know how to read. What I need is pronunciation.”

She said I didn’t read well enough to remain in any class other than the special one being organized for Westerners, and I said yes, I do read well enough, “…and I’ll show you.” I opened the mushaf (copy of Qur’an) and started to read. 

“No, no, you must go now. We’ll phone you when your class starts.”

“What?!” I said. “Ask my teacher. She’ll tell you that I am doing fine!”

“No. Please leave!” She got up and herded my girls and I out the door. My girls spoke up for me, but could not soften the will of the mudeera to be rid of us. The girls nearly cried. As we left the building, the mudeera shouted, “Wait! You can’t leave like that,” and threw down three pairs of black gloves.

We put them on and walked home, all three of us in tears.


(Today I am leaving for our family cottage in the nothern part of the state– a mini-vacation while I’m still on medical leave for my hand. I won’t be able to post for an eternity of six days. I’ll have to work off-line, preparing future posts, of course.)



Learning Tajweed, Part Two


The class met every weekday after Asr prayer til Maghreb. Basically, it was a memorization class. The teacher would recite a phrase, and we’d repeat it in unison. When her sensitive ear perceived improper pronunciation, the offender was singled out and corrected. No one took offense. In fact, we were amused at each other’s regional accents. We were a collection of Arabs (all except me) from the surrounding Arab countries. We all had issues with certain Arabic letters, because the Qur’an is recited in perfect language, yet they were all accustomed to speaking in dialect.

Their challenge was to purge their pronunciation of regional variations, and my challenge was to master the letters that Westerners cannot pronounce with ease.

I enjoyed the reciting, and I improved my pronunciation, but I could not get comfortable in that class. There I sat, a Westerner who could read their native language while they could not, and I disliked having to ignore that fact. Perhaps they could not get comfortable with me, either. I could read, but I could not speak very well. No one understood that.

Before long, I asked to be moved into a more advanced class. I had to prove my reading ability, which was not difficult, and when the director heard my accent, she agreed immediately that I could graduate to the next level.

The women in the new class looked much like those in the first class; middle aged or older, mostly from Egypt, Syria, or Saudi Arabia, and all sitting in a circle, draped in black, heads covered. I wanted to remove my scarf, but was told that one must cover while reading the Qur’an. I knew this was not true, but who was I to speak up?

So I sat hot, yet happy to be there, and looking forward to learning. While waiting for the instructor, a Syrian woman sitting to the left of me leaned over and asked, “Min fayn inti?” Where are you from?

I said, “Amreeka,” and she turned to the woman on her left and whispered, “Amreeka”. That woman turned to the woman on her left and repeated, “Amreeka.” Each one repeated, “Amreeka” in a whisper to the one next to her, until the entire circle had been informed. Eyebrows either raised or descended, while mouths frowned or opened in amazement.

The next question from the Syrian woman was the predictable, “Min fayn zowjik?” Where is your husband from?

“Misr,” I said– Egypt. Again, my response was repeated in whispers from one woman to the next, while I looked at each one of them as they talked about me without embarrassment and little restraint.

The self-appointed spokeswoman asked me all the vital statistics– what did my husband do? How many kids did I have? Boys or girls? How long had I been Muslim? How long had I been in the Kingdom? Each answer got whispered around the circle like the answers before them, and by the time the teacher entered the classroom, they knew more about me than I’d ever learn about them.

Such began my experience in the classroom with the literate ladies.


Learning Tajweed

Hijab, women’s rights, Islam, and East vs. West are subjects that never fail to stimulate a good, often repetitive, conversation.

Learning Arabic is another such topic. I am tempted to repeat my laments about my failure to achieve fluency, and the difficulty of the language, and my lack of helpful cooperation from my kids, etc. All of that is mundane.

I’d rather tell a story about how I studied tajweed.

After I had studied Arabic grammar two years at the ladies community college, conveniently located down the block from my Riyadh apartment (across from the TV tower, for anyone who wishes to investigate), my husband suggested I start tajweed. 

I confess, I would have rather continued grammar, but the college offered no further courses. I enrolled for tajweed at a local madrassa, also within walking distance from home.

In spite that my black wraps looked like everyone else’s black wraps, I stood out like a horse in a herd of camels.The ladies all looked at me like camels look at people– directly, standing still, amazed, and wondering what comes next. I was their first face-to-face Westerner.

They put me in the elementary class, with the illiterate women; no one believed I could read. We all sat on the floor, in a circle, and the teacher started taking attendance.

“OmAhmed? OmMariam? OmFaisal? OmNur?” One by one, the women raised their hands, and grunted something to indicate their presence.

“OmHammama?” (Mother of the pigeon.) They all laughed at this.

When she came to me, she raised her eyes, looked at me, and said, “OmAysh?” meaning, “The mother of whom?”

I said, “Ismi Marahm.” My name is Marahm.


“La. Ismi Marahm, wa bas.” No, my name is Marahm, that’s all.

“OMAYSH?” she repeated loudly, with wide eyes, as everyone in the room focused upon me, and no one moved.

“OmRanya,” I said meekly. So much for my Western idea of personal identity. I nearly got up and ran out, but that would have drawn even more attention.

Such began another two years of study, during which I suffered additional insults, but developed an appreciation of the Qur’an worth every minute. More later.