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American Kids Memorizing the Quran

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    American Kids Memorizing the Quran CARA ANNA 2/2/06 Religion Today http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/02/AR2006020200845.html
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      American Kids Memorizing the Quran
      CARA ANNA
      2/2/06
      Religion Today
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/02/AR2006020200845.html


      NISKAYUNA, N.Y. -- Taha Ahmed was all of 5 years old when he stood in
      front of a Muslim congregation and read from the Quran in Arabic.

      It wasn't so hard, he whispers now, curled up between his parents on
      the living room couch at their home near Albany. After all, he was
      there to celebrate the fact he'd read the holy book completely.


      Now, having just turned 7, he's busy memorizing it.

      In the world of religion, there are certain milestones. Young Roman
      Catholics have confirmation and, along with some young Protestants,
      first Communions. Now a growing Muslim population in America is
      importing a rite of passage called Ameen.

      The cultural practice is a mostly south, southeast and central Asian
      one, familiar to perhaps a third of Muslims in the United States.

      It has two parts. The first Ameen, or "Amen," is held when a child
      finishes reading the Quran, roughly the length of the New Testament,
      for the first time in Arabic. The child reads the holy book aloud,
      sounding it out without necessarily understanding the words.

      The second, and more rare, Ameen comes when someone finishes
      memorizing it, a task that can take a full-time student as long as
      three years.

      "It's like a bar mitzvah for Jewish children," says Eide Alawam,
      interfaith outreach coordinator for the Michigan-based Islamic Center
      of America, the largest mosque in the United States. "It's an
      excellent idea."

      America is home to as many as 6 million Muslims, though they remain a
      small faith group in this country relative to Christians. U.S.-born
      blacks and South Asian immigrants each make up about one-third of the
      community, with the rest from the Mideast, Africa, parts of Europe and
      elsewhere, according to the Mosque in America study released in 2001
      by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      Muslims in the United States say it's important to hold on to
      tradition. Depending on what part of the world they come from, they
      may celebrate when a child begins reading the Quran, or when a girl
      decides to start wearing a headscarf or hijab.

      "In America, the ceremony is highlighted even more," says Faizan Haq,
      who teaches Islamic cultural history at the State University of New
      York at Buffalo and is on the board of directors of the
      Washington-based National Council of Pakistani Americans. "Being here,
      not in a majority Muslim culture, and still achieving this goal."

      America has many cultural distractions, which is why Muslim parents
      here have to take a more active role involving their children in the
      faith, says Fareez Ahmed, a 21-year-old graduate of George Washington
      University. Ahmed finished school early to spend his fourth year
      memorizing the Quran, and now he's in Bangladesh to perfect his
      recitation with other students.

      Islam experts say reciting the Quran from memory in one sitting would
      take about 15 hours.

      In America, Ahmed would memorize the Quran three hours a day and
      review for another five or six hours. "I had half-days on Sundays
      because I couldn't concentrate when football was on," he says in an
      e-mail.


      For his Ameen, he hopes to have a backyard party with speakers and a
      translation in English projected onto screens as he recites a few
      passages.

      "The practice is definitely increasing," he says. He has five students
      to teach when he returns to the United States. "Especially with the
      current international situation, it's really important to know what
      the Quran really says about certain issues, and having those verses
      memorized helps a great deal."

      At Taha's Ameen at the local mosque, he got presents including
      binoculars and puzzles and was given a feast with friends and family.
      The meal was topped with traditional sweets, though some American kids
      now insist on pizza as well.

      Faizan Haq says Ameen has not yet bred its own accessories like
      greeting cards, but he's noticed a new toy industry catering to Muslim
      American children. One game has a child press a Quranic verse and
      provides a translation. "I bought one for my niece," he says.

      The translation is key. Many Muslims in the United States learn to
      recite the Quran in Arabic before learning what it means.

      Taha's 5-year-old sister, Iman, is almost halfway through her first
      reading of the book, and she's started memorizing it as well. Bolder
      than Taha, she stands and recites a short passage while holding her
      mother's hand. But she can't explain what she's saying.

      "She doesn't understand it," says her father, Abdul Haq, an engineer
      at General Electric. "We don't speak Arabic. Just saying the Quran is
      an act of worship."

      Classes about the meaning of the passages will come as the children
      get older. But for now, it's a snowy day outside the family's upstate
      New York home, and Taha and Iman plan to go sledding.

      *********************************************************************

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