American Kids Memorizing the Quran
- American Kids Memorizing the Quran
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
"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
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
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
"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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