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Hafiz (Arabic: حافظ, ḥāfiẓ, Arabic: حُفَّاظ, pl. huffāẓ,Arabic: حافظة f. ḥāfiẓa), literally meaning "guardian," is a term used by modern Muslims for someone who has completely memorized the Qur'an. Hafiza is the female equivalent.
Muhammad (S.W.A.W) lived in the 7th Century CE, in Arabia in a time when few people were literate. The Arabs preserved their histories, genealogies, and poetry by memory alone. When Muhammad proclaimed the verses later collected as the Qur'an, his followers naturally preserved the words by memorizing them.
Early accounts say that the literate Muslims also wrote down such verses as they heard them. However, the Arabic writing of the time was a scripta defectiva, an incomplete script, that did not include vowel markings or other diacritics needed to distinguish between words. Hence if there was any question as to the pronunciation of a verse, the memorized verses were a better source than the written ones. The huffaz were also highly appreciated as reciters, whose intoned words were accessible even to the illiterate. Memorization required no expensive raw materials (in an age when there was no paper in the Muslim world, only vellum). Memorization was also considered more secure—a manuscript could easily be destroyed, but if the Qur'an was to be memorized by many huffaz, it would never be lost.
Even after Caliph Uthman ibn Affan collected and organized the Qur'an circa 650-656 CE, recitation (from memory) of the Qur'an was still honored and encouraged. There are numerous traditions of recitation. Most huffaz know only one version, but true experts can recite in several traditions.
Huffaz are highly respected within the Islamic community. They are privileged to use the title "Hafiz" before their names. They are tested on their knowledge. For example, in one test they are asked to continue the recitation of a passage taken randomly from the Qur'an. As they do not know which passage will be chosen, they must know the whole text in order to be sure of passing. In another test, a would-be hafiz might be asked to recite verses containing a specific word or phrase.
Most huffaz have studied as children in special Islamic schools or madrasahs, being instructed in tajwid (rules of recitation) and vocalisation as well as committing the Qur'an to memory. To give some idea as to the nature of this undertaking: The Qur'an is divided into 114 Surahs (chapters), containing 6,236 verses (comprising some 80,000 words or 330,000 individual characters). This process generally takes between 3 to 6 years part time together with schooling.
In the classical Arabic lexicon, the word hafiz was not traditionally used to refer to one who had memorized the Qur'an. Instead, the word used was hamil (i.e., one who carries.) Hafiz was used for the scholars of hadith, specifically one who had committed 100,000 hadiths to memory (for example, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani).
Having memorised the Qur'an, the hafiz or hafiza must then ensure they do not forget it. To ensure perfect recall of all the learned verses requires constant practice.1
The memorisation of the Qur'an was important to Muslims in the past and is also in the present. Yearly, thousands of students master the Qur'an and complete the book with interpretation and also memorisation.
The Quran, the Muslims’ religious Scripture, was said to be revealed in Arabic to Muhammad (S.A.W.W) through the angel Gabriel. The revelation occurred piecemeal, over a period of twenty-three years, sometimes in brief verses and sometimes in longer chapters.2
The Quran (lit. a “reading” or “recitation”) is distinct from the recorded sayings and deeds (Sunnah) of Muhammad, which are instead preserved in a separate set of literature collectively called the “Ahadeeth” (lit. “news”; “report”; or “narration”).
Upon receiving revelation, Muhammad (S.A.W.W) engaged himself in the duty of conveying the message to his Companions through reciting the exact words he heard in their exact order. This is evident in his inclusion of even the words of God which were directed specifically to him, for example: “Qul” (“Say [to the people, O Muhammad]”). The Quran’s rhythmic style and eloquent expression make it easy to memorize. Indeed, God describes this as one of its essential qualities for preservation and remembrance (Q. 44:58; 54:17, 22, 32, 40), particularly in an Arab society which prided itself on orations of lengthy pieces of poetry. Michael Zwettler notes that: “in ancient times, when writing was scarcely used, memory and oral transmission was exercised and strengthened to a degree now almost unknown.” 3
Large portions of the Quran were thus easily memorized by a large number of people in the community of Muhammad (S.A.W.W).
Muhammed(S.A.W.W) encouraged his Companions to learn each verse that was revealed and transmit it to others.4 The Quran was also required to be recited regularly as an act of worship, especially during the daily meditative prayers (salah). Through these means, many repeatedly heard passages from the revelation recited to them, memorized them and used them in prayer. The entire Quran was memorized verbatim (word for word) by some of Muhammad’s(S.A.W.W) Companions. Among them were Zaid ibn Thabit, Ubayy ibn Ka’b, Muadh ibn Jabal, and Abu Zaid.5
Not only were the words of the Quran memorized, but also their pronunciation, later which formed into a science in itself called Tajweed. This science meticulously elucidates how each letter is to be pronounced, as well as the word as a whole, both in context)
Furthermore, the sequence or order of the Quran was arranged by Muhammad(S.A.W.W) himself and was also well-known to the Companions.6 Each Ramadan, Muhammad(S.A.W.W) would repeat after the angel Gabriel (reciting) the entire Quran in its exact order as far as it had been revealed, while in the presence of a number of his Companions.7 In the year of his death, he recited it twice.8 Thereby, the order of verses in each chapter and the order of the chapters became reinforced in the memories of each of the Companions present.
As the Companions spread out to various provinces with different populations, they took their recitations with them in order to instruct others.9 In this way, the same Quran became widely retained in the memories of many people across vast and diverse areas of land.
Indeed, memorization of the Quran emerged into a continuous tradition across the centuries, with centers/schools for memorization being established across the Muslim world.10 In these schools, students learn and memorize the Quran along with its Tajweed, at the feet of a master who in turn acquired the knowledge from his teacher, an ‘un-broken chain’ going all the way back to Muhammad (S.A.W.W). The process usually takes 3–6 years. After mastery is achieved and the recitation checked for lack of errors, a person is granted a formal license (ijaza) certifying she has mastered the rules of recitation and can now recite the Quran the way it was recited by Muhammad.
A.T. Welch, a non-Muslim orientalist, writes: “For Muslims the Quran is much more than scripture or sacred literature in the usual Western sense. Its primary significance for the vast majority through the centuries has been in its oral form, the form in which it first appeared, as the “recitation” chanted by Muhammad(S.A.W.W) to his followers over a period of about twenty years… The revelations were memorized by some of Muhammad’s(S.A.W.W)followers during his lifetime, and the oral tradition that was thus established has had a continuous history ever since, in some ways independent of, and superior to, the written Quran… Through the centuries the oral tradition of the entire Quran has been maintained by the professional reciters (qurraa). Until recently, the significance of the recited Quran has seldom been fully appreciated in the West.” 11
The Quran is perhaps the only book, religious or secular, that has been memorized completely by millions of people.12
Leading orientalist Kenneth Cragg reflects that: “…this phenomenon of Quranic recital means that the text has traversed the centuries in an unbroken living sequence of devotion. It cannot, therefore, be handled as an antiquarian thing, nor as a historical document out of a distant past. The fact of hifdh (Quranic memorization) has made the Quran a present possession through all the lapse of Muslim time and given it a human currency in every generation, never allowing its relegation to a bare authority for reference alone.” 13
Muhammad stated that there are many benefits, and rewards behind studying that which is best to be studied. Some sayings of Muhammad are quoted below:
- “The best of you is he who learns the Qur’an and teaches it.” (Bukhari)
- ”Allah says: “If anybody finds no time for my remembrance and for begging favours of Me, because he remains busy with the Holy Qur’ân, I shall give him more than what I give all those who beg favours of Me”. The superiority of the word of Allah (God) over all other words is like the superiority of Allah over the entire creation.” (Tirmidhi)
- “On the day of judgement, it will be said to the man devoted to the Qur’ân, ‘Go on reciting the Qur’an and continue ascending the storeys of paradise and recite in the slow manner you had been reciting in the worldly life. Your final abode will be where you reach at the time you recite the last ayah (verse).” (Ahmed, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood)
- “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah (God) will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it (i.e. his recitation), and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif-Laam-Meem is (considered as) a letter, rather Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” (At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi)
- “Read the Qur’an. For verily it will come forth on the Day of Resurrection as an intercessor for its readers.” (Muslim)
- “The Qur’an is an intercessor (which by Allah’s permission) intercedes, and an opponent (which is) truthful. He who appoints it as his leader, (then it) will lead him to Paradise. And he who puts it behind him, (then it) will lead him to the Fire.” (Ibn Hibban, Al-Bayhaqi, At-Tabarani, Sahih)
- “He who is skillful in reciting the Qur’an is with the unveiled, honorable, and pious. And he who stutters when reading the Qur’an, (and its recitation) is difficult upon him, will receive two rewards.” (Al-Bukhari)
- "Whoever reads the Quran, memorizes it, and acts upon it, on the Day of Judgment he will be clad (by angels) with a crown of light, its light is like the sunlight and his parents will be clad with two garments better than the whole world and whatever it contains." So they would amazingly ask: "What action did we do to deserve this?" They will be told: "Because your son memorized the Quran". (Al-Haakim)
- “On the Day of Qiyaamah a crown of such brilliance will be placed on the heads of the parents of one who learnt the Qur’an and practised on its laws, that its glitter will outshine the brilliance of the sun which penetrates your houses. What then do you think will be the position of the one who himself learnt the Qur’an and acted in accordance with it?” (Ahmad and Abu Dawood)
- “Whosoever memorizes the Qur’an and practises on what is lawful and abstains from what is prohibited, Allah will enter him into Jannah and accept his intercession on behalf of ten such relatives who have been destined to enter Hell.” (Tirmidhi)
- Wajihuddin, Mohammed (22 Oct 2005). "The Messengers: Reward of the faithful". The Times of India. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- Muhammad Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, London: MWH Publishers, 1979, p.17.
- Michael Zwettler, The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry, Ohio State Press, 1978, p.14.
- Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith No.546.
- Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith No.525.
- Ahmad von Denffer, Ulum al-Quran, The Islamic Foundation, UK, 1983, p.41-42; Arthur Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Quran, Leiden: Brill, 1937, p.31.
- Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith No.519.
- Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith Nos.518 & 520.
- Ibn Hisham, Seerah al-Nabi, Cairo, n.d., Vol.1, p.199.
- Labib as-Said, The Recited Koran, translated by Morroe Berger, A. Rauf, and Bernard Weiss, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1975, p.59.
- The Encyclopedia of Islam, ‘The Quran in Muslim Life and Thought.’
- William Graham, Beyond the Written Word, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p.80.
- Kenneth Cragg, The Mind of the Quran, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973, p.26