Listening to the Qur’an being recited as it should is enough to soften even the hardest of hearts and Muslims and non-Muslims alike find it a deeply moving experience, even if they do not understand what is being said. We feel this even more in Ramadaan when we are in the Taraweeh prayers and can immediately tell the difference if we go to a Masjid where the Tajweed rules of Qur’an recitation are not being observed as they should. Every single Muslim has to recite Qur’an in Salah but many of us do not realise that reciting the Qur’an correctly, observing the rules of recitation is not an advanced science for expert reciters alone, rather it is an obligation upon each and every one of us whenever we recite the Qur’an.
What is Tajweed?
Allah commands us:
‘And recite the Qur’an distinctly (tarteel)’ (73:3)
Which means: perfect it.
The word Tajweed, linguistically means ‘proficiency’ or ‘doing something well’. It comes from the same root letters as the word ‘Jayyid’ in Arabic (meaning ‘good’): Jeem, Waw and Daal. When applied to the Qur’an, it means giving every letter of the Qur’an the rights which are due to it and observing the rules that apply to the letters in different situations. We give the letters their right by observing the unchanging essential characteristics of each letter. And we give them what is due to them by observing the characteristics of each letter that are present in them some of the time and not present at other times.When the angel Jibreel (alaihis salaam) recited the words of Allah to the Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) he recited them in a certain way and he showed the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) the ways in which it was permissible to recite the Qur’an. The Prophet taught his companions with the rules applied to his recitation and so the science of tajweed was passed on from generation to generation. So it is upon us to observe those rules in order to recite the revelation in the way it was revealed. At the time of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) the companions were commanded to recite as they heard the Prophet recite and the need to record the rules of Tajweed was not felt, as letter pronunciation came naturally to those in the Arabian Peninsula. When the Arabs started mixing with non-Arabs as Islam spread, mistakes in Qur’an recitation began appearing, so the scholars meticulously recorded the rules of recitation. Now, because the everyday Arabic that is spoken has changed so much from the Classical Arabic in which the Qur’an was revealed, even Arabs have to study Tajweed in order to recite correctly.
The Purpose of Tajweed
The Qur’an is the word of the Divine – its every syllable is from Allah. Its recitation must be taken very seriously. The purpose of the Science of Tajweed in essence, is to protect the tongue from mistakes in reciting the book of Allah, to make the reciter proficient in reciting the Qur’an, observing the correct pronunciation of every letter with the rulings and characteristics which apply to each letter, without any exaggeration or deficiency. And so through this, the reciter can recite the Qur’an upon the way of the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) who received it from Jibreel who received it from Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) in the Classical Arabic dialect that it came down in.Arabic letters each have a Makhraj – an exit or articulation point – in the mouth or throat from which they originate and they also each have Sifaat – attributes, or characteristics – particular to them. Knowing the Makhraj and Sifaat of each letter is an important part of Tajweed. Sometimes two letters have very similar articulation points which makes mixing them up easy. So if a person does not know the attributes of each letter there is a danger that he will change the meaning of the words in Qur’an recitation. Observing the rules of Tajweed in reciting protects the reciter from making mistakes that change the meaning and therefore were part and parcel of the preservation of the revelation.
The Ruling of Reading with Tajweed
Learning Tajweed is a collective duty for all Muslims in general and an individual duty upon teachers of Qur’an. It is also obligatory for every Muslim to learn tajweed rules such that he or she can avoid falling into the Major or Clear mistakes in recitation. This does not mean one should not recite or memorise the Qur’an out of fear of making mistakes – rather one should learn tajweed alongside reading and memorizing.
Muhammad bin Al-Jazaree the great Qur’an and Hadeeth scholar of the 9th Century (Hijri) says in his famous poem detailing the rules of Tajweed: “And applying Tajweed is an issue of absolute necessity, Whoever doesn’t apply Tajweed to the Qur’an, then sinning is he.” Sheikh Zakariyyaa Al-Ansari [died in 926 H.] said in explanation of this verse in his book: Sharh al-Muqaddimah al-Jazariyyaa “It is required to observe all of the Arabic rules in that which changes it and ruins the meaning”. So he regarded it as an obligation to keep away from the major mistakes in reciting the Qur’an. The scholars have divided the types of mistakes one might fall into when reciting the Qur’an into two types: 1. Clear mistakes: which usually change obvious things and change the meaning. 2. Unobvious (hidden) mistakes: for which one may need to study Tajweed rules in more detail. The majority of scholars agree that applying the Tajweed rules of Qur’an such that the Clear Mistakes are avoided is an individual obligation (Fard ‘Ayn) upon every Muslim who has memorised all or part of the Qur’an. As for applying all of the detailed rules of Tajweed and avoiding the Unobvious mistakes then it is (Fard Kifaayah) upon the Muslim ummah. That is, there must be some students of knowledge who have knowledge of that. This is because the Qur’an was revealed with the Tajweed rules applied to it and the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) recited it back to Jibreel in that way and the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) read it in that way, so it is the way it was revealed to us by Allah and must be preserved in that way. The Clear mistakes must be avoided by all and to avoid them one must memorise and read attentively and have knowledge of some basic aspects of Tajweed. If a person falls into the Clear Mistakes, this is considered a sin and Ibn Taymiyyah even regarded it undesirable for a Student of Knowledge (i.e. someone who knows Tajweed) to pray behind a person who makes Clear Mistakes in their Salaah. As for the Unobvious mistakes, then the ruling on them is lighter and the recitation of a person falling into this type of mistake is regarded as lacking in completeness but prayer behind such a person is sound. The List below shows what type of mistakes fall under each category.
Scholars and the ordinary Muslims should avoid: mistakes in words which are clear and inconspicuous (usually changing the meaning), mistakes related to correct pronunciation of letters so that letters are not mixed up.
Examples of Clear mistakes:
• Changing one letter into another, or a short vowel (harakah) into another, (changing Fathah into Damma or the letter Qaaf into Kaaf etc)
• Not observing the elongations (Madd) at all. Reciting them quickly as if there is no Madd so that they turn into the length of a vowel.
• Making a madd letter out of a normal harakah.
• Stopping or starting at an incorrect place so that the meaning is spoilt. Like stopping at ‘Laa ilaaha’ (There is no God), without completing ‘illallaah’ (except Allah).
These are mistakes which are to do with perfecting ones pronunciation and are not obvious. They would be known only by those who have studied Tajweed rules or experts in this field. Ordinary Muslims may not know these or perceive these as mistakes.
Examples of Unobvious mistakes:
• Not being totally exact with the elongation of letters: (Making the Madd shorter or longer by a 1/2 or even 1/4 degree etc.)
• Not observing the attributes of each letter perfectly: (Slightly rolling the Raa’, or exaggerating the ‘N’ sound in Noon etc.)
• Not observing the rules with which to pronounce letters when they are next to each other (like not merging certain letters that should be merged (idghaam) and not clearly pronouncing those which should be clearly pronounced (ith-haar) etc.)
• Making light letters sound heavy and heavy letters sound light (Except if by doing this you change a letter into another; in this case it would be an obvious mistake.) Of the proofs that the scholars bring to prove the obligation of Tajweed and that it is an established Sunnah, is that Allah says in the Qur’an, the meaning of which is: ‘And recite the Qur’an (aloud) in a (slow and melodious) style (tarteela)’ (Surah Muzzammil, aayah 4) Ali ibn Abi Talib (radi Allahu ‘anhu) said in the explanation of this aayah: “at-Tarteel is Tajweed of the letters and knowing where to stop (correctly)”. And of the proofs also is that Allah says in the Qur’an, the meaning of which is: ‘Those who We have given the Book to, give it its right in recitation (recite it as it should be recited)’ (Surah al-Baqarah, aayah 121) Of the rights of reciting correctly is reciting it the way in which it was revealed. There are various ahadeeth which also show us the importance of Tajweed. Umm Salamah was asked about the recitation of the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) and she described it as a recitation ‘clearly-distinguished, letter by letter’. Sa’eed bin Mansoor relates in his Sunan that a man was reciting the Qur’an to Abdullah bin Mas’ood and he recited: “Innamas sadaqaatu lil fuqara-i wal masaakeen”, so Ibn mas’ood said: “This was not how the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) recited it to me!”
So the man asked: “How did he read it to you O Aba Abdir-Rahman?”
To which he replied: “Lil Fuqaraaaa-i wal masaakeen” and he elongated the word Fuqaraa which shows us the importance of the knowledge of the different lengths of elongation (mudood) which are also from the rules of Tajweed.
Reciting the Qur’an melodiously
The Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) used to recite the Qur’an in slow, measured, rhythmic tones as Allah had instructed him, not hurriedly, but rather “he would recite a surah in such slow rhythmic tones that it would be longer than it would seem possible.” He would stop at the end of each aayah.
He commanded people to recite in a beautiful voice in a pleasant melodious tone, saying “Beautify the Qur’an with your voices [for a fine voice increases the Qur'an in beauty]” and he said, “he who does not recite the Qur’an in a pleasant tone is not of us.” Unfortunately all too often we find people reciting the Qur’an quickly and without changing their tone and without any feeling.
We should put all our efforts into reciting the Qur’an with as much feeling as we can! Have you ever prayed behind an Imam who read with feeling? Well the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) said “Truly the one who has one of the finest voices among the people for reciting the Qur’an is the one who you think fears Allah when you hear him recite.” Once when the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) complimented Abu Moosaa al-Ash’ari on the beauty of his recitation, Abu Moosaa said “had I known you were there, I would have made my voice more pleasant and emotional for you.” Let us remember, that the Qur’an is literally the word of Allah. In it we find exhortations, warnings, glad-tidings, parables, stories of the past, commands and prohibitions. Aayaat to make us think, reflect, cry, fear, hope, love, fall down in prostration! How can we recite a text that contains all of that, without feeling? When we recite an aayah of Qur’an let us imagine that we are trying to feel and convey the full message behind that aayah. Perhaps our confidence is lacking. The two contributing factors to our lack of confidence in reciting the Qur’an tend to be: 1. Not knowing the rules of Tajweed correctly and so fearing that we will make mistakes and 2. Not understanding the meaning of what we are reciting. So let us work hard to remove these two obstacles by learning Tajweed and making a commitment to learn the Arabic language.
Helpful Tips towards learning Tajweed
• Find a Qur’an teacher who has studied Tajweed or who has an Ijazah in recitation (a certificate used primarily to indicate that they have been authorized by a higher authority in a chain going back to the Prophet) who will listen to your recitation and correct you. Qur’an recitation was passed down generation by generation through teachers, not just books, with a direct line to the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).The movements of your mouth as well as the sounds are important and only a teacher can correct you and make sure you are applying the rules correctly. Many local Mosques run Tajweed classes and if you can’t access a teacher in person, try one of the many online classes and tutors, choosing those that have been recommended by people you know.
• Find a book containing the rules of Tajweed and learn each rule little by little, applying it as you go along with the help of your teacher. There are many concise Arabic and English books on the market as well as audio CDS to help. Look for books with some drawings showing you the articulation points for each letter.
• Watch Tajweed tutorial videos online, take notes and apply what you learn.
• Listen to Qur’an tapes of reciters who recite very clearly, at a medium or slow speed (like Sheikh Hudhaify or Sheikh Muhammad al-Hosary) and try and notice their application of the various rules of Tajweed. Repeat after them while trying to apply the rules you’ve learnt. Try to copy their tone and melody as well and see how it changes as the meaning of what they’re reciting changes.
• Tajweed website: There are some excellent Tajweed websites which you can find online, of them are: http://www.abouttajweed.com http://www.tajweedinenglish.com/
• Tajweed Mus-haf: You can get a copy of the Qur’an called Mus-haf at-Tajweed, which has the rules of Tajweed incorporated in the text of the Qur’an with colour coding. This can be a helpful prompt to help you apply rules as you go along. There is also an accompanying computer program which highlights Tajweed rules with audio recitation.
• Tajweed Poem: If you know Arabic you could memorise Ibn al-Jazaree’s poem which contains all the rules of Tajweed. You can get the poem on tape sung as a nasheed in some countries. This might be an easy way to learn the rules of recitation.
• Try and apply the rules you learn to the Surahs you have already memorised and don’t become negligent with regards to reciting correctly. You might have to revise the surahs by looking back at them.
• Practice and repetition will make perfect insha Allah: As Ibn al-Jazaree says in his poem about acquiring Tajweed: ‘And there is no obstacle between it (learning Tajweed) and leaving it, Except that a person must exercise his mouth with it!’
May Allah help us all to give His Book its right when we recite it and make reciting it more beloved to our tongues than anything else. Aameen.