TAJWEED AND AMERICAN IDOL … Singing for God and Fame

| February 5, 2012 | Comments (3)

Last Wednesday, following our usual evening pattern, my partner and I watched television as we dined. Prime time  televised fare is less than appealing to me, but habit leads us to fill the kitchen with  sounds of the Wheel of Fortune clicking to Bankrupt  or a frenzied hopeful butchering Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey on  American Idol  try-outs.

That night the Idol auditions were particularly cloying. One contestant, it seemed, could not let go of the word “love” in the final refrain of her song,  prolonging and strangling the L Word in a  melismatic Full Nelson – ” Lu-uh-uh-uuvvv” – that caused me to run screaming from the kitchen, hands over my ears. For those of you unfamiliar with the technique of melisima, it is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several notes in succession; in less technical jargon, drawing out a word to what are sometimes boringly unnecessary stretches, as in the painful example given above. Mariah Carey is perhaps the most famous practitioner of the melisima technique; while it has brought her renown and fortune, others have been less successful in its use.

After an over-the-table altercation that involved my partner’s snatching the remote from my hand and my grabbing it back, I landed on a channel that featured a most fascinating program from Cairo, Egypt – Koran(Quran) reading or Tajweed, the recitation of the holy scripture of Islam according to prescribed guidelines.

Tajweed is an Arabic word meaning proper pronunciation and recitation of the Quran. It consists of a set of rules on how the Quran should be read, the Quran being the central religious text of Islam.  According to that religion, the Quran contains the verbatim words of God and is regarded as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language.

Forgetting the murderous melisima of American Idol, we sat in rapt silence watching and listening  as  young contestants from all over the world rocked and swayed in other-worldly concentration, delivering song-like incantations from the holy book. One contestant – a Bangladeshi –  was particularly adept and adorable. Ten years-old, clad all in black with only her face visible, bright eyes framed by serious spectacles, she delivered her recitation of the verses with such perfection that the panel of serious-browed judges was visibly in awe.

She was followed by a slender teen-ager from Senegal whose delivery was marked by fluid  body movements and voice intonations that made his  presentation a bit too unique for the traditionally-minded Arab judges. Apparently my partner was of a similar mind, for in the middle of the boy’s recitation, I was stunned to hear him say, “No, no, no…he’s pronouncing those words wrong ! ”

In disbelief at what I had heard, I asked Arif to repeat himself and, once again, he said clearly to me, ” That boy has those words all wrong ! ” I knew, ofcourse, that my partner had grown up a Muslim and that his Mother had been the headmistress of a Madrassah (Islamic religious school). Fluent in Arabic, she passed Arab language reading skills on to her students and to her  twelve children. But I did not know that Arif had memorized large passages of the Quran and had himself participated in Quran recitation contests as a child. As the Tajweed contest continued and Arif persisted in commenting on the pronunciation skills of the entrants, I became aware of just how thoroughly he knew that holy book.

What he told me was even more interesting when he explained that while he was fluent in reading and writing Arabic, he actually understood very little of that language and that the meaning of most of the passages he had memorized from the Quran were, so to speak, “Greek” to him. He further explained to me that in his native country, Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, the actual meaning of the words of the Quran, are not understood by the people who read, memorize and recite them. So it was with many of the young participants at the Cairo Quran Recitation contest who were not from the Arab world and were not Arab speakers. The young Bangladeshi girl, who performed so brilliantly and ended up winning third prize, did not understand the words from the holy book she had memorized. 

I find it incredible that such fervor and faith can be generated in the minds and souls of people who don’t really know what it is they are reciting.  Yes, I realize that these young students are told the meaning in a general sense of what is contained in this holy book, but basically because they don’t know the Arabic language, they do not know what they are reading. And there appears little chance that the Quran will go the way of Catholic liturgy which moved  from Latin to the vernacular in its recent modernization.

I also find it  incredible that I could live with somebody for 31 years without knowing that he had memorized the Quran – or at least major parts of it – and was expert to the point that he could critique readers at a Quran recitation contest !

For me, the world is indeed a strange place ! I know  the young Quran readers are reciting for God and that the American Idol warblers are throwing out their melisima in hopes of becoming famous. But surely, as they perform before proud, nervous parents,  there is a bit of the other for both groups – fame for the Quran readers and reaching God for the Idol camp. And what is wrong with that ? Nothing !

I continue to be dazed by the knowledge that I have lived with an ex-Quran reader for over three decades.  What other secrets about my partner will reveal themselves  as the years pass ? I hope he won’t hold back too long and that he will divulge other gems from his past; after all, I can’t wait too long. I turn seventy-three  in few months !

 

 

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Comments (3)

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  1. Nail Chiodo says:

    Hi Sam. Read your post with interest and, as it happens, got out of bed this morning with a religious realization that I might as well share with you. It refers to a possible interpretation of the lines in the Our Father which say: “… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation…”. If you consider that Christ said/taught that merely to have a sinful thought already amounts to having committed the sin in question at least in part (the example given in the Gospels refers to adulterous desire, as I recall), then the lines might well be saying “forgive me for my sinful thoughts as I forgive those who entertain sinful thoughts in my regard, and lead me not into a position where I might be tempted to act upon them.” Where trespass = sinful thought, and temptation = sinful action. Of course, trespass can also mean sinful action, but for someone as plagued by “sinful” thoughts such as myself, who does his darndest not to commit sinful actions, the interpretation which emphasizes its possible hypothetical meaning (trespass = sinful thought even before it has a chance to be enacted, temptation = the actual possibility of its enactment) acquires particular relevance. Not least because it says to one’s imagination on the prowl: “Relax, don’t torment yourself too much about your ugly thoughts, just stay as far away as possible from acting upon them, don’t buy a gun etc.” Or as Nietsche once said: “Let virtue sleep, it will awake refreshed!”

  2. Nail Chiodo says:

    Sam, correct my spelling of Nietzsche, will ya? Thanks.

    • Sam says:

      Nail,
      Thanks for your awesome earlier posting. Wow ! What an intellectual you are, Dude !

      Regarding your spell-check question: the way you spell the good philosopher’s name looks good to me, but hey, the older I get (73 now) the shakier my spelling is. I’ll leave those tasks to younger folks like you…I assume you have not reached my mellow age yet !
      Regards !

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