علمه البيان Taught Him Eloquence
Allah سبحانه وتعالى has created the amazing ability of speech in the son of Adam (AH). And no matter how complicated the speech may be, He has given each person the amazing ability to learn it perfectly. Every time. Afterall isn’t that what children do?
Wherever a child is born, in whatever culture and language, they learn to speak that language with perfect accent and pronunciation. This innate ability is part of human beings, as Allah سبحانه وتعالى said علمه البيان He taught him eloquence. It is the power of the subconscious mind which Allah سبحانه وتعالى has given us.
As children we all naturally used this part of our minds in learning how to speak, and which is why we learned our mother tongues with the exact accent and pronunciation of those around us. But what happens when we grow up? Where does this ability go? And how can we tap into it again to learn to recite the Qur’an flawlessly and effortlessly the way it was revealed, as if it were our mother tongue?
What Happened To The Subconscious Mind?
The truth is, as you grew up your subconscious mind didn’t go anywhere or change, but the way you used it is may have. However, going back to the original (innate) way of learning to speak or “recite” the Qur’an in this case, is very easy and requires no mental effort. In fact, it requires the lack of it. And it is this simple understanding that can make all the difference to your ability to pick up excellent recitation…or not.
The thing is, trying to pronounce words of another language with perfect exact pronunciation is complicated and difficult (this may sound like a contradiction to the previous statement but keep reading), and there are too many things to think about. You learn your Tajweed theory about where a letter comes from and its characteristics and then you try your best to apply everything, along with whatever harakah or lack of harakah (i.e. sukoon), and what is before and after, with all the mouth and facial expressions you need to do and make – and look like a right ninny while you’re at it! And then, you have to keep going like this, with all these things in mind for the next tedious few minutes which feel like hours, while feeling (and looking) a fool and wondering if you’ll ever get it, and why the reciters on youtube sound so different.
Yes it is difficult if that’s the way you’re going about it. And sadly, you’re only making things difficult for yourself by missing a simple tool which is ready to do your bidding, and which has tremendous ability to do all of this for you without you having to think and sweat over it. Yes, that’s your subconscious mind. It controls all of your bodily functions which keep you alive and going without you ever having to think about them. Just imagine if you had to think about every breath in order to breathe, or think about digesting your food and growing and what not, in order for all those things to happen? If this were the case, we’d all be long dead by now. But الحمد لله, the One Who made things easy for us, Who created the subconscious mind, Who taught us البيان.
Why Learning Theory Doesn’t Work
No matter how much theory you learn and try to apply, you will never be able to perfect your recitation this way, and the proof of this is all around us, and going back all the way to the time of revelation itself. The recitation of the Qur’an was never taught by teaching theory. Theory came afterwards. Its purpose was never to “teach” one to recite, but only a written documentation at best, which cannot depict the reality of what it is speaking of, since the sphere of that reality is not writing but in speech.
Just as one cannot grasp the reality of a certain smell just by reading a description of it. It is only when one actually smells that smell that they will know its reality and exactly what the words written mean by their description. BUT, now that one has smelled that smell, if they read the words now, what will these words do? They will serve as a reminder of that reality which was experienced. They will only make sense or mean something to one who has experienced the reality. Otherwise the analogy of using words/theory to depict a concept whose reality is in the sphere of speech and sounds, is like the blind men and the elephant.
Written documentation and theory is essentially meaningless to one who has not grasped the reality. Written documentation and theory only mean something in the case of concepts whose realities have already been grasped, and it is now that they will do their job of serving as a reminder for those concepts, a confirmation, a proof and theoretical information.
Theory: A Cause For Mistakes
People who start out by trying to apply theory to the recitation sound awkward and forced, and recite with so much what is known in Arabic as تكلف! In fact, most pronunciation problems that people develop in recitation, also originate from this way or from lack of using the subconscious way (which we will come to In shaa Allaah). Have you ever noticed beginner students exaggerating in certain letters and rules? The recitation sounds forced and difficult, and is even more difficult to listen to, and yet have you ever wondered how they came to saying things this way? Their teacher certainly can’t have recited that way that they’ve picked up their mistakes (unless they have another beginner for a teacher), so why or how is the student reciting this way? It is because they are trying to apply their understanding of the theory to the recitation.
For example, there was a student whose recitation would be good if it weren’t for all the awkwardness, and the fact that they kept exaggerating the rule of al-Itbaaq in all their heavy letters to such an extent that it almost changed the letter itself. This was an advanced student, and they did not hear that way of applying al-Itbaaq from anyone, certainly not their teacher, rather it was their own application of the theory which was messing up their recitation.
So if you cannot learn to recite no matter how much you fine-tweak your theory, then how can you learn? This is where you need to tap into your subconscious, your innate ability to learn. And this is by doing the exact opposite of thinking about theory and who and why and where and what, and in short thinking about anything at all!
The Innate Way Is The Only Way
Here is why: Speech is automatic which means that it happens at a subconscious level. This means that it cannot be controlled, which means that no amount of thinking is going to get you were you want to go. This is because the mechanisms involved are too many, too subtle and too fast to be controlled consciously. This is why using your conscious is generally useless, and why people who learn by trying to apply theory sound awkward, forced and extremely exaggerated.
So how do you use your subconscious mind that Allah created, the way you did with your mother tongue? This is how children learn to speak in the first place and why they perfect pronunciation no matter what environment they are brought up in, they perfect the pronunciation of the speech they are surrounded by, no matter how strange and difficult it may sound to foreigners.
- Firstly, you need to understand that whatever you consciously focus on, is now on your conscious mind and therefore your subconscious cannot take over and do its work.
- Secondly, you need to actually experience the sound i.e. hear and also see it being pronounced if possible in order for your subconscious to grasp the reality of that sound (did you know that the subconscious can pick up foreign accents just from lip-reading? This is an example of the amazing subleties the subconscious is able to pick up on). The more you can hear the better, i.e. immerse yourself in the sound/letter/pronunciation you want to pick up.
- Thirdly, you need to let go and just copy.
The ONLY TRUE WAY you can possibly CAPTURE THE SOUND ACCURATELY is by LISTENING and COPYING (and not doing much else in between in terms of conscious thinking). By letting go of your conscious thoughts, and simply just listening to the sound and then copying that sound, with the focus being on trying to sound like that, rather than HOW that sound is coming, or WHERE from, or WHAT I need to do for it, or WHY, will automatically take the “how/where/what/why” to your subconscious, which is the master at this. This is the easiest and simplest way to correct recitation, and when done properly it works nearly every time الحمد لله.
You will notice that the best language learning programs incorporate these techniques and have the highest success, such as the Pimsleur Method.
An example to illustrate this point further is that there were two siblings trying to learn a foreign language. The older one could read the words as he knew how to read the language better and knew more in general, whereas the younger one couldn’t read the words as well. But they needed to learn to read the language in the correct accent. When it came to pronouncing the words however, it was the younger who would copy the correct accent the way the teacher said it and not the older. This was because the older one was using his conscious mind and reading the words the way he was used to, whereas the younger since he couldn’t read the words just listened to the teacher and copied the correct accent. The older wouldn’t copy as well because he was ‘reading’ the word and applying his thinking to it.
When your student is not able to say something correctly no matter how hard they’re trying (that’s your cue they need to switch off their conscious), tell them to just listen to you and copy. Demonstrate to them and tell them to ignore everything and only listen and try to sound like that however that sound comes out doesn’t matter, just try to imitate the sound. The logical thinking brain is the conscious brain, it will try to come in and ask questions and figure out the hows and whys, but this should be ignored and imitation of the sound should be done instead which involves the creative side of the brain, i.e. the subconscious. (This is what makes it possible for people who have serious stutters in speech to sing flawlessly, the fact that the creative subconscious brain is being used in singing, whereas the logical, conscious brain is used in normal speech)
The best and only accurate way you can learn is by listening to good recitations and copying, trying to imitate the Qaari’. If you are just unable to grasp a concept, try letting go and just listening and focusing on trying to make that sound without bothering about where it’s coming from whether the correct place or not! Just try to imitate the sound as best as possible, just like what you heard. It helps if you’re female to listen to a good female reciter (which in most cases will have to be your female teacher as we don’t have female Qurraa recordings available), and likewise if you’re male to listen to male reciters since you can copy the tone of voice too to help you even further. Imagine you are trying to sound just like the Qaari’, as if pretending to be them. Focus on this, and forget about how or what to do. Make it into a game. This will engage your subconscious and help you pick up accurate recitation like nothing else, In shaa Allaah. You will notice that the best students in class are those that mimick good Qurraa’. And this is why.
* Pronunciation is automatic and so cannot be controlled consciously without sounding wrong and awkward, or just plain with تكلف.
* The only true way therefore, to capture a sound accurately is by letting go of the conscious brain, and instead just listening to and imitating the sound.
* This should be the way to learn from the beginning entirely, with your whole recitation and not just when you have trouble. If you applied this for everything, and just learned your whole recitation this way you’d pick up good habits in the first place, instead of bad ones which are hard to undo, especially at a later level when you’re trying to advance your recitation. Be sensible and Start Right.