Posts Tagged ‘movie


Visual-Spacial Imagination, Memory, & the Qur’an


A belated Eid mubarak to all!  It seems like it’s been a while, alhamdulillah.  I’ve been trying to get back in the groove of things back home, and as we all know Ramadan is an experience in and of itself.  It’s been almost 2 full months since the Dream 2012 batch graduated. It still hasn’t sunk in that I won’t be going back to Dream in a few weeks.  Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of something from Dream, whether something in class that Ustadh said or some aspect of living in Texas or a person or a joke, anything.  Even this cliched term, “not a day goes by…” is not exaggerated enough to capture how many things remind me of Dream on a daily basis, I would say it happens at least every few hours.

And there it is again–memory–something that I’ve been mulling over for a while.  There are some trains of internal thought-conversations that we have in our minds that insist on tempting us and any and every thing we see around us can make us think of them.  A subject I am currently brooding over is the idea of memory.

Why, you ask?

Coming back from Dream, one of my main goals is to kick up my Qur’an memorizing.  I would say that memorizing has been the creature lurking in the shadows this whole time for the past 3-4 years of my life and I am just starting to notice it.  First, it was stumbling into tajweed classes and working on tajweed and reading for a while.  Then, it was going to Dream, where I became adequately adept at being able to understand the language I would need to be memorizing in.  And my most recent experience, memorizing in Ramadan in which I somehow was able to memorize an unimaginable half a juz in 3-4 weeks with the blessings and favor of Allah.

It was at Dream that I started experimenting with my ability to memorize and what it means to sit down and practice memorizing and to become good at it.  During Dream, Ustadh Nouman would make us memorize so many random, bakwas things and it was really frustrating at times.  One of our first memorizing assignments was to give a 2-3 minute introduction speech from memory, (posted here). Regularly throughout the year, we would have to memorize the conversations and short reading passages from our Cambridge and Bayna Yadayk 2 textbooks.  Especially with Bayna Yadayk 2, Ustadh Nouman would walk around among the study groups and tell us that he’s coming back in 10 minutes to test us on a page-long conversation.  Cue insane cramming!  But somehow, we managed to pretty much stumble through them even if it was just 10 minutes later and it becoming normal to me is something that amazed me, and still amazes me.

So this morning as I was trying to warm up my brain for (guess what?) attempting to memorize my half page for today, I happened to come across this TED talk by Joshua Foer called “Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do” and got horribly, but oh so productively, distracted.  (The distraction continues now as I blog about it, which is an added distraction).

In this talk, he speaks about his experiences as a journalist covering the national memory competition and his subsequent interaction with the idea of memory and memorizing and why it’s so important in our lives.  He does an exercise at the beginning of his talk to demonstrate the memorizing theory of “memory palace,” the theory he later explains in his talk and elucidates his opening demo.  *warning, there is a picture with some nudity that he shows, so when you see a picture of a front door, look away before it’s too late!!

One of the main concepts he speaks about, which is also at the crux of the memory palace method, is what he talks about in a study that shows that when people/memory experts are actively engaging their memories, the part of their brain that lit up vs. the control group was the visual-spacial portion.  The whole idea is to find a way to imagine what you’re memorizing so it will be easier to recall.

This Ramadan, I actually tried imaging the Qur’an in a visual-spacial sort of way, like a movie, but not so much for memorizing.  I did that during tarawih to help keep my khushoo/concentration and also to simply enrich my experience of the Qur’an in hopes of being able to taste it.  It’s really easy to do and a fun exercise, and it’s quite built into the language! When Shaykh Yasir Birjas visited the campus, he said that Arabic words are like a picture in your head, and he encouraged us to always find the picture of the word while we were studying.  Ustadh Nouman is actually a huge proponent of this idea–that the Qur’an is like a movie, especially in some parts over the other.  It’s something he also spoke about in his Sunday Qur’an lectures (which can be found on, subscribe today!! Shameless plug 😀 ) in Surat an Nahl, when the people who have taqwa of Allah are asked what Allah revealed to them they respond by saying خيراً, which Ustadh translated as man, it was so good!; whereas on the previous page, the people who are arrogant and disbelieve are asked the same question to which they responded أساطيرُ الأوّلين, legends of old/tales of the ancients.

وَقِيلَ لِلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا مَاذَا أَنزَلَ رَبُّكُمْ ۚ قَالُوا خَيْرًا ۗ لِّلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا فِي هَٰذِهِ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةٌ ۚ وَلَدَارُ الْآخِرَةِ خَيْرٌ ۚ وَلَنِعْمَ دَارُ الْمُتَّقِينَ

And it will be said to those who feared Allah , “What did your Lord send down?” They will say, “[That which is] good.” For those who do good in this world is good; and the home of the Hereafter is better. And how excellent is the home of the righteous – [16:30]

This ayah is actually really interesting.  It is grammatically weird for the people to respond خيراً (in the nasb state) rather than خيرٌ (in the rafa state.)  Not only is this the default for any sentence and in Arabic in general, ayah 24 of the same surah gives a template for the response, by the arrogant saying إساطيرُ الإوّلين instead of أساطيرَ الأوّلين (this time it is in rafa like it normally would be).  Even if you have no idea what a nasb or a rafa status is (or mansoob or marfoo’), any person who reads Arabic can tell that there is a difference in tashkeel–a fathah versus a damma.

So, why is “khayr” written with a fathah/in nasb state?  It’s as if the people have experienced and tasted the Qur’an, that’s why they’re saying, man, it was so good! They weren’t just saying (cue pompous religious accent) “Allah revealed good–He revealed something good to us”.  They are saying, “What did Allah reveal?!  It’s amazing, haven’t you tasted it?!  Dude, you’ve got to check it out! Seriously!!

From this ayah, I guess we can say that even Allah speaks about people experiencing the Qur’an–not only confined to their visual-spacial imaginations, but also in their lives, by living the Qur’an.

And what does it mean to live the Qur’an?  And why is this so important for me, or anyone else, who is even just thinking about wanting to memorize the whole Qur’an?

One of my goals coming back was to memorize, and this got me grappling with the important question, is it even possible for me to physically memorize?  I think I proved to myself that it is this past year at Dream and also during this Ramadan, but memorizing the Qur’an isn’t like memorizing a list of names in a phone book or the order of a stack of cards, it’s memorizing the words of Allah and memorizing them FOR LIFE.  Even the term “hafidth” / حافظ doesn’t translate as “memorizer,” it translates as a guarder or protector. This means that anyone who has memorized the whole Qur’an is given the title of someone who protects the Qur’an–what an honorable title to hold!  So what does it mean for someone who wants that title?

Memorizing the Qur’an is not only being physically capable to handle it, but also spiritually ready.  The term “memorize by heart” is truly appropriate here.  (It also reminds me of the amazing documentary “Koran By Heart” which is something you should watch if you haven’t yet. You can probably YouTube it.)  Someone whose heart is not ready to hold the weight of the Qur’an will not be ready to memorize it.  We know that it took some of the sahabi years to memorize the Qur’an because they were waiting to let it sink into their hearts and apply it in their lives before moving on to the next verse.  Sins, internal darknesses, matters of character, rectifying our behavior–these are all essential aspects of memorizing the Qur’an which perhaps are things that we overlook.

As much as Dream was the means of me being able to understand Arabic (which has made it way easier for me to memorize long term) and also good memorizing practice since memorizing random things was regularly expected of us, it also stands as the experience which has pushed me spiritually and in terms of my character/adab/akhlaq more than anything I have ever done before.  Maybe Dream turned out to be the thing that would not only get me physically and intellectually ready to memorize, but also spiritually ready.

May Allah prepare our minds and our hearts to hold the Qur’an.

I also pray that there is a TED talk about memorizing the Qur’an soon!!!!

Please keep me in your prayers as I continue to think about starting a serious memorizing regiment.  This is a reminder to myself first and foremost.

Sunrise or a sunset? A time-old question in my life.
Sunrise in Fullerton, CA.


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