Why are some teachers more picky than others?


qur144Many students of Qur’an, when they have recited to more than one individual, will no doubt encounter a situation where one teacher will be more picky in catching and correcting mistakes than another teacher; or, in some more extreme situations, it may even sound like one teacher contradicting another!

Examples of this could include one teacher advising you to increase the heaviness of the letter ق, while another teacher thinks that this excessive heaviness is like adding the attribute of إطباق to ق.  Or when one teacher advises his student to make the ghunnah (the nasal sound) stronger when applying إدغام, while another teacher says the opposite.  Another example is that one teacher may point out the pronunciation of the Alif and say not to apply “Imaalah” to it, while another teacher believes that the Alif sounded just fine.

How does a student differentiate between that which is considered a clear mistake that should be corrected, and that which is simply a difference within the permissible range in the pronunciation that differs from teacher to teacher?

To answer this, let’s examine four kinds of teachers when it comes to this issue:

  1. The Sinning Teacher: this teacher will excuse clear mistakes or a misapplication of a rule in order to make things easy for the student, or he/she will excuse a student who has the tendency to make clear mistakes by giving them Ijazah.
  2. The Lenient Teacher:  this teacher will ignore application of the rules of Tajweed (which is considered a minor mistake) and may give Ijazah even though the student is not applying all the rules in their recitation.
  3. The Novice Teacher: this teacher will point out mistakes according to what they are more used to hearing.  They may know the rules of Tajweed but according to a very narrow understanding or even without proper understanding.  This teacher will point out mistakes according to what he/she is used to hearing or what he/she has been specifically taught, and not necessarily according to the permissible range allowed within the rules of Tajweed.
  4. The Expert Teacher:  this teacher will point out mistakes that are outside the permissible range.  They have the correct understanding of the rules of Tajweed and based on this understanding, they check whether or not the student has correctly applied the rule.

Before we move on, let’s clarify that, without exception, it is the duty and responsibility of the teacher of Qur’an to teach the rules of Tajweed correctly and to ensure that they are applied correctly.  To reiterate, it is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the rule has been applied, not necessarily that the student mimics the sound that the teacher is used to hearing, and regardless if this causes the student great difficulty.

The Sinning Teacher

This scenario clearly is a red line no teacher of the Qur’an should cross.  Ibn al-Jazari mentions, in his famous poem, the Muqaddimah:

والأخذ بالتجويد حتم لازم     من لم يصحح القران آثم

The application of Tajweed is indeed necessary.  Whomsoever does not rectify (the recitation) of the Qur’an is a sinner.

Since the wording of this line is very general, it could refer to the reciter of the Qur’an who is familiar with the rules of Tajweed but is neglectful in its application, or one who is teaching the Qur’an and neglects to correct the mistakes he/she hears.  To clarify, mistakes here means that either the rules of Tajweed were not applied or they were misapplied.

In some other versions of this line, it occurs as: من لم يجود.  Sh. Muhammad Saleem Ghaibie mentioned:

In Sh. Sayf al-Deen al-Fadaali’s explanation of the Jazariyyah poem, he interprets يجود and يصحح to be synonyms.   Upon this statement Dr. Ayman Swayd explains that يجود holds a broader meaning than يصحح in that the former would include a major and minor mistake, whereas the latter would not necessarily do so. Scholars agree that a person making major mistake is a sinner آثم, but regarding minor mistakes, there is difference of opinion. Can it be said that every person who leaves out a temporary characteristic e.g. ghunnah, qalqalah, madd etc. is a sinner?  If we use:  يجود we would be including anyone who commits a major mistake as a sinner. Therefore using يصحح is better since we would not include every individual who makes minor mistake as a sinner, and Allah knows best.

The Lenient Teacher

As for the lenient teacher, not correcting minor mistakes becomes a problem when a student is reciting for the Ijazah, for this involves more strict conditions.  In this case, the lenient teacher falls into the same problem as the sinning teacher in that they have not ensured that the Qur’an is recited correctly and they have now authorized someone who has not perfected their recitation to go on to teach others.  However, if the teacher is teaching students without giving Ijazah, then he/she is not blameworthy for not correcting each and every minor mistake because this will depend on the level and ability of the student.

The Novice Teacher

This kind of teacher may or may not have Ijazah to teach, but who has perfected their recitation, or reached an advanced level.  He/she does not yet have a thorough and complete understanding of the rules of Tajweed.  They may be well-versed with all the rules, but the understanding has not reached a level where they know exactly how they should be applied.  They may simply be mimicking the recitation of their teacher and in this case, depend entirely on their hearing and not the knowledge of the rules.  Such teachers will usually teach students and catch mistakes based on what sounds right or not to them, depending on what they are used to hearing from their own teacher or the way they recited with their teacher.

Most teachers, believe it or not, will fall into this category.  Usually, they will correct the student by telling them to make the heaviness of a certain letter stronger, or a harakah more clear, or a ghunnah stronger, etc.  They won’t usually mention what needs to be done in order to correct the mistake, and this reflects their lack of practical understanding of the Tajweed rules.

Such a teacher is not blameworthy for this, and in fact, they should restrict themselves to teaching exactly what they’ve been taught by their teachers until they have achieved a greater understanding of the rules of Tajweed and how they are applied.  Most of the time, such teachers are the only ones available in their locality to teach the Qur’an and therefore, they are fulfilling a responsibility.

It should be noted that these types of teachers tend to be the most unnecessarily picky with regard to correcting mistakes and again, this is because they are only used to hearing the recitation in one way and consider any divergence from this as a mistake, when often times, it may not be considered a mistake at all to an expert teacher.

The Expert Teacher

This kind of teacher has a keen understanding of the rules of Tajweed and how they are applied.  Not only that, but they are also aware of the range of what is permissible for the application of Tajweed rules.  This is achieved by first determining whether or not the rule of Tajweed has in fact been applied according to their understanding of the rule, and not according to what simply sounds “right” to their ears.  An example of this could be when a student applies the rule of Idgham with the ghunnah for the letters ي or و.  A novice teacher may tell the student to make their ghunnah “stronger” because they are used to hearing strong ghunan when they were learning.  However, an expert teacher will examine whether or not the student used the nasal cavity to make the nasal sound associated with the Idgham of ي and و.  If the nasal cavity was utilized sufficiently, then the rule has been applied and there is no need to examine whether or not it was “strong” enough.

Additionally, while a novice teacher will correct a student by saying to make the heaviness of a letter stronger or a harakah more clear, for example, an expert teacher will instead mention how to make the correction.  So instead of saying, “Make such and such a letter more heavy,” like a novice teacher, the expert teacher will say, “Direct the sound of the letter towards the roof of your mouth.”  Instead of saying, “Make your dhammah more clear,” like a novice teacher, the expert teacher will say, “Round your lips and protrude them forward to make a complete dhammah.”

A common problem of this nature that we hear about often is the pronunciation of the Alif when it is preceded by a light letter with fathah.  A novice teacher may say something like, “Do not apply Imaalah (leaning towards the sound of ي) to the Alif.”  But an expert teacher will instead examine to see if the student made sure that the tongue and lips remained completely relaxed and the mouth was opened for the pronunciation of Alif.  As long as these requirements are fulfilled, then the Alif remains sound.  If the tongue was not relaxed, then this is a clear indication that Imaalah was applied on the Alif.

The wisdom behind understanding how the rules are applied aids the teacher in accommodating a certain range of permissibility with regard to the rules of Tajweed.  As long as the student remains within this permissible range, then the recitation is considered correct and sound.  This is considered the middle road with regard to correcting mistakes, for he is neither neglecting the rules, nor is he being too strict and burdensome on the student.

And indeed, there are recitations by individuals who are blessed by Allah which most, if not all, teachers of the Qur’an will agree to its soundness.  This can only be achieved when the rules of Tajweed are correctly applied, not when the reciter tries to mimic what he/she hears.  Additionally, it is not necessarily teaching experience which is key here; it is correct understanding of the rules and their application.  Once this is achieved, then the expert teacher has a checklist in his/her mind which he utilizes in correcting the recitation of his/her student.

Advice to the Student

While having an expert as a teacher is the ideal situation, the student should not waste his/her time searching for one when they may be a little difficult to find.  At the beginning stages of learning, a student should find the closest proficient teacher they can find, and then as they go on to perfect their recitation, they can move on to more proficient teachers by the will of Allah.  However, the main criteria the student should not compromise on is that the teacher must be serious about the application of the rules and not be neglectful in this regard.

Additionally, there are many students, no doubt, who encounter much difficulty in the beginning stages of learning to recite the Qur’an.   In this regard, teachers must always consider the level and ability of their student.  This is how a teacher can be justifiably lenient.  The blameworthy leniency is when the rules of Tajweed are pushed aside to make the student happy or to save the teacher’s time and effort.

Further, Ibn al-Jazari mentions:

وليس بينه وبين تركه      إلا رياضة امرئ بفكه

And there is nothing between (applying) it (Tajweed) and leaving it, except the practice of a person with his jaws.

Meaning, practice makes perfect!   Every single reciter, regardless if they are the most fluent in the Arabic tongue or not, requires some degree of practice in order to recite the Qur’an.  And indeed, the level to be aiming for is that which is described by Ibn al-Jazari in the following:

مكملا من غير ما تكلف      باللطف في النطق بلا تعسف

(Every letter) being complete, without burden, (but) with ease in pronunciation and without haphazardness.

Such a recitation flows out of the mouth smoothly like running water, and not only will the reciter find sweetness in the recitation, but so will the listener.

That said, there are situations where teachers will “exaggerate” the rules of Tajweed while teaching, and while the purpose of this is to attract the attention of the student to certain rules of Tajweed that are easily neglected, it should not become a habit because this is a form of تكلف, or burdensome recitation which is exaggerated and difficult on both the tongue and the ear, and therefore, blameworthy.

With regard to this, Imam Abul-Hasan al-Sakhawiy mentions, in his famous poem, عمدة المفيد وعدة المجيد:

للحرف ميزان فلا تك طاغيا      فيه ولا مخسر المزان

For every letter, there is a precise balance (that must be maintained), so do not transgress with regard to it, nor should you shorten the balance.

As an additional point, every teacher of the Qur’an is still considered a student of the Qur’an because no one can ever claim that his/her recitation is perfect like the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.  That said, if a student carries sufficient understanding of the rules of Tajweed and their application, they will, conversely, be able to recite to a wide range of teachers because the student him/herself will understand that there is a certain range of permissibility with regard to the rules.  In this fashion, he/she will be able to benefit from a diverse group from the people of knowledge.   He/she will not get stuck having to decide which teacher is right or wrong, but will have found a suitable way to reconcile between all, by Allah’s leave.

And indeed, this is the way of our righteous predecessors who disliked reciting to only one individual.  They wasted no time seeking out as many teachers as possible to learn from because they understood that the more people you learned from, the more accurate your recitation became.

A Clarification

One might ask, “You’ve mentioned before the importance of hearing the recitation and mimicking what you hear and that people are wasting their time learning Tajweed theory, but now you’re saying that’s not enough and that you need to study the rules and understand them only?”  We answer with the following:

Beginner students of the Qur’an must indeed make good use of their listening skills when trying to pick up the Qur’anic recitation.  This is because most of the time the language of the Qur’an is initially foreign to the ears.  In order to get used to the rhythm of the words, the pronunciation, and the rules, one must listen to it regularly.  This is how it begins.

As the student progresses further, he/she will be called to understand certain fixed rules which appear frequently in the Qur’an.  These rules are the next step to picking up the recitation.  This is important because if one confines one’s self to just hearing the pronunciation and then trying to mimic it, they may be accurate on the recitation most of the time, and the remainder of the time, they make mistakes.  There are cases where a person manages to mimic the sound of ض without utilizing its articulation point, but they may only be able to say it in certain situations (like if it has a fatha) and in other situations it comes out wrong (like if it has a sukoon).  This is a clear indication that now the articulation point and attributes of the letter ض need to be studied in order to rectify the mistake and in order for the pronunciation of ض to remain accurate and consistent.

Conversely, a person may dedicate all his/her time to learning the theory of Tajweed, but spend little time in listening to how they are correctly applied or even practicing the recitation itself!  There have been cases of people who have even gone on to teach the recitation of the Qur’an based on their understanding of what was written in books alone, and their level does not surpass a beginner in application!

Therefore, even in this situation, the middle road must be taken:  both listening to the recitation and studying the rules of Tajweed are essential to achieve a sound recitation of the Qur’an.  Depending on either one entirely will not lead to accuracy.

Even with regard to learning the Mutoon (the poetic verses and texts which have been written about Tajweed), many students make the mistake of learning the Mutoon first without having perfected their recitation thinking they have fulfilled their obligation by learning the rules of recital.  They forget that these Mutoon were written by individuals who first perfected their recitation and were able to write these Mutoon in the first place!  No true understanding of what the Mutoon are talking about will be achieved without having perfected the recitation of the Qur’an.

In the end, the ultimate goal of reciting the Qur’an should be maintained:  to achieve the pleasure of Allah and that is not achieved without reciting it as Allah revealed it or exerting due effort.

And lastly, we wanted to clarify that in a Facebook post, we mentioned the importance and virtue of those teachers who are “picky” with regard to the identification of mistakes and their correction.   The “pickiness” we were referring to is that which involves the actual application of the rules of Tajweed when they are accompanied by the correct understanding.  This is not referring to the type of finickiness that is completely unnecessary that at times a novice teacher will exercise.  Again, this is only due to their limited understanding and they are fulfilling their obligation nevertheless.

And Allah knows best.

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