Yesterday’s conversation between me and the kids:
8-year-old: “Mama, do you remember that one time when Grandma was watching that show on TV about snakes and people who catch them? Do you remember how…”
And he proceeded to remind me of a whole list of facts from this random documentary that he saw his grandmother watching one day maybe six months ago.
I laughed. “No, I had forgotten. MashaAllah, you have a good memory! That’s why in Egypt we say that kids have memories like a camera that is recording everything! You guys all have memories like a camera, don’t you?”
I expected him to laugh, but he didn’t. He nodded seriously and said, “It’s true. I do that all the time with the multiplication table! Baba writes it down for me in my math notebook, and I look at it, and then it’s like I’ve taken a picture of it in my mind. When he asks me what 8 x 7 is, for example, I just think of the line on the page in my notebook–in my mind. I can see every line.”
I said, “Yes, that’s called having a photographic memory. Lots of people have that. It’s when we look at something and study it, then we memorize it by kind of taking a picture of it in our mind. That’s what I do with Quran, too. For a surah that I’ve reviewed, I close my eyes and it’s almost like I’m reading the page in my mind because I can see the page exactly like it’s laid out in the mus-haf, in my mind’s eye. But of course, for a surah I have not reviewed, I can’t see the page because I’ve forgotten it. And reading Quran from another mus-haf with a different layout confuses me. Because I’ve memorized the page in a specific format. Is that what you do, too?”
8-year-old: “Yes! I remember where on the page the different ayat are. I just “read” the page in my mind, from top to bottom. If I haven’t memorized a certain part well, then I can’t “see” it and I don’t know what comes next. But the ones I’ve memorized, it’s like I can “read” them because I’ve taken a picture of the page with my brain.”
6-year-old (who isn’t reading fluently yet): “I memorize ayat not by seeing the words on the page, but by seeing images in my mind from the meaning. I do this a lot especially with the surahs I used to get confused when I was little. Do you know Surat Al-Feel? I used to not have it memorized that well. Then I started thinking of the meaning because it’s really a story. It goes in order. In my mind I see images of birds throwing down stones on Abraha’s army. I used to get stuck on the second and third and fourth ayat when I was little, but ever since I started to picture the story events in my mind, I don’t get stuck on those ayat anymore.”
5-year-old (who isn’t reading at all!): “Do you know what I do when I get confused with some ayat? I try to put two ayat together so that I don’t forget the second one that follows the first. I used to always forget the end of Surat Al-Ma`un, but now I try to say the two ayat together, connecting them. I don’t get stuck on that part anymore!”
It’s so intriguing to hear the other side of things, to hear the internal thoughts of children and how they try to find solutions for issues in the process of hifdth, memorization of Quran.
I try to be open and honest with them myself, to share with them the hifdh journey and show them that their struggles are my struggles too, or had been at one point.
When they make mistakes during our homeschool Quran class and start sulking, I often assure them that I would make very similar mistakes when I was first learning the same surah. (We had a huge meltdown just earlier in the day.) When they confuse two ayat that are similar ( متشابهات ), I sympathize and share with them the reality that I get them mixed up too. Occasionally, after testing the kids on their surah, I will hand my 8-year-old the mus-haf for him to test me on the same surah. They grin excitedly and their faces light up when I do that because the usual roles have been reversed. And if I hesitate or make a mistake, they generously remind me that it’s okay to make mistakes and that it’s no problem. They parrot my own words back at me happily.
Of course, the parent is the teacher and the children are the students at this young age. This is the hierarchy that must be generally maintained for order and stability inshaAllah. But there is a special sweetness in companionably sharing ideas and swapping memorization techniques and having that be a shared realm. We are all students of the Quran, both me and them. We are all Muslims. Islam is not something that I am imposing on them or teaching them in a purely one-way direction.
Islam (and hifdh of Quran) is something that I and they share and can experience together and talk about. I do what I tell them to do, too. I follow what I teach them.
The message the child receives is:
You are not memorizing Quran because I’m making you. You and I are both memorizing Quran because it’s a good thing for anyone to do.
You are not a Muslim because I am making you. You are a Muslim–just as I am a Muslim–because this is the best thing for anyone to be.