Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Central Virginia Quran Competition in the News

Central Virginia Competition Takes Quran to Hearts of Children

By Rana Khan

Muslim Link Contributing Writer

March 15, 2008; The Islamic Center of Virginia in Richmond is abuzz with activity. People are putting up banners, decorations and balloons. Tables are being set up for the welcome booth and the prayer hall is being prepared for the big event. Even a group of visitors from the First Baptist Church near the Masjid is helping with the preparations.

This is the day of the final round of the Annual Central Virginia Quran Competition. With 80 participants in its first year and the number growing to 120 this year, the competition has become somewhat of a highlight for the community in Richmond and its neighboring cities. There are six categories for the children and youth and one newly added "toddler" category for the youngest of participants. The cash prizes for the winners range from $100 to $400 with lots of gifts and certificates being given to all the participants.


The preliminary round of the competition takes the judges to the full-time Islamic schools and the Masjid Weekend Schools in Richmond in the week leading up to the final. Two schools in particular, the Islamic Homeschooling Academy and the Sr. Clara Muhammad School in Masjid Bilal, embrace the preliminary rounds with a lot of enthusiasm and festivity. It is a day long event which the students anticipate eagerly and participate in with enthusiasm. Halimah Abdul-Mateen, co-principal of the Islamic Homeschooling Academy, says, "Our students study hard for the competition and understand that the real reward is not the first place win but the continuous repetition of the words of Allah. May Allah bless the reciters of the Quran."

The Iqra Academy of Virginia, the largest full-time Islamic school in Richmond, also has a large number of participants every year.

"This is the only event in Central Virginia that excites people of all ages in the community, the youth, the parents and the grandparents," says Farzana Abdul-Rahman, vice-principal of the Iqra Academy. "The best part about the Quran Competition is to come on the final day and listen to the very young, some as young as two years old, recite the beautiful verses of the Holy Quran."

As the morning goes by and the time for the Dhuhr prayer approaches, contestants and their families start streaming into the Masjid. The aroma of fresh rice and chicken curry, as it is scooped into individual boxes for the attendees, fills the air and the tables are lined with trays heaped full of fried chicken. After prayer, the names of the twenty one finalists are announced and everyone settles down to have lunch. Some of the finalists can be seen sitting in a corner reviewing their surahs in nervous anticipation of reciting in front of the judge and the audience.

An inspirational and impassioned speech by the guest speaker and judge, Haroon Baqai, Principal of the full-time Hifdh program at Dar-us-Salaam in College Park, Maryland, captivates the audience. This is his third year at the Quran Competition and the young and the old alike derive great benefit from his visit. He talks about "Living the Quran" and highlights the importance of molding our lives in accordance with the comprehensive guidelines in the Quran. He emphasizes the impermissibility of the prevalent practice among Muslims of taking out interest-based mortgages and engaging in interest, of the importance of parents sending their children to Islamic schools, of repressing anger and of the duty upon every Muslim to try to inculcate a complete Islamic character. He quotes the hadith of the Mother of the Believers, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), when she was asked to describe the character of the Prophet (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) and she stated: "His character is the Quran."

Donzella Muhammad commuted from neighboring Farmville, about 75 miles away from Richmond, with her husband and three young children to enable them to participate in the Quran Competition for two years. "I would urge all Muslim parents to enter their children into the Quran Competition. It can foster a love and understanding for the Quran earlier in a child's life. We left with a stronger urge within ourselves to continue reading the Quran in Arabic and to learn more surahs. It was a fantastic event for the whole family,"she says.

Mujahid Haneef Wahhaj, age 10, is a home schooled student who has been participating in the competition for the past two years. He has made it to the final round both years and this year he won first place in his category. Being unable to read the Quran has not hindered Mujahid from his dedicated resolve to memorize the words of Allah's Holy Book. He listens to the recitation of the Quran and memorizes from what he hears. His mother, Muslimah, says, "Starting from when he was much younger, I would play the Quran for him, day and night - in the car, at home, when going to bed and he just started copying the reciters as children love to copy."

"Then, as he got older, I would have him sit down everyday, as part of his schooling, with one of the many Quran reciters online and just have him listen and repeat." Recently, Mujahid has finally been able to get access to teachers who are willing to instruct him on reading the Quran. Muslimah is very thankful to Allah for this event which has allowed her son to be a part of a positive experience and has left him with many good memories. "Winning or losing has not been the focus. Just being with other Muslim children who aspire to memorize Allah's word has placed something in his heart and now he wants to memorize the whole Quran. He even dreams of meeting the Imams of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and leading the prayer there someday!" she says.

In an effort to encourage and provide a positive role model for the children and youth of Richmond, the Quran Competition Committee invited a nine year old hafidh, Numair Syed, from Baltimore, Maryland, and his father to speak on the day of the final. Numair completed the memorization of the Quran at the age of eight while he was attending the full-time Hifdh program at the Islamic Society of Baltimore (Masjid al-Rahmah), under the tutelage of his dedicated teachers, Qari Zahid and Qari Abed. He recited verses from surah al-Hashr and then his father, Syed Safi Ahmed, addressed the audience with the story of his son's journey towards committing the Holy Quran to memory.

"We moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia in June 2001 due to my eagerness to send my children to an Islamic school. I enrolled them in Al-Rahmah School (ISB) and, for two months, I continued commuting to work in Philadelphia while my family resided near the masjid. Alhamdulillah, by August 2001, Allah granted me an even better job in Baltimore.

"From the very beginning I was thinking about my eldest son, Naveed, to be a hafidh; however I realized that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta'ala) has His own plans and Numair became a hafidh.

"Numair joined the full time hifdh program at the age of 6, after completing Kindergarten, based on the strong recommendation of his teacher, Qari Zahid. He was going to the evening Quran classes and his teacher told us he was memorizing his daily reading assignments. After consultation with the Principal of the school and his Arabic teacher, we decided to enroll him in the full-time program, which starts at 9 am and continues till 5 pm every day. Alhamdulillah, he completed memorization of the entire Quran on March 10, 2006 (in about 2 and half years). After that, he continued in the program through June 2007 as he was required by Qari Zahid to spend one year reviewing the memorization to make sure it was solidly grounded.

"The credit for the hardest and most dedicated work on Numair goes to my wife, Shabana, who was there for him all the time listening to his recitation at home as well as being a home schooling teacher for him. My wife was doing this in addition to her full time job.

"My moving experience has made me strongly believe that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta'ala) chooses people to protect the Holy Quran in their hearts and makes it easy for them to do so. We actually do nothing but enjoy His blessings upon us."

As one watches the envelopes of cash prizes being given out to all the finalists, one wonders where the money comes from. "Funding for the competition is tight and is made up of donations from individuals in the community. Every year, Allah sends us someone who brings forward a very generous donation and that pulls us through. All praise is due to Allah upon whom we place our trust and He is the best of providers," says the Quran Competition Committee.

One business in Richmond that stands out in its unfailing support of the Competition is the Shish Kabab Restaurant. "They have donated food for the attendees, year after year - they want to be at the forefront of supporting the goal of spreading Quranic memorization among the children in the community. We are heavily indebted to them and, inshaAllah, they will be rewarded many, many fold by the Most Generous (Subhanahu wa ta'ala)," says the Committee.

"We are hoping that, in future years, one family from the community will come forth every year to wholly sponsor the event and take the great honor, in the sight of Allah, of being the supporters of Quranic memorization."

The afternoon closes out. The masjid is silent and empty now except for the committee members. "It has been a good day,alhamdulillah," they say. "A tremendous amount of work and planning go into making this event happen, mainly due to the fact that just a handful of people are doing it. Sometimes people are not willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help and some parents get very emotional about the winning and losing aspect of the competition."

"But this event is about so much more than winning or losing. It is about creating a positive Islamic experience for our children. It is about making them excited on account of memorizing the Quran."

"It is a time for all the community - all the masajid, all the full-time and weekend schools - to come together to make this event successful for our children by donating their time, their money and their effort," says a committee member who has dedicated time in his own life to memorizing the Quran.

"It is also a time for the adults to work together on providing our children with the proper tools to learn the words of Allah through Quran classes, tutoring, Quranic websites, tapes and CDs. This event has united us all for the noble goal of serving the Book of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta'ala). Allah and His blessed Prophet have ordered us to read, reflect and implement the Quran in our lives and pass it onto the next generation. The best gift we can give our children is to help them memorize the Quran and have it with them in their hearts so they can walk down life's path in the light of its words and never be misguided."

Another committee member adds, "Twenty years from now, we want these children to look back and remember that they grew up taking part in an event for which they had to memorize and review parts of the Quran every year. Our memories are an important part of our identity and we want our Muslim children to be proud of who they are."

Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, says: "And We have sent down to you the Book (the Quran) as an exposition of everything, a guidance, a mercy, and glad tidings for those who have
submitted themselves (to Allah as Muslims)" {16:89}

And He (Subhanahu wa ta'ala) says repeatedly in surah al-Qamar, "And We have indeed made the Quran easy to understand and remember; then is there any that will receive admonition?" {54:17}

Sister Rana Khan, the writer, is a member of the competition committee -- Editors