This is a guest post by Anna M. Gade, Associate Professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia and the Religious Studies Program at UW-Madison, and the author of The Qur’an: An Introduction. She will be the guest of today’s Inside Islam radio show on Wisconsin Public Radio March 11 at 3 p.m. CT (4 p.m. ET).
A way to introduce the Qur’an to students in a classroom in Religious Studies is to present the text as religious Muslims experience it daily: embodied in voice and sound, expressed in rhythm and pitch. If listeners do not immediately understand the meanings of all the Arabic words they hear, they may share this experience with about four-fifths of the world’s Muslims who are also not native Arabic speakers. Approaching the Qur’an in this way, hearing real voices render what is believed to be God’s unchanging speech, can help learners to imagine the diverse global contexts across space and over time in which the Qur’an is faithfully rehearsed.
I have introduced the recited Qur’an to classes in North America by playing a field recording of a performance by the international champion from Indonesia, Drs. H. Hasan Basri. To hear this recitation of the Qur’an’s 90th chapter, “Al-Balad,” invites students to keep in mind that with each and every “reading” of the Qur’an comes real places and real people. The meanings of the opening words of “Al-Balad” themselves invite thinking about context: usually glossed as Mecca, the phrase, “this city,” may be also heard as a reference both to a universal and a specific space simultaneously. It would remind me of the far-away “city” and “country,” balad, of Makassar, Indonesia, where I first made the recording.[audio:http://www.wpr.org/hereonearth/podcast/annaPost.mp3]
The recording posted here is another live performance from South Sulawesi, Indonesia. I taped it using a hand-held cassette player. The careful listener can place this performance within a lived soundscape, with the faint buzz of motorcycles passing by on the street, light clatter of dishes being washed up in the kitchen, and soft laughter of the children playing outside in the yard. Here, the reading is verses 102 to 108 of the Qur’an’s third chapter, called “Al Imran,” which include well-known words of the Qur’an that mention the “rope of God” in verse 103 to which believers together hold fast.
Qur’an reciters from this region of Indonesia have long been famous for world-class excellence in this art; their style is often said to be “straight from Egypt,” from where many of the most globally prominent reciters came in past decades. In the artistry of Drs. H. Hasan Basri’s expert Qur’anic reading, aspects of the aesthetic context can also be heard: cassettes of great reciters’ performances carried back in suitcases from Hajj and the shortwave radio broadcasts from the Middle East that influenced this master performer when he was a youth in a small Indonesian town, a standard progression of improvised modes, pitch classes and melody types, that have become expected in competition and public performance in Southeast Asia, while the virtuosic style of this reader, qari, remains uniquely his own.
An English-language meaning of the last verse of this reading is “These are the revelations of Allah. We [Allah] recite them to you in truth, and God does not desire injustice for His creatures,” verse 108.