“Just give up!” roared my Ustaad (Arabic for Teacher).
Silence overcame the classroom, which usually hummed with the recitation of the Quran. He continued berating me as I sat there – in front of him – in the qa’da position (on my haunches) staring at the floor.
He was frustrated but who could blame him. He had exhausted all his efforts trying to help me memorize the Quran. I showed little signs of progression, as any “duffer” would; at least that was what I was led to believe.
“You gave it your best; don’t waste anymore of your valuable time. It’s not an obligation to be a Hafiz (one who memorizes the entire Quran)”, he explained.
“I have also communicated this to your parents as well” he further added.
I have had a fair share of unilateral pejorative dialogues with many teachers in the past. These were real truths that eventually struck a chord.
Is he right? Am I simply wasting my time? Am I really a duffer? I thought.
I had been on this quest to memorize the Quran since I was 11 and I was half a year away from 15. I had traveled many miles in this pursuit and churned through many Asatidha (plural for ustaad) along the way. Every one of them embraced me initially and reassured my parents that I would become a Hafiz. However, over time each of those assurances began wavering. Like anybody trying to rid themselves of a bad asset, they eventually pawned me off to another teacher. With every baton pass, the first few months would be spent reviewing previous lessons before proceeding to new material. This cycle stagnated my learning, decreased my output and allowed me to coast.
“This kid is like imam Bukhari (sans the knowledge) for having numerous teachers”, joked a teacher while introducing me to another.
I still vividly remember one teacher saying, “So many people have tried to help this kid memorize the Quran, one teacher even died trying.”
“Go, just leave!” ordered my Ustaad.
I gathered myself and walked to my seat. Avoiding eye contact with fellow students I kept my eyes glued to the floor. As I rocked back and forth reciting the Quran, my mind began to wander. Maybe I’m not cut out for it, I thought. Most of the teacher I had didn’t think so. I too, began to come to terms with it as well. This toxic energy began to envelope me,
Over the next few days I continued to wrestle with that reality up until a new teacher arrived. The new ustaad’s arrival provided my teacher the out he was looking for. To populate the new class, teachers were to offer up students from their current roster. Just as any new expansion team gets stuck with every other team’s spare parts, this teacher was offered up the under achievers and I was included in that lot. The intelligent teacher picked up on their ploy but accepted us happily. In an attempt to build a rapport he invited each of us for a one on one.
After a few minutes of pleasantries he simply asked me, “Do you think you can memorize the whole Quran?”
His question caught me off guard. I hadn’t really pondered that question before. I mean, the thought had crossed my mind but I never pondered it. The journey of memorizing had been laced with many setbacks, I rarely thought of the finish line. My heart wanted it, but could the abundance of zeal make up for the lack of talent or intelligence? I questioned myself…
The conclusion of this story will be in part two.