This is really amazing, mashaAllah! I never knew about this and it’s the 10th one.
Young Muslims Compete in a Different Kind of Recital
By Hassan M. Fattah
Published: October 10, 2006
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 8 â€” With its big-budget sets, promise of large cash prizes and surly judges who grimace at the slightest slip-up, the contest might seem like yet another made-for-TV talent show.
But the competition being beamed by satellite across the Muslim world this Ramadan is no â€œAmerican Idol.â€ The winners, judged the best at reciting the Koran from memory, wonâ€™t become the objects of breathless gossip in glossy magazines. Instead, they will become stars of a different sort, earning the respect of devout Muslims and invitations to recite the text during religious gatherings.
The competition, the Dubai International Holy Koran Award, is open to males aged 21 and younger, and this year more than 80 young Muslim boys and men faced off in more than two weeks of nightly performances that end Tuesday. The contestants came from around the world to represent their countries, including Iran, Iraq, Brazil, Australia and the United States.
Dubaiâ€™s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, sponsors the competition, one of the most prestigious Koran recitation contests in the world, to encourage young Muslims to understand the essence of their faith. He provides the equivalent of nearly $700,000 in prize money, including a top prize of almost $70,000.
The contest, in its 10th year, is one befitting a place like Dubai, with its penchant for glitz and glamour. Dubai marketers have plastered the city with ads that push it as must-see TV, and it is popular enough that the awards ceremony attracts dignitaries and prominent personalities.
The scene inside the competition hall is reminiscent of classic American spelling bees. The young contestants, primed from years of study, squirm in their seats while the audience sits in hushed anxiety.
â€œThis is the Olympics of Koran reading,â€ said Ahmad al Suwiedi, head of the competitionâ€™s organizing committee. â€œSo whoever goes up there on that stage has to make us and his country proud.â€
Late Thursday night, 10-year-old Khubaib Muhammad walked on stage in his tennis shoes and traditional Kenyan dress, sat in an oversize chair that engulfed his slight frame and prepared for his chance at fame and fortune.
Khubaib has spent hours each day for the past three years memorizing the Koran. He competed in local reading competitions in his native Nairobi to qualify for this contest. â€œIt was hard work, but ultimately it was worth it because I got here,â€ he said just before taking the stage. â€œIâ€™m not nervous. Iâ€™m ready and prepared.â€
Being prepared means being ready to recite the Koran in Arabic â€” starting anywhere the judges want and for as long as they want. The judges choose the section at random, recite the beginning, then expect the contestant to pick up where they left off. The contestants must know the text well enough to quickly recognize the section the judge is reading.
After Khubaib took the stage, one of the five judges began reciting text. At the judgeâ€™s signal, Khubaib took over, his high-pitched voice filling the crowded recital hall.
For the next 15 minutes, the boy carried on the recitation by heart, his eyes closed in deep concentration, his legs swinging several inches off the ground. At one point, one of the judges rang the bell, indicating Khubaib had made a mistake. For a moment, the boy was silent, but he quickly corrected himself and continued.
To Muslims, the Koran is the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. In the contest, it is supposed to be read in a melodic chant that follows rules known as tajweed, which dictate what letters should be emphasized, slurred or silent. The best reciters are legendary, their tapes sold across the Muslim world.
This yearâ€™s Dubai champion will ostensibly join their ranks someday.
During a reporterâ€™s visit last week, the young men exhibited a camaraderie built around faith, leaving the problems of the region outside the performance hall. â€œThis is a positive thing happening in a difficult world,â€ said Ahmad Nasser Rabbah, 15, a third-generation Brazilian.
The contestants are judged first on their accuracy to the text, then on the quality of their reading according to the rules of tajweed, and finally on the quality of their voices. Some of the readers, including Khubaib, do not speak Arabic, but have memorized the text by rote.
Ahmed Khorshid, 15, who represents the United States, was impressed by his competitorsâ€™ skill level. Ahmed, who lives in Oak Lawn, Ill., said that he initially balked when he was invited to Dubai; he did not want to miss out on his football games. But he decided to give up his position as running back at his schoolâ€™s homecoming game to come.
â€œAll my friends and sheiks will be watching me on TV back home, and I intend to make them proud,â€ he said.
By Friday, it had become increasingly obvious who the likely winners would be, with the contestants from Nigeria and Saudi Arabia leading the pack. â€œI was really nervous as I walked up to the stage, but as soon as I sat down all the fear was gone,â€ said Mohammed Lawa Muhammed, 20, the Nigerian contestant.
For all the dreams of scholarly fame, few of the contestants said they will seek a life as a cleric. Mr. Muhammed aspires to be a doctor. Ahmed Khorshid, the American, wants to be a basketball player.
Khubaib Muhammad, the Kenyan, hopes to be a pilot for the Red Cross. â€œI would like to win,â€ he said. â€œIt would be a blessing from God.â€
Source: New York Times