Written By: John Walker Lindh
A survivor of the horrific Qala-i-jangi massacre of 2001, Abu Sulayman al-lrlandi (John Walker Lindh) was detained and suffered abuse and torture in Afghanistan at the hands of the CIA and later the FBI, who obtained a forced confession from him. This later formed a key piece of evidence against him whilst on trial in the United States. He was sentenced to 20 years in a Supermax prison – without ever having fought against the US; in addition he had to agree to drop all claims he was tortured at the hands of US personnel. He is set to be released in May 2019. Here he provides our readers and those who are currently detained in particular, with a practical guide and step by step instructions to memorising the Qur’an in its entirety, and how to develop a better relationship with the Qur’an.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May prayers and peace be upon our prophet Muhammad, his household, companions, and all those who follow them in righteousness until the Day of Judgement.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (radi Allahu ‘anhuma) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “The parable of a companion of the Qur’an is that of tethered camels: if he watches over them vigilantly, he will keep them in his possession, but if he lets them roam freely, they will escape.” (al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Free time is a great gift from Allah and few people enjoy more of it than prisoners. The best way we can express our gratitude to Allah for this gift is through the study, recitation, memorisation, contemplation, and implementation of His Noble Book.
This brief guide presents readers with a simple practical programme to develop a solid mastery of the Qur’an in less than two years. It is easy to grasp in theory, but to put it into practice: it requires strict discipline, focus, and consistent sustained hard work.
I ask Allah to make this guide beneficial for brothers and sisters who have been blessed with the honour and privilege of being imprisoned for His cause. And may prayers and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his household, and all of his companions.
2) THE GOAL
You are about to begin a new relationship with the Book of Allah that will last until your death and benefit you in the Hereafter: in the grave, on the Day of Resurrection, and in al-Firdaws, the highest level of Paradise, insha’Allah.
Your goal is to be able to recite the Qur’an in its entirety from memory on a weekly basis, as many of the Sahabah used to do.
Before you begin, you should be in the habit of reciting one juz’ every day from the mushaf. If you are not, then something is wrong with you and you need to fix it. Organise your recitation so that it corresponds with the Islamic lunar calendar: on the first day of the month, read the first juz’, on the second day, the second juz’, and so on. If the month only has twenty nine days, then read both the twenty ninth and thirtieth juz’s on the twenty ninth day.
The Qur’an is divided into seven parts, each part known as a ‘manzil.’ The first manzil contains Surat ul-Fatihah and the three surah’s that follow. The second contains the next five. The third contains the next seven. The fourth contains the next nine. The fifth contains the next eleven. The sixth contains the next thirteen. The seventh contains the mufassal surah’s which begin with Qaf and end with an-Nas.
Once you have completed this programme, you will have established the practice of reciting a manzil a day from memory and a juz’ a day from the mushaf. In this way, you will recite the Qur’an in its entirety from memory each week and from the mushaf each month. Set this as your goal from the outset and know that it can only be attained with the help of Allah, first and foremost, and then with a great deal of patience, dedication, struggle, and sacrifice.
3) TAJWID FIRST
Before you begin to memorise the Qur’an, study tajwid and work to perfect your recitation to the best of your ability. In the process of memorisation, you will be reciting the Qur’an for several hours every day. If you are able to recite correctly, your skills will be further reinforced. Otherwise, the memorisation process will deeply ingrain your errors to such an extent that it may be difficult to correct them later on.
In prison, your resources for studying tajwid could be limited, but make use of whatever you have available. This may mean books, recordings of Qur’an recitation, or fellow prisoners who are proficient in tajwid.
4) HOW TO RECITE
The speed at which you recite will have a significant impact on how long it takes you to complete the memorisation process. If you recite too quickly, you will not be able to adhere to the rules of tajwid. If you recite too slowly, the memorisation and review process will take an exceedingly long amount of time and could it make it feel burdensome which may ultimately cause you to give up altogether.
Start your speed at one page per minute. At this speed, you can adhere to all of the rules of tajwid while covering a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time.
This speed also makes it easy to organise your schedule when you become busy. If, for instance, you have to recite five juz’s today you know that each juz’ contains twenty pages, so it will take an hour and forty minutes, and you can then plan accordingly.
Walk while reciting, even if you only have a small cell to walk in. This will help you to drive away drowsiness and maintain concentration. If you are unable to walk, change your sitting position frequently. Recite aloud whenever possible.
5) THE PROGRAMME
When it comes to committing short portions of the Qur’an to memory, it is not necessary to have a fixed daily schedule of memorisation and review, but when it comes to memorising the Qur’an in its entirety, strict adherence to a set programme is essential.
Memorising the Qur’an is not a hobby; it is a full-time job. Every day you will have a set quota of material to memorise and review and it will require a significant devotion of time and energy.
First and most importantly you must have a clear, pure, sincere intention. You also must make a habit of asking Allah for His assistance at every step along the way.
Suppose you are starting out and so far know the thirtieth juz’ and some of the twenty ninth. These form a part of the seventh manzil of the Qur’an so this is where you will begin.
On your first day review everything you know from memory. If you get stuck and need to consult the mushaf on any given page, read that page again from the beginning from memory before moving on.
Next, memorise a new page from the juz’ in which you are working. You have not yet completed the twenty ninth juz’, so select a page and memorise it well enough to be able to recite it from memory without consulting the mushaf, without taking any long pauses and without making any mistakes. These are your tasks for the first day.
On the second day, you will have three tasks. You will need to recite forty times from memory the page you memorised the previous day. In addition, you will need to recite from memory everything you have memorised so far. Finally memorise your next daily page.
Your task on the third day will be similar to those of the second, and this will continue until you reach the end of the juz’. At this point recite the entire juz from memory five times.
Now memorise a new page from the beginning of the twenty eighth juz’ and proceed as you did with the twenty ninth, reviewing everything you have covered so far.
When you come to the end of the twenty eighth juz recite it five times. Do the same with the twenty seventh juz. In the twenty sixth juz, only Surat Qaf and the first half of Surat udh-Dhuriyat are a part of this manzil, so once you have memorised that, recite it only from memory five times. Now you have a manzil.
At this point you will move back to the first juz. From now on, you will have four daily tasks: repeat forty times from memory the previous day’s page, recite the seventh manzil from memory as well as whatever you have from the first manzil, and memorise a new page.
When you complete the first juz’, recite it five times from memory and do the same with each following juz’ until you reach the end of the manzil.
At this point, you have two manzils, so you will now begin to alternate them. One day, you will recite the seventh manzil, the next day, the first.
Proceed with the second manzil in a similar manner. As you complete each manzil, rotate them so that every day you recite a different manzil. At the same time, continue with your other three daily tasks.
Once you finish this process and commit all seven manzils to memory, recite the first manzil on Saturdays, the second on Sundays, and so on, so that you complete the Qur’an every Friday. This was the practice of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
As the months and years pass, the Qur’an will become more and more deeply engraved in your heart, insha’Allah.
6) COMMON OBSTACLES
Beware of disobeying Allah outwardly or inwardly. Some of the most common pitfalls for prisoners are sins of the tongue such as backbiting, slander, and lying. Be truthful in your speech and avoid lying at all costs.
Then there are the poison arrows of lblis: you must resist looking at members of the opposite sex or pictures of them. This is especially harmful to prisoners because incarceration heightens one’s sensitivity to such things. If you abstain from this for the sake of Allah, He will put a sweetness in your heart greater than what you experience looking at such images.
Avoid eating too much and sleeping too much.
Only associate with others for beneficial purposes such as da’wah, commanding good and forbidding evil, learning and teaching, etc. Avoid talking too much and people who talk too much, because memorising the Qur’an is a time-consuming endeavour and there are only twenty four hours in a day. Look at people who try to steal from your time as you would look at people who try to steal from your wealth. Most prisoners have no sense of the value of time and are more concerned with killing it than benefiting from it. Do not let them stand in the way of achieving your objective.
7) SOME WORDS OF ADVICE
It is easy to memorise the Qur’an; to retain it is the challenge. Do not cut corners in implementing this programme.
As you memorise, you should have someone check your recitation for errors on a regular basis. In prison, this is not always possible, so in the absence of such a person, you must be very careful not to make careless mistakes.
Make sure that what you consume is halal. Pay special attention to this point.
Regular cardiovascular exercise will help you to focus your mind and keep wandering thoughts under control. This should be a part of your schedule.
If you feel the need to further reinforce what you have memorised after you complete this programme, recite each ayah individually one hundred times from memory.
If you find yourself stuck at the end of an ayah, unable to recall what follows, open the mushaf and look at the ayah on which you are stuck as well as the ayah that follows it. Now close the mushaf and recite both ayahs ten times together.
Once you complete this programme you may sometimes be overburdened with other responsibilities to such an extent that your schedule of completing the Qur’an weekly is disrupted. When this happens, you can split it up into two weeks, but try not to let that happen very often. Otherwise, what you miss one day you can complete the next day in addition to that day’s quota. As time passes, you will begin to associate each manzil with the corresponding day of the week, and you will feel perturbed whenever you fail to complete your daily manzil.
Only use the mushaf of Madinah. As you memorise, you will begin to remember where each ayah is placed on each page and you will be able to flip through the pages in your mind. Alternating between different mushafs during the memorisation process can cause a lot of unnecessary frustration.
In your spare time, read books of Qur’an commentary, especially Tafsir lbn Kathir and In the Shade of the Quran by Sayyid Qutb. Practice what you learn and teach it to others. If you do not understand Arabic, learn it. It can be self-taught if there is nobody available to teach you, do not use that as an excuse to fail to learn it.
Many ayat resemble one another, and this can cause difficulties even for seasoned memorisers of the Qur’an. The more you progress, the more you will encounter this. Be mindful of it and try to develop techniques to help yourself remember differences between these ayat.
The recitation of the Qur’an is an act of worship, and as such, it should be kept concealed from the eyes and ears far as possible. Prison is a crowded place: and this may be difficult or even impossible. Nevertheless, as far as you should try to keep your recitation and memorisation a private matter between you and Allah.
After completing this programme, remember that you now have the Book of Allah with you in your heart so do not put it in places or situations that are not appropriate for the Book of Allah.
Lastly, never lose sight of the fact that the Qur’an is meant to be implemented, not simply recited, so strive your utmost to turn it into a living reality:
“We have sent aforetirne Our Messengers with Clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that people may stand forth in justice; and We sent down Iron, in which is mighty material for war, as well as many benefits for mankind, so that Allah may test who it is that will help Him and His Messengers unseen; for Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might.” (57:25).
For more pieces from John Walker Lindh, please see here, here and here. If you would like to write to him, please send your letters to:
John Phillip Walker Lindh,
Federal Correctional Institution,
P.O. Box 33,
Be sure to include your name and address in your correspondence.
(CC image courtesy of Fadzly’s Eyes on Flickr)
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)