Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Memorizing Your Way to Freedom

The United Arab Emirates has come up with a novel way to reform its prison inmates. Since 2002 the Dubai authorities have offered to prisoners a reduction in their jail term if they can recite portions of the Quran. The well-defined incentives range from a three month deduction for memorizing three sections of the Quran to a twenty year deduction for reciting the entire book (which amounts to 6,346 verses or 80,000 words). Hundreds of prisoners have enrolled in this Inmates Memorization Program[1] and scores are benefiting from a reduction in their prison term.[2] Testimonies from these recipients indicate that the memorization of the Quran has brought joy, achievement and “a change of heart” as well as a release from prison conditions.[3]

The program is another initiative of Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum who has transformed most sectors of Dubai. It is an extension of the International Holy Quran Award[4] which promotes the memorization of the Quran through its widely publicized annual contests complete with diplomas and attractive financial awards.

There is an extensive Islamic tradition of Quranic memorization stretching back to the Prophet Mohammed who was regarded as the first hafiz, a term given to a person who has memorized the entire text.

For many years Christians have encouraged the memorization of the Holy Bible (which consists of 31, 102 verses or 783, 137 words). The Navigators[5] has produced scripture verses on cards called the Topical Memory System and now a range of software is being made available to aid believers in the art of memorization. In earlier times and in cultures where literacy levels were low, memorization and recitation were primary ways of transmitting the faith. Many advocates today are promoting the memorization discipline to develop a holy life (‘I hide God’s word in my heart that I might not sin…’), as a guard against temptation (Christ’s example in his time of testing) and as a way of letting the truth seep down deep to shape one’s character (‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly’).

Memorization of famous speeches and Tennyson poems, let alone Holy Scripture, is not popular in this age that has labeled such practices as rote learning. However, the Jewish Scriptures proclaim the truth that “as a person thinks in their heart so are they.” This reminds us that what we fill our minds with and what we set our hearts upon (both good and bad), will inevitably produce a change in our behavior.

Geoff Pound

Image: Prison inmates being presented with diplomas for memorizing the Quran.

[1] The Holy Quran Memorisation Program for Inmates
[2] Alia al Theeb, ‘Jail Inmates to be Released after Memorising Quran’, Gulf News, 15 February 2006.
[3] Sanaa Maadad, ‘Freedom for Five for Memorizing Quran’, Khaleej Times, 17 October 2002.
[4] International Holy Quran Award
[5] Navigators