The people gather and sit in silence. There are old men among this crowd, men with sagging hats on their sagging heads with deep, dark brows and pinched mouths. There are younger men wearing unbuttoned shirts, revealing the plain T-shirt underneath and beside them their infant son or daughter rocking restlessly, waiting for the ensuing performance. The air is thick with the scent of musk and the heavy smell of tea leaves. A man is walking here and there amidst the rows, passing out china cups filled to the brim with tea to members in the audience. Some hundreds huddle together in a makeshift venue, consisting of straw mats set out in the grass. Some have reserved their place, eager for the performance to begin. Others just sneak in to listen or escape the cold. Some are conversing and asking each other who this new man might be. Others nod their head in agreement to remarks made by the stranger at their side.
A man walks onto the makeshift stage clad in a tan robe with golden embroidery on it’s edges. A shirt and a tie can be seen protruding from his chest. He wears a large, white hat with a red top that covers his hair and a part of his forehead. The man sits pretzel style in front of a bundle of microphones hastily held together with rubber cords and faces his audience.
The crowd is tense as the man draws a deep, sharp breath.
Then he opens his mouth and recites the words of God.
The small talk dissipates. Tea cups are set aside and every man, women and child in the audience seem to be listening attentively, occasionally shifting their bodies with the powerful rhythm of the Qu’ran.
Then the Reciter stops for breath after delivering his first verse. No sooner had he finished, the crowd erupts in “Allah huakbar” (God is Great) and raises their hands to the sky. Some rough voices, others melodious, all chant in unison to greet the Sheikh’s recitation.
Then the Sheikh draws breath.
The crowd goes deadly silent, soaking in each and every word uttered by the Reciter.
This is what a live recitation is like. All Muslims read the quran from time to time but the Reciter or Qaari as he/she is called in Arabic, has perfected the art. And yes, there is a craft to reciting the Quran. It is not just another book. The Qaari takes the crowd on an emotional joy ride at every angling of his voice- from low to high pitch, and all the frequencies in between – at every subtle way he pronounces each letter of the Arabic language, and every nasal sound he perfects.
A true Qu’ran recitation is an experience above a music concert or a band performance, it is a taste of divine words rendered into human speech delivered in an otherworldly melody. That is why it is not just another book.
Here is a great recitation by the late Sheikh Muhammad sahat Anwar;