The House of Ibn Kathir: The Competition Begins…

Ustad Ibrahim opened his eyes to look at Hamudi in surprise. “That was a commendable first attempt. You should be very pleased with yourself!” “Sir? But I was terrible – I struggled all the way through!” replied Hamudi, much puzzled by Ustad Ibrahim’s feedback.

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“Ah – but because of your struggle, your reward is twice as great as the one who reads it beautifully and correctly!” assured Ustad Ibrahim. “Remember the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, ‘He who recites the Qur’an well and clearly is equal in rank to the Angels who record creation’s deeds. These Angels are gracious, honourable and of lofty rank. He who finds difficulty in reciting the Qur’an will obtain a double reward.’” Upon hearing these wise words, Hamudi cheered up instantly, his face beaming with smiles. “Now who would like to read next?”

The next to read was Khalid, and as Yusif expected, the recitation was very good. He was so fluent that he managed to read chapter one and the first page of chapter two, al-Baqarah, ‘The Cow’, with very few mistakes. Ustad Ibrahim was much pleased with his effort. Khalid who was every bit as pleased with himself, grinned smugly and leaned back on his chair. Warsoma was next, and he read chapter one very reasonably, as did Azmi after him. “I think...” said Ustad Ibrahim glancing once more at the clock on the wall, “yes...we have time for just one more. So who would like to go next?” The boys sat silently. Heads turned eagerly in the direction of their neighbours, as each boy hoped that someone else would step forward.

Having listened to the previous four boys, it had become apparent to everyone that reciting the Qur’an was not as easy as they had thought it was going to be. Zulfi sat with his head bent forward, as if for some reason suddenly mesmerised by his polka dot pencil case. In fact, wild horses would not make him volunteer to read. Especially not after listening to Khalid. Although he had spent years of after-school lessons with Aunty Zaynab learning to recite Qur’an, it was now clear to him that what he had just heard was very different to how Aunty had taught him! “Well now, what happened to all the enthusiasm?” laughed Ustad Ibrahim. “Never mind, let me see – Ah! Yusif would you care to read?”

Yusif nearly jumped out of his seat when he heard his name called out. Full of nerves, he nodded his head, unable to refuse the Ustad’s kindly gaze. He fumbled for the Qur’an that lay on his desk and slowly stood up. All of a sudden, Yusif became acutely conscious of the many eyes upon him. Although utterly terrified, he began to recite, a little shakily at first. But as his tongue twisted around the familiar sounds, he gained momentum. His heart, previously pounding at a thousand beats per minute, slowed to match the rhythmic recitation. Losing himself in the beautiful words of the Qur’an, he imagined he was back in his beloved teacher’s study. He recalled the picture of Ustad Mustafa, sitting at his desk with his favourite herbal tea beside him, filling the air with its fruity aroma, his head swaying from side to side as he listened intently to the sound of Yusif’s voice.

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