The African Art of Reciting the Koran

Social media has enabled a revival in unique African styles of Koranic recitation, which were once dominated by Middle Eastern traditions and as Isma’il Kushkush reports a voice from Sudan has come to exemplify what the continent has to offer. When Nourin Mohamed Siddig recited the Koran, people around the world described his tone as sad, soulful and bluesy. His unique sound made him one of the Muslim world’s most popular reciters. As a consequence, his death at the age of 38 in a car accident in Sudan in November was mourned from Pakistan to the United States. According to historian Sylviane Diouf the chants, prayers and recitation of enslaved West African Muslims, which can sound similar to that of Muslims across the Sahel region to Sudan and Somalia, may have contributed to the creation of “the distinctive African American music of the South that evolved into the holler and finally the Blues”. According to tradition, the Koran, Islam’s holy book, is typically recited in a singing manner, encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad, who said that people should “beautify the Koran with your voices”. These online recordings have also brought attention to different schools of verbalising the Koran, qira’at. The Koran, for Muslims, is believed to have been transmitted according to seven schools of verbalisation that vary slightly in how some words are read. The most well-known of these schools today is Hafs, mandated by the Ottoman Turks in the lands they conquered and later widely taught in institutions of learning and distributed through printed copies of the Koran made in Cairo and Mecca.

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