Published On:29 June 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Before a Full House in Iran, Koran Reciters Vie for Top Honors

By Thomas Erdbrink

Tehran: On the long journey from Kampala to Tehran, 15-year-old Hamissi Mawejje had plenty of time to spend with his iPod. The plugs pushed into his ears, which emerged from under his red fez, Mr. Mawejje whispered along with his favorites. Rather than rap or dubstep, however, his interest ran more to the star chanters — some long dead — of the Koran.

For Mr. Mawejje, Uganda’s reigning Koran reciting champion, the flight provided a last chance to study the masters, listening to how they calibrated their tone, emphasis and vibrations to the drama and import of the holy book’s verses.

Arriving here in Iran’s capital, he had felt ready to take on the best Koran reciters in the world. But as he lowered himself into a red velvet seat in the auditorium of the Tehran Milad Tower, he had a swelling realization of the challenge that lay ahead in what he called the “Olympic Games of Koran recital,” the Iran International Koran Competition, which took place last week.

Around him, at tables decorated with miniature national flags, sat 64 other national champions of Koran reciting, some from predominantly non-Muslim nations like Sweden and China. The participants — all of them male — had won local, regional and national competitions, and some, like the Iranian representative, Qassem Moghadami, had won other international Koran competitions.

Thousands of men and women, bused in on free shuttles from mosques and religious centers all over Iran, pushed and shoved their way into the hall, where they were seated in segregated areas, following Iranian Shiite tenets. Men in long dark coats with canisters of rose water on their backs walked through the audience, showering people with the sweet scent, to recreate the ambience of Islamic shrines.

When a presenter mentioned the Prophet Muhammad, the audience gave a thunderous reply honoring his name.

“Peace be upon Muhammad, the holy prophet, and all of his noble household!” they cried in unison.

“I am nervous,” Mr. Mawejje said in English, as he took in the scene. “This is very different from Uganda.”

In front of him, two television hosts, one speaking in Persian and the other in Arabic, sat on the left of an immense stage awash in blue. At the center stood a chair under three cardboard arches against a background decorated with Arabic calligraphy. “The Koran is the book of good deeds,” it said. The participants were shown on three large screens. State TV dedicated hours to a live broadcast of the event.

In three rounds spread over five days, an international jury of 14 “masters” of Koran recital sequestered in a room offstage listened to the chants, straining to detect the often minute variations in emphasis that would separate the next master from the also-rans. Aside from the glory and the numerous lucrative invitations that come with winning, the best Koran reciter would receive a prize of $18,000.

“Enough to buy me a good house in Uganda,” Mr. Mawejje said.

Koran recital is practiced by Muslims worldwide. For Muslims, the Koran in Arabic is the literal word of God, revealed to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel over 23 years. According to one verse, God orders his followers to chant the Koran in a beautiful style in Arabic as often as they can.

“We hope that in this contest we can jubilate and glorify the Koran in the way it deserves,” said Hojatolislam Ali Mohammadi, a midranking cleric who is the head of Iran’s State Endowment and Charity Affairs Organization, which organized the event. “It pleases me to see there is no elbow room in this auditorium, as it is filled to the brim with lovers of the Koran.”

As the competition kicked off, Mr. Mawejje waited patiently as a competitor from Malaysia drew praise from the audience.

“Allah!” they shouted in appraisal, as the reciter, Ahmad Tel Mizi, hit a high note. “Mashallah!” or “God has willed it,” others responded.

But when Mr. Mawejje took the stage, nobody shouted for him.

“Alas, I wish I had followed the path of the messenger,” Mr. Mawejje recited in Arabic, as some in the audience shook their heads in disapproval.

“His tone is flat,” one attendee, Mohammad Ali Parvizkar, concluded. “We like emotions. This guy should learn from our Qassem Moghadami.”

Mr. Moghadami flawlessly made it through the two rounds leading up to the finale on Friday. An ethnic Arab from southwestern Iran, he is a native Arabic speaker, and he had come to defend the honor of the Islamic Republic.

“There is a lot of expectation on me, so I have practiced two hours a day for over a year,” Mr. Moghadami, 27, said while playing with prayer beads in a room reserved for the superstar reciter. He said that most Iranian reciters copied their style from popular Egyptian colleagues. “But of course we have mixed those with our own pronunciation and interpretations,” he said.

Covered in a black chador, Massoumeh Solatani, a housewife and an amateur Koran reciter, tried to explain how happy she felt when the verses of her holy book were chanted before her.

“It lifts my spirits,” she said, adding that she spent most of her time at home. “This is a major event for me.”

Far away from the emotions of the auditorium, in their private room guarded by security men, the 14 judges sat in front of monitors showing live feeds of the event. “Their voices need to be like velvet, and should be able to handle different vocal degrees,” said Gholam-Reza Shahmive-Esfahani, who has been a panel member for 20 years.

The winner, he said, would be the one who could best convey the mood of the text, excel in his pronunciation of Arabic and match the rhythm of his chants most perfectly to the verse assigned to him.

For the audience, the clear winner was Iran’s own Mr. Moghadami. The last of five finalists to take the stage, Mr. Moghadami was met with excited cries of “Allah” and “Mashallah.”
Not much later, the judges agreed, and Mr. Moghadami was declared the winner.

Mr. Mawejje did not mind that he had lost. “It has been marvelous here in Iran,” he said. In the coming days, he and the other competitors would be treated to a state-supported excursion to Islamic sites across the country and a meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Mashhad.

“It’s really not about winning or losing,” Mr. Mawejje said. “And I am already famous in Uganda, so that’s cool.”

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

About the Author

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on June 29, 2012. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on June 29, 2012. Filed under , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

0 comments for "Before a Full House in Iran, Koran Reciters Vie for Top Honors"

Leave a reply

Editor's Pick

SPECIAL REPORT: Indian religious leaders strongly protest against South Korean government hounding of Shincheonji Church despite cooperation to contain COVID-19 spread

By Danish Ahmad Khan The government of South Korea is pursuing a discriminatory policy towards Shincheonji Church while accusing it of COVI...

IMO Search Finder

Subscribe IMO