More than 70 contestants from around the world will gather in Dubai to take part in the International Holy Quran Award, a recital competition held every year during Ramadan. Entrants, who have to be male and at least 21, must be proficient in the use of tajweed and know the Quran from memory. Tajweed, derived from the root word to improve, is a way of reading the Quran that is different to reading any other Arabic text, with some letters over-pronounced, linked together, or read with different tones of voice depending on which of the seven schools of tajweed the reciter follows.
It is also customary for reciters to adhere to such rules as stopping at a verse that invokes either the mercy or warnings of God. They must face Mecca, be clear-minded in preparation and follow rules of body purification prior to their recital. The competition, which begins Sept 8, has a first prize of Dh250,000 (US$68,000), a second prize of Dh200,000 and a third prize of Dh150,000. However, just for taking part, contestants will receive between Dh20,000 and Dh65,000.
The recitals will be broadcast on television and radio stations, and a separate competition for local contestants will begin later in the year. This will include women, although they will be allowed to recite only to an all-female audience. There is a strong oral tradition in Arab culture. The Quran, which derives from the word iqra, meaning to read, was recited orally during the Prophet Mohammed's life, and was not compiled in its written form until after his death.
When the Quran is being recited, tradition says those who can hear it must also listen to what it says. Famous Quran reciters, such as the Egyptian Abdul Basser, can move Muslims to tears with their haunting voices and perfect technique. Muslims believe the Quran is literally the word of God, and that the first word revealed to the Prophet when the messenger descended upon him was "read". According to tradition, the Prophet had a habit of contemplating for hours by himself in a cave in Mecca. During one of these periods, the Prophet heard the voice of the archangel Gabriel, revealing to him the first word of the Quran.
The Prophet was frightened to hear the voice. He was also astounded at the irony of the command "read" given that he was illiterate. Many Muslims believe this revelation came after months of him seeing prophetic dreams and hearing voices. Ramadan, which starts on Sept 1, is particularly significant because Muslims believe the Quran was revealed on the 27th night of this holy month, known as Laylat al Qadr, or the Night of Destiny.