Reciters of the Holy Quran are competing to find out who has best memorised it.
Blind reciter says holy Quran has given him eyes
DUBAI // Ahmed Sarikai was born blind, but that did not stop him memorising the entire Quran by the age of 8.
Sherzat Khizhin, 10, does not speak a word of Arabic but finished memorising the Quran two years ago while sitting in a circle with his father and siblings.
Their two voices have joined those of people from more than 90 countries competing for positions as the top 10 reciters of the Quran in the world.
The Dubai International Award for the Holy Quran is in its 15th year.
The competition is for the best "sout samawi", or voice of heaven, who can recite the words of Allah through the divine book.
"The Quran has given me eyes," says Mr Sarikai, now 21, of Turkey. "If you listen with your heart, the words find a place in your heart and are never forgotten."
The Istanbul man learnt Arabic by listening to TV channels, and the Quran from listening to recordings of reciters.
His distinctive, deep-throated style of recitation is helped by his pastime of playing the nay.
Sherzat, on the other hand, is not very talkative except with close family members. Extremely shy, he has journeyed out of his native Kazakhstan for the first time. He has been accompanied by the family friend and translator Amr Mousa.
"He only speaks when you ask him about the Quran," Mr Mousa says.
When Sherzat is asked to recite his favourite verses, his face lights up. Then he closes his eyes and is lost in his recitation.
Each reciter has to sit in the centre of the stage and be tested by the world's top six sheikhs, who prompt them to begin from any location in the Quran and continue without hesitation or errors.
The top prize is Dh250,000, awarded by the Government of Dubai. But there are no losers in this competition, as even the person who comes last goes home with Dh30,000 as a gift for learning the Quran.
The story of the holy Quran began with the Prophet Mohammed. It took more than 23 years for it to be completely revealed to him.
Because the Prophet Mohammed could not read or write, the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the messenger as carried by the Angel Gabriel from Allah as, "Read in the name of your Lord and Cherisher, Who created, Created man, out of a [mere] clot of congealed blood." (96:1-2)
As the last messenger, the Prophet Mohammed's miracle is the Quran.
"The Quran was completed during Prophet Mohammed's lifetime and written down by a trusted collection of writers, about 23 of them," says Dr Mohammed Al Qubaisi, the Grand Mufti at the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai.
"Many of them were always close by to document the revelations of verses as they came."
Written on animal skin, wood and stone, the physical form of the Quran was kept in separate locations by the Prophet Mohammed's most trusted circle.
The main way of preserving the Quran was by memorisation and it was fully memorised by many of the Prophet Mohammed's companions, his wives and later by caliphates.
After the death of the Messenger, Umar Ibn Al Khattab advised Abu Bakr to collect the written pieces of the holy Quran and protect it in one place.
He feared the death of those who memorised the divine record after 70 memorisers were martyred in one day. He also feared the loss of some pieces that were written in front of the Prophet Mohammed.
So it was under Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of the Muslims (632-634), that the written pieces of the Quran were collected and put into one place: the house of Hafsa, wife of the Prophet Mohammed and daughter of the second Caliph, Umar.
These collected pieces were then turned into a book form, a mashaf, under directions from the third Caliph, Othman bin Affan, (644-656). Seven original copies each accompanied by a special reciter were sent across the expanded Islamic empire.
"It was decided that the Quran book will be written down as it would have been pronounced by the Prophet, who belonged to the al Quraysh tribe of Mecca," says Dr Al Qubaisi.
It is Othman's copy of the holy book on which all of the copies of the Quran today, and for hundreds of years, have been based.
"When you read the Quran properly obeying all its rules of recitation, you are speaking in the same way as the Prophet spoke the holy Quran," Dr Al Qubaisi says.
Mr Sarikai says: "They are the words of Allah, so they give me and any listener inner peace."