Pathways of Faith

Koran by Heart: One Chance to Remember (film)
by Greg Barker

“There is a passage in the Qur’an that says if you memorize the Qur’an and teach it to others, you will be successful in this life and the next life.” In Koran by Heart, the young scholar who says this has already committed the entire Muslim holy book to memory. He has also earned a place in the Islamic world’s oldest Qur’an memorization contest—though he’s only ten.

Every year, about 100 of Islam’s best young students from around the world come to Cairo for the International Holy Koran Competition. Many are in their late teens, some as young as seven. Koran by Heart follows the progress of three scholars, a girl and two boys, all ten years old, as they compete against students who, in some instances, are nearly twice their age.

Scheduled during Ramadan, the two-week event is both grueling and exhilarating. The competitors adhere to the practice of daytime fasting prescribed for the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, and the rounds sometimes go well past midnight. But the boys and girls recite before audiences of clergy and family members who, though discerning, are full of admiration. Introducing a child who is about to recite, a cleric says, “We must praise God when we look at this boy.” The finals are broadcast on Egyptian national television.

Koran by Heart captures the skill, determination, and faith of the young competitors, but never lets the viewer forget that they are children: the solemn girl we watch as she accepts a prize from the president of Egypt is the same high-spirited kid who squeals with delight on her first camel ride.

Home Box Office, Inc., 2011

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"Muslim Journeys | Item #308: ", June 21, 2024


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