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Hafiz (Arabic: حافظ, ḥāfiẓ, Arabic: حُفَّاظ, pl. huffāẓ, Arabic: حافظة f. ḥāfiẓa), literally meaning "guardian, memorizer," is a term used by Muslims for someone who has completely memorized the Qur'an. Hafiza is the female equivalent.
The Islamic prophet Muhammad lived in the 6th Century CE, in Arabia in a time when few people were literate. The Arabs preserved their histories, genealogies, and poetry by memory alone. According to tradition, when Muhammad proclaimed the verses later collected as the Qur'an, his followers naturally preserved the words by memorizing them.
The Arabic writing of the time was a non-marked script, that did not include vowel markings or other diacritics needed to distinguish between words. Hence if there was any question as to the pronunciation of a verse, the memorized verses were a better source than the written ones. The huffaz were also highly appreciated as reciters, whose intoned words were accessible even to the illiterate. Memorization required no expensive raw materials (in an age when there was no paper in the Muslim world, only vellum).
Even after Caliph Uthman ibn Affan collected and organized the Qur'an circa 650-656 CE, recitation (from memory) of the Qur'an was still honored and encouraged. There are numerous traditions of recitation. Most huffaz know only one version, but true experts can recite in several traditions. However this does not change the meaning of the content.
Huffaz are highly respected within the Islamic community. They are privileged to use the title "Hafiz" before their names. They are tested on their knowledge. For example, in one test they are asked to continue the recitation of a passage taken randomly from the Qur'an. As they do not know which passage will be chosen, they must know the whole text in order to be sure of passing. In another test, a would-be hafiz might be asked to recite verses containing a specific word or phrase.
Most huffaz have studied as children in special Islamic schools or madrasahs, being instructed in tajwid (rules of recitation) and vocalisation as well as committing the Qur'an to memory. To give some idea as to the nature of this undertaking: The Qur'an is divided into 114 Surahs (chapters), containing 6,236 verses (comprising some 80,000 words or 330,000 individual characters). This process generally takes between 3 to 6 years part-time together with schooling.
In the classical Arabic lexicon, the word hafiz was not traditionally used to refer to one who had memorized the Qur'an. Instead, the word used was hamil (i.e., one who carries.) Hafiz was used for the scholars of hadith, specifically one who had committed 100,000 hadiths to memory (for example, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani).
The Quran (lit. a “reading” or “recitation”) is distinct from the recorded sayings and deeds (Sunnah) which have traditionally been ascribed to Muhammad, which are instead preserved in a separate set of literature collectively called the “Ahadeeth” (lit. “news”; “report”; or “narration”).
Having memorised the Qur'an, the hafiz or hafiza must then ensure they do not forget it. To ensure perfect recall of all the learned verses requires constant practice. The memorisation of the Qur'an was important to Muslims in the past and is also in the present. Yearly, thousands of students master the Qur'an and complete the book with interpretation and also memorisation. The Quran is perhaps the only book, religious or secular, that has been memorized completely by millions of people.
For Muslims who are attempting to memorize certain suras but are unfamiliar with the Arabic script, the ulema have made various elucidations. There are mixed opinions on the usage of romanization of Arabic due to concerns about mispronunciations, higher approval of writing systems with close consonantal and vocalic equivalents to classical Arabic or relevant and effective diacritics, and a preference for Quran tutors or recorded recitations from qaris or any device with clear audible sound storage technology, such as CDs or cassettes. The most important sura to memorize is Al-Fatiha. For individuals with dyslexia or other learning difficulties, it is sufficient to alternatively say: subhan Allah, alhamdulillah, the shahadah, the takbir, the hawqala, respectively meaning Exalted and perfect is Allah. All praise and thanks be to Allah. There is none worthy of worship except Allah. Allah is the greatest. There is no power or might except in Allah.
- Ludwig W. Adamec (2009), Historical Dictionary of Islam, pp.113-114. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810861615.
- Wajihuddin, Mohammed (22 Oct 2005). "The Messengers: Reward of the faithful". The Times of India. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- William Graham (1993), Beyond the Written Word, UK: Cambridge University Press, p.80.
- The Multiple Realities of Multilingualism, Page 159, Elka Todeva, Jasone Cenoz - 2009
- A Guide For A New Muslim - Page 146, IslamKotob, Jammaal Al-Din M Zarabozo