Bright Muslim Kids' 'Koran by Heart' Recitations Will Captivate You (VIDEO)

Rifdha RasheedInternational Holy Koran Competition participant Rifdha RasheedEvery year during this holy Muslim holiday of Ramadan, more than 100 of the best and brightest young students, ages 7 to 21, from more than 70 countries in the Islamic world head to Cairo, Egypt for the prestigious International Holy Koran Competition. Koran by Heart, a documentary that follows three 2010 contestants in the competition, airs tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO.

This competition is serious business and the kids are completely amazing. Competitors, some whose native tongue is not even Arabic, memorize the entire 600-page Koran -- 200,000 words, 6,236 verses, 540 paragraphs, and 114 chapters -- and then recite it before a panel of top-notch judges. The contestants are judged on their memorization and some very complex rules of pronunciation, as well as the individual artistry and "heart" they bring to the recitation.

The result? Gorgeous, rhythmic, captivating recitations that sound like music to the Western ear.


Koran by Heart follows three 10-year-old participants, including a young girl named Rifdha Rasheed, who is from the Maldives. Very few countries allow girls and young women to participate, so Rifdha is as brave as she is smart. While Islam does urge women to memorize and study the Koran, they do not look fondly on women reciting it publicly. Heartbreakingly, the trailer reveals Rifdha's dreams of being an explorer while her father says she will be a housewife, despite being at the top of her class and her abilities to recite the Koran in a prestigious competition.

The other participants in the documentary are Djamil Djieng from Senegal and Nabiollah Saidoff from Tajikistan, who, while extremely bright, is actually illiterate in his own native language. And yet, he can recite the entire Koran in Arabic. Amazing stuff from amazing kids!

WATCH the preview of Koran by Heart:

Muslims believe the Koran was revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad and then Muhammad recited it to his followers. So these recitations are, in essence, speaking the word of God and a deeply religious act. In other words, this is seriously spiritual stuff, and the kids must bring that to their recitations. It's not just the hard work of the study and memorization, but students must also deliver the recitation with the respect and heart it requires. No small feat for an elementary-age child.

LISTEN to part of Nabiollah's beautiful recitation here -- go to about 7:44:

Do you find these recitations captivating?


Image via HBO

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