WHEN I WAS working on memorizing the Quran, I was given advice on different ways to approach memorization.
It Worked for Them
“Read the page ten times,” one sister told me. “Once you’ve read it that many times, it’ll just stick in your mind.”
Another sister advised sitting in the same spot every time so I would associate the location with memorization.
These methods didn’t work for me. I tried reciting the page over and over and over and over until I hit ten times… but beyond a few words, I really didn’t feel I had memorized anything.
I tried sitting in the same spot when I was home, but I completed my memorization over many years and all of those years I was either a full time student or working full time—or a combination of both. Sometimes, I had to memorize in parking lots during my break or while sitting in the bus. I had to memorize whenever and wherever I could because of my demanding scheduling outside of my memorization.
Finding My Way
So I had to figure out my own memorization style. When I first started, I felt that I was painstakingly slow. I would recite one verse over and over. It sometimes would take me hours to memorize one verse—or even longer. Sometimes I felt it took days.
I am not Arab, so I didn’t understand the meanings of the verses. They were foreign words to me, ones I barely was learning how to recite correctly, and committing them to memory was an extremely long process.
I remember one sister telling me that she was in a Quran memorization group and they were memorizing one page of Sûrat Al-Baqarah a day. One page a day! I couldn’t even imagine memorizing such a large amount in such a short time period. She said, “No, really, it’s easy!” I scoffed and decided it was easy for her—not for me.
But over time, it really did get easier. The one verse that took me an hour or even hours started taking me much less time. Soon, I was memorizing multiple verses in an hour. As the years went by, I started memorizing a page in an hour. Then two pages. Finally, as I completed my memorization, I could commit two pages to memory within a half hour or even less.
Finding my memorization groove took time. Many people suggested different methods, but I had to figure out what would work best for me. And that didn’t come right away; it took months to figure out what method really worked best for me, and a few more years to get it down solid so that the routine ran like a polished machine.
Will it Ever Stick?
Many people complain to me when they begin their memorization; they can’t seem to memorize quickly enough—they forget instantly—they feel like it’s too grueling of a process.
These passionate individuals usually have been memorizing for a few months or less than a year, and they often have not been doing it every day and they’ve been doing it on their own, without a teacher. I smile and advise:
Memorizing the Quran is like working out with weights. At first, when you begin lifting weights, you lift a certain amount that you can handle—and heavier weights may seem impossible. You may look at others who lift weights and stare in awe as they lift so much more than you feel you could ever do. But if you lift those same weights every day or every other day for a year, they become too light for you! You add more weights as your body strengthens and eventually even those are too light. So you continue to add as your body becomes stronger, faster, and all of what you previously used to lift no longer proves challenging.
It’s the same way with the Quran. It takes practice. Commitment. Time. Focus. Energy. And if you aren’t doing it every single day and working with a teacher on a daily basis, it’s going to take even longer. That’s okay. It is not a race. You do not need to finish your entire memorization in a year or two or even three or four if you have all these other life responsibilities going on. Enjoy the journey of memorization. When you’re frustrated, take a short break to rejuvenate and regroup, and then begin again.
Consider These Modes
Here are a few suggested methods of memorizing. I’ve used a combination of almost all of these throughout my own journey. No one way—in and of itself—is better than another; you just need to figure out what works for you!
1 – Repetition
Begin with one verse or a group of verses and repeat it/them until you’ve committed them to memory. This is literally just “rote memorization.”
2 – Writing
Write the verse over and over. For visual and kinesthetic learners, the process of moving one’s hand to dictate the verses, combined with the visual focus of spelling every word correctly, helps commit the verses to the brain’s long-term memory.
3 – Direct
For kinesthetic learners, movement is key to learning. Directing the verses means acting out key elements in verses with hand or head movements. So, for example, if the verse is discussing rain, one can use one’s fingers to make the movements of rain coming down from the sky. If the verse mentions an elephant, one can use one’s arms to make the trunk of an elephant. Obviously, this is done within the realms of what is Islamicly acceptable. Some concepts are not acceptable to ‘act’ out.
4 – Drawing the verses
For visual learners and kinesthetic learners, it can be helpful to ‘see’ the verses and draw them out with one’s own hands. Sometimes, this mental picture can create the image that the brain uses to grasp the words in the verse long after one has memorized and even reviewed.
5 – Use the translation
It makes a world of a difference to understand the words you’re reciting. Even if you are Arab—unless you’ve studied classical Arabic—it’s very likely that the Qur’anic Arabic is unfamiliar and difficult to understand at times since it’s so different from colloquial Arabic. A translation I recommend is Sahih International, which you can find, along with others, on: www.quran.com.
6 – Have a teacher
You need a teacher to memorize correctly. When I first started, my teacher listened to my broken recitation and said: “You need to learn how to pronounce correctly.” I was frustrated; I wanted to memorize right away! She asked: “Do you want to memorize the entire Quran and do it wrong? What’s the point of that?”
She and my subsequent teachers [especially my honored teacher Shaykh Moheb Fouda—may God increase and bless him and his noble family!] helped me perfect my tajwîd and learn how to beautify my recitation and enhance the meaning of the verses based on how they were recited.
Importantly, they also held me accountable in maintaining both a memorization and review schedule. If you cannot find a teacher in your locality, I recommend starting with an online program such as: www.studioarabiya.com.
7 – Use the right mushaf
When I first began, I was memorizing out of a small muṣḥaf because it was easy for me to carry. One of my teachers, Ustada Sarah—may God increase and bless her and her noble family—told me I needed to switch it out for something bigger because my eyes needed to see the verses more clearly and I needed space to write my corrections and notes on the muṣḥaf itself as well. Find the muṣḥaf that works for you.
For some, memorizing in chunks of themes works best. Consider using a thematic muṣḥaf, where subjects are coordinated by color. While I recommend using a physical muṣḥaf versus an electronic one, I have seen these sold only during specific time periods in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Here is a pdf for you to consider while searching for a physical one: http://community.arabsbook.com/threads/47967/.
8 – Listen
Constantly listen to the verses. For your personal enjoyment, you can listen to anyone whose voice moves you. But for memorization, you’ll want to listen to someone whose recitation is slow enough and tajwîd is perfected enough for your own practice. Commonly recommended reciters for memorization are Abd Al-Basit, Al-Minshawi, Al-Husary, Abdullah Basfar, and Abu Bakr Al-Shatri. All can be found on: www.quranicaudio.com
9 – Make a ton of duʿâ’
In your sujûd, when it rains, when you’re fasting, when you’re walking or driving or about to sleep—every moment—make duʿâ’ for Allah to open the Quran to you, to make it easy for you to memorize, to make you successful in your memorization and in your loving, living and teaching the Quran through all of your intentions and actions.
Memorizing the Quran may seem like an insurmountable mountain in the beginning. But with every step you take up that mountain, your body will get stronger inshâ’Allah and with time, consistency, determination and perseverance, inshâ’Allah, it will get easier, you’ll get faster, and eventually inshâ’Allah, you will make it to the very top of that mountain!
The Prophet ﷺ described Ahl Al-Qurân (the People of the Quran) as:
The People of the Quran are Allah’s people and His special servants. (Al-Nisâ’i)
May Allah make me and you among them, Âmîn!
 The process of learning through action