Writing about audio books the other day led me to think about a documentary that aired on HBO a few weeks ago — Koran By Heart. In it, we are introduced to a few children who have been selected to participate in a contest in Egypt for people who have memorized the entire Koran.
Koran By Heart is really, really interesting, portraying a view of Islam not normally seen. Competitors are tested by showing them the first and last lines of a passage from a Koran — they are expected to figure out where in the Koran those lines appear and recite all of the lines between them. What’s particularly impressive is that many of the reciters do not actually speak Arabic — one of them, a young boy, does not read or write in any language.
In English, we place a relatively low value on reading aloud and on recitation. I have always thought of audio books as a short cut for people too lazy to read the books on their own. When it comes to the Koran, Muslims do not agree. There is a set of rules for proper Koranic recitation called tajwid, and competitors are judged not only on their powers of recall but also on how well they conform to the rules of tajwid.
This documentary, and more recently, thinking about audio books, makes me wonder whether I’ve had it wrong when it comes to the spoken word.