Is There Such a Thing as an “Ugly Pause” in Quran Recitation?

Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa


I heard one of the Quran teachers telling his student that he made an “ugly pause” while reciting. Is there such a thing in the Quran? Could you please elaborate on this?


In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.

Yes, there is such a type of pause in the Quran recitation, and there are other types of pauses as well. Before explaining these, it is necessary to clarify some issues related to the subject.

Pause (Al-Waqf)

The pause is to stop voicing the words for a duration typically used for breathing, with the intention of resuming the recitation either from the same point or from before it. The pause usually occurs at the beginnings and middles of verses, not in the middle of a word or in connected letters. [Ibrahim al-Jarmi, Ma‘jam ‘Ulum al-Quran]

The Science of Pause and Start (Al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida)

This science studies what should be paused upon and what should be started with during Quran recitation. It also includes how to pause on a word and how to start from it.

Knowing where to pause in the Noble Quran is an integral part of its proper recitation and one of the most important requirements for beautifying the recitation, as commanded by Allah: “(…) and recite the Quran (properly) in a measured way.” [Quran, 73:4]

It is also crucial for eloquence in speech, as it helps clarify the meanings and purposes of words. Therefore, it is an important science for both the reciter and the reader.

It is narrated from Ali (Allah be pleased with him) when asked about the verse: “(…) and recite the Quran (properly) in a measured way” [Quran, 73:4], he said: “ Measured way (Tartil) is to beautify the letters and to know where to pause.” [Ibn al-Jazari, Sharh Tayyibat al-Nashr fi al-Qira’at; Ashmuni, Minar al-Huda fi Bayan al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida; Suyuti, al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Understanding Pause and Start and Its Relation to the Meanings

Understanding where to pause and start (al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida) has a close relationship with the meanings of the Quran and the understanding of its verses.

Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with them both) illustrated this by saying: “Indeed, we lived a period of our lives where one of us would be given faith before the Quran. A chapter would be revealed to Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and he would learn its lawful and forbidden aspects, its commands and prohibitions, and where it is appropriate to pause during its recitation, just as you learn the Quran today.

Then, indeed, I have seen men today who are given the Quran before faith. They recite everything from its beginning to its end without knowing its commands or prohibitions, nor where it is appropriate to pause in it, scattering it as the scattering of ashes.” [Hakim, al-Mustadrak; Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra]

Abu Jafar al-Nahas said: “It is appropriate for a Quran reader to understand what they are reciting, to engage their heart in it, to check for proper pauses and resumptions, and to ensure that they make the meaning clear to the listeners, whether in prayer or otherwise.

Their pause should be at a point that is self-sufficient or similar, and their start should be good. They should not pause at ‘the dead’ in the verse: ‘Only those who listen will respond, and the dead…’ [Quran, 6:36], or similar verses; because pausing here incorrectly links the listeners with the dead, whereas the dead do not hear or respond. It is only informed about them that they will be resurrected…” [Abu Jafar al-Nahas, al-Qat‘ wa al-I‘tinaf]

An example illustrating the connection between the pause (al-Waqf) and the meaning is the famous incident narrated by Adi ibn Hatim. He reported, “A man testified in the presence of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) saying: ‘He who obeys Allah and His Messenger is rightly guided, and he who disobeys them is indeed astray.’ The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to him: ‘Be silent, you are a poor speaker.’” [Abu Dawud]

Abu Jafar al-Nahas explained that the speaker paused after “and he who disobeys them,” then continued with “is indeed astray.”

It would have been better to connect the speech to say: “And he who disobeys them is indeed astray,” or to pause after “is rightly guided.” Such pauses are disliked in sermons and common speech, and even more so in the Book of Allah, with the prohibition from the Messenger of Allah making it more emphatic [Abu Jafar al-Nahas, al-Qat‘ wa al-I‘tinaf]

Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i disapproved of saying “No, and praise be to Allah” but did not object to “Yes, and praise be to Allah.”

It is also narrated from Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with him) that he corrected a man who responded to a question about selling a camel with “No, may Allah keep you well.” Abu Bakr advised him to say instead, “No, and may Allah keep you well,” focusing on his choice of words rather than his intention. [Ibid.]

Due to the importance of understanding the pause and start for Quran students, they were prevented from granting certification to those who lacked this knowledge. Ibn al-Jazari stated, “Hence, many past scholars required that one granting certification should not do so unless the person knew the rules of pausing and starting.

Our teachers would make us pause at each letter and gesture to us with their fingers, a practice they adopted from their earlier scholars.” He then cited al-Sha‘bi, who advised: “When you recite “Every being on earth is bound to perish” [Quran 55:26] do not stop until you read “Only your Lord Himself, full of Majesty and Honour, will remain (forever).” [Quran, 55:27] [Ibn al-Jazari, al-Nashr fi al-Qira’at al-‘Ashr]

Shaykh Tahir al-Jaza’iri commented, “When a reciter knows the places of pause and start, he may continue at the points of pause if he has sufficient breath. The reciter is like one traveling on land, and the points of pause are like the stations before him. A knowledgeable person does not pass a station unless he is sure that he can reach the next station while it is still day.

The ignorant one stops where the night overcomes him and may end up in a place that could harm him, be it in life, property, or other. A reciter who knows the divisions stops where he will not be blamed, while the ignorant stops at the end of his breath, possibly at a place harmful to stop due to changing the meaning or impairing understanding. Scholars have cautioned against pausing at places where the speech is not complete and encouraged avoiding them.” [Tahir al-Jaza’iri, Tawjih al-Nazar ila Usul al-Athar]

Types of Pauses

In general, there are four types of pauses (al-Waqf):

  1. Compulsory Pause (al-Waqf al-Idtirari): This is a forced pause that occurs during recitation due to reasons like shortness of breath or sneezing, among other excuses that compel the reader to pause at inappropriate places. In such cases, the reader is excused but must return to the word they paused on and connect it with what follows if it is appropriate to start with it, or repeat it along with what rectifies and establishes the meaning.
  2. Testing Pause (al-Waqf al-Ikhtibari): This pause relates to the orthography of the Quranic text. The teacher tests the student on how to pause on certain words to demonstrate the disconnected and connected, the fixed and omitted, and the orthography of some words with the open or connected ‘taa,’ among others. This pause is only employed for testing purposes or to teach the student how to pause on a Quranic word if needed. An example is when a teacher asks a student to pause on ‘Allah has granted me’ in the verse: “What Allah has granted me is far greater than what He has granted you. ” [Quran, 27:36], to observe whether the student pauses on the “nun” only or on both “nun” and “ya.” There is disagreement among the reciters regarding pausing on this word.
  3. Pause for Variations (al-Waqf al-Intizari): This is pausing on a word that is read in more than one way to cover all its variations. It is specific to students of Quranic recitations.
  4. Voluntary Pause (al-Waqf al-Ikhtiari): This is a pause chosen by the reader voluntarily, without any of the aforementioned reasons. This type is closely linked to the meaning and requires careful consideration.

Before discussing the types of this (voluntary) pause, it is important to point out that scholars, when determining the type of pause, look at the text before the pause point and the text after it. They search for one or more of three connections, and the presence of any or all of these determines the type of pause and its ruling. These connections are:

  • Lexical links;
  • The specific meaning of each text, and;
  • The overall context of the topic.

Accordingly, there are four types of voluntary pauses, which are most commonly recognized as:

  • Complete Pause (al-Waqf al-Tam),
  • Sufficient Pause (al-Waqf al-Kafi),
  • Good Pause (al-Waqf al-Hasan), and
  • Ugly Pause (al-Waqf al-Qabih).

The Complete Pause

As for the Complete Pause (al-Waqf al-Tam), it is pausing at a point where the phrase is self-contained and not linguistically (grammatically) or semantically connected to what follows.

It is usually found at the ends of verses or stories, like pausing at “the successful ones” in the verse: “And those are the successful ones” [Quran, 2:5]; because the verse: “Indeed, those who disbelieve, it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe.” [Quran, 2:6] has no connection with the preceding verse either in meaning or wording. If you began reading with it, it would convey a complete meaning, and there is no need to start with what precedes it.

Some important considerations:

The Complete Pause can occur before the end of a verse, like pausing at “humiliated” in the verse narrated about the Queen of Sheba: “She said, ‘Indeed kings, when they enter a town, they ruin it and render the honored of its people humiliated. They really do so! (…)’” [Quran, 27:34], and then starting with “They really do so!” because this is a statement from Allah (Most High), not a narration of someone’s speech.

The Complete Pause may also occur after the end of a verse, like pausing at “and by night” in the verse: “You (Meccans) certainly pass by their ruins day (verse 137 end here) and night. Will you not then understand?” [Quran, 37:137-138] because it is semantically connected to what precedes it, meaning: “You (Meccans) certainly pass by their ruins day and night.” The ruling for this pause is that it is good to pause at it and start with what follows. [Musa‘id al-Tayyar, al-Muḥarrar fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; al-Mawsu‘a al-Quraniyya al-Mutakhassisa]

Given that the Complete Pause (al-Waqf al-Tam) is related to meaning; it may be considered complete in one interpretation and exegesis, and incomplete in another. Similarly, a pause may be complete in one recitation and not complete in another. [Ibrahim al-Jarmi, Ma‘jam ‘Ulum al-Quran]

The Sufficient Pause

The Sufficient Pause (al-Waqf al-Kafi) is pausing at a point which is complete in itself and connected to what follows in terms of meaning, not in terms of wording (grammar).

An example of this type is pausing at “they will not believe” from the verse: “Indeed, those who disbelieve, it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe.” [Quran, 2:6], and then starting with the verse: “Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.” [Quran, 2:7].

The first sentence from the verse: “Indeed, those who disbelieve, it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe.” [Quran, 2:6] is independent in its meaning, so if the reader were to stop their recitation at it, it would convey a clear and independent meaning.

If one were to start with “Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing,” it would appear to the listener that this sentence is connected to the previous one in terms of wording but not grammar. It is grammatically independent but linguistically connected due to the pronoun in “their hearts,” which refers back to a previous subject, “those who disbelieve.” [Musa‘id al-Tayyar, al-Muḥarrar fi ‘Ulum al-Quran; al-Mawsu‘a al-Quraniyya al-Mutakhassisa]

The Good Pause

The Good Pause (al-Waqf al-Hasan) is pausing at a point that is complete in itself but is connected to what follows in terms of wording (grammar). An example of this is pausing at “All praise is due to Allah” from the verse: “All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds.” [Quran, 1:2].

The sentence “All praise is due to Allah” is independent in both meaning and grammar. If there were no words after it, the pause would be complete. However, the “Lord of the worlds” is grammatically linked to the preceding phrase because “Lord” is an attribute of “Allah,” and one should not pause at the described without the attribute because starting with it indicates its disconnection from what precedes it, even though it is fully connected. [Ibid.]

The Ugly Pause

The Ugly Pause (al-Waqf al-Qabih) is pausing at a point where the meaning is not complete and is strongly connected both linguistically and semantically to what follows. Examples include pausing on the added element (al-mudaf) without the element to which it is added (al-mudaf ilaihi), or on the subject without its predicate, or on the verb without its subject.

For instance, pausing at ‘they are provided with’ from the verse: “And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens beneath which rivers flow. Whenever they are provided with a provision of fruit therefrom, they say, ‘This is what we were provided with before.’” [Quran, 2:25]. The speech is incomplete because the completion of the phrase is “they say, ‘This is what we were provided with before.‘” [Ibid.]

Another example is pausing at a point that implies an ugly meaning, such as pausing at “So Allah sent” in the verse: “Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother” [Quran, 5:31], pausing at “So Allah sent,” and starting with “a crow.” [Yusuf ibn Ali al-Hadhli, al-Kamil fi al-Qira’at al-‘Ashr wa al-Arba‘in al-Zaida ‘Alayha]

Note: The Ugly Pause also includes what is known as Forced Pause, which involves some reciters making unpalatable stops that conflict with the Quranic structure and spoil the compositions of the Quran, like pausing at “no blame” in the verse: “So whoever makes Hajj to the House or performs ‘umra – there is no blame upon him for walking between them.” [Quran, 2:158], or pausing at “associate” in the verse: “O my son, do not associate (anything) with Allah. Indeed, association (with him) is great injustice.” [Quran, 31:13], and then starting with “with Allah” as if it is an oath. [Ibrahim al-Jarmi, Ma‘jam ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Note: Some may divide each of the four previous categories of voluntary pauses into two: Complete and More Complete, Sufficient and More Sufficient, Good and Better, Ugly and Uglier. [Musa‘id al-Tayyar, al-Muḥarrar fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

General Observations Related to the Science of Pausing and Starting

The topic of pausing and starting is closely related to meaning. The determination of where to pause and start is based on accurately conveying meanings. Hence, it emerges from the science of exegesis and is one of its effects, and it is also related to the science of grammar, in terms of knowing which words or phrases are suitable or unsuitable for pausing from a grammatical perspective, such as conjunctions, conditional sentences, and others. It is also related to the science of Quranic recitations.

The reason for naming a pause as “Ugly” is due to the ugly meaning that arises from pausing at an incorrect place. [Ibid.]

The science of pausing and starting is a matter of scholarly effort related to the connotations of meanings in the context of the verses. Nothing specific has been reported from the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) regarding this, and there is no place in the Quran where pausing is obligatory. As Ibn al-Jazari said:

وليس في القرآن من وقفٍ يجب…… ولا حرامٍ غيرَ ما له سبب

“There is no obligatory pause in the Quran, nor is there any prohibition except for what has a reason.”

Disagreement among Tajwid Scholars

Therefore, there has been disagreement among tajwid scholars, exegetes, and grammarians, and likewise, the committees reviewing and revising the Mushaf have differed in determining the places of pausing and even in determining the type of pause at the same place, between Complete, Sufficient, Good, and possibly Ugly; a pause may be good in one estimation, and sufficient or complete in another. [Ibid.]

Scholars have differed in classifying types of pauses. They are divided into, according to,

  • Ibn al-Anbari: Complete, Good, and Ugly;
  • Sajawandi: Necessary, Absolute, Permissible, Permissible for a Reason, and Permissible out of Necessity;
  • Shaykh Zakariya al-Ansari: Complete, Good, Sufficient, Righteous, Understandable, Permissible, Explanatory, and Ugly;
  • Ushmuni: Complete, More Complete, Sufficient, More Sufficient, Good, Better, Righteous, More Righteous, Ugly, Uglier; and
  • Muhammad Ali Khalaf al-Hussaini: Necessary, Permissible and Pause is Preferable, Permissible and Continuation is Preferable, and Prohibited. [Ibrahim al-Jarmi, Ma‘jam ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Scholars have emphasized clarifying the places of pausing in the Quran to assist the reader in choosing where to pause, and they have used symbols to indicate each type for brevity and to ease the readers. [Muhammad al-Quda, Ahmad Shakri, Muqaddimat fi ‘Ilm al-Qira’at]

Some scholars have mentioned the Sunna of pausing at the beginnings of verses, while others have disagreed. This was taken from what Umm Salama narrated, being asked about the recitation of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), she said: “He would cut off his recitation verse by verse: ‘In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful’ [Quran, 1:1], ‘All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds’ [Quran, 1:2], ‘The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful’ [Quran, 1:2], ‘Master of the Day of Judgment.’” [Quran, 1:3] [Ahmad]

Imam Bayhaqi said: “As for cutting the Quran verse by verse, it is preferable in our view than following purposes and objectives and pausing at their ends.” [Bayhaqi, al-Manhaj fi Shu‘ab al-Iman]

The reader must be skilled in knowing how to pause on words that have multiple readings or where there is a difference among reciters, or that align with the orthography either by estimation or verification, by affirming or omitting letters.

This is a broad and detailed field, for example, the pause of Ya‘qub al-Hadrami by adding the “haa’” waqf (هاء الوقف) in words like: (فِيمَ) [Quran, 4:97], ‘(عَمَّ)’ [Quran, 78:1], and (إِلَيَّ) [Quran, 44:18], and the pause by cutting the relative clause like the pause of al-Kisa’i and Abu ‘Amr al-Basri, either for testing or necessity, on: (وَيْكَأَنَّهُ) – (وَيْكَأَنَّ) [Quran 28:82] where al-Kisa’i paused on (وي), and begins with (كأنَّ) – (كأنَّه). Abu ‘Amr paused on: (وَيْك), and begins with (أنَّ) – (أنَّه). Thus, knowing the rules of pausing also affects recitation.

Tools Required for This Science

Important sciences related to the science of pausing and starting are: the science of exegesis, grammar, and recitations. The pause is determined and known by meaning. Ibn Mujahid said, “Only a grammarian, knowledgeable about recitations, exegesis, stories, and summarizing some of them from others, knowledgeable about the language in which the Quran was revealed, can fully accomplish this.”

Imam Abu ‘Amr al-Dani mentioned in his book “al-Muktafi fi al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida,” I have excerpted it from the sayings of the exegetes and the books of reciters and grammarians. [Abu ‘Amr al-Dani, al-Tahdid fi al-Itqan al-Tajwid, al-Muktafi fi al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida; Abdul Aziz al-Qari, Qawa‘id al-Tajwid ‘ala Riwayat Hafs ‘an ‘Asim; Abu Jafar al-Nahas, Al-Qat‘ wa al-I‘tinaf]

And may peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his companions.
[Shaykh] Anas al-Musa.

Shaykh Anas al-Musa, born in Hama, Syria, in 1974, is an erudite scholar of notable repute. He graduated from the Engineering Institute in Damascus, where he specialized in General Construction, and Al-Azhar University, Faculty of Usul al-Din, where he specialized in Hadith.

He studied under prominent scholars in Damascus, including Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri and Shaykh Adib al-Kallas, among others. Shaykh Anas has memorized the Quran and is proficient in the ten Mutawatir recitations, having studied under Shaykh Bakri al-Tarabishi and Shaykh Mowfaq ‘Ayun. He also graduated from the Iraqi Hadith School.

He has taught numerous Islamic subjects at Shari‘a institutes in Syria and Turkey. Shaykh Anas has served as an Imam and preacher for over 15 years and is a teacher of the Quran in its various readings and narrations.

Currently, he works as a teacher at SeekersGuidance and is responsible for academic guidance there. He has completed his Master’s degree in Hadith and is now pursuing his Ph.D. in the same field. Shaykh Anas al-Musa is married and resides in Istanbul.