Ask any Muslim whether they read the Qur’an as much as they’d like and the answer is likely to be no. Ask them why, and it’s often because of the fear of bad pronunciation and lack of fluency. Moustafa El-Qabbany has some really clever and useful tips that will help.
1. Recite the Qur’an as loudly as you can without straining yourself or disturbing others around you.
To quote Strunk & White (respectively), “If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!” “Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?” My own childhood teachers would continuously tell me to raise my voice. One of my teachers told me that my voice should fill the entire men’s prayer hall at the Richmond Jamea Masjid (Vancouver, BC). When you mumble, you are hiding your faults. Bring your faults out into the open so your teacher can correct them. Catholics have confession. We have awkward recitation. This is the time for you to bring out your faults. There is a time for quiet devotion. That time isn’t when you’re learning.
2. Proper recitation takes precedence over humble contemplation.
Imagine someone who learned to pray as an adult. Would you advise them to do whatever made them feel more spiritual even if their prayers were invalid? Humble contemplation will come later. As a student, focus on correct pronunciation.
3. Proper recitation takes precedence over beautiful recitation.
Some of the hardest people to teach tajwid to are munshids, or spiritual singers. It doesn’t matter if you can recite the verse in 70 different maqamat, or musical modes. Recite it properly first, even if it destroys your rhythm.
4. Recite the Qur’an as beautifully as you can.
Don’t worry, you’re not showing off. Your teacher is probably secretly cringing. You’re a slab of meat, a bag of blood, a mere visitor on this earth. However, you are also a musical instrument playing the tune of Divine Revelation. You are not responsible for how good or bad you sound, but you are rewarded for how much you try.
5. Go light when reciting.
Being stuffed with food and drink doesn’t help.
6. Warm up before reciting.
If possible, recite the passages that your teacher is scheduled to listen to for a minimum of half an hour before the lesson, preferably immediately before the lesson and in the same location (if possible).
7. Sit up straight when reciting.
You should be able to use your lungs to their full capacity. This is greatly limited when slouching.
8. Record your own voice and listen to it with a critical ear.
9. Listen to the Qur’an as much as you can.
The best Qari to listen to is Mahmoud Khalil al-Husari. Make sure to listen to him reciting in the murattal style, which is a slow yet natural pace. (The mujawwad style is more rhythmic but the rhythm distracts beginners from the correctness of his recitation. The tahqeeq (aka ta’leem) style is artificially slow. It is good for absolute beginners, but not those who are used to reciting the Qur’an.) There is simply no one better who has been recorded to date.