The Walking Qur’an – Islamic education, embodied knowledge, and history in west Africa Rudolph T. Ware
THE WALKING QUR’AN
From the Book
The Qurʾan School
Believing Muslims hold that more than fourteen hundred years ago, a chain of recitation was initiated in a cave on Mt. Ḥirāʾ, just outside of Mecca.
The Angel Gabriel (Jibrīl) began reciting the Word of God to a man who had been chosen to bear the burden of prophethood. Muḥammad ibn ʿAbdullah heard the command to recite and obeyed. He listened intently to the words that followed and repeated them faithfully as he had heard them.
He taught this recitation (Qurʾān) first to his wife, Khadīja, and then to a close circle of people whose hearts were touched by the reading and submitted (islām) themselves to the service of the One God. Central to that service was the ritual prayer (ṣalāt), which soon became the principal way of giving the faith concrete form.
This act engaged not only the tongue, the heart, and the intellect but the limbs as well. Muḥammad learned the movements by copying Ji- brīl, who sometimes appeared to him in human form.
He passed this prayer on to those who had submitted to God (Muslims) by reenacting the motions and reciting the words. Nearly a millennium and a half later, small children in West Africa are forged into new living links in this chain of recitation every day.
Many suffer hunger, thirst, and corporal punishment to make their fragile young bodies into worthy vessels for God’s verbatim speech.
They then mimic their teachers, bending and prostrating those bodies to re-produce the movements of the angel who Muslims believe taught humanity the Word of God and the most perfect form of worship.