2. Learning in childhood is like engraving on a stone

by Shaykh Yahya al-Ghawthani

There is a famous saying in the Arabic language:

اَلحِفْظُ فِى الصِّغَرِ كَالنَّقْشِ عَلَى الْحَجَرِ وَ الْحِفْظُ فِى الْكِبَرِ  كَالْكِتَابَةِ عَلَى الْمَاءِ

“Memorising in childhood is like engraving on a stone while memorising at an old age is like writing on water.”

This is a widely accepted statement substantiated by the laws of nature, that a young person is able to memorise more than an old person.

The guideline can be explained as follows:

Early Childhood: Ability to memorise (High 80%) – Level of Understanding (Low 20%)

Age 20-25: Ability to memorise (Equal 50%) – Level of Understanding (Equal 50%)

Age 25+: Ability to memorise (Low/Starts Decreasing 40%) – Level of Understanding (High 60%)

When a person is in the early stages of childhood, his ability to memorise is at its peak but his level of understanding is very low. As he grows older, his level of understanding increases and the ability to memorise decreases, this process occurs from the years of childhood through youth until a person reaches the age of approximately twenty to twenty-five. At this age, the ability to memorise and understand is equal. After this, the ability to memorise decreases and the level of understanding increases.

The question arises, ‘Does the ability to memorise ever stop completely?’ No, it does not, because the parts of the brain that are responsible for memorising do not cease to work.

Now that we have this impression that:

كُلَّمَا كبرَ الاِنْسَان قلّ الْحِفْظ

‘As a person ages, his ability to memorise decreases’.

How do we overcome this challenge?

This is where external factors come into play. Once adopted,  memorising after the age of forty will become easy. There is a book titled “Al-Fadhl ul-Mubeen ala man Hafidh Al-Qur’an Al-Kareem Ba’d al-arba’een” (The clear virtue of one who memorises the Qur’an after the age of forty) which discusses these external factors.

They are as follows:

Raghbah – Yearning

Iradah – Firm Intent/ Strong Will

Quwwatul Himmah – Strength of spirit

Al Himmatul Aaliyah – High level of courage

When these factors are present, the spark of the ability to achieve what you aim will be lit.

Examples of these external factors:

If you stand on your feet for three hours, you will get tired, right? If you have to stand for four or five hours, you will not manage, right? If I ask you to stand for eight hours…impossible, right?

But what is it that drives a singer to stand and sing on a stage for fourteen hours, and this only to enter himself into the Guinness Book of Records?

A contest that involved eating a plate of cockroaches for prize money on condition that you crunch it under your teeth! No one was willing to stand up until the reward was raised to amount more than $500 000, a man stood up and said: “I think I will be able to eat it.”

We now return to the main point, when a person memorises the Qur`an at a young age, it becomes part of his flesh and blood. What is the reason for this?

When I memorise the Qur`an, I am assigning it to the care of the cells of my brain. As I grow, these cells grow too, and they still store the Qur’an that was memorised, therefore it remains firm.

An important question here is: ‘From what age is it necessary to teach the child?’

If the mother is zealous and willing she can play the recordings (of the Glorious Qur`an) continuously while the foetus is still in her womb especially towards the last months (prior to the birth of the child). Continue to let the child listen to the recitation of the Qur`an after birth. Let the child see you reading the Qur`an and doing Dhikr (remembering Allah). Through this you will see progress, with the help of Almighty Allah. However, caution must be exercised not to overwhelm the child through methods of force or coercion.

For example, I have a sweet with me. I come to my son and say ‘Open up your mouth so that I may put this treat in it!’ What do you think will happen? His first reaction will be that he will move back and close his mouth. He will not come forward and his reaction will be the opposite (from what was desired). The guideline to note here is:

لاَ تَضَعْ قِطْعَةَ الْحَلْوَى مُبَاشرةً فِى فَمِ الطِّفْلِ , تَعْنىْ لاَ تَدْفَعْ طِفْلَكَ إِلى حُب الْعِلْم , لا تأمره بهذا أولا. حببه إليه

Do not put the sweet treat forcefully into the mouth of the child.

(Meaning: Do not force your child to love ‘ilm (knowledge), sidq (truthfulness), khulq (exemplary character) and all other pure things. Encourage the child to love it.)

I once made this mistake. I had an audio cassette which I wanted my son Aasim to listen to in the car on the way to school. I said to him: “O Aasim! Listen to this cassette”. Instead, he kept himself busy by reading the boards on the roadside while I kept saying to him, “Listen Aasim!” I really wanted him to listen to this tape. After a while I raised my voice and said: “Why won’t you listen to this Quran cassette?” Then I realised my mistake. My method of trying to make him listen to the tape was wrong.

After some time I took another tape with me but did not say anything. He asked me what was on it and I replied that, “It is the Qur’an.” He asked me again and I replied that “You will see later.” As we got into the car, Aasim asked, “Father, should I put the cassette into the radio?” I said, “No, you will listen to it later.” I dropped him off to school. He had something to think about.

إفْتَحُوْا ملفات عند أبنائكم و اتركوهم يفكِّرون

“Put an idea forward before your children and leave them to mull over it.”

Ask them, “What did Haleemah Sa’diyyah do with Rasulullah Sallalallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam?” And do not give them any further explanation. In teaching the Qur’an, open the mind of the students by placing an idea before them and leaving them to think about it, just as I had done with the cassette.

After the Zuhr Salaah, Aasim came into the car and I put on the tape for him. It was a recital by an Indonesian child who recited the Quran very beautifully. After a little while, I switched off the radio. He asked, “Father, why don’t you leave it to play instead?”

Then, I kept him busy, asking him about his day at school. He answered all my questions quickly, al the while wanting me to put on the tape again but, I kept on talking to him. His heart was now attached to this cassette. Eventually, when I did put it on again, he was very pleased and asked me for permission to take it with him into the house to listen to it.

Test this out, force your child to do something specific and then on another day get him to do it using compassion and encouragement and you will notice the different results.

An illiterate old man in Sudan who memorised the Qur’an

In Sudan, while I was talking about those who memorised the Qur’an after the age of forty, those present said, “We have an illiterate old man who is unable to read or write, but has memorised the Noble Qur’an.” I called him up and he challenged, “Ask me any question, to recite an Aayah or to point out any mistake and I will do it for you. By Allah, I am embarrassed to make a mistake in any Aayah.”

So I asked a person in the crowd to recite an Aayah for him, this person recited it for him and made a mistake while reciting. This elderly man recited it correctly, pointed out the mistake and the ruling regarding it, I praised him and requested that he narrate his story.

He said: “I used to look at myself and say, ‘How will you stand on the day of Qiyaamah covered in so many sins?” So I went to the Masjid and sat in the lessons with the children and I would recite with them and let them listen to me. I did this until I memorised the whole Qur’an.”

Think about this, he memorised the Qur’an after the age of sixty with such perfection. There are many other similar stories.


Lesson from Guideline No. 2:

اَلْحِفْظُ فِى الصِّغَرِ كَالنَّقْشِ عَلَى الْحَجَرِ وَ الْحِفْظُ فِى الْكِبَرِ مُمْكِن إِذَا وجد الحَافز وَ الْعَامِل عَلى ذلك.

“Memorising in childhood is like engraving on a stone while memorising at an old age is possible if one has the determination and strength to accomplish it.”