Visually impaired Muslims learn, share Koran recital skills

SHAFAQNA - Despite their physical limitations, visually impaired Muslims across the country are using the Islamic fasting month of Ramadhan to support each other in learning how to recite the Braille version of the Koran.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, many Muslim students at the Indonesian Visually Impaired People’s Empowerment Foundation’s (Yapti) school for special needs (SLB) preferred to spend the first three weeks of Ramadhan joining various holiday programs offered by the school to improve their Koran reciting skills. 

Ninth grader Ade Saputra, for example, said he spent a few hours every day during Ramadhan to recite the Braille version of the Koran, as well as helping other students to learn how to recite the holy book in the school’s prayer room.

“Here, we are helping each other to learn how to read the Braille version of the Koran. I used to learn the skill from senior students, who taught me how to recognize the embossed characters and read them verse by verse,” Ade told The Jakarta Post recently, adding that he had needed around three months to master the skill. 

The Koran, written in Arabic, is composed of 30 juz (sections), 114 chapters and 6,666 verses. To read the Braille version of the Koran, a person should pass his or her finger lightly over the manuscript to recognize the Braille characters embossed in every single page of the holy book. 

For several Muslims, the Ramadhan is the time to perform khataman, a full recitation of the 30 juz of the Koran as a sunnah, or noncompulsory but meritorious deed, as a complement to fasting throughout the month. 

By the weekend, Ade said he had managed to recite 22 juz of the Koran. He is expecting to complete reading the whole manuscript before the Idul Fitri Islamic holiday on July 17, which marks the end of the fasting month.

Eighth grader Mantasiah, another student at the school, meanwhile, said she had needed around one month to finally master the Koran reciting skill. 

“I used to mistakenly read the period mark in the Braille version of the Koran. In the Indonesian Braille characters, the mark refers to ‘e’ while in the Koran it refers to ‘i’,” she recalled.

With more than 200 millions Muslim citizens, Indonesia is the country with the largest population of Muslims in the world. The 2010 national census, meanwhile, revealed that the country had 9 million people with disabilities and 5.8 million of those were visually impaired. 

In Medan, North Sumatra, the local chapter of the Association of Visually Impaired People (Pertuni) has also organized a regular Koran recital event throughout Ramadhan this year. 

On Thursdays during Ramadhan, dozens of Muslim members of the Pertuni’s Medan chapter gather at the organization’s headquarters in a Koran recital gathering, during which men and women participants are separated into two recital groups overseen by several instructors.

During the recital program, every participant in the groups is asked to recite verses from the Braille version of the Koran while other participants and their instructors listen and jointly help the reader correct his or her mispronunciations.

Khairil Anwar, 61, one of the regular instructors, admitted that it was not easy to learn how to recite the Braille version of the Koran from scratch.

“It is mainly because the Braille version of the Koran has many characters and punctuation marks,” he said recently, adding that it had taken him two years to master the skill.

In every Koran recital event, Khairil said he always urged his pupils to recite at least one juz of the Braille version of the Koran every day to help familiarize themselves with the manuscript.

Pertuni member Zenni Haryani, 60, a regular participant at the Koran recital program applauded the event, saying that the program would help visually impaired Muslims better understand their religion’s teachings despite their physical constraints.

“I want to learn more about the holy book so that I can understand the meaning [of its verses] and implement them in my daily life,” said Zenni, who used to participate in a local Koran recital competition. –

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