Rabbana! Local style Qur’anic recitation


As part of a khätmä, held in summer 2009 in Yantaq village, Märyäm recites du’a drawn from various surah, all beginning Rabbana! (Our Lord!) A common theme of hellfire and the Day of Judgment links the texts. Some of the assembled women can be heard crying quietly as she recites. Märyäm concludes her solo section with the whole of Surah 109 (Al-Kafirun: The Unbelievers), one of the shorter Meccan surah towards the end of the Qur’an.

All the women then join her for repeated recitation of Surah 112 (Ikhlas: Purity), a short surah which is widely used in daily prayers, followed by the repeated phrase Allahu Akbar (God is great), the profession of faith (la ilaha illa’llah), and the final two surah of the Qur’an.

Märyäm recites in a distinctively local style. Her pronunciation of the Qur’anic Arabic is localized; she replaces “f” with “p” as is common in loan words from the Arabic into Uyghur, she does not distinguish between “dh” and “z”, and she does not adhere to the rules of tajwid. Structurally this passage of recitation is also idiosyncratic. This is not a recitation of a full surah, or section of a surah, but a series of supplications (du’a) drawn from several parts of the Qur’an, sometimes beginning in the middle of a line of the Qur’anic text. However, in terms of the khätmä there is a clear logic to this choice of words: the repeated, insistent ‘rabbana’ is an appeal to God, and the emerging themes of sin and repentance prefigure the core meaning of the ritual. 

Märyäm’s delivery is brisk, with a strong pulse, and largely syllabic except for three longer sections of melisma in the middle of phrases. She traces a distinctive melodic arc, with each successive phrase reaching slightly higher than the previous, and towards a sustained, melismatic note, before falling again. This type of melodic arc and gradual movement towards a climax (awaj) in pitch and intensity, then a falling away, is familiar in regional music traditions, notably in the Central Asian maqām repertoires. Clearly we are in a Central Asian sound world here, and not in the realm of Arab maqam.

Rabbana! Local style Qur’anic recitation

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