Features of recitation in “Solomon and the Queen”
By Sohaib Saeed
This post serves as an introduction to Solomon and the Queen for people who are less familiar with Qur’an recitation, or with the particular style which is exemplified by the reciter, Qari Hajjaj al-Hindawi.
The first thing to appreciate is that the Qur’an is a vocal and oral phenomenon, as much as – if not more than – it is written and read as a scripture. As I have explained elsewhere, Qur’an recitation can be seen both as a science and and art-form, in that it is governed by certain rules of pronunciation (known as tajweed), while the beauty of vocalisation is also encouraged and emphasised.
Listening to the Qur’an being recited by an expert is a highly spiritual experience, and may be deemed as an act of worship when done with that intention. The believer listens to receive guidance and to move his or her heart into greater submission to the Creator. Yet anyone may listen in on this divine discourse and appreciate the power of the Qur’an’s internal rhythms, as enhanced by the melodies of the reciter’s interpretation. The Egyptian tradition of performative recitation (mujawwad) is of particular note, and Qari Hindawi is a contemporary master of this tradition.
Now I shall mention some key features to bear in mind when watching Solomon and the Queen, and the recitation therein from Surat al-Naml (the Chapter of the Ants), verses 15-44.
Spontaneity of the live performance
The reciter decides within the moment exactly how he will render the verses, in terms of melody, phrasing, repetition and so on. He has an audience in front of him who may react at times to how he delivers a verse, and this may affect him positively.
Slow pace and repetition
These same verses might be recited within the prayer within just a few minutes, whereas the style adopted here – known as mujawwad – is designed to allow for deeper reflection on each verse or phrase before moving on. The reciter may repeat a single phrase a number of times, allowing for him to vary his own tone, and for the listener to consider its meanings more deeply or from various angles.
A few instances of repetition have been removed for the narrative purposes of this film.
The mujawwad style is highly melodious and characterised by variation, based upon the melodic scales known as maqamat. This allows the reciter to shift between contrasting tones appropriate, variously, to jubilation, awe, reward, punishment, and so on.
Multiple readings (qira’at)
There are multiple transmissions of the Quranic text known as the Ten Readings, all of which are considered unanimously by Muslim scholars to be authentic and authoritative in their status as Qur’an. Each has two sub-narrations, of which the two most prominent are known as Hafs and Warsh. The Hafs narration is the most familiar to people all around the world, to the extent that many are unaware that there are more ways to pronounce the Qur’an! The majority of the recitation in this film is in this predominant Hafs narration, but there is a small section towards the end in which Sh. Hindawi switches to Warsh, and then back to Hafs: this has been noted in the top-left corner of the screen.
The practice of mixing between readings and narrations in this type of public recital is somewhat frowned upon by scholars, but it is very common in this Egyptian mujawwad tradition. For those who are interested in more specifics about the verses recited in the Warsh narration in this film, here are the descriptions of the words which sound different from the familiar Hafs narration:
- Verse 40: the extended vowels in Anaaaaaa aaaaaateeka (particularly the first of these). The light /r/ sound, and altered and extended vowels in ra’aaaaaahu, then the light /r/ in mustaqirran. The two ways of reciting li-yabluwaniya a-ashkuru / aaaaaashkuru are options within Warsh.
- Verse 41: the light /r/ in nakkiroo. The transition in nanzur-a-tahtadee.