The New York Times published one of the strangest religion-related stories when reporter Michael Luo wrote about schools in the United States where students aged 7 to 14 spend 8 hour days memorizing the Koran.
And that’s pretty much all they do, according to the New York Times. Luo writes (emphasis added),
Because the task is so difficult, most of the children at the Muslim center study only the Koran while they are enrolled in the class. Some parents try to tutor their children in other subjects on the side. But for the most part, it is after the children finish that they work to catch up in other subjects in preparation for going back to regular school.
As Luo notes, this is likely a violation of New York state law which requires private schools to offer instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to that received in public schools. And they do this for two years or longer.
The real kicker, though, that makes this story even more bizarre is that the children are learning to memorize the Koran so that they can recite it in Arabic. But most of the students at the American memorization schools don’t read or speak Arabic, so they are memorizing it phonetically. As Luo puts it, “Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean.”
The children are essentially human tape recorders, regurgitating sounds in a language they don’t understand. Unbelievable.
In exchange for this sort of waste, the children are told they will receive a get-into-heaven-free card. Luo writes,
A hafiz [person who has memorized the Koran] plays an important role during Ramadan, when the entire Koran must be recited over 30 days to mosque members. But becoming a hafiz is also believed to bring rewards in the hereafter, guaranteeing the person entrance to heaven, along with 10 other people of his choosing, provided he does not forget the verses and continues to practice Islam.
”It’s almost like a bank account for the afterlife,” said Zawar Ahmed, 11, who recently became a hafiz through the Muslim Center and brought in sweets for his classmates to celebrate.
Memorizing the Way to Heaven, Verse by Verse. Michael Luo, The new York Times, August 16, 2006.