It takes no special genius to speculate that the extreme prestige given to the task of completely memorizing 6,200 verses of crazed ranting by a narcissistic seventh-century desert loon, to the neglect of all other forms of science and learning, may have some connection with the utter backwardness and repression found in all parts of the Islamic world, from Morocco to Malaysia.
The carpeted room is full of children in skullcaps crouched on prayer mats, reciting verses from a holy text. Some mumble the words under their breath; others sing them out. They rock back and forth as they chant, their disparate voices blending into an ethereal melody.
The children, ages 7 to 14, are full-time students, in class 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, even in the summer. But they are not studying math, science or English. Instead, they are memorizing all 6,200 verses in the Koran, a task that usually takes two to three years.
It would hardly be an unusual scene in Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Muslim world, where religious schools devoted to memorization of the Koran and Islamic studies are common. But this class meets in the prayer room of a small mosque in Flushing, Queens, that caters mostly to South Asian immigrants and their children.
Schools like this one at the Muslim Center of New York are rare in the United States, but are emerging, especially among South Asians, as the Muslim American population becomes more established. ...
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.
By not offering instruction in other subjects, the school may be inadvertently running afoul of state law, according to city and state education officials. Private religious schools like the Muslim Center’s program are required to provide “substantially equivalent” instruction to that offered in public schools, they said. But tracking every school-age child who leaves the public school system can be difficult. ...
Making the work even more difficult, the students, for the most part, do not understand what they are reciting. Muslims believe the Koran was spoken to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in Arabic. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean.
Right, because spending multiple years of your life memorizing words in a language that you don't even understand is the most productive use of time that the accumulated wisdom of the Islamic religion can offer its poor benighted progeny.