B. Qur’anic Chant
While the chanting of the Quran (tajwid) is unquestionably a Muslim religious practice with very early beginnings, it is important to note its resemblances to Sephardic, Armenian, and Eastern Orthodox chanting traditions. It is likely that Qur’anic chant began in efforts to imitate the sound of other liturgies. Be that as it may, the chanting of the Quran became one of the few standardized artistic expressions of Islam across linguistic and ethnic boundaries. While there are several recognized schools or styles, all require classical Arabic pronunciation, and there are fixed rules for how specific letters are to be pronounced.
Though it is true that most of the world’s Muslims, who are not Arabic speakers, do not understand all of the words of the Quran when they are chanted, the same thing holds true for the Latin, Sanskrit, or Hebrew chants in the rituals of other faiths. Thus it is necessary to regard chant–listening as a spiritual and social experience, and not primarily a means of communicating precise meaning. Today, Qur’anic chant can be commonly heard on radio and television, especially during religious festivals or holidays, and in some countries, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, official government events often open with some chanted passages.
Chant instruction — both voice training and interpretation of cantillation marks — has experienced a modern revival across the Muslim world, particularly in non–Arabic–speaking lands, which testifies to its function as a pan–Muslim experience. Several countries now hold annual competitions,12 and famous reciters, like the Egyptian Abd al–Basit (1927–1988), are known throughout the Muslim world with examples of their art being readily accessible on YouTube.13Back to the top.