By: Dr. S. Abdul-Majied, Islamic Post Contributor
When neuroscientist Mohamed Ghilan researched the reason for unparalleled scientific discovery and advancement by Muslims during the golden age of Islam, he found a link between memorizing Holy Quran, improved thinking and scientific discovery. When learning Holy Quran the careful attention to listening and pronunciation stimulates an area of the brain in the temporal lobe which is the memory consolidation center. The more activation this area receives, such as what occurs when memorizing Holy Quran, the better and more efficient the temporal lobe becomes in its capacity for learning and memory. His findings shed new light on what some scientists have admitted was a rate of achievement by Muslims yet to be replicated anywhere in the world. In fact one non Muslim professor of a class on the History of Science stated that were it not for political problems and discord, Muslims would have reached the moon by the 1400’s.
This understanding about the Islamic education system that shaped the brains and thinking of a civilization has been spoken about by many Muslim religious scholars Mr Ghilan noted. The scholars often reflect that when Muslims were the leaders, the Holy Quran was at the centre of their education system. However when they abandoned the Holy Quran they lost their reign. Mr Ghilan’s study looked beyond the spiritual and moral aspect into what actually takes place in the brain. He was able to identify a long list of brain and other human functions that are enhanced by studying Holy Quran.
His information came from his teachers and reading the biographies of Traditional Muslim Scholars such as Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina. Also he personally experienced how Muslims become scholars in the traditional Muslim world. Mr Ghilan has learnt that the very first thing taught to an aspiring student was the Quran. Holy Quran had to be memorized completely. The process of memorization involves Arabic “Tajweed” which meant that students had to pronounce letters and words correctly by learning how to generate letter sounds from the mouth or throat. They also had to place the tongue in the correct position. Then the “Quranic ayats” were written on a wooden board in the Othmani script following specific spelling rules which are different from regular Arabic writing. The student then left to memorize the “ayat”.
A beginning student repeated one verse several times from the board under his teacher’s guidance to memorize the spelling. This was written and repeated at home until the next day before returning to class. The student then repeated the verse accurately before receiving the next verse to memorize. On the third day the first ayat was repeated once, the second ayat multiple times and a third ayat was given to memorize. By day four the first ayat would have taken hold in the memory and was not repeated. The second verse replaced it for review and the memorization cycle was repeated until the end of the week when a complete review of all that was learnt was done.
Using this method of memorization and writing, the capacity for memory was increased over time. The student was then able to learn larger sections at a time. Eventually the entire Quran with over 6,236 ayats was memorized correctly in one mode of recitation. The student then had to review the entire Quran on a monthly basis so as not to forget it. Some students actually went on to learn all 10 modes of reciting Holy Quran. After the Holy Quran was mastered the brain was “trained” and students in their early teens went on to learn and excel in science and other fields of knowledge.
Some noteworthy features of the glorious Quran relate to its rhythmic sound. Ayats in the Quran rhyme and change rhythm often, which gives a pleasurable effect to the listener. Also the Quran is sung (recited?) rather than read as Tajweed forces the reciter to sing (in a rhythmic pattern/recitation) in order to enunciate the words accurately. This entire process has been linked to the brain by Mr Ghilan. He noted that the brain is a malleable organ that can change its connections and even the size of certain areas based on how active they become. Understanding how involved the brain of someone learning the Quran using the traditional Muslim method becomes, can explain how Muslims were able to achieve such success in their knowledge endeavors.
Listening and pronunciation during memorization stimulates the temporal lobe which contains the hippocampus- the memory centre of the brain. This is the same region used to process musical sounds such as occurs when Holy Quran is recited. Also as the student writes, the same region is activated thereby increasing the person’s aptitude for learning new information. As activation of this region increases it becomes better at learning and memorization.
Mr. Ghilan explained that the parietal lobes also become quite heavily engaged during memorization of Holy Quran. The left parietal lobe processes reading, writing and speech as well as math and logic problems. The right parietal lobe manages speech tone, which is related to elocution (pronunciation). It is also responsible for visuospatial relationships and understanding facial expressions. The front part is responsible for the sense of touch discrimination and recognition, which is active during handwriting. The back part plays an important role in attention. Both lobes are also activated during skill learning tasks. Generally the stimulation to the parietal lobes that could be derived from memorization of Holy Quran can result in better logic and math-solving skills, eloquence in speech and improved ability to read emotional states from facial cues. It can also improve the student’s attention and capacity for understanding visuospatial relationships. Improved visuospatial understanding can explain why Muslims were so good at astronomy.
Quranic recitation also strongly activates the frontal lobes and the primary motor cortex of the brain. The frontal lobes deal with higher order functions such as working memory, memory retrieval, speech production and written-word recognition, sustained attention, planning and social behavior. When a student was for example reading the Othamni script, his brain had to quickly decide on the proper pronunciation of the word and distinguish it from other possibilities. Remarkably with practice the brain will do these things without conscious control from the student. This trains the area of the brain responsible for inhibition, which is important for interacting with people. Studies have shown that children with ADHD have under-development in this area of the brain.
Additionally, the descriptions of individuals and places contained in Holy Quran activate the occipital lobes, which assist in generating mental imagery. This brain region is also important for visual perception. Increasing the capacity for mental imagery also indirectly improves visual perception capacities which are activated within the same region. The historical accounts, parables and logical arguments contained in Holy Quran also utilize different areas of the brain and help the brain to become more efficient and better connected due to the continual activation that occurs with consistent review sessions.
Today traditional methods of education are difficult to locate. Mr. Ghilan reported that he found this method of teaching Holy Quran among the Bedouin scholars in the Sahara desert of West Africa. They are brilliant. However because they do not have access to modern technology and science, their brilliance is limited to Islamic sciences. He suggested that the world needs a “Traditional Islamic Education/ Technology” hybrid programme that places the Holy Quran at the centre of the education system.
Newsweek article (January) by Sharon Begley, author of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain”. How memorization of e.g. Shakespearan sonnets, can help to increase IQ. Link to the article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/01/01/buff-your-brain.html