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A Convert Conquers Qur’an Recitation

Ann Ghazy explains how Kareema Czerepinski’s achievements provided the motivation and inspiration needed to bring her closer to the Qur’an.

Moments of self-doubt give rise to a plethora of excuses and reasons as to why we can’t accomplish our goals. They rush towards us until we decide it is better not even to try. Then, insha Allah, like a small light, an opportunity presents itself, and your spirit starts to rise again. You ask yourself, Why not me?

 

 

I have been struggling with memorising Qur’an for years. Whenever I hit a crossroads and Shaytan began to whisper, I would be filled with self-doubt. As a result, I actually stopped memorising for a number of years. Convinced that my children were better able to fulfill my dream, I decided to devote my energy to their accomplishments and forgot about my own.

 

 

Once my children became old enough to take care of themselves, I started to think about what I was doing with the opportunities, gifts and time that Allah I had given me. Alhamdulillah, once again, the journey down the road of hifz began, and I took the first steps and began slowly to review the previous surat I had learnt. It was a real struggle, and the same old doubts continued nagging at me with each mistake. Although I could read Arabic, I was pretty convinced that Americans had too heavy an accent to pronounce the Arabic language properly; add that to a lack of natural talent on my part, and you get the same old question, “Why are you knocking yourself out?”. It seemed every word needed correction.

 

 

To get my motivation back up, I joined an online class that aimed to guide the student to be a ‘Companion of the Qur’an’, the teacher began to refute all the excuses sisters use to not pursue memorisation. Excuses like, “I’m not an Arab”, “I can’t read Arabic”, “I don’t have time”, “I have kids and no help”, “My husband is demanding”, “I’m a student”, “I work full-time”, “I’m sick”, “I’m old”, “I’m not able to memorise” and “I would rather study deen.” One by one, she refuted each excuse with proofs and examples. I straddled more than a couple of excuses, but my biggest obstacle was being a country girl from the U.S. Then she began to tell a story that really inspired me.

 

 

The teacher told us about a revert sister from Wisconsin. That is just two states away to the north of my own home state of Indiana. A sister coming from this area, a middle-aged woman like myself, had memorised the entire Qur’an, had done it with Tajweed, had got her ijazah (an ijazah allows you to certify others who have memorised Qur’an), written a book, opened a website and was the director of a Tajweed school. Wow, I was stunned! If she had done all that, couldn’t I at least just memorise Qur’an and perfect my recitation? This story opened a door, leading me to a world of possibilities.

 

 

Years back, I had known there was a good hifz school in Jeddah. Dar El Huda is quite well known in Saudi Arabia as a fine school with high standards. They had a section for non-Arab speakers, as well as Arabs. A friend in Riyadh had told me about the school years before, and once I knew I was going to move to Jeddah, I decided to try and join. After arriving, a nearby Masjid gave me the number of someone who could help me locate the school. Her name was Kareema.

From her, I understood that my entrance would need to be delayed to the following year because I was too late for registration. Through the course of the conversation, I realised that I was speaking to the woman I was told about in the online class. The following spring, I showed up two hours early for registration and found myself number seventeen on the list. By the time registration began at 8:00 a.m, the entire school was filled with students clamouring to get a number in the queue for registration. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in the same school Kareema had started her journey in all those years ago. She has been teaching Tajweed there for sixteen years.

 

 

Her journey began at the age of twenty-four. She met her future husband at the University of Wisconsin. She reverted and began to study Islam along with hadith. Over time, she decided that she wanted to be a Hafidh (a person who has memorised the whole Qur’an). The journey took many years, and the hardest part was finding someone who would correct her honestly.

 

 

Most teachers are too kind and don’t demand enough from their students, while others don’t have the patience or experience to work with foreigners. At last, she found an intensive course with the right kind of teachers. By Allah’s permission, with their help and her own agonising struggle that sometimes left her in tears, she began to perfect her reading. She listened and recited along with tapes of Qur’an for hours at a time, trying to put her tongue in the right spot to make the correct sounds of the Arabic letters.

 

 

As an example, it took two years for her to get the “ra” to an acceptable level. “It took a great amount of du’a, a lot of determination, tears and patience,” Kareema said. “If it were not for Allah’s help, I would have never been able to do it. Satan told me often that I wasn’t meant for this, that it was too hard for me. I struggled to put those thoughts out of my mind.”

 

 

She enrolled in Dar Al- Huda, an all women’s Qur’an school in Jeddah, which in those days was only conducted in Arabic. The full program lasted five years – it included Tafseer, and it followed a rigorous schedule. Everything in her life, including her husband, were placed on the back burner. May Allah I bless those men who have this kind of patience.

 

 

Once she completed her memorisation and six years of continuous revision, she began reciting to Shaikha Rehab Shaqaqi in order to receive an ijazah. It’s a heavy responsibility which she takes very seriously. In Shawwal of 1416 (March 1996), she was certified with an ijazah in ‘Hafs ‘an ‘Aasim min Tareeq ash-Shatabiyyah’, which is the most common reading style of the Qur’an used by the majority of the Muslims throughout the world. When she gives any student an ijazah, her certification means that their recitation is authentic, just as her teacher authenticated her recitation, so on and so forth all the way back to the Prophet (SAW) as he recited and had his recitation authenticated by Jibreel (RA).

 

 

More amazing than her accomplishments, is Kareema as a person, and that is what truly inspires me. She is so simple, unassuming and sweet. She is genuinely kind and always greets everyone with a smile. She takes her job seriously, but she does it in a way that makes her students eager to accomplish their goals. The standard she holds in her school is high. She works tirelessly to help other women achieve their dreams of reciting correctly or memorising the whole Qur’an by giving them the tools, encouragement and inspiration. We are always prompted at the school to straighten our intentions, make lots of du’a and to work hard. I have no excuses anymore, but I do have lots of hard work ahead of me on my own journey.

 

 

May Allah (SWT) give us all the ability to pursue the knowledge of the Qur’an and to fulfill our dreams by accomplishing our goals. May Allah (SWT) continue to light our paths with inspiring role models. Amin

 

 

Ann (Umameer) Ghazy reverted to Islam 26 years ago and lives back and forth between Cairo and Jeddah with her Egyptian husband. The Middle East has been home for over 20 years. She has seven children and eight grandchildren – Alhamdulillah.