AT 4 A.M., MOST TEENAGERS are usually sleeping in their cozy beds. I was 12 and wide awake. Memorizing the Quran.
Even when my teacher doubted me, even when I doubted myself, I did it. I memorized all 604 pages of the holy text.
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. But when I was 8, my mom, siblings and I moved to Yemen, while my dad stayed behind to provide for our family. He visited us a few times in Yemen, but didn’t live with us. We made the move because we wanted to live in an Arab community, and also because my mother was born in Yemen.
Our time there didn’t last long. After two years, war broke out, and we traveled to Somalia. My mom believed if I was serious about memorizing the Quran, it would be easier to do so being immersed in a Muslim community. And that’s when my journey to do what many probably think is impossible started.
The Quran is 604 pages. It’s also in Arabic, which I learned a little of while I was in Yemen. Muslims memorize the Quran, a recommended practice, because it is the guideline of our beliefs. I set a goal to finish the Quran before I left Somalia.
I started the Quran when I was 10 years old, about a week after we arrived at Dar-Al-Quran, a special school that teaches only Quran. Students who are beginners form a circle and read it out loud. But as you get older, you grow out of that routine, and the teacher expects you to study and pass without assistance.
After three years in Africa, I was able to memorize only half of the Quran.
During the summer of 2013, my dad came over for a visit. It was the first time I saw him in three years. I was happy to see him, but I felt guilty because he came before I could finish the memorization. My dad said he was happy I already had finished half of it, but knew I could do the rest if I put more work into it. Just hearing someone believe in me was a great feeling. So I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my dad down.
From that day on, I started waking up at 4 a.m. to memorize the Quran. I would break down the page into smaller portions and then try to read it. I listened to the Quran on my iPad three times in a row to make sure I was pronouncing it right. Then I would repeat it, again and again, until I memorized every word.
Two pages took approximately an hour-and-a-half to memorize. Afterward, I would go back to sleep. But if it was a school day, I would just get up and get ready for school.
At the beginning of March, when I had only a fifth of the Quran left, my mom broke the news to us that our passports were about to expire, so we were heading back to America soon. I was determined to finish; I couldn’t go back to my dad without finishing. He sacrificed so much just so I could memorize the Quran.
I told my teacher I was returning to the U.S. soon and wanted to finish. He said I could do it, I just need to try harder.
Later that night, I decided to stop going to regular school for that last two months, so I could attend Dar-Al-Quran in the morning and afternoon. This was difficult for me because I was only two months into the second semester and I was going to be tested on everything, which meant a lot of studying on the weekend. I told my mom my idea, and she agreed.
The next week, I took finals exams for school and did OK because memorizing the Quran improved my memory, making it easier for me to study.
I went to Quran school every morning and afternoon for a month. Then my mom announced that we were going back on April 21, which came earlier than I thought because I was so busy with my memorization. I had around 52 pages left at the beginning of April when my Quran teacher told me that I couldn’t finish anyway, and told me to just calm down.
That just made me even more determined to finish memorizing. I had another reason to finish now: to prove my teacher wrong, to prove that I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to. I wouldn’t break the promise to myself.
I started memorizing seven to 10 pages a day. And on April 5, 2014, I finished memorizing the holy Quran. I felt I had made my dad proud, my mom proud and even myself proud. I finally reached a goal that I was struggling to reach. I felt I could accomplish anything that came my way.
I learned that if you work hard, you can reach any goal you want to achieve.