Qari Yusuf Noorbhai (ra) In His Own Words
by Ebrahim Moosa
Veteran South African Qari, Yusuf Noorbhai, breathed his last on Monday, drawing to a close a glorious chapter of dedication to the Qur’aan and service to humanity.
In 2012, I was blessed with the opportunity to engage Qari Saheb directly on his life’s journey as well as a number of pertinent matters related to Hifdh and the Qur’aan. In the interview which took place just prior to Ramadan, he spoke lovingly, yet also candidly and passionately about matters in the community which he deemed as requiring attention. What follows is a synopsis of what he had shared.
May Allah SWT grant Qari Saheb a special rank amongst His chosen servants.
At the inception, Qari Saheb was full of gratitude for the interaction, at the same time full of humility mentioning that he ordinarily would not like speaking about himself:
“We are only achieving what we did through the Duas of the people, and the good Muslim community, our mothers and fathers in Islam. We are not worthy of anything, but Allah SWT has put it in your mind to feature us, so we will try our best to answer your questions.”
Early Life and Inspiration
From a very young age I would go out with my uncle, Hashim Bhana – that’s our surname actually, somehow or the other Noorbhai came in. We were very anxious to listen to great Qurrah. And the greatest role model for me in the whole world – and until now I had not found anyone who could match his style in Taraweeh – he was Sheikh Ismail Hanif of Woodstock, Cape Town. Subhanallah! He was a reader! He was an Azhari, an Aalim and a Qari.
I was a very young man of just 14/15, and I would stand directly under the loudspeaker at the Masjid in Durban, and would hear how he would pronounce the words, his application and taqdeequl lisaan. It is as if the sound of his recitals are still ringing in my ears, even though he is lying in his Qabr. It was a different spiritual ecstasy that I experienced in Ramadan with him coming to Durban. Much credit goes to the Lockats, who used to invite him there. He was my inspiration. But prior to that, my key inspiration was my father. My father was a very senior Hafidh, who had also tutored many Hufaadh in Durban.
The enjoyment I derived from listening to Qari Ismail would lead me to awake at Sehri and mumble away, at the stove, the style of reading of this man, as my granny prepared the meal. Qari Ismail’s proficiency and command of the Arabic language translated into a great feeling of spirituality in his Quraan reading that could be sensed by the listener.
This inspired me to ask my father to grant me permission to begin my hifdh. His immediate response was: Tu Quraan Yaad Rakhe? – Will you remember this Qur’aan? It was a weighty question, but I promised him I would. Today, I know the promise I made him and Allah SWT that I will remember this Qur’aan, I am remembering this Qur’aan and have remembered the Qur’aan according to what Allah SWT wants me to remember. And when I forget, I open and check. So, from a very young age I started reading the Qur’aan, and it is still going on, Alhamdulillah! I fell in love with the Qur’aan.
After completing my hifdh, I performed Taraweeh for the first time with my father behind me. It wasn’t easy having him monitoring. But he had a very special skill that very few people possessed: how to correct, when to correct and where to prompt a Hafidh from, when he gets confused on the musallah. Right until today, people in the West Street, Grey Street and May Street mosques remember my father for his art of correction.
The calling from Egypt
My father meticulously taught me all the Tajweed rules whilst I was in South Africa. When I went to Egypt, Moulana Abdur Razaaq put me onto a teacher from al Azhar, who tested me on a few Tajweed rules and when satisfied with my answers, agreed to teach me further.
My journey to Egypt only came after I had completed my hifdh, performed Taraweeh and even after I had married and had a few kids.
When I first went to Cairo in 1960, they bundled me up and sent me back to South Africa after barely a week as I had not applied properly. I went back after 10 years in 1970, and with the advice of Sheikh Mahmud Khalil al Husri and his recommendation, I was given all the necessary assistance there. I first met Sheikh al Husri in Madinah Munawarah and we became very good friends. I received a Shahadah from him personally as well as from Sheikh Abdullah Fuq’a-ee.
This was the crown of my life.
There were only 3 people from the whole world who received this specialised tuition from Sheikh Abdullah Fuq’a-ee, who was the leader of the Qur’aan teachers at Azhar at the time. I was the only one from South Africa. One of the three was Mufti Baba Ghanouf from Tashkent, the other was Qari Yusuf Muhammad from Sudan.
I had to read to my Ustaadh from the beginning to the end of the Qur’aan. In Egypt, you can’t get away easily – just reading at random places – and then hoping to be called a Qari and endowed with a red hat. Anyone can pick up styles and tunes easily, but it is the tajweed and Arabic intonation that is the core of Qira-ah.
‘It was not easy’
I underwent such challenges to solicit a bursary to study in Cairo. I went to a certain prominent person who rejected my application outright based purely on my lineage and the village my family hailed from in India. I then went to Isipingo Beach – the late Dr Mohammed Jadwat’s mother gave me the airplane ticket. She also provided for expenses of my stay in Cairo. Marhoom Ismail Lockat, the son of Mr Suleiman and Fatima Lockat, furnished me with resources to cover the living expenses of my family here in South Africa, whilst I would be away. And a Hafidh from Cape Town sponsored my return ticket. It was a very difficult task to get assistance to go to Cairo – I really went through hard times. My family too was not really affluent. But Alhamdulillah, on my subsequent trips, all was so smooth. Allah SWT made it so easy – I would say the blessings did not rain, they poured.
Meeting the greats
I was keeping the last of the Shawaal fasts when I got to meet the late Sheikh Mahmud Khalil al Husri RA. It was the greatest honour in my life sitting beside him. I posed to him a certain question on Tajweed and paid fine attention to his tongue and tip movement as he demonstrated the answer. There are some very subtle sounds in Qur’aan, and it was an ecstasy for me to get it from him directly. I was merely 30 odd years at the time and I exclaimed: Ya Allah, what an opportunity! What an opportunity!
What an amazing personality Sheikh Mahmud was: Tall, with such a beautiful round voice. I did learn and would also sometimes emulate his style. It is the best style in the Hadr, slow mode of recital.
I can mention Ridwaan Esat, Mohammed Gangat, Raees Dasoo, Sheikh Sadullah Khan, Mukhtaar, Zakariyyah from Zeerust who come to mind, from amongst many many others.
My procedure and style of reciting Qira’ah
If you do not know a language, you can only become a very good copycat and learn the style of saying that word –probably you will just make it. But a good Qari needs to understand Arabic.
When I prepare to recite at a certain function, I review the Quranic words that will be recited and then plan to match their meaning with a very special tone that comes from within, that requires sincerity as well as presence of mind, heart and soul.
Anyone who knows the Arabic language would be able to detect whether the Qari is connecting to what he is reciting, whilst one listens to him.
Favourite sections of the Qur’aan
I love Surah Zaariyaat – its words lend themselves to certain rhythmical tones that come easily on the tongue. I also love to recite Surah Maryam and portions of Surah Taha. Surah Najm is also so rhythmical and beautiful to recite. But, I would also say that the entire Qur’aan is my favourite – different sections prepared and recited appropriately for the occasion.
Advice to Hufaadh leading Taraweeh
I would very sincerely and humbly tell the Hafidh to read Quraan picturing how Jibraeel AS read it to Nabi Muhammad SAW. Read like you are standing before Allah SWT. Take the musallah to be the station of Nabi SAW and afford it great reverence. Know that the angels of Allah SWT are listening and the servants of Allah SWT, who are present, are listening.
You must read with Tajweed. You must take a middle course in reading – not too fast, nor too slow. Don’t read fast, because the Quraan does not allow you to do that. There are verses in the Qur’aan that prohibit you from reading fast. I am saying: ‘Don’t read so slow like a goods train in India nor so fast like the Punjab Mail in India. You don’t have to have a melodious voice and elaborate tune, even if it is plain and simple. If you are blessed with a melodious voice or can imitate certain world class reciters, that is a gift. But it is no use reading Surah Fatiha like Sheikh Shatri, and then reading ‘ya’lamoon, ta’lamoon’ when you are reading ‘wal muhsanaat’.
This is not a game, and you will be disappointing Allah SWT and His Prophet SAW and His Malaaikah and the good people standing behind you. If you choose so, learn and read the whole Qur’aan like Shatri, Husri or Abdul Basit – not just here and there.
On public pressure for Hufaadh to read fast in Taraweeh
The greatest culprits, the greatest culprits, the greatest culprits in this arena are the trustees of the masjids. They can shoot me, they can curse me, they can do whatever, nothing will affect me, because the Qur’aan is with me. They are the enemies of the Qur’aan when they tell the Hufaadh to speed up on the pretext that people are complaining.
With the greatest humility I am saying to hell with the people who are saying speed up. This is the Word of Allah. You are going to climb a ladder, and Allah SWT is going to ask you to read this Qur’aan in the Hereafter with Tarteel.
There are culprits in the mosque who tension up the Hufaadh and time their recitals. Hufaadh have come to me with tears in their eyes complaining how some musallees are troubling them. Some seek to bring to us erroneous trends from India and Pakistan in reading the Qur’aan. We are not living in a country where we make lataas of the Qur’aan, and eat the words of the Qur’aan up. The way some people read Qur’aan in some Masaajid, I am saying in the presence of Allah SWT, and Kiraaman Katibeen on my shoulders, it is Haraam for them to read Qur’aan like that. They should leave the Musallah and be afraid of Allah. Did their teachers read like that? Did Nabi SAW read like that? Does the Qur’aan command us to read like that?
I have been to some places, I swear to Allah that I could have walked out in disgust, but did not do so just out of respect. They are making total ‘fruit salad’ out of the words of the Qur’aan.
Opinion on Hufaadh completing the Qur’aan in Taraweeh in short periods of time
They are doing it out of love for the Qur’aan, so I will not fault anyone for that. But we do find that musallees who attend these Taraweehs tend to become lethargic to read Taraweeh for the remainder of the nights. Taraweeh is Sunnah for the entire Ramadan. Also, we find that the venues reading 3 paras a night and those reading one and a quarter a night are completing at the same time. There has to be something wrong with how they are reciting to complete at the same time.
How should the Hufaadh correct, and accept correction in Taraweeh
The Hufaadh standing behind the Imam must be mature people and good listeners. If the Hafidh standing behind is an elder to the Hafidh on the Musallah, he should not expect the young Hafidh to be on his level of memorisation. This is total pride and arrogance. The elder should be merciful and patient to the Hafidh standing on the Musallah. It should not be a matter of ego, proving that one knows one’s Qur’aan, not providing the Hafidh on the Musallah any room for even breathing or self-correction: You just want to correct him, you just want to pounce on him, like a lion when he gets raw meat.
The result is that the young man gets excited, and he starts getting even more confused, because you are confusing him.
The situation demands that the listener be patient, and should be a wellwisher for the Hafidh on the Musallah, making dua that all goes smoothly for him. How difficult it is to read on the musallah – your feet are shaking, your heart is quivering. So, when you correct, your tone as the corrector says a lot. There must be no anger or aggression. Because correction, I am not ashamed to say, is given by some listeners who are very aggressive, very dirty at heart, very jealous. They want to show the people that the poor young man in front does not know his Qur’aan. They confuse him.
But I will not generalise. There are very good and respectable listeners as well.
As far as the Haafidh goes, he should be patient, and reason with those behind him if they are being inconsiderate in their correction.
How to become people of the Qur’aan (especially with reference to Ramadan)
I would advise that we peruse through the translation of the portion of Qur’aan to be recited daily from an authentic translation, as advised by the Ulama. Hufaadh would be able to understand many of the words. There are a large number of simple words that appear recurrently, and can be easily picked up even by children. We should not concentrate too much on words that need further expertise to understand.
For those with more knowledge, I think of people like my Ustaadh, Mufti Abdullah form Skeerpoort, and how much time they spend with the Qur’aan. I can just imagine how much Tafseer he is going through. One cannot reach him in Ramadan. He is only busy with the Qur’aan.
For others of the general public who have prioritised making an abundance of Khatams, I would advise that you limit the number of khatams – do a few with quality, reciting the Qur’aan as it ought to be read, making Allah SWT happy, instead of tallying up many in a ‘hit and run’ style.
And when you recite, read the Qur’aan – irrespective of whether you don’t consider yourself to have a melodious voice- clearly and beautifully. You must say, ‘I am reading to Allah’; also picture that you are in Madinah Munawaraah reciting to Nabi SAW.
If you read like this, this Qur’aan will intercede for you on the day of Qiyamah.
May Allah SWT create within us a strong dislike for sin, and may we be able to readily make Tawbah when we err. May Allah SWT make us significant in His Eyes; insignificant in the eyes of people. Truly, we are nothing. Remember, if we afford the Qur’aan its due rights, we will all become of the special family of Allah SWT.