By Maryam Spahic
Volunteering for university events has always been something I look forward to. Be it cultural events or intellectual ones, I’ve tried them all (almost). I make sure to try out different types of programmes to gain new experiences, meet people of various backgrounds and mindsets. On the material side, I don’t earn much but the things I learned from volunteering gives me an internal growth that money can’t buy.
When I was asked if I wanted to volunteer for the pilot project of the World #QuranHour last year, I was quick to agree. It took me a while to understand the entire concept, but I was truly fascinated.
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the World #QuranHour initiative was movements such as the Earth Hour and World Health Day. It’s about time we take the Quran to a whole new level; to bring together Muslims (and non-Muslims) in all corners of the globe with the fundamental aim of understanding and contemplating upon the meanings of the words of God.
I was curious to find out how the public would react to such an event, how much support it will get and from who. Planning and preparing for a huge inaugural project is not easy. Especially in the hopes to let it carry on for all the years to come. To gain the nation’s and the world’s awareness and support required vigorous campaigning. The organisers worked so hard day and night to ensure that the programme is successfully organised and achieved its objectives. I saw it all.
Posters and advertisements of the event flooded the country months before the first World #QuranHour which was held on 11 September 2016, the prime location for Malaysia being the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Mosque at the International Islamic University Malaysia. The TV and radio interviewed the organisers for more details and to get a clearer understanding of the concept. Local celebrities endorsed the event on their social media. Soon after, the whole country and a number of countries around the world started to recognise the movement.
But still, I was anxious to find out what will happen on the day itself; how many people will actually show up at 8 a.m on a public holiday to recite the Quran. The first ever World #QuranHour last year is still vividly present in my memory. It gives me goosebumps every time I try to relive it. With the blessings of God, all the sincere hard-work of the organisers and volunteers paid off beyond expectations.
A Huge Success
The pilot project was a huge success. The number of attendees was incredibly overwhelming. As the minutes tick closer to The Hour, more and more people started showing up. There was suddenly so much more work for us volunteers and committees. We had to make space for more people. It was so hectic and it all happened so fast. I remember running around frantically with the other committee members to ensure that everyone was seated and ready for the Solidarity Recitation where everyone simultaneously reads the particular page assigned to them within five minutes.
I was overwhelmed with humility and joy seeing everyone seated together on the floor in the house of God, irrespective of culture and status. The VIPs on behalf of the respective organisers, political figures, CEOs, ambassadors, celebrities all came together to recite the Holy Quran with the public.
I remember ushering people in and briefing them on the event when two political figures and a local celebrity appeared out of nowhere and humbly took a seat at the corner of the crowded mosque with the rest of the attendees. I was star struck and I was touched at the fact that they voluntarily attended the event, putting their status and power aside to glorify The Most Powerful.
I get goosebumps every time I recall the “Solidarity Recitation”. At one given moment, the emcee signalled all the 4,000 attendees in the mosque to start reciting the page of the Quran that has been assigned to them. The entire space instantly went silent. I can still hear in my head loud and clear the whispers and soft melodies of people reciting different verses of the Quran. Within five minutes, the Quran was completed about six times collectively.
This year, it was no different. The second World #QuranHour took place in the morning of Merdeka day, 31 August 2017. The efforts of the organisers were stronger than ever. Throughout the year, they organised sub-programmes to increase the rate of awareness and to keep the movement fresh in the minds of the public. The Quran Hour: From Anxiety to Tranquility lecture by three distinguished speakers held in April at IIUM was one event I truly enjoyed.
The local media covered the event before, during and after it occurred. The mosque was filled with people from all walks of life; people of various ranks, background, colour and age. They all came together, despite the balik kampung traffic jam and the fact that many were observing the Arafah Day fast, to recite the Quran and contemplate upon its meanings.
A new element was added to the event this time around, i.e. the recitation and tadabbur (pondering upon its meaning) of Surah Yaseen, led by 21 “Yaseen Flag Bearers” who read different verses of the Surah. The flag bearers are a symbol of the existing diversity in the country, in the spirit of a united and compassionate nation, from Malaysia to the world. It comprised people of different background; the young and the old, politician, imam, police, ex-convict, refugee, celebrity and the disabled.
Two more #QuranHour events took place the very same day, Gema Wahyu held at Masjid Jamek at 4 p.m followed by the Merdeka #QuranHour at 8:30 p.m at Dataran Merdeka. These two events received immense support from the public as much as the morning one did. The locations, both being famous tourist attractions, managed to attract Muslim and non-Muslim tourists from various countries.
My mom insisted that we attend the other two events. After the morning session, we doubted that we would have any energy left for the rest of the day. But with the mercy and blessings of God, everything was made easy and smooth for us.
After breaking my fast and performing the Maghreb prayer at Masjid Jamek, I proceeded to Dataran Merdeka with the rest of the crowd. I took a seat with my mom and sister. At my circle, a cute little boy sat quietly with his mother. They smiled kindly at me when I acknowledged them. I managed to get the attention of the little boy when I playfully teased him. It only lasted a short while before he got distracted with something else.
Soon after, I came to find out that the sweet lady seated next to me with her adorable son is the mother of 6-year-old Abdul Razak, one of the Yaseen Flag Bearers. He is a Rohingyan refugee who lost his father at the age of two. His father was an Ustaz at an Islamic school in Arakan. One day when he was at the school teaching, a mass shooting occurred where all the teachers and pupils lost their lives.
When it was Abdul Razak’s turn to recite a few verses of Surah Yaseen, his mother took a few steps closer to him and nervously watched as his little yet confident voice echoed at the Dataran Merdeka and in the hearts of everyone. I gave up trying to hold my tears. Apart from my own, I heard people sniffling from here and there. That little boy, who is still rather oblivious to his surroundings, completely shaken the hearts of us all.
The Merdeka #QuranHour started with congregational Isha prayer at the Dataran Merdeka followed by the Eid Takbeer (Takbir Raya), the Solidarity Recitation and the Surah Yaseen recitation and interpretation. It ended with a Jalur Gemilang sing-a-long where everyone was given a mini Malaysian flag to wave as we sang together.
The #QuranHour has given me a thousand and one lessons and memories. Without doubt, it has made significant impact on my life. I strongly feel and I do indeed pray that the impact it has made on me is here to stay, for as long as I live.
The campaign has definitely encouraged and motivated the nation and the world to learn the Quran, contemplate upon its meanings and live by its teachings. Apart from the ultimate aim of the movement which is for everyone to start translating the Quran into guide for their daily lives, it taught us about unity, humility, accountability and compassion which are crucial to the nation and to the world.***