Koran by Heart
Koran by Heart is exhilarating, disturbing and illuminating. The heroes are Nabiollah from Tajikistan and Rifdha from the Maldives. Both have memorized the Koran. Neither speaks Arabic.
The two ten-year-olds are chosen to travel to Egypt for an annual competition aimed at people substantially older than them. They will be randomly assigned a section of the Koran and must recite it from memory using an improvised melody and the rules of Tajweed which define good pronunciation and intonation. They will be judged and the top performers will proceed to a final round. The recitations themselves are beautiful and the dedication of the kids is impressive.
A third character, Djamil from Senegal, is more bewildered by the experience and ends up in tears. His story is not as developed as the other two.
Nabiollah is from rural Tajikistan and had only ever studied the Koran. He has an incredible voice and memory. As the competition approaches, his school is closed by the government, which is suspicious of small schools with only one teacher who could easily lead pupils to extremism. So Nabiollah and his father travel to the capital, hoping to gain entry to a private school. Here it becomes apparent that for all his intelligence, Nabiollah is illiterate. He has not been taught to read or write or think, only to memorize the Koran. Luckily for him, his father values education and will do whatever he can to help his son.
The most sinister element brought up in the film is the treatment of girls and women. Rifdha is very successful at the competition and is a bright, funny, driven girl who could accomplish great things. But her father, only recently religious and something of a fundamentalist, wants her educated in a strict religious environment, and plans for her to be a housewife. Her father also believes Egyptian Muslims are not serious enough because their pants are too long. It would be a crime to deprive this brilliant girl of her future and hopefully the rest of her family will champion her.
This is an HBO documentary and as professional and competent as you would expect from that company. However this film has poor sound quality and the dialogue and ambient noise are very difficult to hear. If not for the subtitles I don't think anyone could catch much of the dialogue. Don't let that keep you away though because this is a fascinating topic and you just want to hug the kids.
It shows Oct 8th at 1pm and Oct 13th at 6:40pm both at the Granville 7 cinema. Watch a trailer here.