CAIRO — For the past eight years, young Muslims from across the globe have been flocking to glamorous Dubai looking for international recognition, scholarly fame and fortune once proving their mettle in memorizing and reciting the Qur'an, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, October 10.
"This is the Olympics of Qur'an reading," said Ahmad al Suwiedi, head of Dubai International Holy Qur'an Award's organizing committee.
"So whoever goes up there on that stage has to make us and his country proud."
The contest, sponsored by Dubai’s ruler and United Arab Emirates Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, is open to males aged 21 and younger.
The young Muslims are officially nominated by either their respective countries or by Islamic centers to which they are associated.
They are judged first on their memorization of the holy text, then on the quality of their reading according to Tajweed - rules of Qur’anic recitation which dictate what letters should be emphasized, slurred or silent - and finally the quality of their voices.
The judges choose the section of Qur'an at random, recite the beginning, then the young contestant should pick up and continue reciting until otherwise asked by the judges.
The contest, beamed by satellite across the Muslim world, is one of the most prestigious Qur'an recitation contests.
It starts on the first day of every Ramadan and runs until the twentieth of the holy fasting month.
The top winner gets around $70,000 while the total prize money is estimated nearly $700,000.
The first verses of Qur'an were revealed to prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
It is customary for Muslims during Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar, to spend part of the day studying the Qur'an.
Young Muslims work hard for years to master the holy book and be able to compete in such high-profile contests.
"It was hard work, but ultimately it was worth it because I got here," Khubaib Muhammad, 10, said before talking the stage in his tennis shoes and traditional Kenyan dress.
He has spent hours each day for the past three years memorizing the Qur'an and competed in local reading competitions in his native Nairobi to qualify for Dubai contest.
"I’m not nervous. I’m ready and prepared."
Sitting in an oversize chair that engulfed his slight frame, Khubaib filled the crowded recital hall with his high-pitched voice at the judge’s signal.
For the next 15 minutes, the boy carried on the recitation by heart, his eyes closed in deep concentration, his legs swinging several inches off the ground.
At one point, one of the judges rang the bell, indicating Khubaib had made a mistake. For a moment, the boy was silent, but he quickly corrected himself and continued.
Ahmed Khorshid, 15, who represents the US, was impressed by his competitors’ skill level.
"All my friends and sheikhs will be watching me on TV back home, and I intend to make them proud," he said.
The best reciters of Qur'an are legendary, their tapes sold across the Muslim world.
This year’s Dubai champion will ostensibly join their ranks someday.