“I don’t attend salaatu – taraaweeh because I cannot understand the Quran.” As an Arabic teacher, hearing that statement from a student gives me a pain in my heart.
The number 1 reason to learn Arabic is to develop the skill of understanding the Quran. However, it will take some consistent effort on your part and now is a great time to start because Ramadhan is less than 2 months away. I encourage you to take my course “Quranic Arabic for Ramadhan”. You can register @arabicforwomen.com.
Until then, here is some practical advice that may help:
Start actively listening to the Quran. Rather than just playing it in the home and enjoying the rhythm, sit and try to distinguish words. Sit with the English translation on one side and the Arabic on the other side. Choose a simple word-for-word translation like the one offered at quran.com. The Noble Quran, which contains tafseer (explanation), can be used for further explanation but a simpler translater is needed for word-to-word translation.
Start with a surah that you love. If you love suratu Maryam, then start with that one. If you love suratu Yusuf then start with that one.
Choose a Sheikh who recites at a moderate pace. There are many to choose from on youtube or Quranexplorer, for example Huthaifi, Menshawi, A-Shatri, al-Husri and many many others.
Decide on how many words/phrases you will collect in one sitting. 7 might be a good amount to memorize, and try to make them words that are often repeated. There are many words and phrases which are repetitive in the Quran. Start paying attention to them and collecting them as you listen. Here are some to look out for:
“Oh you who believe…”
“Allah created the heavens and the Earth…”
Allah does not burden a soul more than it can bear…”
“Verily those who believe and do righteous deeds…”
“And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the Earth…”
According to Sheikh Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymeen, (rahimahullah), the Quran consists of 3 major themes: First, Allah tells us about himself. Allah is informing us about His most Beautiful Names, the wisdom of His creations and His signs, the descriptions of Himself; what He does and what He does not do. There are videos on youtube, for example, to help you learn and memorize the Beautiful Names of Allah (Asmaa ul Allah il Husnaa). This is a good start. Then you could begin memorizing words concerning Allah’s creation and signs such as:
You would also memorize (in Arabic) words related to the the Hereafter:
paradise…fire….Day of Judgement (which has many names)….the accounting,… angels….jinn…
The second theme of the Quran is true stories; stories of the Prophets, stories of people who came before us, stories of those who obeyed Allah and their rewards, and stories of those who disobeyed their Prophets and their punishments. We are meant to take examples from these true stories. There are some words in these stories that are old words which may no longer beused, but at least 60 % – 70% of the words in these stories are understandable. The most repeated story in the Quran is the story of Musa alyhi salaam. His story comes in so many surahs of the Quran. you will hear words like:
...Musa…Firoun…Haroon…signs…his soldiers…the sea…Children of Israel…his people
You will need to do a little research and find the re-curring words/phrases surrounding this story.
The third theme of the Quran is information about Allah’s laws. The everyday Muslim cannot exactly understand these laws without an explanation. Many of these laws are contained in surat il-Baqara, a-Nisaa, and al-Maidah.
So now, after spending time, let us say a minimum of 12 sittings, listening and repeating, collecting words/phrases and memorizing them, your ears should become more and more attuned to the Quran. The speech of Allah should no longer sound like just one long word, but different words here and there should begin to jump out at you. This is a good beginning.
When it comes to the taraweeh prayer, let me tell you, I feel your pain! Some of the Imams recite very quickly in order to complete the Quran before al-Eid, subhaanAllah, so it can get challenging! What many Muslims do is read that day’s part of Quran before going to the masjid. Make yourself familiar with what will be recited that night and again collect key words that will cue you into the recitation in case your mind wanders. Know that if you are actively trying to understand then you WILL be more likely to hold your khushoo’.
At the end of the day, your effort is towards a lofty goal; understanding Allah’s Book because understandin it will make it easier to recite it, and to ponder it and to act upon it.
As Allah says in suratil Qamar:
And we have made the Quran easy for remembrance so who will remember?