'Koran By Heart' review & charity screening
In Ramadan 2009, former war correspondent and documentary filmmaker Greg Barker travelled to Cairo to capture Cairo’s International Holy Koran Competition.
Hundreds of young boys and girls, aged from seven to their early twenties, participate in the contest – a test of Koran memorisation, each year.
This documentary follows three of the youngest contestants, all 10 years old.
Nabiollah is from rural Tajikistan. His schooling focused on memorising the Koran’s 600 pages and he has an impressive natural ability and voice. Sometimes swallowed by her abaya and hijab, Rifdha, a girl from the Maldives, wears bright pink glasses and an addictive smile. She leaves her adoring mother, somewhat reluctantly, to board the small floating plane that begins her journey to Egypt. And in Senegal, the teacher of Djamil reassures him: “Do not be frightened. Everyone, no matter where they are from, learns the same Koran.” The son of a popular local Imam, he travels the width of northern Africa alone.
Left: Djamil, Top Right: Nabiollah, Bottom Right: Rifdha
This is the world’s oldest recitation competition, and it is far from a bunch of kids in a room quoting the text line-by-line. The children sit in front of a panel of judges and choose a number on a touchscreen. A random question comes up, telling them which sentence fragment to begin with, and where to end. Adding to the difficulty of this task, none of the three contestants Barker follows speak or read Arabic with any comprehension.
The three preadolescents have amazing gifts but perhaps even bigger challenges; along with spotlighting what they have accomplished at just ten, the film also foreshadows difficulties that lie ahead.
The film is centred on the children but Islam, and the many questions surrounding the religion, feature in the background. There is discussion of the ‘right’ approach and what constitutes a ‘good’ Muslim. There are strict and moderate voices, each calling for more of their brand (“She has to be educated, but she will be a housewife,” says Rifdha’s father at one point.) In the end, however, Barker prioritises story-telling over judging, allowing the viewer to delve deeper in search of their own answers.
“Koran By Heart” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011. Here are some press highlights:
Filmmakermagazine.com, 1 August 2011
Director Greg Barker: “I really wanted to get beneath the surface of the competition and the kids’ stories to try to get into that. I didn’t know quite how it was going to happen. But I had a feeling it would be through the stories of their education. So I think my journalism background helped me frame the bigger issues I wanted to somehow touch on in the film.”
Indiewire.com, 1 August 2011
Christopher Campbell: “The “heart” in “Koran by Heart” is definitely present as more than just the initial connotation of firm apprehension…If we can get more competition docs with such multi-level appreciation, I sincerely look forward to this genre’s trend continuing.”
New York Times, 29 July 2011
Samuel G Freedman: “Mr. Barker managed both to grasp the pageantry of the competition…and their ability to improvise melodies as they chant — and to zero in on the characters who would ultimately supply the film’s deeper themes.”
““Koran By Heart” is both an inspirational competition film and an engaging survey of the unique experiences of Muslim children throughout the world.” Doha Film Institute will screen “Koran By Heart” on 8 August at 9.30 pm at Katara Drama Theatre, Building 16.
Film: Koran By Heart (2011)
Director: Greg Barker
Running Time: 77 mins
Languages: Arabic, English, Dhivehi, Tajik (English and Arabic subtitles throughout)
For tickets, visit the official box office in Building 26, Katara Cultural Village, between 6:30pm and 10pm, or book online via d-h.fi/KBHtix
All proceeds will be contributed to a cultural charity منظمة الدعوة الإسلامية – Munazzamat Al-Da’wa Al-Islamiya and a Qatari youth organisation.
Questions and Answers
- Sample Budget and Cost of Living
- Qatar Schools Database
- Residents Guide to Qatar
- Siteseeing in Qatar
- Traffic Rules
- Attending a Qatari Wedding
- Gift ideas from Qatar
- Buying a used car in Qatar
- Renting in Qatar
- What to consider when renting in Qatar
- Preparing for Winter in Qatar
- Registering a birth in Qatar
- Blackberry phones in Qatar
- Old Qatar
- What's Happening in Qatar
- Online Shopping in Qatar
- What does Doha look like?