Teen Imams

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: During this month of Ramadan, Muslims traditionally listen to the entire Qur’an recited in its original Arabic, part by part, at prayers each night. But this year the members of the Islamic Society of Northern Virginia had a problem. Most of the adults there are from Pakistan and India and do not speak Arabic. None could recite the whole Qur’an. So they invited an Arabic-speaking imam from South Africa to come lead them this month. When he arrived, however, for reasons that have not been made public, U.S. officials turned him back. That left the Virginia community with one day to find a replacement. They canvassed their members with no luck, until they remembered two of their teenage boys, one 13, one 16, who don’t speak Arabic but who had memorized the Arabic Qur’an. They put them to work.

UZAIR JAWED: I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I knew that if I had someone helping me out, it wouldn’t be that hard.

AMAN CHHIPA: We would divide the part — the section that we would have to do — in half. He would do half, and I would do the other half. In the Qur’an it said to recite in a beautiful voice because that’s how the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to read.

JAWED: If you’ve been reading it for a while, you just kind of learn it by yourself. You can make up your own melody of your voice. The more beautiful voice you have, the more the people will enjoy it. They’ll want to come.

CHHIPA: It takes some practice to make it sound melodious with your regular reading strategy, memorizing.

JAWED: If we have mistakes, we practice more. If we don’t have mistakes, we still practice, because once you stand in front of a lot of people during the prayer you get nervous, and it’s hard to remember.

CHHIPA: Memorizing is just the first step. We’re going to learn how to speak Arabic and preach it to the people. We might become Islamic scholars when we grow up.

ABERNETHY: The Qur’an those boys memorized contains 80,000 words.