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HBO film follows Muslim children competing to recite the Quran from memory

“Koran By Heart” follows several Muslim children as they compete in a tournament requiring them to recite passages of the Quran, Islam's holy book, from memory.
BY JACK JENKINS Published: July 30, 2011

A new documentary follows three Muslim children as they travel to Egypt to compete in a tournament that requires young contestants to recite whole passages of the Quran, Islam's 600-page holy book, from memory.

Each year during Ramadan — a Muslim holy month when believers fast, pray and read from the Quran — 100 students from more than 70 countries flock to Cairo for the International Holy Quran Competition.

Greg Barker, a former war correspondent and creator of films such as “Ghosts of Rwanda,” captured the contest in his new documentary “Koran by Heart,” set to premiere on HBO on Monday, the first night of Ramadan.

Barker's film tells the story of three 10-year-olds — two boys and one girl — as they travel to the competition.

All three dedicated most of their early years to memorizing every word of the Quran — even though they do not speak or understand Arabic, the language in which the holy book is written.

“(The contest) is a window into the world that most non-Muslims or Westerners don't see. It … puts a human face on the religion,” Barker said.

Quran recitations are a regular practice throughout the Muslim world, although they are especially auspicious during Ramadan. Muslims believe it to be the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

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