Biographies Of Some Professional Reciters Of The Qur'ân From Egypt

M S M Saifullah & Muhammad Ghoniem

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

Last Updated: 27th September 2001


The following material is edited from the book The Art Of Reciting The Qur'ân by Kristina Nelson, 1985, The University of Texas Press, pp. 192-198. She gives biographies of only the Egyptian reciters.


Shaykh Mahmûd cAbd al-Hakam [d. 1982]. Born in Karnak in Upper Egypt, he came to Cairo in 1933, having established his reputation in the south. His first intention was to study at al-Azhar, as reciting was secondary to his studies. However, because of his voice, he was encouraged to become a professional reciter. He said it is the Radio which really encourages professionalism: employment by the Radio is important in establishing an audience and a wide reputation. He was with the Radio since 1944. Shaykh cAbd al-Hakam cited Shaykh Rifcat as the major influence on his reciting, although he also listened to Shaykh cAlî Mahmood, Shaykh al-Saccî, and others not known generally in Cairo. He never studied music, but considered music beneficial to recitation. Shaykh cAbd al-Hakam is admired for the dignity and correctness of his reciting as well as a subdued but fluent musicality.

Shaykh cAbd al-Bâsit cAbd al-Samad [b. 1927]. He came to Cairo from the city of Armant in Upper Egypt in 1950, having established his reputation in the south. He is the first reciter in his family, but his grandfather was a religious scholar of al-Azhar training. Shaykh cAbd al-Bâsit is probably the best-known of Egyptian reciters outside of Egypt, as he was the first to make commercial recordings of his reciting, and he has traveled extensively outside of Egypt. Among his recordings are the complete text of the Qur'ân in both styles, murattal and mujawwad. Shaykh cAbd al-Bâsit is one of thc four top-ranking reciters in Egypt. He was the first president of the newly formed Reciters' Union. Shaykh cAbd al-Bâsit is admired for breath control and his high, clear (harîmî) voice.

Shaykh Kâmil Yûsuf al-Bahtîmî [d. 1969 at the age of about forty seven]. He was the protégé of Shaykh Muhammad Salâmah, and it is said that the influence of his mentor shows in his high registers and melodic cadences. The influence of Shaykh Rifcat shows in the lower registers. Shaykh Kâmil studied music with Ahmad Sabra. He is especially admired for the quality of his voice; he is one of the few reciters whose voice is equally clear, strong, and relaxed in both the high and low registers. It is also said that he is one of the few reciters whose studio recordings are as effective as the live performance recordings.

Shaykh Hâsim Haybah [b. ca. 1920]. He is from a village north of Cairo, near Benha. His father was the owner of a rug factory. Shaykh Hâsim says that he always wanted to be a reciter. He memorized the Qur'ân and learned the qirâ'ât. In those days (1927-34) there was no recitation on the Radio, so he learned the art by listening to reciters in person. He also learned his music by listening. He journeyed to Cairo to hear Shaykh cAli Mahmûd recite, and stayed, listening to Shaykh Muhammad Rifcat and Shaykh Muhammad Salâmah. He joined the Radio in 1951. Shaykh Hâsim has also established himself as a singer of religious songs. His voice is light and high, and fluent with ornamentation.

Shaykh Mahmûd Khalîl al-Husarî [d. I980]. He was born near Tanta [north of Cairo]. When he was twenty-five years of age he went to Tanta and established himself as a reciter. He was the reciter at the well-known Ahmadî mosque there. Ten years later he moved to Cairo, joined the Radio in 1944, and became the reciter at the Husayn mosque in 1955. In Cairo Shaykh al-Husarî also studied at al-Azhar University: he was a well-known religious scholar and author of many books on various aspects of the Qur'ân. He was also involved in the recent Azhari printing of the Qur'ânic text. His status as reciter was somewhat official: he held the title Shaykh al-Maqâri, and his opinions were frequently solicited and quoted by the media. He also accompanied the rector of al-Azhar on his travels and was invited to participate in the World of Islam festival in London (1976). Shaykh al-Husarî's recordings are widely distributed outside Egypt. As one of the four top-ranking reciters in Egypt, he recorded the complete Qur'ânic text in both styles of recitation, murattal and mujawwad and was the first to record and broadcast the murattal style. Shaykh al-Husarî is known for the correctness of his recitation. His son also recites professionally.

Shaykh Mustafâ Ismâcîl [1905-1978]. Born in Mît Ghazâl, a village near Tanta (north of Cairo), Shaykh Mustafâ learned the Qur'ân, and about the age of fifteen or sixteen he went to study at the Azhari institute in Tanta. He studied the Qur'ânic sciences and planned to continue his studies at al-Azhar University in Cairo, but was encouraged to become a reciter. He began to establish his reputation in the Delta in the 1930s. Shaykh Mustafa first went to Cairo in response to an invitation to recite. He soon established his reputation in Cairo and was invited to recite for King Farouk during Ramadan, 1944. He joined the Radio soon after, having negotiated for longer recordings, as his voice needed a minimum of time to warm up. Shaykh Mustafa admired the reciting of Shaykh Muhammad Rifcat and Shaykh cAbd al-Fattâh al-Saccî but was proud of his own unique style. He did not study music formally, but mastered the art by listening, and from his associations with the best musicians of his day. Shaykh Mustafa traveled extensively and was known abroad from his personal appearances. Although as a top-ranking reciter he recorded the complete text of the Qur'ân in both the murattal and mujawwad styles, his recordings are not generally available outside Egypt. Shaykh Mustafa was the official reciter of Anwâr al-Sadât and traveled with him to Jerusalem in 1978. Shaykh Mustafa is considered one of the most effective reciters of this century, extremely innovative musically, yet correct in tajweed. One can count a generation of younger reciters among his imitators. At the time of his death, Shaykh Mustafa was reciter at the prestigious al-Azhar mosque.

Shaykh Muhammad Siddîq al-Minshâwî [d. early 1970s?]. He is of the same generation as Shaykh Kamil Yûsuf al-Bahtimî, and, in fact, he was also a protégé of Shaykh Muhammad Salâmah. His father was also a well-known reciter, and his brother, Shaykh Mahmûd al-Minshâwî, has now established himself as a respected professional reciter in Cairo. Shaykh al-Minshâwî was born in Upper Egypt and established himself as a reciter there before coming to Cairo. He is especially admired for the spirituality, gravity, and dignity of his style.

Shaykh cAlî Mahmûd [1878-1949]. Also admired for his singing (he made a number of commercial recordings), Shaykh cAlî Mahmûd is one of the models for musical reciting. It is said that he would render the call to prayer from the Husayn mosque with a differeut maqaam for each day of the week. A number of reciters, such as Shaykh Muhammad Salâmah, and Shaykh Mahmûd Muhammad Ramadan, show and acknowledge his influence on their own style of recitation. His style is characterized by the melodic cadences and a density of modulations.

Shaykh Fathî Qandîl. He grew up in rural Egypt, where he was taught the Qur'ân by his father. He studied at the Azhari institute in Tanta, then at al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he earned an advanced degree in Qur'ânic sciences. He teaches tajwîd and qirâ'ât at the Institute of Qirâ'ât in Suhra. Shaykh Fathî began reciting for the Radio in 1970. He studied music at the Music Institute in Cairo.

Shaykh Mahmûd Muhammad Ramadan. Shaykh Ramadan was born {ca. 1929) in the same baladi area of Cairo in which he still lives. His father was a cloth merchant. He learned the Qur'ân in the kuttâb, thc traditional primary school, and continued his studies with a Shaykh, from whom he also learned tajwîd. He learned music by listening and studying with private tutors, among them the prominent qanoon player Ahmad Sabra. Shaykh Ramadan joined the ranks of Radio reciters in 1972. He is highly respected for his musicality, and he acknowledges the influence of a number of reciters on his style. He is considered to be of the "school" of Shaykh cAlî Mahmûd.

Shaykh Muhammad Rifcat [1882-I950]. His father was a merchant. Shaykh Rifcat is unanimously considered the best reciter of this century. He is admired for his musicality, his mastery and understanding of the art of recitation in all of its aspects, his spirituality and uprightness, and his right intent. Shaykh Rifcat was the first reciter to broadcast his recitation (1934), and his voice and style, as well as his general character, have been a model of the ideal reciter to generations of Egyptians and others ever since. Music critic and composer Suleiman Gamil specifies aspects of Shaykh Rifcat's style such as the unpredictability of the melodic line and the resonance of his voice. Others point to his mastery in correlating melody to meaning (taswîr al-macnâ). In addition to recordings made by the Radio, there exist a great number of recordings made by Zakariyyâ Muhrân Bâsâ and Muhammad Khamîs which his son, Mr. Husayn Rifcat, is dedicated to making available to the public.

Shaykh Muhammad Salâmah (ca. 1888/1900- 1982). Shaykh Salâmah was a student at al-Azhar University, and at the age of nineteen was encouraged to become a reciter. He had already been reciting since the age of ten. Shaykh Salâmah fought in the Sacdist rebellion against the British in 1919 and proudly acknowledged his role in that. He is the only prominent reciter who refused to record for the Radio, one of the reasons being the latter's failure to comply with certain conditions set by him, such as not having the Qur'ân broadcast into the streets and taverns and not having the female announcer present in the same room while he was rccording. He participated in a conference of reciters in 1937 which resulted in the establishment of a Reciters'Association. The issue at stake was that some reciters were afraid that broadcasting recitation would harm the less prominent reciters, as their services would be less in demand. Shaykh Salâmah was both extremely articulate and sincere about his faith. In performance he was restrained in his gestures, ignoring the admiring comments, even turning away from those who came up to kiss his hand or compliment him. Only in the high registers did he seem to me to interact with his listeners. When another reciter was performing, Shaykh Salâmah would listen with eyes closed and head bowed. He was the acknowledged mentor of Shaykh Kâmil Yusuf al-Bahtimi and Shaykh Muhammad Siddîq al-Minshâwî, both of whom lived in his house for a period of time. Some speak of the 'school' of Shaykh Muhammad Salâmah as being in a direct line from thc style of Shaykh cAlî Mahmûd. Shaykh Salâmah studied music with Shaykh Darwees. al-Hareeree, teacher of several prominent musicians and reciters, such as Shaykh cAli Mahmood, Shaykh Sayyid Darwees, and Shaykh Zakariyya Ahmad. He used to sing and play the cûd until the death of his wife. Shaykh Salâmah is considered to be second only to Shaykh Rifcat in correlating melody to meaning (taswîr al-macnâ).

Shaykh Ahmad al-Ruzayqî (b. ca. 1939). One of the younger generation of reciters, he grew up in Upper Egypt in thc same area as Shaykh cAbd al-Bâsit cAbd al-Samad, and Shaykh Muhammad Siddîq al-Minshâwî. Shaykh Ahmad was encouraged to become a reciter because of his beautiful voice. He recited in public at Qina, and at the age of twenty entered the Music Institute to study the art of Arabic music. He also learned from listening to Shaykh Rifcat, Shaykh Mustafa Ismâ'îl, and Shaykh cAbd al-Bâsit cAbd al-Samad, but considers Shaykh Muhammad Siddîq al-Minshâwî his mentor because they have similar deep voices and voice quality, are from the same area, and used to recite on the same program. Shaykh Ahmad sings and plays the cûd as well. He is president of the Reciters' Union.

Shaykh Ibrâhîm al-Saccî (b. 1930, Cairo). He is the son of another prominent reciter, Shaykh cAbd al-Fattaah al-Saccî. His grandfather was also a reciter, and now his son is beginning Qur'ânic studies. He memorized the Qur'ân, learned tajwîd and qirâ'ât in school with Shaykh cAmir cUthmân (see below), and received a degree from the Azhari institute. He then studied for three years with Shaykh Darwîs al- Harîrî, a famous musician and teacher. He did not begin to recite in public until 1954-55. Shaykh Ibrâhîm joined the Radio in 1968. He holds the position of reciter at the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque, a post held by his father before him. He acknowledges the influence of his father's style on his own and says that his father was influenced by Shaykh Ahmad Nadâ, a reciter of the generation before Shaykh Rifcat. Shaykh Ibrâhîm is admired for his deep, rich voice, his renderings of qirâ'ât Warsh, his knowledge of pause and beginning, and the general dignity and gravity of his recitation.

Shaykh cAlî Hajjâj al-Suwaysî [b. 1926]. His father was chief elerk at the Islamic court in Cairo. He studied Qur'ân with Shaykh Abu cAzîz al-Sahhâr, a prominent Azhari scholar and father of Shaykh Sacid al-Sahhar. Shaykh cAHajjâj al-Suwaysî began reciting in public at an early age: he remembers reciting for a group of Yemenis at a conference when he was only seven or eight years of age. Shaykh cAlî joined the Radio in 1946-47 and entered the Music Institute to study 'ud and music theory for four years when he saw the encouragement and success of his reciting. He used to sing a great deal, but now he just recites. He impresses one with how much he enjoys reciting. Shaykh cAlî is admired for his use of maqâm saba - his voice is considered especially suited to saba - and for his imitation of Shaykh Muhammad Rifcat.

Shaykh Muhammad Mahmûd al-Tablâwî [b. 1936 near Cairo in Mît cUqba]. He studied the Qur'ân in the traditional school, the kuttâb, and was singled out for his voice and encouraged to become a professional reciter. He learned music by listening and cites Shaykh Mahmûd cAlî al-Bannâ, Shaykh al-Bahtîmî, and Shaykh Abû l-cAynayn al-Sacîsah as reciters he particularly admires. Shaykh al-Tablâwî was the first to record on cassette tape, and his recordings are widely distributed and extremely popular in Egypt, both in Cairo and in the countryside. People attribute his popularity to his impressive breath control and the "freshness" of his voice. Shaykh Muhammad al-Tablâwî sueceeded Shaykh Mustafa Ismâ'îl as reciter at the al-Azhar mosque.

Scholars & Teachers

Shaykh cAbd al-Mutacâl Mansûr cArafah. Shaykh cAbd al-Mutacâl graduated from the Institute of Qirâ'ât in Subra, became a teacher there. He is presently assistant to the general director of the General Administration of Qur'ânic Affairs at al-Azhar. Shaykh cAbd al-Mutacâl presents a daily radio lesson on the rules of tajwîd, al-Rahmân cAllama l-Qur'ân, in conjunction with Shaykh Rizq Habbah. He also participated in preparing the most recent Azhari publication of the Qur'ânic text.

Shaykh cAmir al-Sacîd cUthmân. One of the prominent scholars and teachers in Cairo, he has taught tajwîd and qirâ'ât to many of the leading professional reciters. An expert in these sciences, he teaches three of the public recitation classes with humor, asperity, patience, and an amazing command of the material. Shaykh cAmir also serves on a number of panels whceh evaluate reciters' performances, such as the auditions for the Friday prayer reciters, the Intemational Recitation Competition in Malaysia, and so forth. He holds the title and position of Wakeel (deputy) Shaykh al-Maqâri.

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