Nourin Mohamed Siddig
Social media has enabled a revival in unique African styles of Koranic recitation, which were once dominated by Middle Eastern traditions and as Isma’il Kushkush reports a voice from Sudan has come to exemplify what the continent has to offer.
When Nourin Mohamed Siddig recited the Koran, people around the world described his tone as sad, soulful and bluesy.
His unique sound made him one of the Muslim world’s most popular reciters.
As a consequence, his death at the age of 38 in a car accident in Sudan in November was mourned from Pakistan to the United States.
“The world has lost one of the most beautiful [voices] of our time,” tweeted Imam Omar Suleiman of Texas.
Hind Makki, a Sudanese-American interfaith educator, said it had a hard-to-describe quality.
“There is an African authenticity that people point to even if they are not able to articulate exactly what it is and they like it,” she said.
The comparison made with Blues music is not an accident.
According to historian Sylviane Diouf the chants, prayers and recitation of enslaved West African Muslims, which can sound similar to that of Muslims across the Sahel region to Sudan and Somalia, may have contributed to the creation of “the distinctive African American music of the South that evolved into the holler and finally the Blues”.
According to tradition, the Koran, Islam’s holy book, is typically recited in a singing manner, encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad, who said that people should “beautify the Koran with your voices”.
Different places, different approaches
It is especially appreciated when large numbers come together for religious occasions such as evening prayers in the month of Ramadan, taraweeh.
There are even several international recitation competitions.
Overlooked at times, however, is the fact that there are many approaches to reciting the Koran.
Different styles can be heard at recitation conferences like this one in Bangladesh in 2017
These may differ in tone and articulation according to geography, culture and historical experiences in the vast Muslim world beyond its heartland in the Middle East.
Siddig’s recitations and untimely death brought greater attention to a traditional African style. He picked up the tone studying in a traditional Koranic school in his village of al-Farajab, west of the capital, Khartoum, in the mid-1990s.
When he later moved to Khartoum, he led prayers in a number of the city’s main mosques and caught people’s attention. His fame spread once videos of him were uploaded to YouTube.