Review—A Quranic Odyssey: Towards Juz ‘Amma (Volume 1) by Umm Muhammed

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Towards Juz ‘Amma is a cute, sweet story about a family undergoing a hifdh journey. It is made up of 40 short chapters, with each one revolving around a specific teachable moment in the family’s life, usually between the mother and the children, but sometimes including other family members. The main characters are Pakistani mother Khadija, Italian father Abdurrahman, precocious five-year-old Ibrahim, and repetitive two-year-old Amna.

This is a unique book in the sense that while it is structured as a novel, it’s more focused on teaching lessons than on telling a story. Khadija is memorizing Quran along with her children, and it’s mostly about her struggle to keep her son’s Quran lessons fun and practical.  Each chapter begins in an ordinary day in their lives and ends with Khadija’s triumph: Sometimes she has invented a  new game to encourage Ibrahim to review his memorization. Sometimes she has been able to connect an event of their day to the meaning of a surah. And sometimes she has found a moment during a day trip to review a single ayah. And that pattern continues throughout the book. In other words, it doesn’t follow the usual narrative arc, with conflict building to a climax before a resolution. There isn’t really any central conflict in this book. 

So while this is definitely genre-bending, that doesn’t have to be a judgment. It depends on what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t for me.

I disliked the way this book disregards most conventions. For example, I’m not sure what age this book is intended for. While the product information says it’s children’s literature, it’s told from the first-person point of view of the mother, which is an odd choice for a children’s book. A large part of her narration is her thoughts and feelings about parenting, which is just not an interesting topic for kids. The writing vacillates between being too sophisticated for the 9–12 age group to spelling out details that are already obvious from the characters’ speech and movement. 

Another issue that I had is that I found Khadija’s character really frustrating—she is single-mindedly consumed by the Quran education of her children. Of course Quran is important, and parents should educate their children. Do I admire parents who take charge of their children’s hifdh? Of course. But the only thing we really see Khadija doing for herself is her own Quran memorization, which is something she’s sharing with the children. She doesn’t seem to have an adult activity that belongs to her alone. She even promises Ibrahim at one point that she won’t get ahead of him in her memorization. This monolithic characterization of Khadija is unrealistic in and of itself, and it also sets an unrealistic standard—it’s not healthy for a parent to be uncompromisingly involved in their children’s interests and to have no interests of their own. 

Ibrahim is another sore point for me. I think his precocity is supposed to be cute, but I found his confidence and intelligence more arrogant and rude than endearing. Here are a couple of examples (from a single chapter) that had me shaking my head and swearing that I would not accept that kind of behavior from my own son.

  1. His mother reminds him that he had asked his grandmother a question. He says, “I was just sort of testing her before her class to see if she knew the subject.”
  2. Khadija asks Ibrahim if he wants to recite a surah now. “No, I want to wait for the Park, and then, maybe if you’re all good, “says Ibrahim, slowly smiling at all of us, ‘I’ll give you a surah gift’.” 

I think the author has a lot of good insights to offer regarding the topic of hifdh, education, and dedication to the Quran. I personally would have preferred to read these insights in nonfiction form. I recommend this book for parents who are doing a similar hifdh program with their children and are looking for inspiration, activities, and motivation.

Thank you to Mindworks Publishing for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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