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The Constellation: A Maze of Melodies

Tilāwah: Sūrah al-Burūj

Riwāyah: Warsh ʿan Nāfiʿ, al-Sūsī ʿan Abī ʿAmr

Archive: Indore, 1440

The Recitation

The Leo Constellation

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if someone were to lose themselves in the magical constellation of melodies witnessed today in the form of Sūrah al-Burūj. The recitation commenced with a powerful jawāb of the maqām rast in the intricate Qurʾānic reading of Warsh ʿan Nāfiʿ.

The recitation commenced with a powerful jawāb of the maqām rast

It was soothing to hear the frequent transitions between jawāb and qarār (mids and base) throughout the recitation which was also testimony to the excellent vocal control of the reciter. The little interventions of bayātī served as beautiful embellishments bedecking the recitation along its mesmerizing course.

Before moving on to understand the maqām aspect of the recitation, let us first make a brief analysis of the Warsh and al-Sūsī distinctions therein. The following text is technical. Readers interested in the maqām analysis may skip the following section.

The Warsh Distinctions

Let’s first analyze the features of Warsh in today’s recitation.

Pink: Naql al-Ḥarakah; Red: Taqlīl
Pink: Ibdāl
Orange: Ṣilat Kubrā; Pink: Ibdāl
Pink: Naql; Green: Madd in the letter yāʾ
Pink: Ibdāl
Blue: Badal with 2, 4 and 6 ḥarakāt
Pink: Naql
Pink: Naql; Red: Taqlīl

The Distinctions of al-Sūsī

The recitation ventured into al-Sūsī only once but in a very marked manner. Al-Sūsī has this characteristic of standing out whenever it is recited. Let’s see how al-Sūsī was recognized in this recitation.

Blue: al-Idghām al-Kabīr in same letters (al-hāʾ)
Pink: Sukūn on al-hāʾ; Blue: al-Idghām al-Kabīr in similar letters (al-dāl and al-dhāl)

A continuation of Nahāwand

Before we begin exploring Sheikh Mustafa Ismail’s school of thought for nahāwand, we must first understand certain concepts that will help us to recognize how the Sheikh dealt with nahāwand in the backdrop of the rest of the maqāms.

To that end, we must know that maqāms can be placed into two main categories:

Primary Maqāmāt

  • The acronym صنع بسحر represents the primary maqāmāt
  • Ṣabā; Nahāwand; ʿAjam; Bayāt; Sīkā; Ḥijāz; Rast

Usually, qurrāʾ rely on all of these maqāms in almost an equal measure with the exception of ʿajam which is generally employed to a much lesser degree due to the unusual variances in its sayr (melodic course).

However, Sheikh Mustafa Ismail does employ ʿajam albeit less frequently and that too in combination with either nahāwand or ṣabā. It must be noted that the Sheikh refrains from using ʿajam independently or freely like the rest of the maqāms.

This is an example of Sūrah al-Fajr being recited by Sheikh al-Minshawi in maqām ʿajam:

Secondary Maqāmāt

There is no dearth of secondary maqāmāt and we will only concern ourselves with the ones used by qurrāʾ in the recitation of the Qurʾān-e-Majeed.

The first of these is the maqām jihārkāh. It belongs to the ʿajam family. Some experts believe that jihārkāh is an independent maqām that is not part of any maqām family. It is used by all qurrāʾ because of its beauty and adaptability with the recitation of the Qurʾān.

Another secondary maqām is the maqām ḥijāz kār. It is not very common among the qurrāʾ because of its similarity with maqām ʿajam but Sheikh Mustafa Ismail uses it to transition from one maqām into another.

The third secondary maqām is the maqām kurd. It is liberally used by Sheikh Mohammad Imran.


It is important to understand the fundamental difference between the scale and the maqām. A person may be able to employ all maqāms at any scale. Therefore, scale is not synonymous with the maqām.

However, the scale defines two main characteristics of the voice:

  • Qarār (base)
  • Jawāb (highs)

Therefore, and evidently, the qarār and the jawāb can be used in any maqām and as such, every maqām would have a qarār as well as a jawāb.

Following is an example from the recitation of Sheikh Mohammad al-Minshawi demonstrating the qarār and the jawāb:

Jawāb Maqām Ḥijāz
Qarār Maqām Ḥijāz

Maqām Groups

The aforementioned primary maqāms can be divided into two main groups:

These groupings signify that when a qārī intends to transition from one maqām into the other within the same group, he need not alter the scale note. However, if he transitions from the maqām of one group into that of the other group, the scale note will change.

Should one wish to transition from one group into another without altering the note, one needs to attain a high degree of proficiency in the knowledge of maqāmāt and this is where Sheikh Mustafa Ismail’s school of thought comes into play.

The Sheikh, while transitioning from one group to another, uses certain intonations that allow him to maintain his scale note. Once we have understood the foregoing points correctly, we will be able to understand how Sheikh Mustafa Ismail differs from the rest in his nahāwand school of thought.

The next article will discuss that in detail.

  • Husain Bootwala 11:57 am 21/08/2020 Reply

    great efforts

  • Farida maimoon 12:24 pm 21/08/2020 Reply

    Melodious explanation

  • Sh qutbuddin. 12:26 pm 21/08/2020 Reply

    Ma saallh

    • Maryam Engineer 3:08 pm 21/08/2020 Reply

      Mashaa Allah

  • Anonymous 12:57 pm 21/08/2020 Reply

    The confusion about Maqāmāt is now very clear, nicely explained. Jazakallah

    • Zainab saifee 10:13 pm 22/08/2020 Reply


      • Dr.Munira Vajihi 6:50 pm 23/08/2020 Reply


  • Zahra jamali 4:21 pm 21/08/2020 Reply


  • Dr Cumel Jolly 6:37 pm 21/08/2020 Reply

    My amazement turned into a melodious trance by your recitations!

    The article is literally and aesthetically pleasing, does justice to its subject too.

  • Husain najmi 3:14 pm 22/08/2020 Reply

    Looking for more

  • Sh Murtaza Moayyadi 7:19 pm 22/08/2020 Reply


  • Ali Akbar udz 10:25 pm 22/08/2020 Reply

    excellent explaination
    very helpful for someone who intends to practice tajweed

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