Unit 3: Reading

The Qur’an

Proficiency Objectives

  • understand the main idea of popular genres.
  • find and use information for practical purposes.
  • read texts that compare and contrast information.

Content Objectives

  • read the most well-known verse in the Qur’an.
  • locate a specific chapter in the Qur’an and identify the structural elements common to all chapters.
  • use Swahili religious vocabulary appropriately to discuss important aspects of Islam.
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Boys reading the Qur’an in a mosque, Stone Town, Zanzibar

Understanding “Al Fatiha”

Most Muslims perform ritual prayers (called sala in Swahili, from the Arabic salat) five times each day, and each prayer is comprised of a specific number of recitations of a Qur’anic chapter. The Swahili verb kusoma (to read) is used for reciting (i.e. to read aloud), even though many Muslims do not know how to read Arabic script or comprehend Arabic; they simply memorize the Qur’an. At each prayer time, the first chapter recited is the first chapter of the Qur’an, referred to by it’s proper name Al Fatiha (with some variation in spelling) in Arabic, Swahili, and English—meaning “the opening” in Arabic—or sometimes as Sura ya Kwanza (the first chapter) in Swahili. This makes it the most well-known, and most-often recited chapter of the entire Qur’an. Some Muslims say it encapsulates everything one needs to know about Islam.

For ritual recitation, the Qur’an is always recited in Arabic, never in translation. If you hear a Muslim praying, anywhere in the world, “Al Fatiha” sounds something like this:

Bismillahi Rahman iRahim
Alhamdulillahi rabbil alamin
Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem Maaliki yaumid Deen
Iyyaaka na’abudu wa iyyaaka nasta’in
Ihdinas siraatal mustakim
Siraatal ladhina an amta alaihim
Ghairil maghdubi alaihim waladaalin

If you search for “Al Fatiha audio” online, you can find various recitations that you can listen to for free. One site with many different reciters is Quranic Audio.

The first verse of “Al Fatiha”, Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem, occurs before almost every chapter in the Qur’an, and it is also used by many Muslims before beginning any activity, as a way of invoking God’s blessing. For that purpose, it is sometimes shortened to simply Bismillah. Among Swahili-speaking Muslims, this word is used often.

Even though most Muslims memorize “Al Fatiha” in Arabic, they also want to know what it means, and so they read the Qur’an in translation. You can find a Swahili translation of the Qur’an online at https://archive.org/details/swahili-quran-translation.

Exercise 1

Below is an image of a page from the Swahili translation of the Qu’ran I was given as my mahari (dower) by my Zanzibari in-laws when I got married in Zanzibar in 2009.[1] It shows the Swahili translation side by side with the Arabic original. Click on the hotspots to learn about each component of the text.

Exercise 2

Study the new vocabulary from “Al Fatiha,” and take note of the relationship between this new vocabulary and some words you may already know.

Kiswahili Kiingereza Related words
-neemesha make rich, provide well for neema 9/10
neema 9/10 ease, affluence, comfort, bounty, favor, help, grace -neemesha
-stahiki be worthy of haki 9/10, -stahili
-miliki own mali 9/10
-ongoza lead kiongozi 7/8 & 1/2
-nyoka become straight
-kasirikiwa be the object of anger -kasirika; hasira 9/10

Exercise 3

Fill in the blanks in the following text.

Exercise 4 (Grammar)

Use the following exercises to review relevant grammar as needed. (Click the double arrow icon in the lower right-hand corner of each exercise to make it full-screen.)

1. Causative verbs formed from nouns

2. Reduplication

3. The emphatic copula

Exercise 5

Answer the following discussion questions.

Permissions and credits


  1. Abdallah Salih Farsy, trans., Qurani Takatifu, 8th ed. (Nairobi, Kenya: Islamic Foundation, 1997).


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Dini Afrika ya Mashariki by Katrina Daly Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.