Undertaking hifth at a Qur'anic school for girls in Cape Town: a case study

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This small-scale case study focuses on the language and literacy practices that constitute hifth (the memorisation of the Qur'an) as it is practised at a Qur'anic school in Cape Town. The research aims to identify the language and literacy practices of hifth at this school, as well as investigate how selected girls orient themselves to these practices. The fieldwork was undertaken over two school terms at the girls' campus of a Qur'anic school in the city. It focused on three senior students undertaking hifth at this school, each of whom was in a different class and at a different stage of her hifth. Individual and group interviews were conducted with these students. The data set included field notes taken during classroom observations, transcripts of interviews with the participants, and physical artefacts, including one participant's copy of the Qur'an. The theoretical framework for this research is drawn from New Literacy Studies (NLS) (cf. Heath, 1983; Street, 1984), communities of practice (cf. Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), and a poststructuralist approach to literacy and identity (cf. Norton Peirce, 1995; Norton, 2000). Using these lenses enabled me to identify the language and literacy practices that constitute hifth at this school, as well as describe and interpret participants' identifications and investments in their literacy practices. Following Brandt and Clinton (2002), local Qur'anic literacy practices are located in the broader context of global practices. I have theorised how literacy artefacts, such as the written Qur'an, connect this local school community and its literacy practices to other places across the country and the world, and to Qur'anic literacy practices there. I found that the girls were actively involved in a range of hifth related literacy practices both at school and at home. Through their participation in these practices, they were learning to take an appropriate embodied orientation in their engagement with the Qur'an as readers, reciters and listeners. Each of them described the cognitive effort that was required to accurately memorise the Qur'an, while retaining recall of an increasingly longer part of the text. Their accounts contrast sharply with assumptions about memorisation or 'rote' learning as 'mindless' or undemanding and mechanical, rather than cognitively challenging and taxing.

Includes bibliographical references.