Insights: The Newsletter of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship


D. Morgan Davis


education, memory, school, tradition


Consider this picture: A sandy courtyard some- where on the outskirts of a desert village. A group of boys—ages perhaps 8 to 16—are gathered outside the entrance to a simple, well-worn little building. They are seated or kneeling in the sand, huddled in the last vestiges of the late morning shade. Each holds a text or a tablet. Some are reading, some are looking out to where the pale sky meets a broken line of housetops and trees, reciting, in a quiet murmur to themselves, the words of the book they are holding. Some gently rock back and forth as they read, letting the cadence of their movement compliment the rhythm of the words on the page. Others are writing on tablets of slate or wood. These writers are likewise engaged in the exercise of recitation, but with the pen, setting down line after line from memory. One boy uncrosses his legs, stands up, and steps toward a man who is seated on a little chair in front of the group. As the boy steps forward, his teacher rises and the boy presents his tablet to him. It is written front and back in neat lines of Arabic. Both the teacher and the boy are careful not to smudge the words on the slate. They are sacred words, revealed to a prophet named Muhammad long ago in Mecca, a town on the western edge of Arabia, toward which they have both been praying every day since they were very young.