Improve Your Memory! - But how?

July 10, 2016

 

Introduction

 

All praise is due to Allâh, the Lord of the worlds, and peace and blessings be upon the last Messenger and all those who follow the right path until the Last Day.

 

The Prophet ﷺ  said: “Seeking knowledge is compulsory upon every Muslim (man and woman).”[1]

 

He also said: "The example of guidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me is like abundant rain falling on the earth, some of which was fertile soil that absorbed rain water and brought forth vegetation and grass in abundance. (And) another portion of it was hard and held the rain water and Allah benefited the people with it and they utilized it for drinking, making their animals drink from it and for irrigation of the land for cultivation. (And) a portion of it was barren which could neither hold the water nor bring forth vegetation (then that land gave no benefits). The first is the example of the person who comprehends Allah's religion and gets benefit (from the knowledge) which Allah has revealed through me (the Prophets and learns and then teaches others. The last example is that of a person who does not care for it and does not take Allah's guidance revealed through me (He is like that barren land.)"[2]

 

These statements – besides many others – show the importance and virtue of seeking knowledge. However, it is needless to say that it is not enough to just read books without remembering their content and acting upon it. It is incumbent to remember the information from books and lectures to benefit from it.

 

The Prophet also said: “If Allah wants to do good to a person, He makes him comprehend the religion.”[3]

 

With the help of a few tips and tricks one can improve one’s memorization. In this short research paper, I am going to present these tips and tricks in the light of contemporary psychology and Islamic literature.

 

 

The Ideal Time to Study

 

The first issue to consider is to avoid interference. This means that one should avoid both proactive interference and retroactive interference which is to neither forget learned information because of what one has learned before or after it. In short: One should not cram one’s brain with information.

 

The best way to avoid interference is to study in the evening a short while before going to sleep, when one has a free mind.[4]

 

Another issue to consider is the duration and frequency of studying.

 

The Prophet said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little."[5]

 

Therefore, one should also study “properly, sincerely and moderately”, “regular and consistent”. The quality of a deed is not determined by its duration but by its frequency and sincerety. This is also confirmed by contemporary research. The short-term memory has only a limited capacity. Therefore, there is a time when one can try to memorize information but is not able to get it into one’s mind “as if the RAM (random access memory) is full”. Furthermore, the more often information is repeated after some time, the better the information is stored in long-term memory.

 

 

How to Study

 

Firstly, one should rehearse the information as many times as possible on the first day. The more often one repeats memorizing information on the first day, the less time one needs to relearn it on the second day.[6]

 

Secondly, one should make the information personally meaningful. This is something very strong in Islamic knowledge: The information should have a strong meaning to us and we should practice what we study (e.g. fiqh) or convey it to others (da’wah). It also means that we should not only memorize the letters of the Qur’ân but the meaning of the Qur’ân as well. Furthermore, it is very interesting how the Prophet used this technique to teach children about Islam: he took them on his lap or in his arm, hugged and kissed them, built a strong emotional bond to the children and taught them something about Islam at the same time. This made the information taught to them personally meaningful as it was linked to an emotional incident in their lives.

 

Thirdly, one should visualize complex concepts. This was done by the Prophet himself as well. Ibn Mas’ûd narrated: “The Messenger of Allah drew a line with his hand and he said, “This is the straight path of Allah.” Then the Prophet drew lines to the right and left and he said, “These are other paths and there are no other paths but that a devil is upon it calling to its way.” Then the Prophet recited the verse, “Verily, this is the straight path, so follow it and do not follow other paths.” (6:153)”[7]

 

 

After Studying

 

The brain needs time to transmit information from the short-term memory to the long-term memory by reorganization and consolidation. This is done during sleep and can be interrupted by sleep deprivation. Therefore, one should sleep much and properly.

 

The Prophet emphasizes the importance of sleep by providing guidelines on how to sleep well, i.e. on one’s right side, taking a short nap in noon, etc.

 

One should study repeatedly in spaced interval to boost recall. During the time of the Prophet, he taught the Qur’ân to the Sahâbah by the means of prayer, writings, encouraging to recite etc. so that they would repeat the Qur’ân often to memorize it easily.

To make sure that one has understood the studied material well, one can test one’s knowledge. This can be done with a Shaykh or – if no Shaykh is available – with a well versed student of knowledge.

 

 

Additional Islamic point

 

Last but definitely not least, I want to quote the famous saying from Imam ash-Shâfi’î: “I complained to Wakee about my decreasing memory and he advised me to abstain from sins, and he informed me that knowledge is light and the light of Allāh is not receptive to the sinner.”[8]

 

Therefore, the ability to memorize and understand Islamic knowledge is affected by sins. A gradual increase in good deeds and gradual decrease in sins increases the ability to memorize and understand by the help of Allâh.[9]

 

 

Conclusion

 

If one follows the guidelines that are provided for us by the rich Islamic literature and contemporary Psychology, one can optimize one’s productivity in studies. This includes studying regularly and moderately, avoiding interference, using diagraphs and visualizations of material that should be memorized or understood, sleeping properly etc. There are many more tips and tricks to increase one’s productivity and it should always be part of one’s studies “to learn how to learn”.

 

 

 

[1] (at-Tirmidhi, No. 74)

[2] (Bukhari, No. 79)

[3] (Bukhari, No. 71)

[4] (David G. Myers; C. Nathan DeWall, 2015, p. 342)

[5] (Bukhari, No. 6464)

[6] (Baddeley, 1982)

[7] (Ahmad, No. 4423)

[8] (ibn Barjass)

[9] (Kamdar, 2015)

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