Does learning the Qur’an improve memory capacity? Practical and theoretical implications

Rashaun Black, Faisal Mushtaq, Alan Baddeley, Narinder Kapur

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Our understanding of human memory has gained greatly from the study of individuals with impaired memory but rather less from outstandingly high levels of memory performance. Exceptions include the case of London taxi drivers whose extensive route learning results in modification of their hippocampus. Our study involves a group whose extensive verbal learning potentially provides a similar natural experiment. The Muslim faith encourages followers to memorise the whole of the Qur’an, some 77,449 words in its classic Arabic form. Successful memorisers are known as ‘Hafiz’. We tested 10 Hafiz, 12 background- matched Muslim controls and 10 non-Muslim participants, on their detailed knowledge of the Qur’an and on their performance on standard measures of verbal and visuospatial learning. We found no differences between the three groups in their capacity to memorise verbal or visuospatial material and hence no evidence of generalization of learning capacity in the Hafiz group. More surprisingly, however, half the Hafiz group did not understand Arabic but were equivalent in Qur’anic memory to those who did. Given the importance that meaning is typically assumed to play in long-term memory, this was unexpected. We discuss the practical and theoretical implications of these results for verbal memory and long-term learning.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date1 Sept 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Sept 2020

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  • Verbal memory
  • Hafiz
  • Qur’anic learning
  • Exceptional Long-term Learning
  • Expertise

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