efe-epaBy Marina Villén Tehran

Iranian Mahdi Gholamneyad began reciting the Quran at just 12 years old. Three years later, he took part in his first junior-level competition. At 16, he enrolled in the adult category and took part in his first international competition.

"Throughout the year, I study for about three or four hours every two days but when it gets closer to competition time, I practice around two hours a day," Gholamneyad, who is now 33, told Efe.

Many Quran reciters begin their studies at a young age and often dedicate their entire lives to their passion.

Some put their skills to the test in national and international competitions.

With experience in competitions in Russia, Kuwait and Turkey, Gholamneyad came second in the reading category at the 36th edition of the International Quran Contest, which was held in the Iranian capital, Tehran this year.

Most of the competitors gathered at the Mosala religious complex in the sprawling city come from the Arab world or Muslim-majority countries in Asia and Africa.

But there are also a few Europeans and people from Muslim-minority nations who have traveled to Iran to show off their ability to recite and memorize the holy text.

One such competitor is Abdullah Taliep, from South Africa. He did not hide his admiration for some of the more experienced reciters at the event and spoke of his enthusiasm for taking part in such a high-level competition.

"I've never ever done any international competitions, I've always done local and so I thought now I would take this opportunity to come overseas and see different people and different cultures," he said.

Taliep began studying Quran recital in his native Cape Town aged 13 and completed his training five years later.

Although Cape Town is a majority Christian city, Taliep said he never had any problems in his studies, adding that there were numerous mosques with schools devoted to reciting and memorizing the Quran.

The Quran is written in classic Arabic and it is in this language that it must be read and recited, which poses an extra challenge for those of a different mother tongue, such as Taliep and Gholamneyad.

Gholamneyad acknowledged that there were noticeable differences in the accents of those whose native language was not Arabic, adding that in Iran, reciters often follow the Egyptian style of recital.

In Tehran, a total of 637 people of 84 different nationalities took part in the competition.

Iranian Islamic cleric, Ali Moghani, one of the event's organizers, told Efe that this edition of the Quran recital competition had been altered to triple the number of competitors compared to the previous years.

This edition featured a preliminary stage, where competitors would send in videos of their auditions to a jury, which, in turn, would select 184 competitors from 62 different countries to compete in the semi-final.

The last round then includes the five finalists from their respective categories, which test recital or memorization, and are divided into age groups.

A women's competition ran in parallel at a hotel, given that female reciters can only perform in front of a female-only audience, according to tradition.

Moghani said competitors were tested on their technique, intonation and pronunciation.

Although non-Arab speakers could be at a disadvantage at the event, Moghani insisted the "Quran was a common language between all Muslims." EFE-EPA

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