With the assemblage of muslim faithful across the country, the 31st National Quran recitation competition formally kicked-off in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital in colourful styles on Friday. AHMED 'LATEEF and Zakari Suleiman attended the ceremonious event. The spectacles at the Metropolitan Square, a major event arena along Asa-Dam Road, Ilorin on Friday were sight to behold. Beside rendition of the holy scripture in melodious tone by various reciters (hafizu), the Islamic insignias, which dotted the venue of the event would remain indelible. While recitation of the Quran was ongoing, the motorcade of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, touched down at the venue around 11:17am in company of Etsu of Patigi, Alhaji Ibrahim Chatta Umar, Olupo of Ajase-Ipo, Oba Sikiru Atanda Woleola, Olofa of Offa, Oba Muftau Gbadamosi Esuwoye and Olosi of Osi, Oba Ibrahim Salihu Adasofegbe among other top rated monarchs. The beauty convoy of the Emir of Ilorin, who is also the Chairman, Kwara State Council of Traditional Chiefs was escorted by ensemble of royal trumpet performers, pacing in their step by step movement like a battle-ready Army battalion. Another colour that was added to the gaiety and aesthetic was the recitation of some verses from Suratul Al-Khaf by a five year old, AbdulRasheed Ayinde. He stunned the audience with his succinct but emotive rendition, which nearly moved some to tears. The two minutes recitation was historic. As if it was the beginning of what is expected to be seen in the intellectual Quranic competition, another six year old Zulkarinaini Haroon also held the people spellbound when he recited some verses of Suratul Al-Rahaman with sonorous tone and strict adherence to rules of engagement. This was followed in quick succession with an opening prayer by the state Grand Kadi, Justice Mohammed Ola Abdulkadir and Quran recitation by Saheed Ahmad Al-Katibi, signaling the full commencement of the programme. One thing appeared coincident when the reading of the glorious Quran was ongoing as convoy of the state Governor, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed also arrived the venue at about 11:37am. Clad in white kaftan with black cap to match, Governor Ahmed was accompanied by the Secretary to the State Governor, Alhaji Sola Isiaka Gold and other governor's aides including Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Dr Muideen Femi Akorede. The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Alhaji Mahmud Babatunde Ajeigbe, was chairman of the organizing sub-committee and at a time, became a protocol official. Dignitaries at the event were Minister of Communications, Barrister AbdulRaheem Adebayo Shittu; former state Grand Kadis, Justices Abdulkadir Orire, Mutalib Ambali and Solihu Olohuntoyin Mohammed; state Head of Service, Hajia Zahra Omar; General Manager of Kwara State Printing and Publishing Corporation, publisher of The Herald titles, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Adebayo, his Radio Kwara counterpart, Alhaji Abdullateef Adebowale Adedeji and former state Head of Service, Alhaji Dabarako Mohammed among others. In his welcome address at the ceremony organized by the Centre for Islamic Studies, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto and hosted by Kwara State government, the chairman, Local Organizing Committee of the competition and former state Grand Kadi, Justice Idris Abdullahi Haroon, said recitation, memorization and preservation of Qur'an are religious obligation upon Muslims, which are not alien to Islam. He said it was appalling that most Muslims in the society have tossed aside application of Quran in their daily life, saying it was capable of addressing social malady as prescribed by the Almighty Allah. Justice Haroon, however, urged panel of judges in the recitation competition to be fair and just in their analysis and comments on competitors. "The national competition since its inception in 1986 has up-scaled the knowledge of recitation of the glorious Qur'an of our youths and elders, promoted moral consciousness and the desire to pursue sound education for the overall development of our society. "As a matter of fact, hosting this year's Qur'anic Competition, for the second time since year 2000, here in Ilorin, the Citadel of Qur'an and Islamic Scholarship is not only a homecoming but also timely as it coincides with the 200 years of the triumphant entry of Shaykh Alimi into Ilorin, which gave birth to a new era of full reformation and Islamization of Ilorin Province (the present day Kwara State). "It is pertinent to note that in the ancient times, when writing was scarcely used, memorization was largely depended upon for the preservation of the Qur'an prior to its compilation. Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W) mandated his companions to learn the Qur'an by heart and transmit it to others. Thus, today's occasion is not alien to Islam because recitation, memorization and preservation of the Glorious Qur'an are religious obligations upon the Muslims which should not be left in the hands of the specialists alone. "It is disheartening to note in our contemporary time that majority of the Muslims have abandoned the Qur'an and its guidance; and they have been consequently overtaken by various calamities. I think it is high time we called ourselves to order and return to the lessons of the glorious Qur'an. It is the guidance from Allah (S.W.T), the most powerful unifying factor for Muslims regardless of doctrinal sects and divine antidote to all human problems as explicitly stated inthe various verses of the Qur'an. "Let me seize this opportunity to enjoin the stakeholders to conduct themselves in the true Islamic spirit which enjoins peace and good relationship; also the officials and judges to conduct the competition with the fear of Allah, fairness, probity and transparency", the LOC chairman said. Also speaking, the Vice-Chancellor, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Professor Abdullahi Zuru, expressed satisfaction with the organization of the ceremony and disclosed that four of the winners of last year competition held in Lafia, Nasarawa represented Nigeria in the 2016 International Qur'anic recitation competition, which took place in Saudi Arabia. He noted that although none of them won any laurel, but they performed creditably well and conducted themselves as worthy ambassadors. He listed some of the objectives of the competition as to (a) contribute to the sustenance of the tried and trusted mechanism of preservation of the Glorious Qur'an, not only in print and electronic media, but more importantly in the hearts and minds of the Muslim Ummah. (b) select gifted and talented youths who will represent Nigeria at International Qur'anic recitation competitions in 2017. (c) discover brilliant Muslim Youths for possible scholarship awards by governments or philanthropists to pursue higher education within and outside the country; and (d) foster unity and peaceful co-existence amongst ourselves based on the teachings of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and injunctions in the Holy Qur'an. Zuru, however, said, "We must demonstrate by our words and actions that this competition is not just about memorization of the Glorious Qur'an, but about putting to use what we read and understand from the teachings of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the injunctions in the Glorious Qur'an. We must show the world that Islam has been and is indeed an embodiment of peace and peaceful co-existence". He stated that the competition was structured to cater for various age groups within the youth age bracket and provides for fledgling talents to rise through the ranks as they grow. "It is pertinent to point out that there is an upper age limit of 25years for male categories while there is no age limit for female categories. Thus, these brilliant young Muslim youths (male and female), who are champions of the Qur'anic recitations competition in their states, are gathered to compete for the singular honour of being the champion of champions in their respective categories", he said. Zuru informed the gathering that the competition was structured into six categories each for male and female contestants. The categories, according to him, include: 1st Category: Memorization of the whole Glorious Qur'an with Tajweed and Tafsir 2nd Category: Memorization of the whole Glorious Qur'an with Tajweed theoretically and practically 3rd Category: Memorization of 40 consecutive Hizbs of the Glorious Qur'an with Tajweed theoretically and practically 4th Category: Memorization of 20 consecutive Hizbs of the Glorious Qur'an with Tajweed theoretically and practically 5th Category: Memorization of 10 consecutive Hizbs of the Glorious Qur'an with Tajweed theoretically and practically and 6th Category: Memorization of Juz'Amma or any two consecutive Hizbs of the Glorious Qur'an with Tajweed practically. The Vice-Chancellor also stated that the competition was put together to provide a platform for Muslims in the country to come together and share experiences. In his lecture, the National Missioner, Ansaru-Deen Society of Nigeria, Imam Abdulrahman Ahmad, who emphasized the efficacy of Qur'an, explained that before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad with the glorious scripture, the world was bedeviled by injustice. He said the Almighty Allah used the holy book as a recipe to proffer antidote to the challenges confronted by the people in the ancient period. The Islamic Scholar thanked the state government for the creation of Arabic Board in the state, describing it as historic move. "Almighty Allah sent Prophet Muhammad to come and solve the problems afflicting humanity so that they can live in peace and harmony, he came to purify humanity because Allah gave him the best of character. Before he came, the world was in darkness and was in precipice. Human beings at that time were not human beings but beast "But the holy prophet was rejected, booed and persecuted and what he had to contend with was ignorance and arrogance upon ignorance. He had to transform state of anarchy to peace, hate to brotherhood. He met arrogance, bellicocity, racism, political instability. There was injustice but Allah sent Quran as a recipe", he said. Declaring the ceremony open, the state Governor, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed, said the Qur'anic competition contributes to spiritual and intellectual development of all Muslims, just as he identified it as effective means of preparing young people for academic studies. Ahmed, who pointed out that the recitation competition promotes unity and brotherhood among the muslim youths, urged religious leaders to prioritize true teachings of Islam wherever they find themselves. The Governor also congratulated the organisers for sustaining the ceremony for over three decades and for producing crop of competitors contributing to the growth and propagation of Islam. In his brief remarks, the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari, congratulated Kwara State for hosting the event and urged Muslims to internalize messages drawn from the ceremony.