Koran by Heart Movie Poster Image

Koran by Heart



Moving, sensitive documentary challenges stereotypes.
  • Review Date: August 1, 2011
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 80 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The film provides a number of powerful positive messages, from the value of education, learning, and discipline as illustrated by the kids working hard to succeed in the Koran competition, to the power of individuals to promote peace through embracing cultural tolerance. In the case of one character who decides his daughter should have a limited education because of her gender, the film places that information in a cultural context that underscores the complexity of modern Islam and helps the viewer understand that decision even if she does not agree with it.

Positive role models

The main characters of the film are three kids from different parts of the world who are brought together by the Koran recitiation competition. All of the children provide strong examples to young viewers -- they are positive in the face of complex cultural situations and exhibit a genuine love of learning.


There is no violence on screen; however, with topics that touch upon extremist Islam and associated violence, there are occasional second-hand mentions of violent acts such as bombings.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this feature-length documentary tells a positive story about young children competing in a difficult memorization competition, while at the same time exploring the cultural backgrounds of those children in a thoughtful, provocative way. While the film's overall content and use of subtitles may make it difficult to engage very small children, tweens on up should relate easily to the amazing kids profiled in the film, while at the same time learning a great deal about Islamic culture.

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What's the story?

The three young stars of KORAN BY HEART are from disparate regions of the world -- Tajikistan, Senegal, and the Maldives -- but they share a gift for memorizing and performing the 600 pages of the Koran...from memory. Nabiollah is a prodigy of sorts, bringing judges to tears with his rendition. Djamil travels thousands of miles to compete alone. And Rifdha is one of the few female participants in the competition and will return home to a more strict education that will insure she will learn only enough to become a good housewife. Koran By Heart follows their journey to Cairo for the annual Holy Koran Competition, and along the way, puts a very real, young face on modern Islam.

Is it any good?


The easiest allegory when discussing Koran by Heart is Spellbound; Koran by Heart tugs at the heartstrings in the same way that film does. Spellbound is the 2002 documentary chronicling children as they prepare for and compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Here we have three similarly precocious kids demonstrating exceptional skills and also preparing to compete -- this time in the Holy Koran Competition in Cairo. They will go up against folks much older than they are and perform excerpts from the 600-page sacred text, written in a language they may not understand.

But Koran adds another layer of meaning to the story, acting as a window into the day-to-day life of modern moderate Muslims from around the world. These are devout believers who are not extremists, who preach peace in the place of violence, and who gather to celebrate their holiest text with this competition. Taken along with a powerful exploration of Islamic culture, these close-ups of wide-eyed kids eager to please and amazed to be on the other side of the world are more than just heartwarming vignettes of childhood -- they're deeply meaningful glimpses of a culture unfairly maligned by American politics and the extreme actions of a disturbed few.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about stereotypes of Muslims and how the film helps to combat them. What did you learn about the Islamic culture from this movie?

  • How do the filmmakers handle the issue of the treatment and rights of women in Islamic culture?

Movie details

DVD release date:February 7, 2012
Director:Greg Barker
Studio:HBO Home Video
Run time:80 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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