How Can I Enjoy Listening to the Qur’an in Taraweeh When I Don’t Understand What is Being Recited?


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The Qur’an Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX

Originally posted in August 2012

During Ramadan, many of us attend taraweeh (night prayers) at the masjid. Some of us stay until the Imam leads us in witr (a final supplementary prayer). For many of us, this can amount to over two hours of prayer time and for many of us, we understand almost nothing.

Sometimes, during the recitation of the Qur’an we hear the people around us crying profusely and we wish we could understand what could be so powerful that those around us are reduced to such tears. We can sometimes make out a specific word, but within a moment, we are back to indistinguishable meanings and simply wishing we knew what was going on.

I used to have no idea what was going on in the prayer. I remember standing for lengthy time periods behind the Imam, trying to make my mind focus but finding it constantly drift off; it’s very, very hard to concentrate when the mind has nothing to contextualize. I eventually would settle on trying to think of anything for which I could possibly be grateful. But taraweeh prayers are long; without understanding, my heart would simply get bored and my limbs would always fidget. Thoughts of my day, my concerns, my hopes and my food cravings after a day of fasting would all filter through my conscious while I shifted around. It’s hard to keep still for that long when one is mentally checked out and physically disengaged.

However, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala  (exalted is He) guided me to an action which changed my life and revolutionized my prayer and du`a (supplication) experience ever since. It’s simple, but it takes long-term dedication. The results, for me, were powerful and transformational. The common-sense solution that worked miracles in my life by Allah’s blessings: reading a translation.

Every single day, for a number of years, I would sit and read five pages of the Qur’an in the English translation. I would do this while both reciting and listening to the Arabic recitation, allowing my ears to become accustomed to the Arabic words associated with the English.

After a few months of this practice, the first Ramadan came. In my hometown masjid, the Imam would lead twenty rakahs (units of prayer). So I would pray eight rakahs and then sit in the back and read the translation of the verses for the next twelve. I continued this throughout Ramadan and was extremely consistent with this practice for the next year. Soon, my awareness of Arabic words increased; I realized that the Qur’an uses many of the same words over and over and I was able to recognize them. I was also becoming more familiar with the surahs (chapters); I had an introductory understanding of what themes were being discussed in certain portions of the Qur’an due to keywords and a general awareness of what the surah entailed.

By the second Ramadan, I was praying with purpose. While I still had no idea what every word meant, I had begun to comprehend general meanings of many of the chapters and I was able to grasp the overarching messages of some of the verses. I kept up my practice of praying eight and reading the translation. I even had a few emotional moments. I started looking forward to certain verses that were my favorites. I was finally beginning to understand and I was actually enjoying it; the sweetness of the Qur’an had penetrated my heart and taken hold of my body. Praying taraweeh in Ramadan became a means of nourishment for my soul and tranquility for my limbs.

I also began memorizing the Qur’an and the more I memorized, the more my vocabulary expanded. After four years of reading the translation consistently and memorizing the Qur`an, I was enthralled with the idea of praying for hours behind the Imam. I could not wait for Ramadan; all year I waited for the last ten nights specifically, when the Imam would recite the Qur’an for an even longer period of time. My character, my life’s purpose, my Ramadan experience completely changed because I finally grasped a general understanding of the Qur’an.

Six years after I began reading the translation consistently and memorizing portions of the Qur’an, I moved to Egypt to learn Arabic. When I started, I took a practice test and was placed in an intermediary level. However, when I met my teacher for the first time, barely able to communicate a few sentences, she was shocked. “Your vocabulary is so expansive,” she told me, “but you clearly are a beginner!” Needless to say, I was re-placed as a beginner. Throughout our lessons, my Arabic teacher would express her surprise at my ability to understand certain words in depth simply because they appeared in the Qur’an, while others I struggled with at great lengths. Eventually, she told me that my Qur’anic preparation was what helped me actually grasp the language and is what had originally placed me at a level far higher than I really was.

Focusing on learning Arabic in Egypt, even at a basic level, allowed me to come to appreciate the incredible linguistic miracles of the Qur’an. The grammar, the syntax, the rhetoric, use of specific words—an appreciation for the deeper linguistic mechanisms did not happen simply because I had read the translation for an extended period of time. However, by Allah’s blessings, my self-training had laid the groundwork and with it, I was able to appreciate the Qur`an, prayer, and du`a’ at levels far beyond what I had even imagined before making the commitment to seek understanding.

The lesson in this personal experience is that taking time to learn Arabic as a language, studying the grammar, syntax and rhetoric are very important, but not absolutely necessary for a meaningful relationship with understanding the messages of the Qur’an.  Studying Arabic can help create a more cumulative appreciation of the mind-blowing power of the Qur’an, but none of us needs to grasp onto a future hope or past failed attempts of being fluent in Arabic in order to emotionally and intellectually become attached to the Qur’an. Such a relationship can begin simply by dedicating oneself to understanding the general translation of the words of the Qur’an in our native languages, and that can take place at any place and time. It is one that requires commitment and time, but if a person is serious and dedicated, God willing, they will eventually see the benefits of their toil and they will begin to understand and fulfill their purpose with greater perfection and zeal.

Here is a suggested plan of action that should be fit to a person’s individual situation. This is what worked for me, and it will differ from one individual to another. If a person begins this Ramadan, taking advantage of the blessings of this month, with their own plan of action, insha’Allah (God willing) by next Ramadan, they will notice a marked difference in their taraweeh and Qur’anic experience. This is the month to make a commitment to act; this is the month of success.

  1. Read the Qur`an in translation every single day. Choose a chunk to read in translation daily (ie: five pages) and couple it with reading it in Arabic and/or listening to it in Arabic.
  2. During Ramadan specifically, choose to pray a certain number of rakahs for taraweeh, but also make it a point to sit down and follow the recitation with the English translation. What is of more benefit? Praying for hours without understanding and hoping to get rewards (insha’Allah) or sitting, reading and understanding, finding oneself captivated by the incredible power of the Qur’an and actually feeling oneself coming closer to Allah (swt) and changing one’s life to maintain that relationship with Him? Long term, in this life and the next, insha’Allah there are rewards for both. But for the one who strives, there is much more reward for a person who actually lives the Qur’an instead of standing for a period of time, completely tuned out because of a lack of understanding.
  3. For Ramadan especially, try to read the translation of the surah that will be covered in that night’s prayer. That way, even if one is not able understand what is recited specifically, one will know the general meaning of the verses and one’s mind can focus on those general lessons and messages.
  4. Hone in on key words and use them to focus on salah (prayer). For example, when familiar with the different words which indicate “Paradise,” imagine Paradise. Imagine standing in Paradise, with its breathtaking beauty…and suddenly finding someone covering your vision with their hands! When you turn around, imagine who you would want to see most in that moment. Your mom? Your dad? Your grandparent? Your sibling? Your spouse? Your child? Your best friend? Imagine. You haven’t seen this person in possibly decades, centuries—you’ve gone through life without them or death came to you first and you had been in the grave for some time. Then you made it through the Day of Judgment. You finally have entered Paradise—you passed the test! And suddenly, you are with the person who you loved and missed the most. How would you feel in that moment? Allow your heart to FEEL the verses talking about Paradise as they apply to you. Use keywords to help your mind and heart interact with the Qur’an’s message to you.
  5. Listen to the Qur’an and its translation constantly; while stuck in frustrating traffic, while cooking and cleaning, while walking from one end of campus to another; allow the recitation of the Qur’an to penetrate the soul and the translation of the Qur’an to crack the hardened heart. The more one listens to the Arabic recitation and translation, the more familiar one will become with understanding the Qur’an.
  6. Study the meanings of Qur’anic words specifically over time. Here is a suggested resource to begin: http://abdurrahman.org/qurantafseer/learnquran.pdf
  7. Throughout the year, work on tajweed  (correct recitation of the Qur`an in Arabic) and memorization. Over time, this will significantly aid in a special working relationship with the Qur’an, God willing.

Many of us complain about our inability to understand what is being recited of the Qur’an and to maintain focus or enjoyment in prayer due to this reason. I know the feelings of boredom, frustration and helplessness. I know what it means to blame our lack of “experiencing” the “Ramadan feeling” on our lack of understanding of what is being recited.

However, we have the capability to revolutionize this experience, with Allah’s Help. We can become of those who truly understand, whose hearts are captivated and whose limbs are calmly in awe, whose minds are blown away at what we are listening to of the Qur’an. The methods are there and the tools are available. The real question is: Are we willing to make the time and dedicate the effort?

Many of us have tried different methods to wake our hearts up in Ramadan and help them focus on the prayer when we do not understand what is being said. What tips do you have which have worked in your life? Please share them so we all benefit insha’Allah.

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93 Comments

  1. Taufiq says:

    JazakAllah Khairan sister for this beautiful article. I for one definitely want to bring change within myself for Allah’s help to come in better understanding the Qur’an. Those tips are very useful indeed.

  2. Yasmin says:

    Jazakallah khair for sharing your experiences and tips on better understanding the Quran. Indeed these tips are very helpful and practical!

  3. Noor says:

    Thank you for an inspiring article. I can really relate to this article. Alhamdulillah, before Ramadhan I found an article with tips on how to be prepared for Ramadhan. One of the tips is to read the translation of the portion of the Quran that would be recited on that particular night..alhamdulillah it really help me to stay more focused and khusyu’. Can’t wait for the Imam to recite surah Yaasin, ArRahman and AlMulk ….

  4. aisha says:

    Jazakum Allahu Khairan for the amazing article!

    http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp

    This is an extremely helpful site that breaks down each ayah in each surah, word by word.

    Hope it helps others!

  5. Ridhwan says:

    Assalamualaykum.

    I’m currently in Egypt studying arabic too. Which school or markaz did you attend?

  6. Marieme Wade says:

    Jazakhallah Khayr for this wonderful advice.I have been praying for a connection with the Qur’an especially during taraweeh.Inshallah I will make effort to follow your advice.

  7. FH says:

    Jazakhallah Khayr for the great article

  8. Sarah says:

    without even seeing the name i knew this amazing article was written by a woman. jazak’Allah for giving me a push to exert some effort towards understanding the qur’an.

  9. nimo says:

    Jazaakllaahu khayran for this inspiring article & advice. Tonight in taraweeh i was actually thinking ‘i wish i could understand what is being recited” then i read this SubhanAllah. Thank you, i really needed this! barakallahu feek:)

  10. Kaisar says:

    Jazakallahu khairan for such a heart touching article. May Allah-swt bless you, parents, family, friends, teachers and all.

    Barakallahu feek

  11. syam muhsin says:

    jazakillah ukhty…it’s really amazing article.i can read Quran but i don’t know Arabic so i don’t understand what i read.i will try ur advice coz i really want to know what i read when i recite the holy Quran and i will start it with Quran translate

  12. Abdulnasir says:

    جزاكالله خير
    A very relatable article. Thanks

  13. shameem says:

    its gr8.and if u r too lazy for that and dont think u can do it,try this: learn the translation with recitation of the portion that imam is gona recite each day .

  14. Maryam Shafiq says:

    Jazak Allah khair for the practical tips.. I too found that reading the translation and listening to explanation of tafseer is very beneficial in this regard…

    For those who understand Urdu language i would recommend
    http://farhathashmi.com/quran/tafsir/
    which has personally helped me alot in understanding meanings of Quran directly from Arabic (without the help of translation)

  15. IslamicEbooks says:

    To read the Taraweeh (and all 20) is an established Sunnah, while to read and understand it at the same time is a Nafl (optional) act, while commendable and preferred it will be a sin to leave the sunnah in order to fulfil a nafl. Time should be taken aside from the taraweeh salaah to pursue understanding, not during the salaah when now the better act will be to perform the taraweeh.

    • Haq says:

      Salaam,

      That is true according to the majority of scholars. However there are those that hold Taraweeh as having no set number. I think the suggestion made in the article can be followed by the latter.

      Wallhu a’lam,

      Haq.

  16. zaleha says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience…I more or less have “undergone” similar efforts that you did…but still a long, long way to go.

  17. Imran says:

    Asakam Alikom, I often read from the Quran while doing behind the imam but read the English transliteration. Is that okay?

  18. Akinde a. lateef says:

    Eat and give other . one of the best teaching of prophet (s.a.w) baraka lah feek

  19. Rushan says:

    Mashallah, Beautiful article

  20. Saboohi Arif says:

    Jazakallah u khairan katheeran sister. U have write an ausome article on this important issue.It has been my dream to recite in tajweed, to understand Quraan and to learn it by heart in sha Allah. Alhamdulillah first step i have covered, 2nd and 3rd are in process in sha ALLAH …May Allah subahna Help me and every one who wants to excel in the language of Quraan and People of Paradise..ameen ..jazakallah u khair for the beneficial links …Barakumullah u feekum

  21. Ahmad says:

    Brothers and sisters please,try this link insha Allah you will find it of great help.

    http://www.quranexplorer.com/Quran/Default.aspx

  22. Abida says:

    Jazakillahu khayr (-: thank you for sharing.

    I realised the same thing, that reading the Qur’an with translation, reflecting on the meaning, and trying to match words to their definition helps a great deal. By the time you read other surah or other ayah, you realise that words repeat, and you begin to be feel more attuned to your recitation as you feel more interested due to being able to distinguish certain words. A connection develops further while Qur’anic vocab increases masha Allah. By Allah’s mercy alone, memorisation helps sooo much alhamdulillah. Jazakillahu khayr for reminding about the significance of tajweed too. Softening the heart by the Qur’an begins with giving our time and effort to understand it. When we want to see ourselves clearly in a mirror, the glass needs to be cleaned and our eyes need to be open/vision needs to be clear for us to be able to see ourselves properly. The Qur’an similarly needs attention-it begins in our heart and renewed intentions are needed. Understanding the Qur’an begins with going to it like a humbled child, purifying intentions, asking Allah from the bottom of the heart to accept our efforts/to help us to draw closer to Him by letting us understand, love and obey His Words. It’s about not giving up-can really be an endurance test.

    Learning some Qur’anic grammar def helps, walhamdulillah. Learning words such as ‘thumma’, ‘kalla’, ‘wa’, ‘allathi’, ‘illa’, ‘la’, ‘jazaa’, ‘innahum’, ‘kulli’, ‘thalika’ etc. speeds up the process.

    Sorry for making this long, jazakillahu khayr <3

    May Allah help us to be of those who recite in the most beautiful of manners, reflect upon, understand, and especially to implement the Words of our Rabb. May we learn, respect, become humbled, and teach – may we not be of the hypocrites-Ameen.

  23. Abida says:

    PS. A reliable and awesome online tajweed site by Sheikh Khaled Bouchafaa of Sydney, Australia, alhamdulillah:

    http://www.tajweedinenglish.com/

  24. Abida says:

    PPS. Learning/listening to/reflecting upon Tafsir attentively also helps and is important. If we’re too busy, downloading some and putting it on our iPods etc. can help insha Allah.

    Bayyinah Institute has excellent Tafsir audio, masha Allah:

    http://bayyinah.com/podcast/

  25. suhail says:

    Jazakallah,
    You can also download a good translation of the Quran. Sit down with a Quran and listen to the translation. This can be done at your own pace. If you understand Urdu use Bayan Ul Quran by Dr. Israr Ahmed. To downlaod: (http://www.quranwebsite.com/audio7/bayan_ul_quran__dr_israr_.html)
    Consistency is the key, everyday for 30 minutes, inshallah, we will be ready by next Ramadan.

  26. Maryam Shafiq says:

    Jazak Allah

  27. Khadijah says:

    masyaAllah..an inspiring article indeed! Jazakillah for sharing. Will insyaAllah brush up my arabic :)

  28. Hassan says:

    JazakAllah for this wonderful article. It truly brought tears to my eyes as i myself have experienced this in this year’s ramadhan Alhumdulillah. Its a completely different experience to know what it being recited by the imam. Time flies and you are left wanting for more when it ends…..

  29. The Holy Qur’an is available in Every Language of the world. Ask Google for its Translation in YOUR Language, Download it & Start Learning it day by day Regularly. In this way YOU will understand what it Says & thus YOU will Enjoy MORE Listening to it in Taraweeh.If YOU START this right now, YOU will Learn & Understand most of its Words & even Phrases before Next Ramadan. Remember! It’s the Special Blessing of Allah that has made it Unique for the Holy Qur’an’s New Listeners as well, that they will LOVE & Enjoy fully Listening to it’s Reciting without Knowing it’s Meanings!

  30. Barakallau feek for this article.

    How Can I Enjoy Listening to the Qur`an in Taraweeh When I Don’t Understand What is Being Recited?

    You can actually enjoy listening to the Qur’an without understanding – that is the miracle of the Qur’an.

  31. Khadija says:

    Allahamduillah, for such people like you who teach others with the hopes of others learning. All these years I have prayed in Ramadan and I would come out tired and confused and question myself as to why I would stand for hours not understanding the verses spoken. InsAllah, I will follow the list to understanding the Quran one step at a time. Jak

  32. AA says:

    SubhanAllah! I feel like you attended my lecture I gave the other day to the youth in my mosque!! I spoke to them about the raha-rest feeling your heart gets through the taraweeh (which means rest!) and how it may be harder to achieve this feeling if you understand the Quran.
    And subhnallah I also told them the SAME thing of how you began to understand! About 2-3 years ago I made it a goal to read every arabic aya followed by translation and now 3years later I understand the Quran alhumdallah, and the more you understand the more your khusho increases…how are you going to enjoy something you dont understand?

    Heres a script of what I said in the lecture:
    You want to achieve raha? You have to understand the Quran, so make it your lifetime goal to understand the Quran, and start now…make it your goal to read the arabic aya followed by the english definition and slowly the words will become familiar to you as many of them are repetitive throughout the Quran…and more importantly ask Allah to help you understand His words because in the end He is Qadr- on everything

  33. TranquilHeart says:

    Can someone explain the heaviness in my heart that I feel during prayer. Then I have to take deep long breathes. My heart feels very heavy during prayer. I’m a sinner and I’m not sure why my heart has such a connection with its Creator. Its like a different being altogether. When I go to sleep I feel so much peace in my heart that I start crying because I know this kind of peace may not last. Please I want someone to share same feelings it is way to comfort me. Will this peace last after Ramadan. I may go crazy if it does not.

    • Salome says:

      Sister or Brother, may Allah swt help us all and guide me to speak to you. If you consider yourself a sinner that might weight heavy on your heart during prayer. If you pray to Allah swt for forgiveness during prayer that might explain the peaceful feeling after it. Allah swt wants us to ask for forgiveness, reach out, persevere in prayer, open our hearts to our Creator. When I was down I begged Allah swt crying for relief, then I remember something I heard in a lecture: “hold on to the rope of Allah swt”. My physical “rope” is the string of praying beads. I hold on to it as it is my direct connection to Allah swt while I do Dhikr (repetition of: subhannaAllahi wa bihamdihi – alhamdulillah – subhanna’allah – Allah Uakbar – Astagfirulah (forgiveness). May Allah swt have mercy on us, forgive us and save us from the hellfire. Ameen

      • Salome says:

        AAWW Brothers n Sisters, Subhanna’Allah! I just came back from Taraweh… My heart was heavy during Taraweeh, astagfirulah because I was upset, distracted and angry, may Allah swt forgive me, with a sister next to me because of the smell. Forgive me but I wish my nouse did not smell anything but on the contrary it seems that every bad smell sits, stands, breaths on me. Forgive me but I can not stand it. Brothers n Sisters please shower before going to the Mosque. If u have smelly feet use Baking Soda to wash/soak them and put some inside ur shoes, inside ur socks. Bodily smells are extremely disruptive. Forgive me but I wish that I didn’t go to Taraweeh tonight. In between prayers I had to get up, pick up my prayer mat, my bag and move somewhere else. May Allah swt forgive me for my lack of resistance with bad odors. I felt, still feel, guilty for getting up and moving away. Some sisters were talking about “a sister that stood up and moved away”. If I committed a sin may Allah swt have mercy on me. Ameen My heart is still heavy.

      • TranquilHeart says:

        Now Ramadan is over I still feel heaviness in my heart in prayer occasionally. I am not sure what this all means. You may right it could be related to sins. I’m not sure what this is about but you pointed me in right direction. JAk… Eid mubarak

  34. J.Zakiy says:

    Jazakillah! Syukran Ya Ukhti! May Allah reward you! Ameen

  35. MA says:

    Jazakillahu khayr. Thank you for sharing.

  36. Reehab says:

    Beautiful Maryam. Thanks for sharing this :). Even as someone who “understands” Arabic these tips and techniques are of benefit.

  37. michael rose says:

    ‘Read the Qur`an in translation every single day. Choose a chunk to read in translation daily (ie: five pages) and couple it with reading it in Arabic and/or listening to it in Arabic.’

    I truly agree with the abovementioned tip in understanding the Quran. For me, even a page a day helps me a lot in understanding the meaning of this wonderful Quran.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful article, let’s live life Al-Quran!

  38. Reem says:

    There’s also some nice resources online to learn the Qur’anic words, based off of this idea that there actually aren’t that many.

    There is a “Qur’anic Word of the Day” listserv that sends you one word from the Qur’an a day to learn (actually it’s only a few words a week, but that works out better since we’re usually all busy anyway). That is here:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/QWOTD/

    There is a Qur’an word by word site that is lovely at:

    http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp

    And there are apps that have flashcards of common Arabic words.

  39. alina says:

    jazakALLAH khair sooooooooo much!

  40. Masha’Allah! Really helpful!

  41. Salome says:

    Dear Sister,
    May Allah swt reward you for sharing it with us. Ameen. May I ask to collect all the helpful websites in one paragraph n make it available to everyone?
    Jazak Allahir

  42. Kamaruddeen says:

    Assalamualaikkum,

    Jazakallah Khair for article.

    The best part is that, we all have dreams, aspirations, wishes, aims etc . Reading the article might help to boost those wishes to a little higher level .

    But, We have to ask a question to ourseleves sincerely. Have we done or will do any practical steps to understand the quran, memorize the quran .

    No magics will work in this case. Sister Maryam in her other article has mentioned the importance of learning quran.

    We have to manage our time, lessen the usage of facebook, Sincere dedication and committment is the core for this.

    Worst part is that, we will have goosebumps reading the articles, but hardly we give a try .!!!

    May allah help each one of us to Learn the quran and fall in love with the Quran. Believe me , you start reading quran ,you will read it again and again. We are living in a world where ther is are no excuses !! everything is at your fingertips…

    Sincere dedication is needed…may allah help us all

  43. Adelabyrinth says:

    I’ve always read the translation but without referring to each line of the surahs.. I read them like stories, therefore have not been able to enrich my Arabic (whatever scarce that I have of it). Perhaps your strategies might work. Thanks.

  44. Ludmila says:

    Salaam & Ramadan kareem,

    Jazaakum Allah khayr for this article filled with great advice on making the Qur’an more accessible to non-native speakers of Arabic. I just have one additional suggestion (forgive me if it has been stated already, as I didn’t read through all of the comments).

    The overwhelming majority of Arabic nouns/adjectives/verbs are based on a triliteral root (3-letters). Once you can figure out the root, and you know something about its meaning, you can better understand the meaning of the word you are hearing. For example, q-d-r has to do with ability, power, and destiny. God as Qadeer (the Powerful), Qaadir 3ala (able to do ___), yaqdir (He is able), etc. If you are able to hear the q-d-r in every word, you will be able to figure out that the verse you are hearing is talking about ability/power.

  45. Hussein says:

    Salamu Alaykum,

    Jazak Allahu khair for this! and the pdf is great mashallah.

  46. zainab says:

    Jazaky Allah Khyran..this is very inspiring, the line that touched me the most was when you wrote, ” Praying taraweeh in Ramadan became a means of nourishment for my soul and tranquility for my limbs”. May it be like that always for you and the whole ummah :)

  47. Rouillie Wilkerson says:

    Mashallah. This is very helpful as I expand my Qur’anic knowledge.

  48. Sam says:

    Awesome tips.. JazaakAllah khair!

  49. Mustapha says:

    Assalamu alaikum.

    Taraweeh prayer is a superagatory prayer that is ideally not to be performed in the masjid. All nawafilm prayers are to be observed in the house. It is better we stick to the Sunna rather than to invent one.If it done to demonstrate to new converts, then it is O.K.

    Mustapha

  50. Erfian says:

    Jazzakillahi khaira katsiran!

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