Issue #2 – Names of Prophets and Naming Kids
Our love of the Qur’an is something very special and nothing should ever hinder that. That said, once again, I pray that this special reality doesn’t confuse us regarding our understanding or representation of Islam in America. Islam is something natural to all of us. It should not seem foreign at all. Our Creator exalted be He said:
“Direct yourself toward the pure monotheistic way of life. It is the natural inclination to God in which we were all created […]” (Qur’an 30:30).
It was brought up in response to the last article that what we are presenting makes perfect sense to most when we are dealing with non-Muslims, but why use these words when talking amongst Muslims? My response is that the reality I’m presenting is seen by some as a compromise just for teaching non-Muslims (i.e. da`wah, calling to Islam). What we are proving here with the Qur’an, sunnah (traditions of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) and logic is that the Arabic words are for Arabic speakers in an Arabic discussion on Islam (or religion) and generally the equivalent of these words should be expressed in English for English speakers in an English discussion. And it is perfectly fine to do so regardless of to whom you are speaking. I say ‘generally’ because some words will need to be brought into the English lexicon because they simply can’t be translated as a single word or simple phrase. An example of this is ‘salat’, which some English dictionaries such as Random House and Encyclopedia Britannica have already included).
The point is that we don’t translate many words which have an equivalent in English and that is seen as some sort of religious arrogance or Arabic bias rather than showing the beauty of Islam in our native tongue. In my experience, the more one is accustomed to using this terminology in their native tongue the more likely they will engage in discussions with their kids as well as with non-Muslims while not seeming to be presenting some foreign religion. What we are doing doesn’t change or hide the fact that our faith was revealed and preserved in Arabic and anyone who so chooses can go learn it in its original form. So before going on let’s remind you of the founding verse of this discussion:
“We merely sent messengers preaching in their people’s native tongue so that they may clarify to them the guidance […]” (Qur’an 14:4).
The fact is that the English language has had scriptural teachings in it for a long time. As you know, there are 25 Prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Since the English language already has a representation of most of these very Prophets’ names there is no need to force an Arabic representation of them. I mean the point is that similarly to the previously mentioned “God vs. Allah” discussion, generally we are referring to the same person and it is our mission to teach people about any differences we might have in belief about these things. Someone might say, “Well, these are the names God used in the book He revealed and preserved so it is better to use them.” The next point should indeed interest the one who sees it that way.
Any student of Arabic grammar would notice that most of the Prophets’ names mentioned in the Qur’an are of the “prevented from morphology” category (ممنوع من الصرف). You see, in Arabic grammar there are many special types of words that are prevented from taking certain morphological case markings and thus do not get kasrah (-/i/) or tanween (-/n/). One of the categories that is “prevented from morphology” is the non-Arabic proper noun (العلم الأعجمي). Indeed, most of the Prophets’ names are of this category because those Prophets were not Arabs and therefore their names are not Arabic. So when revealing the Qur’an, God Arabized those names in order for the Arabs to relate to them. Whereas had he kept those names in their original Hebrew or otherwise it wouldn’t have flowed right for them. Ponder the following verse:
“Surely we have revealed it (the scripture) as an Arabic Qur’an (recitation) so that you (Arabs) may understand it,” (Qur’an 12:2).
Based on this, these Prophets were not called, in their time and by their people, by their Arabized names, like Ibrahim, Is’haaq, Ya`qoob, Yusuf, Musa, `Isa, etc. What I am suggesting we do is follow the example of the All-Wise and Omniscient and thus we refer to the Prophets in English according to the translations of the Bible already available so as to help English speakers relate to it.
On a related note, I remember when a brother named his son Noah and the Muslims were bothered by this and somehow found fault with it. So I reminded them that first of all nowhere does the Qur’an or sunnah say that all Muslims must use Arabic names to name their kids. Sadly, we do see many scholars saying this based upon the concept of the universal Arabization of Islam we are dealing with. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying; our religion was revealed in Arabic and those divine words and the tradition that gives detail and wisdom to them can only be mastered in Arabic. That said, this research shows that there is a clear difference between scholarly reference to Islam and everyday expression of Islam for a common non-Arab Muslim. So yes, you can name your children in Malay, Urdu, Persian, or English, etc. The only condition is that the name you choose has a good spiritually sound meaning because the Prophet ﷺ said:
“You will be called on the Day of Judgment by your name and you father’s name so pick the best names,” (Abu Dawood 4948).
Issue #3 – The Language of Adam and the Hereafter
I was once giving a lecture about Islam and mentioned the Semitic languages (i.e. Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic, etc.) and how they are descendants of older Afro-Asiatic languages like Chaldean or Akkadian. So someone then asked if Adam spoke Arabic and I said that this is impossible since Arabic is one of the youngest Semitic languages whose oldest documented written form was in the 3rd century C.E. At the conclusion, a sincere brother snatched the microphone and told the crowd that this is the speaker’s personal opinion, but that Islam teaches that Adam indeed spoke Arabic!!!
You see, here’s where many modern educated youth are getting turned off from religion in general these days—religious arrogance/ignorance dominating the discussion. The fact is there is nothing in the Qur’an or sunnah which teaches that Adam spoke Arabic. In the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah (the Chapter of the Cow, Qur’an 2) it says very clearly that God taught Adam the names of everything. Many of our commentators of the Qur’an mention that this refers to the mother tongue which holds all keys that over time will become many languages including Arabic. This brother’s belief comes from the over-exaggerated emphasis on the precedence of the Arabic language. The truth is that the Arabic language is one of the richest languages—if not the richest language—with the ability to convey many meanings in short expressions. Obviously, God chose it for this reason so that it would be the final revelation which holds the means of undoubtedly translatable guidance for all of mankind until the Last Day.
On another occasion someone asked me what language we will speak in the Hereafter. I first answered- whatever language you know, and then added that I don’t really know since I have never read of any text which clarifies that to us. Once again a no-doubt sincere brother was bothered by that and interjected that it is well-known, and all scholars teach, that the language of the Hereafter is Arabic! Another brother added that there is a hadith (recording of the words or actions of the Prophet ﷺ) confirming this. So I told them that I would research it for them and get back to them next time. So in my research I found this hadith:
“The speech of Heaven is Arabic and the language spoken in front of God on the Day of Judgment is Arabic.”
The following notable scholars of hadith ruled this hadith and a few others like it to be an outright fabrication (موضوع): Ibn al-Jawzi, Imam al-Dhahabi, al-Shawkani, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Hazm, and Albani (May God have mercy on them).
I’m sure many of you know that Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) was called Shaikh al-Islam. A handful of others have been given this title in Islamic history by their peers, but undoubtedly he has become the most famous for it. This title refers to a scholar—other than the 4 well-known codifiers of the schools of Islamic Law—who comprehensively mastered all of the sciences of Islamic Law. Here is Ibn Taymiyyah’s response when asked about the aforementioned hadith and others like it:
“All praises to God the Lord of the Universe; it is not known which language people will be spoken to on that Day. This is because neither God nor His messenger has informed us of such a thing. The claim that the people of Heaven speak Arabic and the people of Hell speak Persian is not reliable and we know of none of the companions who held such a view—may God be pleased with them. The debate started after the early generations of Muslims when some scholars started to make such claims. All of these claims have no basis either in text or logic and God knows best,” (Mujmoo’ al-Fatawa 4/299).
The last point I would like to make is regarding another angle from which many people try to prove that both the language of Adam and of the Afterlife is Arabic. I was a little taken back as to the ignorance about and exaggerated belief in Arabic when one brother tried to say that the proof that the language of Adam and the Afterlife is Arabic is simply because when we read the Qur’an and hadith Adam is speaking Arabic, and God and the angels are speaking Arabic on the Day of Judgment and in Heaven! I was completely blown away having this conversation with a scholar of hadith sciences who reiterated the same argument in response to the fact that there is no reliable proof from hadith. So I asked him if Abraham, Pharoah, Moses and the rest of the people whose stories were mentioned were also speaking Arabic since the Qur’an narrates their stories in Arabic. I also reminded him of the abovementioned second verse of Surat Yusuf (the Chapter of Joseph, Qur’an 12):
“Surely we have revealed it (the scripture) as an Arabic Quran (recitation) so that you (Arabs) may understand it,” (Qur’an 12:2).
In that discussion and many other ones like it with PhD-level scholars, I came to realize that although we love, respect and learn from our scholars, we cannot assume that whatever they say is somehow untouchable, absolute, divine truth.
I pray from the bottom of my heart that our knowledge is purified from arrogance and biased or un-Islamic cultural influence.