Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX
Issue #5 – Dealing with a Non-Arab Beginner to Prayer
I worked for almost 4 years in Kuwait as the Director of English Da’wah on the Islam Presentation Committee. I witnessed many conversions and interacted with many new Muslims over those years. When I first started there, the official legal system in compliance with the Ministry of Justice is to give new-Muslims an Islamic (Arabic) name1 and then to begin teaching them to pray in Arabic. The official test of sufficient knowledge and practice for a convert man to marry a born Muslim woman was that he could say the prayer in Arabic! By the grace of God and a few sittings with some scholars and the ministry, we changed that ludicrous criterion.
Islam is a universal divine message to mankind with guidance on how to properly interact with both the Creator and the creation. The gist of this message is to develop a spiritual focus in one’s life, preparing for the afterlife in which we will be judged for our decisions in this life. In living this divine purpose and calling others to it, we must develop a strong understanding and representation of that message in our own native tongue. Here I would like to remind you of the verse which is the basis for this whole series:
“And We did not send any messenger except [speaking] in the language of his people to state clearly for them […]” (Qur’an 14:4).
Sadly, the Arabization of Islam for non-Arabs has basically led us all to feel like the more Arabic words we use, the more authentic of a Muslim we are. I have been to many Islamic schools and found that most kids from non-Arabic backgrounds can readily recite many chapters of the Qur’an as well as many supplications in Arabic. The problem, however, is that most of them have no clue what it means. Worse than that, they have been programmed to think that it’s not important to know what it means as long as it is said in Arabic. I have even met children of Arab parents who speak conversational colloquial Arabic quite fluently, yet still cannot explain with any accuracy some of the things they have memorized.
I cringe when I hear a non-Arab say that they will “offer” their prayers. Linguistically, you can make sense of it, but spiritually, it sounds like you are doing something for God without benefit to yourself, or worse, something that He needs. Maybe I’m making a wrong assumption here, but the Qur’an makes it crystal clear that God is not in need of anything from us and that “[w]hoever does righteousness—it is for his own soul […]” (Qur’an 41:46).
I’ve never heard an Arab say such a thing in Arabic, the equivalent of which would be “سأقدم صلاتي (sa uqaddim salaati)”. They say, “سأصلي (sa usallee),” which means “I will pray” or more precisely “I will supplicate and seek the forgiveness of my Lord.”2 It seems that since some non-Arabs generally don’t understand their prayers they feel like it is something they are offering God whom they feel needs it from them.
The purpose of this article is to take personal/social experience coupled with our scholarly tradition in order to raise the level of Islamic spirituality in the masses. Case in point, the crux of the problem we are attempting to solve is in the well-known claim that salah (prayer) must be completely in Arabic, otherwise it is invalid. To be fair, there are some scholars who have made such a broad, sweeping dogmatic statement. The reason why they make this statement is that this particular detail of Islamic Law is taken as a “given” and thus not taught comprehensively in most Islamic degree programs. The truth of our tradition is that there is no such statement by the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) nor is that by any means an agreed upon opinion amongst our scholars. The fact is, which I will, God willing, illustrate with ample references that such a statement may be the position of some scholars, but is not representative of prevailing opinions among traditional scholars of Islamic legal theory especially when it comes to a new Muslim.
First of all, so that people will not miss the point, the leader (Imam) of a prayer must have certain qualifications and one of them is that they have mastered the prayer as it was practiced by the Prophet ﷺ, which includes Arabic. Therefore, I am not calling for the tradition of Islamic prayer to be changed. Rather we are looking into Islamic legal theory to solve a problem leading to spiritual weakness in new-Muslims and kids raised in non-Arab environments. What I am suggesting is specifically for converts and children raised in non-Arab environments who are trying to learn the prayer which is supposed to be a deeply spiritual experience.
The position that I will be defending is that the Qur’an must be said in Arabic, but can be translated for silent prayers until one masters the meaning in their native tongue and then masters both the word-for-word and comprehensive meaning analysis in relating the Arabic to the English (or their respective native language). The remembrances (adhkar) which are said may be translated, but are preferred to remain in Arabic so the system would be similar to learning the Qur’an. The salah (prayer) of one who uses a translation for the remembrances is still a valid prayer, albeit not preferred, regardless of how long they rely on the translations. Supplications which were said by the Prophet ﷺ follow the same suit, whereas it is permissible in prostration (sujood) to supplicate to your Lord from your heart in your own language, Arabic or otherwise.
The following are the textual and scholarly references to support this suggested practice.
- In discussing the pillars or obligations of prayer, there is almost no reference to requiring it to be in Arabic in the classical books of legal theory.
- “If a non-Arab wasn’t proficient and he wasn’t able to properly enunciate Arabic then he could even say the beginning takbeer [Allahu Akbar, or “God is Greater”, said to begin prayer, and at intervals within the prayer] in his own language and that would suffice according to the majority of Islamic jurists as is well documented by the Shafi’ee and Hanbali scholars. That is because takbeer is a remembrance and the remembrance of God the Exalted is performed in all languages. The Maliki school and some Hanbalites said that if they couldn’t enunciate it then the obligation is lifted and it will suffice him to have the intention to enter into prayer. All other remembrances of the prayer fall under this scholarly difference. As for the reading of the Qur’an the majority opinion is that it must be in Arabic, with the exception of Abu Hanifa who is reported to have changed his opinion to that of the majority in his later years.”3
- “Originally Abu Hanifa allowed people to read the Qur’an in a Persian translation regardless if they knew Arabic or not. His famed student Abu Yusuf diverged and said that if they knew Arabic then it would be prohibited for them to read it in Persian whereas it would only be permitted to those who didn’t know Arabic. Later in Abu Hanifa’s life he adopted Abu Yusuf’s opinion on this as it is mentioned in Ibn Abideen.”4
- “The majority of the schools of thought (Hanbalites, Shafites, Maliki’s) prohibited reading the Qur’an through a translation. […] The Hanafi’s held it impermissible for the one who is proficient in Arabic to read it in another language while they permitted one to read it through a translation […]”5
- My summary of a long quote: Abu Hanifa carried his original ruling of permissibility for the remembrances in salah and the Friday sermon regardless of whether the person was proficient in Arabic or not. His students, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad, disagreed and held the same position as they did for the Qur’an. The following is a quote from the same passage: “It was reported by Ibn Abideen in the explanation of al-Tahawi, if a person were to make the takbeer of prayer, the remembrance upon slaughtering an animal, or said his remembrance for Hajj in Persian or any other language then that would be permissible according to both Abu Hanifa and his students regardless if they knew Arabic or not. This means that they later agreed with Abu Hanifa on this whereas he later agreed with them about the Qur’an. […] The Shafites and the Hanbalites agreed that it would be impermissible for one to say the remembrances in a translation if they were proficient in Arabic whereas it would be permissible to say them in translation if they were not proficient in Arabic. This also applies to the tashahhud [remembrances including the declaration of faith] and prayers for the Prophet ﷺ6 .”
- “It is reported by the Hanafi’s that supplication with other than Arabic is disliked (makrooh). […] The apparent justification is that supplicating with other than Arabic is not the primary preference. [The following is the interpretation of the Encyclopedia researchers.] It would be a fair interpretation to say that the dislike was closer to prohibition (karahah tahreemiyyah) in prayer whereas outside of prayer it would be just better (karahah tanzihiyyah) to avoid supplicating with other than Arabic. [Back to quoting the classical texts] The Maliki’s prohibited supplication in other than Arabic because it negates true exaltation. The great Maliki scholar al-Laqani restricted the previous statement of al-Qarafi by saying that the prohibition would be for the one who was supplicating in a non-Arabic tongue that they did not understand. Whereas if the supplicator knew what they are saying then it would be permissible to supplicate in prayer or outside of prayer as a result of verse 31 of al-Baqarah: ‘Adam taught the names of everything’ and verse 4 of Ibrahim ‘We merely sent messengers preaching in their people’s native tongue…’ Imam al-Shafi’ee distinguished between a remembrance/supplication that was narrated from the Prophet ﷺ and the supplication of one’s own making. The supplication/remembrance that was taught by the Prophet has three cases:
- The most authentic position in the Shafi’ee school as agreed by the Hanbalites is that it is permissible to translate them for the prayer of those who are not proficient in Arabic as opposed to those who are proficient in Arabic whose prayer wouldn’t be acceptable that way.
- That it is permissible either way.
- It is prohibited to translate it either way since there is no necessity for it.
The non-Arabic supplication which is made up by the one who is praying is generally prohibited among the Shafi’ee scholars…”7
- Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Supplication is allowed in Arabic or any other language as God knows the intention and meaning of the supplicator. God knows the sounds of his creation crying out regardless of the language.”8
- The difference between reading the Qur’an versus the reading of remembrances and supplications taught by the Prophet ﷺ is based on a well-known fact about our scripture that the Qur’an is the word, the exact divine words, of Almighty God which is in itself miraculous. On the other hand, hadiths (records) are only divinely inspired by meaning, and are the articulation of the Prophet ﷺ who sometimes worded the same hadith differently. It was accepted to narrate a hadith according to meaning as that was what was important. Many scholars say, “يجوز أن يروى الحديث بالمعنى” which means it is allowed to narrate a hadith according to its meaning even if you change some words.9
- For reference of modern prominent scholars who give fatwas (rulings) in line with this article:
- see previous article in the series [↩]
- p.386-387 lisaan al-arab dar al-hadeeth al-Qahirah [↩]
- The Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence v. 5 p. 232-233. Refrencing al-fatawa al-Hindiyyah 1/69, al-Dasooqi 1/233, al-Mugni 1/462 [↩]
- The Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence v. 27 p. 73 [↩]
- The Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence v. 11 p. 169. Refrencing Ibn Abideen 1/325, Bada’I al-Sana’I 1/112-113 [↩]
- The Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence v. 11 p. 170-171. Referencing al-Majmoo’ 3/299-301, Nihayatul-Muhtaj 1/46, Rawdatul-Talibeen 1/221,226, Kashaf al-Qannaa’ 2/34 [↩]
- The Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence v. 11 p. 172-173. Referencing al-Manthoor fil-Qawa’id lil-Zarkashi 1/282-283, al-Majmoo’3/299-300, 4/522, Ibn Abideen 1/350, hashiyat al-Dasooqi 1/233, al-Mugni 3/292, Kashaf al-Qanaa’ 2/420-421 [↩]
- Majmoo al-Fatawa 22/488-489 [↩]
- al-Ghazali fil-Mustasfa p. 133, al-Razi al-mahsool fee ‘Ilm al-Usool 4/669, al-Suyooti tadreeb al-Rawi [↩]
“As for the reading of the Qur’an the majority opinion is that it must be in Arabic, with the exception of Abu Hanifa who is reported to have changed his opinion to that of the majority in his later years.”
It’s interesting that the exception is a person of non-Arab origin while the others are of Arab origin, suggesting that one’s position on this issue is influenced by culture.
What do you mean, “non-Arab origin”?
From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ab%C5%AB_%E1%B8%A4an%C4%ABfa):
“His ancestry is generally accepted as being of non-Arab origin as suggested by the etymology of the names of his grandfather (Zuta) and great-grandfather (Mah). The historian, Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, records a statement from Imām Abū Ḥanīfah’s grandson, Ismail bin Hammad, who gave Abū Ḥanīfah’s lineage as Thabit bin Numan bin Marzban and claiming to be of Persian origin.”
I see your point, though I’m not sure how much influence that would have (Persians in his ancestry), given his birthplace (al-Kufa) and scholarly heritage. Allahu a’lam.
Imam Ahmed (ra) was of Persian ancestry too.
lol, first time I heard that
Dear Brother an arab cannot understand the problem of non arab. If Quran would have been given to us in persian or urdu or punjabi or marathi or malaya or german or japanese or chineese then all the arab imams would have given the fatwa that it can be read in arabic. so it is there lack of understanding of the problem as they were not facing it. Just feel form our heart when we read whole salat and understand nothing what we are saying then you will say Yes. By the way what originn are you from.
As salaam 3lleikom wa rahmatullahi wa barekheto
Brothers and sisters why is this an issue ? I am a convert of three years and upon converting or better said reverting to Islam right away it was clear to me why we recite in arabic the previous scriptures have been changed over and over due to interpolation . As soon as I learnt Fatiha ikhlas and asr Suras because they are so short I also memorised their English meanings this was never a problem because upon reverting I realised just how much I was missing out on so seeking knowledge became incumbent upon myself shouldn’t we all feel like this ? There’s a beautifull story about this actually and I’ll find it inshallah and post it..
This is a beautiful story
An old man lived on a farm in the mountains of eastern Kentucky with his young grandson. Each morning Grandpa wakes up early sitting at the kitchen table reading his Qur’an. His grandson wanted to be just like him and tried to imitate him in every way he could.
One day the grandson asked, ‘Grandpa! I try to read the Qur’an just like you but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading the Qur’an do?’
The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and replied, ‘Take this coal basket down to the river and bring me back a basket of water.’
The boy did as he was told, but all the water leaked out before he got back to the house. The grandfather laughed and said, ‘You’ll have to move a little faster next time,’ and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again. This time the boy ran faster, but again the basket was empty before he returned home. Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a basket, and he went to get a bucket instead.
The old man said, ‘I don’t want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water.
You’re just not trying hard enough,’ and he went out the door to watch the boy try again.
At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would Leak out before he got back to the house. The boy again dipped the basket into river and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty. Out of breath, he said, ‘See Grandpa, it’s useless!’
‘So you think it is useless?’ The old man said, ‘Look at the basket.’
The boy looked at the basket and for the first time realized that the basket was different. It had been transformed from a dirty old coal basket and was now clean, inside and out.
‘Son, that’s what happens when you read the Qur’an. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, you will be changed, inside and out. That is the work of Allah in our lives.’
Prophet Muhammad (salallaho aliehi wasallam) says:
‘The one who guides to good will be rewarded equally’
good wise wisdom
the point of this story is absurd. We as Muslims are facing a dark time in our religion. We are more interested in doing then understanding. if a non Arab reads the Quran in arabic his whole life he is NOT MUSLIM. He has gained nothing from his religion. It is similar to the american puritans who would read the Bible in latin, it was useless B/c they did not speak latin.
Yes, but in cleaning baskets, the water can be taken from any river, whether in an Arabic country or an English speaking country because that’s the nature of water. That’s not the nature of language. Just try giving instruction on any simple physical activity or mental one to someone in a language they don’t understand.
the problem is it’s not fair on an english man who is forced to change his culture to accommodate the arab imam’s slippers, you as a convert are just pleasing the muslim’s you hang around with, you dont have spiritualy full stop spiritualy comes from praying in your mother tongue full stop
As’Salaamolaikum to all. Brother John; your efforts in extending your knowledge/implementation and not just keeping it to yourself…is a great thing. Too many Muslims are Muslims with themselves..if that makes sense; not extending what they know/practice with their fellow brothers and sisters to help make them better not only individually; but collectively help the Ummah in turn. When individuals and the ummah become more knowledgeable and implement that knowledge; we become a more accurate representation of our beautiful deen as opposed to the skewed representation people bestow upon it.
Knowledge alone without implementing it falls short…even the Bible in James 2:17-20 states “Even so with faith, if it has no works, faith is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, they have faith, and I have works; show me faith without works, and I will show faith by my works. You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe and tremble. But do you know oh vain man that faith without works is dead?”
May all our efforts; including yours Brother John…be strengthened with steadfastness and sincerity all the more for the sake of Allah (swt) and through the unchanged and fruitful guidance found in the Quran.
Jazakallah khair for this thought provoking post!
(you said Jazakallah khair for this thought provoking post!)
wow i would find that patronising!!! why not just say the english equivalent? “i’m guessing it means thankyou”
it kind of reminds me of the time when zakir naik the indian preacher was on my mother’s tv when i walked in to her house one time. zakir was on the subject of why muslim’s say hi, hye instead of salaam aleikum he was making the english greeting sound inferior to greeting in arabic.
i’m not saying your trying to be patronising i’m just saying be aware of what language your using after all that’s the point of this subject duh.
To brother John (Yahya)
Salaams to all. SO after having read this article, is it safe to assume that we can made du’a in sujood IN ENGLISH? Jaza Kallah in advance.
And Peace be with you, Yes Br. Raheem, That was the most eye opening part of this research from my point of view.
Arabic. This question of language has left me feeling very lost in Islam. For FOUR years, I said my prayers in Arabic, however, I never knew what I was saying.
How valid is my prayer if I am just repeating and not praising God, because I do not understand what I am saying?
Am I to rely on scholars, because I cant read Arabic? I think a lot of the reason why things like: beating your wife and woman not being able to teach are accepted is because WE CANNOT READ THE QURAN. Instead we rely on the “interpretations of others” to tell us what the book says. This is sad. This is how people get lead astray. How beautiful it would be it we as Muslims could read and UNDERSTAND the Quran, for our own benefit and understanding. As a convert saying anything in Arabic means nothing to me. Why? Because I don’t understand. Why would Allah require this?
I feel excluded. I am not Arab, does this mean that Islam in not mean for me? That because the language of God is Arabic that Arabs are better than me? Is God excluding my from this message?
In addition, wasnt the ruling on Arabic, made after the prophets death (SWH)? Did he even say that is is required to use Arabic?
“We did not send any messenger except [speaking] in the language of his people to state clearly for them..” And in this case, the message is not clear.
Salam Br. Nafiz,
If you read the article I think you should see your questions are answered and that while the tradition of Islamic Law is on your side, the common Muslim seems to be against you. Knowledge is light and we need a lot of it to see the beauty of Islam!
Thank you for your article.
When I entered into Islam, I never expected to know everything about Allah swt, the religion, about Arabic, about the Quran, about traditions, about other Muslims — neither instantaneously nor by long, hard slog.
Some things we will know, some we will later learn, and others we will never know perhaps until the Day of Judgement or beyond.
In an age of instant gratification, I try to remind myself that learning — even seemingly basic levels of learning – is a process, a struggle that requires patience and humility.
When all is said and done, I simply have to accept that in this life I will never really know the meanings of “Alif, Laam, Meem” — whether native Arabic speaker or not. We have to come to terms with that very early on as Muslims — 8 short ayaat into the Qur’an.
Other meanings will open themselves up at different rates.
Personally, when I learned to make salah, I worked really hard to memorize and say it in Arabic. It was really hard, time consuming, and sometimes frustrating. People may not know how difficult it can be for someone who has never seen, let alone read, let alone heard, a single letter of Arabic in their lives.
I used to also work really hard to try to understand what I was saying. Alhamdulillah, any prayer guide I have used along the way has included the English meanings. That was never something that was even remotely hidden.
I sometimes used to forget what I was saying, then stop the salah and start all over again. I’m sure I was much harder on myself than what was required, but I’m so glad I invested the time and effort. I look back fondly at those times of learning, which must have been quite comical to the proverbial fly on the wall. And all praise is due to Allah.
What I wish to emphasize is that this effort at memorizing and understanding the Arabic used in the salah, in and of itself was a very spiritual experience for me. Using Arabic was not an obstruction to meaning, but rather the opposite: it facilitated a very meaningful journey of learning.
I hope that I never stop learning how to make the quality of my salah even better. After approximately 10 years of making salah, a few years back I took a salah workshop and benefited tremendously from it.
I definitely have spontaneous thoughts and make supplications in English while I pray. I never supposed or heard that this was wrong, but neither did I accept the notion that Arabic represented some kind of permanent or even difficult barrier to meaning — or worse, that Arabic represented some kind of existential threat to my identity.
Indeed, if I were to have kept listening to the fretful internal voice that said “But I don’t understand this! I don’t understand this!” when saying my salah in Arabic, it would have drowned out my capacity to listen to and finally hear something other than the echo of myself. This would have served as a far higher and permanent obstacle.
In that case, I fear I would have given up trying to make the spiritually rewarding effort of understanding the relatively small amount of, but certainly rich, nuanced, and unique Arabic used in the salah and supplications – as divinely revealed to and taught by the final Messenger to humanity and slave of Allah swt, Muhammad (salallahu alayhe wa salem).
Thank you again.
Salaam, a small point about “offering” prayers. I’m not convinced this word has to be interpreted in the way you see, i.e. benefiting God and not the servant. It does have the sense of putting forth a deed (an obligation) which we hope that God will accept and reward. And though the Arabs don’t use the term تقديم, they do talk about أداء, which is not far off.
JAK bro. That’s what I meant by ” Linguistically, you can make sense of it,but…”
أداء means to perform or execute not offer.
It can also mean to submit something, which is not the intended meaning but equally worthy of your cringe as the “offering” of prayers, which also doesn’t have to mean what you suggested. Maybe we should avoid the whole problem by speaking Arabic instead? 😉 Salams.
When translating from one language to another or simply understanding one’s own language, you go for the meaning. For instance, when someone doesn’t “get it,” it can mean, depending on the context, that someone didn’t understand something instead of someone receiving something physically. So, to infer that “offering prayers to God” means anything other than simply praying is to interpret it in a way that’s not meant (unless the context demands it).
I was just thinking about “taking a bath”. Now, I’m wondering to where I’m going to carry my bath.
This article will no doubt receive a high hit rate! There a few scattered hadiths/scholastic rulings which appear to be extrapolated to reach the author’s conclusions. We should remember that as the Quran has been preserved in arabic; so too has the Arabic language (i.e. it is not necesarily a “normal” language in the conventional sense). Note that the language of paradise is arabic.
Many of the Arabic terms of prayer can only be approximated into English. I dont see why the translations of these basic phrases cannot be learnt (as much of the prayer is fairly repetitive). What next? English Talbiya for Hajj. Maybe English Adhan? Just because it cannot be understood doesnt mean these components of the religion should necessarily be a barrier to drawing closer to the religion. I think cultural practices are more to blame.
We should resist attempts to ‘Anglicise’ the prayer – the pillar of this religion.
(and Allah knows best)
Peace be with you Dear Fezz,
I suggest you read the whole series bro! The conclusions of this article and the ones before it are based in fact from Quran, Sunnah, scholarly tradition and experience. In a nutshell, the reason for this series is that the Muslims have gone overboard in the Arabization of Islam and we need to balance that in order to properly build a spiritual tradition which thrives and earns its respect as a local entity rather than seen as foreign. I am just showing where Islam facilitates that balance.
The recreate back home model has failed and I’m not so sure if we take an objective look at the Muslim world we should agree that knowledge and practice are thriving to the extent that we should just follow them w/o question.
Lets reform Muslims according to the tradition of Islam!
This article is ridiculous. The extent to which “Arabization” occurs in Muslim societies only serves as one of the factors that unite the global ummah in the same way the Qibla does. To me, the extent of Arabization is a beautiful process that is something that displays the brotherhood across cultures and countries. The author is basically concerned about a non-issue. I mean how many times has a non-Arab culture that adopted phased out its own language in favor or Arabic? And dua doesn’t necessarily have to be in Arabic but at the same time we should not downplay the importance of the language Allah has chosen to reveal his final message to us in or the words the Prophet (s) specifically used to supplicate to Allah.
I think the article series is well needed! People are always going to be at different levels of Iman. Too many times new Muslims are overwhelmed by all the information forced down their throat! As soon as they become Muslim they are praying 5 times a day. Yet they are reading words in arabic that they don’t understand. We have to get them to always remember Allah and talk to Him openly while they are learning the arabic. I love Sheikh Suhaib’s series on Purification of the heart. Anyone that has not heard it yet needs to. He addresses ways of not overwhelming muslims.
I think that Umar makes a very good point. Because we all pray in Arabic, we can pray in any mosque, or with any other Muslims from any part of the world, and feel that we’re all part of the same community.
(I also have always learned that dua can be in any language; I never heard people say that you had to use Arabic for that even if you didn’t understand it.)
you said (This article is ridiculous. The extent to which “Arabization” occurs in Muslim societies only serves as one of the factors that unite the global ummah in the same way the Qibla does. To me, the extent of Arabization is a beautiful process that is something that displays the brotherhood across cultures and countries. The author is basically concerned about a non-issue. I mean how many times has a non-Arab culture that adopted phased out its own language in favor or Arabic? And dua doesn’t necessarily have to be in Arabic but at the same time we should not downplay the importance of the language Allah has chosen to reveal his final message to us in or the words the Prophet (s) specifically used to supplicate to Allah.)
i say i was born in england my language is english what makes you think i want any part of your language or your culture! you use that same old same old excuse arabic is G-d’s chosen language well are you saying G-d spoke to Moses in an inferior tongue? are you saying 98% of the prophets mentioned in q’uran who are of hebrew tongue are inferior because they didn’t speak arabic? are you saying the part is completely incorrect in your most authentic hadith “Bukhari” that specifically says The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘The most beloved prayer to Allah was the prayer of Dawud (upon him be peace) [Bukhari]
king David spoke hebrew, i’m not entirely sure what your getting at…….. you say arabization is a beautiful process what is that some form of nazi culture? it seems racist.
i want to keep my country’s culture completely intact but instead give them monotheism instead of the blasphemy form of christianity, with the addition of hopefully getting england to realise Mohammed was a prophet i would like to keep them practicing truth for when Jesus arrives within this decade hopefully. the west must remain the west G-d created cultures and languages for a reason full stop.
I am non arab. I live in ny. I dont plan on returning to my local mosque b/c most of the jummah is performed in arabic. I understand the community gathering aspect of Friday prayer, but when the imam is performing long lectures in arabic and all im doing is staring at the clock and sleeping, i find this exercise useless and sort of idiotic. For example in school would u take a math or history class spoken in german when you speak english.
Thanks for your reply John.
Re: “a spiritual tradition which thrives and earns its respect as a local entity”
I think there are many Arabs who (as you alluded to) recite the prayer/Quran perfectly well but have very little connection to spirituality so I’m not sure use of the arabic language per se is the issue.
It’s a difficult one as spirituality (as linked to the soul) is not tied to location and whilst its understanding can remain in another tongue a substantial core of its expression in certain instances will need to be Arabic .
(Also my comment about Arabic not being a “conventional” language relates to – among other things – near perfect preservation over 1,400 yrs of meaning and phonetics, its depth of vocabulary, lexical complexity and above all that the Quran is an Arabic Quran.
My understanding is that the various modern dialects ranging from Morocco to Egypt to Syria differ in more than a few ways. Do you have any evidence for your claim of Arabic being preserved so well?
What do you mean by saying that Arabic is not a normal language in the conventional sense? How is it different?
It is kind of sad that it has come to this! When Islam was associated with the major superpower in the world, everyone wanted to learn Arabic! Now everyone wants to learn English. Even though converts change their names and all Muslims learn basic Arabic terminology Muslims are not striving to learn Arabic. If we don’t learn Classical Arabic we will never get the full message of the Quran.
By the way, Great Article! I really love this site!
1- We can get and express the full message of the Qur’an and Islam through any language very clearly.
2- In Arabic we have the pure unadulterated word of God which has great depth and so for anyone to say they have mastered that divine text they must master Arabic first.
There is a fine line between the two yet that line is being confused, thus the series.
How long (how many hours a day for how many years) would you estimate that it takes a person to master the Qur’an?
Yousef, I believe the article did not mention learning English, the point made was simply that it is permissable to pray in our own language. Alhamdulilah. I do not understand arabic and for this reason have struggled with prayer. Allah knows what is in my heart and I personally and very strongly believe that he understands me and hears my thoughts. The relief I feel when reading this article is impossible to explain, it warms my heart and brings a lump to my throat to confirm what i felt i already knew. I will continue to say Allahuakbar as that burns in my heart with love and feeling but until I feel that same feeling when repeating the prayer in arabic i will continue to show my love and ask for forgiveness in english because I know Allah understands me and is with me always. Thank you brother John for spreading the word.
Sister Amy, May Allah always keep your eman strong and may he Grant you Jennah! This article has helped me enormously as well. What I realized is that when someone reverts to Islam they end up with an overwhelming task of praying 5 times a day in a language they dont understand. I always start of with the takbirs and tell them to just talk to allah during the prayer. then they slowly learn the arabic. This prevents them from getting overwhelmed and starting Islam off by missing prayers.
how will you not get the full message of the q’uran? yousef!
your making excuses!!! no interpretation is lost because q’uran is not complex full stop, q’uran was sent for even average atheist joe to be able to pick up and read in waterstones bookshop, the problem lays more in your over and excessive interpretation’s oh and your will to annihilate any culture different to your own.
From part II of this series:
“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 above quote is Ibn Taymiyyah’s.
One question – what do you mean by Arabic not being a “normal” language?
Dear Brother, would it not be better for all muslims to at least try and learn Arabic. I have started self-learning Arabic for the past year and Alhamdullilah the joy of understanding the Quran and the Prayer is unparalleled. I would absolutely hate to hear the Quran being recited in English or Urdu (my language) in the prayer. Why not follow the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) advice and pray as he prayed.
Peace be upon you brother,
Let’s step out of our Utopian idealist box for a minute and realize that it is unrealistic for millions of Muslims to learn Arabic to an extent that they can understand Islam through it. If we were in an Islamic Caliphate this series wouldn’t be necessary. We should deal with reality and make the best of what we have.
I have taught Arabic now for 6 years and I can tell you that every time I started a class there were at least 25 ready to jump in. After a few months and the majority not going anywhere there is usually about 5 or 6 who remain.
The real problem is with the quite poor globalisation of the Arabic language by the Arab countries. There is a huge population of immigrants in gulf countries and the reality is that in spite of them living there for years, the immigrants dont have a clue of Arabic. Yet these non-arab non English communities do know better English. Why is that? It helps them in their wordly affairs. If Arabic too globalised to such level, others to will learn Arabic. If Arabic was taught to Muslims in non arab countries with same level of importance as their local language things would be better. In my view, teaching arabic must be made fard from the governmental level by all muslim countries and taught as national bilingual language. There must be a language upon which all Muslims can unite and communicate inspite of their diverse backgrounds.
I believe there is a mistake in this line under point #5:
“The Shafites and the Hanbalites agreed that it would be impermissible for one to say the remembrances in Arabic if they were proficient in Arabic…”
*The first “Arabic” is supposed to be “translation”, right?
And may Allah reward Shaykh Yahya for this article. I enjoyed reading this analysis.
In terms of the permissibility of reading the Quran in a translation, I would be interested to see more explanation of the evidences for this permissibility.
And I wanted to know if could you expound on why you specifically hold the permissibility on this for reading the translation of the Quran during quiet prayers?
And finally, would you extend this permissibility to Muslims who don’t know any Arabic as well or just keep it to new Muslims and children (as you mentioned in your article)?
The permissability of reading the Qur’an in a translation is strictly conditional upon a convert or non-Arab trying to learn their prayer.
The rest of the salah is preferred to be in Arabic for unity of the Muslims and closeness to the Prophet in saying what he said word for word. It still may be translated by any non-Arab if that improves their focus and concentration thus a spiritual experience rather than meaningless ritual.
Prostration is open for supplication in any language.
Thank you brother John,
Really enjoyed the argument. A few years back, when a friend of mine suggested we make personal supplications (in English) in our sujood – following the hadith of the Messenger (saws) that we are closest to our Lord in sujood – it really revolutionized my connection to the prayer. Up until then, I thought all one could say in sujood was “subhana rabbia l-a’la” three times, but after starting to make personal prayers in my native language, the prayer suddenly felt like a true way to connect to God.
I’ve studied Quranic Arabic for a number of years and absolutely love the language. I love reading and understanding the Quran in its true form and have found it very easy to do so. But when it comes to the non-Quranic aspects of our religion – Friday sermons and community supplications – I can’t help but remember my background as a non-Arab, where the sole use of Arabic in mosques would aggravate my alienation with my religion.
I was surprised though in finding a number of imams in my locality breaking through the taboo against using local languages in religious function. Most surprising were two different well-respected imams making English prayers in the Qunoot portion of the Witr prayer, at the end of Ramadan tarawih prayers. But when I thought about it, why not? Most Arabic qunoots are in some way relevant to current issues – clearly not the Messenger’s (saws) sayings “word for word” – and I can see no reason to not use English other than Arabic being the only language the Prophet (saws) ever used.
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akabar! Wa lilah lil hamd.
This subject is one that is long overdue and sorely in need of discussion and understanding. And it does not take a sheikh or learned person to grasp or contribute to the discussion. Thanks to Brother Suhaib for dealing with this topic in a scholarly way as many Arabic-speaking people refuse to even discuss it, holding dogmatically to a position that Arabic is some kind of divine, superior language.
The fact of the matter is, in my humble opinion, that not everyone can learn or understand a foreign language. As well, there is nothing in the Quran or Sunnah that makes reference to the necessity for Arabic to be used in the salat or in reading the Qur’an or hadith. We read the Qur’an and hadith to understand them.
As far as the hadith referring to “pray as you see me pray,” how could we interpret that to mean ‘pray in Arabic.’ The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was engaged in heartfelt prayer to his Lord and it is practically impossible to convey heartfelt prayers in a language you don’t understand. That’s called parroting. When duas are recited in America during jumua, many Imams only recite them in Arabic. What of the people who don’t speak the language. At least when you’re in a country, I believe you should attempt to translate the duas for the others present who don’t speak Arabic. That is if you’re interested in them understanding what is being said.
Allah says in the Qur’an that “this is a book for people who think or reflect.” It does not say anything about thinking in Arabic or reflecting in Arabic. Any right-mined person would understand how our connection with Allah is not based on any one language.
I accepted Islam some 37 years ago, by the grace of Allah, without ever reading a word of Arabic. I read the Qur’an daily in English and grasped plenty of meaning from it, as I continue to do today. It (reading the Qur’an in English) led me to accept Islam, as it has done for countless many others. I study Arabic and seek to understand it better but to put forward the idea that this is required is in my opinion ridiculous.
I told an Arabic-speaking sister once that when I read the Qur’an (in English), it many times would make me cry. Her response was, ‘if you read it in Arabic, you’d cry more.” Really?
And as far as Arabic being the language of Paradise???. Does one actually believe that on the Day of Judgment, the One who “taught speech and intelligence,” is not going to communicate with you in the languages and the ways that he made possible for humans to communicate. Allah taught all languages and unless you can show me anywhere where he speaks of the superiority of one over another, I’m waiting to see it.
We sometimes make this deen harder than it is. Remember, our Prophet (PBUH) was “an unlettered prophet.” That means he was in many ways the opposite of those who trade on their high-falutin learning.
Finally, as it relates to the use of Arabic, Allah says in the Qur’an:
12:2 behold, We have bestowed it from on high as a discourse in the Arabic tongue, so that you might encompass it with your reason.  –
41:44 (Asad) “Now if We had willed this [divine writ] to be a discourse in a non-Arabic tongue, they [who now reject it] would surely have said, “Why is it that its messages have not been spelled out clearly?  Why – [a message in] a non-Arabic tongue, and [its bearer] an Arab?” Say: “Unto all who have attained to faith, this [divine writ] is a guidance and a source of health; but as for those who will not believe – in their ears is deafness, and so it remains obscure to them: they are [like people who are] being called from too far away.  –
The gist of this subject should be clear from these verses. Allah was not going to send a message in another language other than Arabic to a Messenger who was Arabic. He wouldn’t understand it. The same applies to non-Arabic speaking people. You do not have to understand Islam or the Qur’an in Arabic. It reaches the heart in all languages.
I look forward to the day when whether on Hajj, in Salat, at Khutbas etc., translations are provided for as many people and languages as are represented.
And the translation of the opening of the last post is:
God is the Greatest! God is the Greatest! God is the Greatest! And only God is to be praised!
And I do agree with some of the comments. If you know the Arabic and understand it in a heartfelt way, use the Arabic. Just don’t make it fard for others to do it also.
“Just don’t make it fard for others to do it also.”
[…] Tweet Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV […]
I have recently discovered Imam Suhaib Webb on the Internet and enjoy his lectures which I downlaod from Youtube. All praises to Allah for his insights and the guidance Allah is giving him.
I also read your information send out by email to me…
I have just received your article: “Does prayer have to be in Arabic” and on starting to read it I sighed a sigh of relief just to discover in later paragraphs that the author still insists that I shoud “read” my Salaat in Arabic.
The crux of the matter is this: I am an Afrikaansspeaking Afrikaner living in South Africa like millions of us.
How could you even, based on the Verse quoted by John Ederer in his said article, begin and dare to expect of me and my fellow South African Christians who have been worshipping Allah in our Mother Tongue all our life and have built up a personal relationship with Him in our own language, to now disregard our language and regard it as inferior to the language of the Arabs when we revert to Islam. I reverted in 2007, all praises to Allah! The only error in my worship as Christian was that I associated partners with Allah which I ceased doing that when I reverted.
The time has come for the traditional Muslim world, yourself included, to realize that to expect of any non-Muslim when he or she reverted to Islam to stop worshipping Allah in his or her own tongue is ludricous!… and that includes all aspects of being a Muslim.
Lets be realistic: How do you explain to sincere Allah loving Christians, who realise there error of associating partners with Allah and who want to revert to Islam that whilst their worship has always been good enough for Allah in their own languages and whilst Allah has always adhered to their requests and whilst they have had the best possible translations of the Bible in their own languages now that they become Muslims only the Arabic Quran is good enough, only their Salaat in Arabic is acceptable and that gaining knowledge of Arabic is a prerequisite for being regarded a good-enough-Muslim?
No, dear Brother or Sister you will have to give up this idea: the saving of Souls for the Kingdom of Allah is much more important than the maintenance of silly man-made language demands.
The time has come for the Quran to be translated in the different languages as is done with the Bible. The time is also long overdue that the wording of Salaat be translated into the languages of the worshippers. Allah willing.
Salaam, the need for translations has been recognised for a long time, and many translations already exist, even multiple translations in the same language (e.g. English).
Despite their importance, it is crucial to recognise that these cannot equate to the original Qur’an (which recognition does not depend on a belief in the superiority of Arabic).
A strategy to accommodate people of other tongues must not turn into an attack on the Arabic nature of the Qur’an, which will only lead to chaos of interpretion (e.g. see the previous series on this site about “feminist hermeneutics”).
you flor your own arguement. “The time has come for the Quran to be translated in the different languages as is done with the Bible. ” that is exactly why the qu’raan must not be translated. when i converted i was so pleased to finally find a revelation that had never been changed.
JazakAllahu khair for this wonderful article, mashallah this is great! What I get is you want to offer information that many of us are just not aware of, because our ignorance of Islam’s method of balancing arabization has really messed a lot of us up. I really appreciate this effort! BarakAllahu feekum!
I have this concern about making this the norm though. I understand it’s permissible to pray in any native language for the one who cannot learn Arabic, but it seems the average beginner will want to learn the Arabic phrases b/c of the status of Salah, and out of love for the prophet’s sunnah. As you know, there are few things the beginner is required to say in prayer (I do not recall exactly, but I remember very short phrases being sufficient for the beginner) so one can start with those very short phrases. Learning Arabic certainly is difficult, but that is different from learning the short phrases required for the beginner–let’s not underestimate the layman’s abilities. While we want to balance Arabization (and we REALLY should), I think we want to be careful not to discourage learning few, crucial Arabic phrases, even for the beginner…
The hadith you mentioned in which the Prophet instructed an ARAB who couldn’t memorize the fatihah to just say some tasbeeh instead until he could memorize al-fatihah. So using this method for a non-Arab isn’t correct as his issue is not memorization it is in understanding Arabic. The scholars realize that spiritual meaning is crux to prayer thus their said positions about the matter.
This article is showing Ahle Sunnah’s position on teaching a NON-Arab how to pray which wasn’t something the Prophet directly dealt with.
I see; ok, I understand that position. BarakAllahu feek!
One other problem for a non-Arab living in a non-Arabic environment is correct pronunciation of the Arabic. For example in the case of English, I’ve heard Spanish speakers pronounce “ship” as “sheep” and Turks pronounce “bad” as “bat” due to being influenced by their own languages’ phonology. (And this occurs for people who have lived in an English-speaking environment for more than 10 years.) And sometimes the words are not simply turned into different words, but words with unpleasant meanings.
What do the scholars have to say about this situation?
Asw ..Very nice article indeed..
I have a question to ask..I personally do online dawah on Facebook,where I quote Quranic verses for my Muslim and Non-Muslim buddies..But there are many verses where Allah talks in the first person and uses “WE” for himself..Now if I quote those words,my Non-Muslim friends can understand it differently and they may confuse about “WE”..They may however not ask me about that;as I believe most of my 600 odd friends just read without LIKING/COMMENTING on those quotes..Can I replace those “WE” with “I” ,as that would only be a change in the English version,and only for better understanding
Kindly rep soon ,as I have been looking for this answer for a very long tym..M sorry if this question doesn’t apply to the Article u have written..
In my personal opinion, translating these terms in the singular is justifiable, though I wouldn’t agree with doing it. The key point is whether this type plural is understood in the target language, or not. Since the “royal plural” is known in English, it would be better to maintain the distinctions between the “I” and “We” as it occurs in the Qur’an, as that is part of the subtleties of meaning, i.e. in certain places there is an emphasis on the greatness of God which calls for the “We” form, without any hint of plurality. There might be other things that confuse people who don’t study or ask, but we can’t change everything to suit their needs!
You can translate نحن to I since the modern American English doesn’t have the “royal We” and in many cases we have no time to explain.
I would say a translation for this point or that quotation fine.Although, in an authentic translation we should keep we and explain in the preface or reference note.
And God knows best
Thank you brothers..But the problem here is I am an Indian ,living in a pan-theological society , where there are so many gods.. So,some people may understand;but the majority of them who have absolutely no knowledge of Islam may misunderstand..
My point wud be that the Message of Allah is more important than ‘I’/’We’..But I have very very limited knowledge of this..
Salamalaikum Brother John,
JAK for this thought provoking article it was excellent to go through the comments too.
My mother tongue is not arabic,Iam residing in Saudi-Arabia and have picked up arabic by my own attempt,I agree with one of the comments of the brother that the government of KSA really does not emphasise or make it easy for a non arabic speaking person to learn arabic.
What little I know of arabic I think that its a very rich and a poetic language just like other ancient languages like Persian(Pharsi),Sanskrit,Greek,Hebrew.
There is a level of difficulty in learning the language and grammar.
I firmly believe that prayer must be in arabic language the supplication could be in the language your programmed.
However I would like to mention a few points that the language of one the greatest prophet ,Prophet Ibrahim was not arabic but was Akkadian or Phoenician the language spoken in Canaan at that time.So when Hajra was left with her baby Prophet Ismail and the well of Zamzam given to them by Allah and which Hajra and then Prophet Ismail who were the guardians of the Zamzam water,were speaking the same language.
Later when some traders from Yemen who were Speaking arabic came and started residing around this oasis did the arabic language flourish with Prophet Ismail also learning this language. So if the language of Paradise is arabic where would Prophet Ibrahim stand?But if Allah has so willed it will be done all of the residents of Paradise will converse in arabic for Allah this is very simple, but the gist is not the language but the Taqwa which would get one a visa for Paradise.
Having resided in Saudi Arabia I have observed many of the arab speaking community do committ a lot of errors in behaviour and attitude which is quite converse of what Quran teaches,so again he/she might be reading Quran in arabic but not really assimilating the meaning,so i believe that Taqwa is what we should strive for and iam sure Taqwa would lead you to learn arabic however much or little one could, at least he made an attempt with a good intention.
Thanks Again for this article may Allah help us and save us if we are sinning.
You cannot change this We to I. This is not correct. Allah refers to himself at We in the Quran REGARDLESS of translation. The real question is why is he referring to himeself as we? In the Torah he also refers to himself as we.
I WOULD LOVE SOMEONE TO ADDRESS THIS ISSUE! Is Allah not one? Singular?
Allah does now always refer to Himself as We in the Qur’an, there are places where it is “I.” However, in Arabic (as in English) We can be used as the majestic plural, i.e. using the plural form but referring to one entity.
Awesome, JAK for the link. Will do more research on this!
Superb article and mw_m your link is really good. i like it to share this with my friends too.
[…] Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part […]
[…] Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part […]
Salaam. I am a bit confused. Are you saying we can offer our entire Salat in english, beginning with God is Great, then reciting the translation of Surah Fatiha instead of the surah itself, and essentially saying tashud in english, and the whole salat in english??? This is the first time ive heard this to be honest. Note, im not talking about Dua, because i do know that can be said in any language, i am referring to teh salat
WAS Talibul Ilm,
The point about supplication for everyone to do in their own language was intended as that is the position of many respected scholars of Ahle Sunnah and there is a huge benefit in opening the door to spirituality.
The translation of the rest of the prayer is generally permissible for a convert or someone new to the prayer like children. It is an obligation to learn at least the Fatihah in the Arabic as is the opinion of the consensus. To continue using a translation of fatihah after one has mastered it would be an innovation if not tantamount to disbelief.
Using translations for the rest of the prayer after mastering it would be مكروه disliked or خلاف الأولى against the preference of law.
in reply to ( It is an obligation to learn at least the Fatihah in the Arabic as is the opinion of the consensus. To continue using a translation of fatihah after one has mastered it would be an innovation if not tantamount to disbelief.)
is that their opinion or your opinion? i don’t see how carrying on praying in your own mother tongue to the one true G-d would be tantamount disbelief!!! where is the clear cut evidence fatihah or any part of the prayer must be recited in arabic? don’t you think G-d would mention it in q’uran clearly? especially seen as q’uran talks mainly about the punishment of hell fire, wouldn’t G-d clearly show you in q’uran how to stay away from disbelief?
Brother like in evryother language, there are many word, sharing same meanings and in many cases a translator can choise ” what he thinks” fit best for this word, without loosing the meaning but sometimes, when you translate one word to another language, there are many difficulties to translate it, not just literaly but also with its meaning, expecialy when the word have multiple meanings or if there is no equivalent word in the other language where you translate into.Like when you try to translate a joke, it looses sometimes its effect in another language. This leads manytimes for many different copies in the same language with small or big differences. Sometimes even the essence of the meaning or sentence is completley lost and also the beautie.
I can highly recomend evryone to make it a personal goal for him self to learn arabic, in the first place not for the prayer,which in no doubt will also benefit of it, but mainly for the learning of qur’an and better expirience and understanding while in prayer, expecialy when your in the masjid and you pray behind the imam.
Also its important to think about where would islam or more important the qur’an would ended if the sahaba and later on the scholars would allouw that evryone recitets the qur’an in theyr language, while the islam spread out over the lands and more people started embrassing islam. The now known “arab-lands” werent automaticly in the beginning arab by mean of language, this came later as far as i know, so for about 1400 years evryone who became muslim, just as we did and are, had to learn at least the qur’an in arabic, we have just to follow that path, if they had done it, why shouldnt we be able to do it?
If evryone just used a translation in theyr language, as time passes the languages in theyr self changes, we would end up like the christians, where there are soo many versions of the bible, that evry group of the christians has theyr “own” bible and we shouldnt start this now, we should follow the example of using it in his ancient and original form , in arabic, this way we can still save and preserv the qur’an.
Outside of the salah you can always go back to your translation.
We need more education about our Faith,Qur’an and Sunnah of our Prophet (s.a.w)! So that the medicore muslim worker who happen to do some dawa, trough his charackter and treathing of people or something like that, can represent islam as we should be and so that even he can help you learn about what is right and what you should protect your self from as a convert,more or less.If the people would be more islamicly educatet and would act upon theyr education, we would have far less culturalism in our deen,extremists and far less bad reputation amongst people who realy have no idea about islam, but just what they see from the so called “muslim”.And this is sometimes by far more hurting the ummah then the media is doing, because they are more then just an aprovval to the media!
PS: if you listen to tafseer on youtube or anything else, many times you see the scholars taking a word and explaining where it comes from, what are the roots and different meaning and which word is maybe saying the same and so on, then you start realizing that you cannot just take ” one translation” of the qur’an saying this is what “Allah” is saying because translations are not precise enough, yes there meanings or some near meaning are still the same, but not precise enough.
Sry for my bad english, i hope i could express evrything right so you could understand me wright.
Salaam alaikum. This is an old thread, but I think it still has some relevance.
C wrote, “I can highly recomend evryone to make it a personal goal for him self to learn arabic, in the first place not for the prayer,which in no doubt will also benefit of it, but mainly for the learning of qur’an and better expirience and understanding while in prayer, expecialy when your in the masjid and you pray behind the imam.”
Please understand that this is a completely unrealistic ideal for many people, especially those who come to Islam in mature age. I was 46 when I professed myself a Muslim many years ago and am now what is euphemistically called a “senior citizen” in the USA.
Yes, Allah (swt) knows best (I do not), but I think that the likelihood that I would ever attain any meaningful understanding of Qur’anic Arabic to be approximately zero. I confess that I had many problems after I professed myself Muslim (including the all too common problem of converts not really being accepted into the community, so that like many I was so isolated that eventually I nearly fell away from Islam), and what I call the “tyranny of Arabic” is one of them.
What good does it do me to mumble incomprehensible syllables and call it prayer? Do Muslims worship a God who is so limited that He is not willing or able to understand anything other than a fourteen century old desert dialect? May Allah (swt) forgive us any such impiety or limitation on Him!
If the message of Islam is truly a message for all of humankind, then it can be expressed with at least minimal adequacy in any and every human language on earth. If it cannot, then Islam is not a message and mercy for all of humankind.
Asslamu alaikaum brother,
I am not sure why you continued to pray for four years in Arabic yet did not know what you were saying? Knowledge is an obligation upon all Muslims. Knowing what you say in your prayers is part of that.
I am also not of Arab origins but I do, every now and then, dedicate myself to learning the language so I can understand what I say. Do you know the meaning of the Sura Fatihah? If not, then you should take a step back and look at how you’re approaching Islam again.
With respect. 🙂
[…] Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part […]
[…] Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part […]
So you mean to say that a non-Arab who has been Muslim all his/her life should really be praying in their native tongue rather than Arabic because they haven’t (nor might they ever) “master the meaning in their native tongue and then master both the word-for-word and comprehensive meaning analysis in relating the Arabic to the English (or their respective native language)”????
A Non-Arab Muslim is allowed to pray in the language of his choosing. Arab Muslims have a native benefit because they have the word-for-word text. It is much better for a Non-Arab to recite, know, and be in awe of what he is rendering from the Quran, than to recite in Arabic and make mistakes every other ayat. If they do make the endevaor to learn Arabic, they will be rewarded for seeking knowledge.
I’m Turkish and don’t know Arabic. I pray in Arabic, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not pronouncing every word perfectly in Arabic. Should I continue to pray in Arabic?
Also, I’m trying to learn the translation of all the duas and surahs in Turkish, but I still can’t concentrate on the meaning while I’m praying in Arabic. It really bothers me; sometimes I feel like I’m just repeating things like a robot.
My native tongue is English but I recite in Arabic. I understand about “repeating things like a robot.” We as Muslims must be conscious and self-aware about what we think, say, and do. When I pray and I realize that I am not focused on the meaning of the prayer (or just about anything in Arabic), I stop and think about what it means and continue on. Before I recite a surah, I make sure I understand the concept and meaning. For example, Surah Al-Fatihah has a verse that says, “ahadna as-SuraT al-mustaqeem.” I know that, with my understanding of Arabic, it means word-for-word, “guide us the path the straight” which is more eloquently written as “guide us to the straight path.” Since it is our duty to dedicate some time to learning and understanding the meaning of the Qur’an, these things would eventually flow and become natural for us. If we constantly struggle or refuse to learn a little bit of basic Arabic grammar or structure, then it says so much about our dedication to Islam, in my opinion. May Allah help you.
[…] Balancing Arabization Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part […]
will why lot of us can learn English and understand what they read and what they pronounce but when it come to our religion we found that is difficult if you are person who can read your own language then there is no excuse for you to not understand every word in your prayer and what it’s what mean plz give me break alot of you English not his tongue yet they spend lot of time to learn it and to be perfect in it so what is your excuse to not learn very little words Arabic !
Many apologies ,as my response is not as scholarly as the others.This discussion is close to my heart.I converted or reverted 7 years ago. What drew me to the religion was the purity and the spirituality. After a few years I struggled with Islam and this was due to the language. This article has renewed my faith . Sorry for not adding to your debate, but felt I had to share this.many thanks
AOA Brother John, The subject mater of chapter 4 has been something i have been quite passionate about. I discussed the disadvantages of reading Quran and Performing Salat in Arabic for a non-arabic Muslim with my family. And my wife forwarded me your article which I immediately agreed with as this was exactly my point of view. I guess the thing that bothered me the most was the fact that no one can give me an exact quotation from the Quran or a Strong Hadith in favour of the statement that both Salat and Quran must be read in Arabic. However my cousin forwarded me an article where another brother has attempted to deal with the same issue and after reading it I felt that his argument is quite persuasive and although no formal refrence from the Quran or Hadith has been given the reasoning seems quite sound. I would really appreciate if you read it as well and share your views on it. May Allah reward you for your efforts. It is as below;
Taken from Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi’s “Rasael wa Masael”, vol. III. This question and answer was originally published in the monthly “Tarjumanul Qur’an”, Oct-Nov, 1957.
Question: I am an English Muslim. I am twenty-one years old. I accepted Islam a year ago while I was an army officer stationed in Somaliland. My question is regarding the official language of Islam. When I was a Christian I used to read the Bible in my mother tongue (English). After I became Muslim I have to both make salat and read the Qur’an in Arabic. This change makes me think that because of such a respect for Arabic – regardless of how sweet it is – I have been deprived of great spiritual enlightenment.
May I make my salat in English? I will be very grateful to you if you provide me guidance in this regard. In order for my satisfaction, please mention the names of any early imams who expressed their opinions on this issue.
This doubt is only a personal issue to me, but I can tell you with certainty that this has become a hurdle for many to accept Islam, especially in Europe. Some friends in London asked me to contact you and seek your guidance in this matter. I hope the direction you provide will be very valuable for me.
Answer: I am very delighted to know that you have accepted Islam. I am expressing my gratitude to Allah (swt) for enlightening the heart of a brother with the light of guidance, and am making supplication so that He may bless you with further guidance and steadfastness. I will be glad to help you, as much as I can, understand the commandments and different matters of the deen, and for this purpose you may contact me anytime.
The answer to your question about the language of salat is that salat can be made only in Arabic, because the most important aspect of salat is the recitation of the Qur’an. Translation of the Qur’an – regardless of how perfect it is – cannot be the Qur’an itself and therefore cannot be called the words of Allah (swt). Any other recitations in the salat besides recitation of the Qur’an were prescribed by the Messenger of Allah (saw). The same exact words are recited that the Messenger of Allah (saw) used to teach them. Any other language besides Arabic cannot express their correct meaning, and even if it does to some extent, that cannot replace the words of the Messenger of Allah (saw). Therefore, all fuqaha from the earliest periods till today are unanimous in their opinion that salat should be made in Arabic. One cannot read translation in place of the Qur’anic words, nor can the original words taught by the Messenger of Allah (saw) be replaced with other words.
However, if a non-Arab convert is not able to recite the Qur’an and other parts of the salat in Arabic immediately after becoming Muslim, then there are differences of opinions in what he should do. According to the opinions of Imam Abu Yusuf (ra) and Imam Muhammad (ra) – two great disciples of Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) – such a person can translate them in his language and read them in salat. But he must immediately start learning to be able to make the salat in Arabic. Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) at first had the opinion that even if one is able to recite in Arabic, it is still acceptable for him to make salat in a non-Arabic language. But he later withdrew this opinion and accepted the opinions of his two great disciples – Imam Abu Yusuf (ra) and Imam Muhammad (ra). According to Imam Shaffi (ra), under no circumstances can salat be made in a language other than Arabic. If a person is unable to recite the Arabic words, then at least he should say a few brief words in the salat, such as “subhanallah” or “alhamdulillah”, etc., but should soon start learning to make salat in Arabic. (For further research in this matter, see the famous explanatory volume of the “Hidaya” book called “Fathul Qadi”, vol. I, pp. 199-201; “Al Mabsut” by Imam Sarakhsi, vol. I, p. 37; and “Kashful Asrar” by Bazdabi, p. 25).
Making salat in a language that one does not understand and the words of which are merely recited – this appears to be quite strange and unnatural when looking at it externally. But if you reflect upon it deeply, its reasons with far reaching effects will become clear to you.
Survival of a religion in its original form and spirit depends largely upon preservation of its original teachings in their original language. Translation can never be equivalent to the original. The true spirit of the original and its comprehensive meaning cannot be rendered in a different language. If each one translates according to his own understanding, than no two such translations will be the same. We face this issue everyday for works done by humans. If that is the case, then how can we possibly render the words of Allah and the messengers with their full spirit and comprehensive meaning? And how can we say that this suffices for the original?
One of the most important reasons for the deviations of many religions in the world is that their scriptures are not preserved in their original languages and their followers are completely dependent upon various translations of these scriptures done in many languages. There is no conformity among these translations and they often undergo changes. Muslims are fortunate that the teachings of their messenger and the scripture upon which stands the foundation of their life – both of these are preserved in their original language and also preserved are the actual words of the messenger. Now if we do not appreciate this blessing and open up the door of setting the foundation of our deen on translations, then that would be a great stupidity on our part. The five daily prayers that we do – it is the greatest tool to keep us connected to the Qur’an and the guidance of the messenger. Once its language is substituted, it will become quite difficult to keep us connected with the original sources of the deen.
In order to preserve a religion, it is extremely important to preserve its institutions in their original forms and to make sure that people are not able to make changes in them according to their wishes. Most important elements of a religion are its institutions. Proper observation of these institutions and respect towards them establishes the remaining teachings of the religion. To the adherents of the religion, the matter that makes these institutions holy, respectful, and mandatory is the understanding that the Most Powerful in Whom they have iman is the One Who specified each element and each word of the religion. This understanding will cease when people will start incorporating their own opinions and wishes at the issue of what will be the forms and words of these institutions. And no sooner the base of this understanding collapses, then the chances for this deen to become deviated and the people to get free from the obedience of its commandments will become wide open.
The third important point is that, to have the same language for the adhan and salat for all people of all nations, races, and tongues is such a powerful connecting force that bonds all the Muslims of the entire world into a single ummah and a universal brotherhood. Wherever you go in the world, the moment you hear the call of the adhan you will feel that in this place there is someone or some people who belong to your community and now he is calling for prayer. You may go to London, Nigeria, or Indonesia for salat, but you will hear the same familiar call everywhere. You may not understand a single word of your Muslim companion, but he will not be unfamiliar to you in his salat, nor will you be unfamiliar to him in your salat. On the contrary, if everyone starts making salat in his mother tongue and in every place the adhan is being made in the local language, then this universal brotherhood will become divided into smaller fragments. There are more than three hundred languages in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The number of languages that are prevalent only in this land – its Muslim community will be divided into that many pieces and one Muslim will not be able to understand the adhan when he comes out of his own area. Similar consequence will occur in other parts of the world. And during Hajj, the situation will probably become like the Minaret of Babylon. The numerous rival nations that the Christian world has become because of the nationalization of the church – this will signify the introduction of this same fate in the Muslim ummah. Do you not realize the blessing that what a powerful medium Islam has created for universal unity of the humanity that have been divided into innumerable pieces because of worship of nationalism, race, color, and tongue? It is because of this “official language” that Muslims can recognize Muslims everywhere and mingle with each other in such a manner as if from the beginning of creation a relationship has been established between their souls.
The need for understanding what is read in salat cannot be denied. But this need can be fulfilled without facing the greater damage I mentioned above. Only a few surahs are sufficient to make salat. Any other recitations in the salat besides the Qur’an are also a group of few sentences. In addition to memorizing them, one can also apprehend their meaning. Thus the need for what you termed as “spiritual enlightenment” can be easily fulfilled.
There are many good reasons for saying the ritual prayers in Arabic. However, if there is no clear guidance from the Quran or hadiths, how can it be mandated as a requirement of the religion?
One of the basis of religion is also to take the understanding as practiced by the noble companions (May Allah be pleased with them all) They went to various places in the world but never altered the language of the prayer or adhan. Either we can take their interpretation/practice or ours? Which one would seem to be more correct?
Obviously they didn’t alter the Azan and Salat because they were ARABS speaking ARABic. They may have been the most righteous of men, but they are Not divinely ordained. You simply can not compare their 7th-century Arabian practices with our modern day practices. Most Muslims are not Arab, nor understand but a few fragments of the language. This has nothing to do with “who is more correct?” You can even mix your Salat using all 4 madhabs. To follow on Madhab(Taqleed) is Shirk according to most scholars of the Salaf. Their is no Prescribed Salat by God. If their were, I’m pretty sure we’d all read the same exact way…
i didn’t read most of that rant!!! where is the exact reference to imam Shafii’s text and why has it never been mentioned before? is this a so called authentic hadith? is imam Shafii a guided prophet? where did imam Shafii get this belief from seen as prophet Mohammed never mentioned it, if you want to pray like a robot go ahead if you want to arabize the world do your best!!! europe and the west are already sick to death of you!!! i live in england don’t even think about arabizing here maybe i should start stock piling the 80’s music, techno piano anthems, trumpet music, peter kay comedy, anything that reminds me of who i am “english” in preparation for your invasion!!! ps go read the hadith that state me the mahdi king messiah would go to war with the superstitious following muslim’s!!! i don’t read hadith about myself and then act! i act first and i then come across hadith which is a sign from G-d i would do this, this subject has been on my mind for upto 7yrs and technically 22yrs since i was 13yrs maybe even 9yrs old ever since the irritation set in of excessive pakistani culture in west yorkshire’s streets don’t get me wrong i’m not white i’m from the direct blood line of prophet Mohammed but i am “english” G-d shone the light on me when i went to war with you with everyone. G-d never admonished me in a dream. hadith confirm i’m on the path i’m supposed to take, spirituality beats roboticness hands down you go do what you do and i’ll do what i do unless Jesus tells me different ps remember this when you try to twist the hand of Jesus i hope angels strike you down, when i say you i mean so called muslim’s or anyone.
salaams, im confused, ive been doing my salaat in arabic all the time i have been praying, and never have i understood what it meant, i have recently understood and memorised paragraph by paragraph (not word for word )and now know im conversating with Allah,what i do is read in arabic, paragraph by paragraph (so to speak) then read back to myself in english before i move on, so i know what im saying,is this correct? or am i doing it wrong? is this allowed? please answer me in laymans terms im not an intellectual , and get easily confused, thank you
for praying god our heart need to be pure dats it if we pray god with pure heart god listens to us it may b in any language,if i say anthng wrong iam sry………….
What a great article…! I converted from Christianity 12 years ago. For the past 12 years I’ve been praying in English. Born muslims around me said my prayers are invalid. My husband is the only one who keeps telling me : Allah is the greatest who understand even unspoken thing in your mind and heart. In Islam, the most important thing is “niat” which means the intention, not reciting Arabic words that you don’t understand.
I tried a few times praying in Arabic (after memorizing the verses for months!) but I can’t find any connection and peace during my prayer because I concentrated too much of trying to remember the words. I didn’t feel like communicating with Allah anymore. It feels like a ritual that I don’t understand.
I always believe that only Allah swt has the power to judge our prayer, whether or not it is accepted.
What a relief to read this article… To know that a lot of people also share the same feeling with me.
I am sure that there are many people who agree with you, even if they are reluctant to voice their feelings in the face of those who adamantly maintain that prayer is invalid if offered in anything other than Arabic.
What the advocates of Arabic seem not to realize is that there are people who come to Islam in mature years and who are beyond the capability of learning well any other language but their native tongues. They might be able to memorize strings of syllables (often with wretched pronunciation), but they simply cannot retain the meanings in mind at the same time that they are reciting those — to them — meaningless syllables. It is as if they are just trained parrots, screeching sounds which they cannot and probably never will understand.
I know that I am going to say something very controversial here, and it is definitely not my intention to offend, but I sometimes cannot help but wonder if there is almost an attitude among some Muslims of belief in pagan magic, that recitations are efficacious in and of themselves, totally apart from understanding. Say these sounds, and magically something happens. Could this even be an attitude from the jahiliyya?
Again, I am not trying to offend, but for those who do not have the problem, they may not realize the extent and depth of the problem for some people. If an individual becomes so discouraged and even disgusted with the whole procedure that he/she simply becomes exhausted and gives up, is it not better for that person to pray in his/her own language than not pray at all? Surely Muslims do not worship a God so limited that he cannot or will not understand any human language on earth. May He protect us from any such specious notions.
The whole tyranny of Arabic is a major factor why I simply gave up praying years ago. I am too old to learn it, I could not retain in mind the meanings while I was reciting the — to me — meaningless syllables, and eventually I became so disheartened that I simply quit trying. I speculate that the language problem is a contributing factor to why so many converts leave Islam (estimates go as high as 50% – 75% in the USA, at least).
You are right about Muslims believing that Arabic is some sort of “magical” language and even the language of Paradise, which is a ridiculous lie.
Interestingly, there is a verse in the Qur’an (can’t be bothered to look it up) that harshly condemns people who read without understanding! What a miracle, isn’t it? Actually it’s not. God obviously knows His creation very well!
you should have followed me.
Being bilingual I have no doubt that the exact meaning of something can only be conveyed in the original language chosen to convey it. There is a reason why Arabic is the language chosen by Allah for His last, preserved guidance. Those of us who can, should endeavour to improve on understanding it and salat recitations as per the original, and as a non-Arab Muslim, I work on this (pretty slowly) myself. Some of us memorise first then study meaning, some study language first then memorise, etc. but the point is we want to get to the point of understanding God’s words in the language He revealed it in to the Last Messenger or as close as possible.
Then we have those who are Muslims, but are prevented or are slower in terms of languages. I believe this is the group which is the most relevant group targeted by this article. Just because you can memorise surahs easily, does not mean another person can. We should not withhold compassion and ease from our brethren which God did not withhold. On the other hand, just because it is accepted to recite or pray in the native tongue if Arabic could not be learned in good time, does not mean there is no difference in meaning between the two; we should be aware that there is a loss of meaning in translation to some extent and be humble about it.
Also, while it is not bad in of itself for non-Arab cultures to borrow Arab words and say prayers in Arabic, and reflects the esteem we hold for the language of the Prophet, it *is* bad if the result is that we believe it is sufficient to say salat in Arabic *without* understanding what we’re saying (which is normal in my country). For example, recently in my time of difficulty, one of my good friends offered me advice, that a Middle Eastern classmate told her. That in difficulty, one should say ‘la hawla wala quwwata illa billah’. I heard of it before but forgot the meaning so I asked her, what does it mean? she said she didn’t know. She meant well, is a good friend, and in my culture considered to be a pious woman, and in no way am I belittling her intent and concern for me in my need. But it is the effect of our cultural Islam that we don’t immediately ask to understand what certain du’a we are taught *means*, before using it. this has always, always bothered me because it seems so close to superstition and magic beliefs, and it always bothered me that it seems to bother no one else.
I could not feel connection to my religion for years and years until I read translations of the Qur’an, and pondered on the meaning of what I was saying and in the book a Muslim must believe in, and realised the distance between what is written by the best scholars in the books (even translated, it came across) and what is believed by communities who go by ‘this feels about right so it must be right’. even when they pull textual justifications, it is not an a priori exercise and so highly likely to be blind to alternative explanations or parallel opinions. It is literally the difference between a faith for people who think, and a faith for people who don’t – a night and day difference.
One issue, in my estimation, that may not be sufficiently considered, especially by “born” Muslims from traditional societies, is the long term effects of one’s childhood religious upbringing.
I am now officially what is called a “senior citizen” in the USA. I was raised in the 1940s and 1950s in an American Protestant Christian environment. In that environment, the whole language issue just did not arise. It was simply part of very reality itself that one would worship and pray to God and read the holy book (i.e., in our case the Bible) in one’s own native language. This was taken for granted as the way the universe itself works. No questions. No issues. Reality itself. Indeed, in those days long before the Second Vatican Council, we Protestants were still, after more than four centuries, condemning the Catholic Church for doing things in Latin rather than the local language. Probably many of my co-religionists might not even have known what were the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek, with a smattering of Aramaic).
What you learn from birth through childhood as the nature of reality itself can be mighty hard to shake off when you come to another religion as a mature adult (I was 46 when I professed myself a Muslim), especially if you are left all alone to flounder in a “community” which is rather indifferent to converts to Islam (as I was). To this very day, it seems simply flat out abnormal and wrong for someone to suggest to me that I can approach and pray to Allah SWT “correctly” only in a language which is totally incomprehensible to me. I have never been able to get over this hurdle of my upbringing, so eventually I quit making salaat. (Also, why go to the mosque when nobody greets you or pays attention to your existence?) And, not surprisingly, I eventually gave up most effort to live Islamically at all.
I am too old to learn Arabic meaningfully, and I have not even been able to retain the meanings in mind while I was reciting unintelligible syllables (probably with wretched pronunciation, anyway). But many people seem not to understand the barriers some individuals, especially western converts, face.
While I share my sympathy with you and understand how difficult it is to overcome the hurdle of language barriers, I must give pause and wonder whether you understand the original intent of Islam.
By far, Islam tests the individual, not the community. Your dedication to the Lord depends entirely on you as you go through various obstacles, even such as what you went through right now.
One of the things that you struggled with was acquiring the Arabic language. I am a teacher of American Sign Language and I’ve taught to “senior citizens” and although they fought tooth and nail to retain all what they have learned, they’ve succeeded. Have you thought of taking Arabic classes? This would be the key to relieving much of your struggles.
I also feel sorry that many of our fellow Muslims do not make you feel welcomed but this alone should not stop you from attending a mosque. You attend a mosque for the sole purpose of worshiping God, not others. More reward goes to those who make you feel welcome and more reward goes to you when you act in a courageous manner inviting others to friendly relations in a mosque.
And for what reason to give up the Islamic way of life which hardly hinges on the Arabic language more so than your heart, your soul, your patience, your trials, your manners, and such? Simply because you are unable to absorb Arabic does not warrant leaving the Islamic way of life at all. If anything, it says more about yourself than the religion of Islam.
Sorry to be delayed in responding to this.
“While I share my sympathy with you and understand
how difficult it is to overcome the hurdle of language
barriers, I must give pause and wonder whether you
understand the original intent of Islam.”
Perhaps I am misunderstanding your remark here, but I am not sure what “the original intent of Islam” has to do with the language problem.
“By far, Islam tests the individual, not the
community. Your dedication to the Lord depends
entirely on you as you go through various obstacles,
even such as what you went through right now.”
Yes, and some people are weak and simply break and fall. If there is no community to help them up, as in many cases there is not, they leave. Yes, I know the verse in the Qur’an that no soul is burdened beyond what it can bear, but I have to admit honestly and up front that I have long had trouble with this. Again, some people are simply weak and break, but then many Muslims want to blame them morally for their weakness which is not even a moral issue. We read that Allah is Compassionate and Merciful, but, sadly, when it comes to weak brothers and sisters, alas many Muslims seem not to be so compassionate and merciful. Put candy just out of the reach of a child in a wheelchair and then blame her morally when she does not get out of the wheelchair to get it for herself.
“One of the things that you struggled with was acquiring
the Arabic language. … Have you thought of taking Arabic
classes? This would be the key to relieving much of your
Maybe it is five centuries of Protestant Christianity in my ancestry, but I still do not understand why Allah has to be worshiped in Arabic AT ALL! Do Muslims worship a God who is so limited that He is incapable of understanding any language but Arabic? Is He so lacking in compassion that He refuses to understanding any language but Arabic? May He protect us from any such aspersions upon Him. Does not the Qur’an itself say that it was revealed in a way precisely so that the Arabs of that environment could understand it? If it had been revealed in, say, Mandarin or Quechua or Tamil, Quraysh and others would have had grounds for complaint. It was as if Muhammad had proclaimed (figuratively speaking), “I have this profound and final message from the Lord of the Worlds, but first you have to learn Aleut, and you may only respond to Him in that language!” Would his contemporaries have paid much attention to him? But now, so many Muslims want to do just the opposite and bottle up the Message of the Qur’an and worship of Allah in one ancient language (which not even the Arabs themselves precisely speak any more).
Is the message of the Qur’an a universal message for all of humanity? If it is, then it can be expressed with minimal adequacy in every single one of the approximately 6000 human languages on earth today. If it cannot, then, to be blunt, the message of the Qur’an is not a universal message for all of humanity. And if the message of the Qur’an can be conveyed with at least minimal adequacy in every human language on earth, why may not the speakers of all those 6000 languages address their Lord in their own language?
“I also feel sorry that many of our fellow Muslims do not make
you feel welcomed but this alone should not stop you from
attending a mosque. You attend a mosque for the sole purpose
of worshiping God, not others.”
But what is the use of worshiping God in the middle of a crowd in the mosque if there is no real community there? Perhaps one should just worship God in the middle of a busy shopping mall if the only thing important is that there be other warm human bodies around. And no, I am not being flippant. I am serious.
“And for what reason to give up the Islamic way of life which
hardly hinges on the Arabic language”
And yet, if the Islamic way of life is said to depend so heavily on worship but the insistence on the Arabic language is such a profound barrier — not every “senior citizen” has the same capacity for adapting to a new language; some can, and some cannot — then it *does* seem to hinge at least in part on the Arabic language.
“more so than your heart, your soul, your patience, your trials,
your manners, and such? Simply because you are unable to absorb
Arabic does not warrant leaving the Islamic way of life at all.
If anything, it says more about yourself than the religion of Islam.”
In another thread here on SuhaibWebb.com, I remarked that people may come into Islam variously. My observation and (personal) experience have been that in some places and times, individuals are encouraged (maybe even pressured) to profess themselves Muslims when no one, not even the individuals themselves, really know what they understand about Islam or, especially, what their motives are. A person may be totally, positively, absolutely, thoroughly, completely sincere that he/she is doing the right thing by declaring him/herself a Muslim, so there absolutely CANNOT and MUST not be any imputation of hypocrisy, insincerity, or bad faith, but the person may actually be quite confused and muddled and not know it. Others, who are encouraging the individual to make this step (as if the words “As-shadu…” are almost some kind of pagan magical formula), may not even make any real effort to realize what is going on. Add to that that some marginal people, who could be lonely and even disturbed but not show it, may not really understand what they are doing but have some vague notion — which turns out not be realized in practice, given the sorry state of the Ummah today — that they might be able to find some friends, and I am not at all amazed that many converts (in the USA, anyway) just drift away when the reception of converts in some places is so poor. Maybe they were mistaken from the beginning, but given enough consideration, they might really come to Islam after all. And consideration does not mean piling meticulous and seemingly irrelevant little rules on them and insisting that they mumble unintelligible syllables and call it prayer. Regrettably, many weak and troubled converts do not get that consideration.
Wow! Mashallah think of your blessing, you have any sins you may have done in those 46 yrs wiped away, ( as hadith states all your previous sins are forgiven) already makes you better than a whole lot of born Muslims who may have accumulated plenty along the way!
You have a head start brother, don’t let other people sway you from the God that blessed you, pray in whatever language you understand, but please try just a little to memorise a few of the Arabic words, Allah will inshallah make it easier for you. Don’t quit praying, Alkah knows you and loves you just the way you are, maybe more than those Muslim know it alls….speak to Him and don’t be put off, find or ask Allah for another mosque or community that will give you the support and inclusion you desire….and don’t give up hope, the Lord that guided you hasn’t forgotten you, you just need to return to Him….take baby steps but please brother, start your salat again, even if it means reading in English with an intention to try to pray, one day, in Arabic .
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela
And so goes prayer.
All assertions about Muslim prayers must be in Arabic language are equivalent to creating falsehood towards Allah. God said in the Quran that He could have created us all as one community, but He didn’t. Therefore it is clear that there is no compulsion for us to speak Arabic when praying to Him. It also means that to be a Muslim you don’t have to be an Arab, nor you have to Arabize yourself.
I am a firm believer of One God, but I don’t want to be an Arab or a Jew. So don’t force me to speak the language that is meaningless to me. Quran carries the message of God, but that message is meaningless unless if it is translated into my native language.
To say that translation does not carry the actual meaning of Quran is another pretext to Arabize the religion of Islam, when in reality I don’t really care about the literary aspect of Arabic verses of Quran. What is more important to me is the core messages of a surah that I choose to recite (in my language) when praying.
So yes, I will be happy to continue praying in my native language and stand by the argument that the heaven’s religions do not belong to the Jews and the Arabs.
With all due respect, it seems as if you lack knowledge of Islam. Have you studied the commentary and the meaning for an elaboration of 42:8? I don’t know how you manage to make that leap to the idea that there’s no compulsion to speak Arabic. That’s just poor scholarship.
Arabic has little to do with the Arabs and it certainly does not “Arabize”. It is simply a language. It does come with its own literary richness that can be missed in the English translation however.
Have you seen some of Ali Nouman Khan’s works? He goes in depth in the details of the Arabic language in particular chapters and verses. He provides quite an amazing insight into the meanings conveyed by God in the Qur’an that I honestly would have never realized had I read the Qur’an plainly in English.
You are certainly right in one thing: it is important to understand the message of the chapter rather than speak them in babble and not know what you are saying. But anyone who does that is truly at fault, especially those that teach new converts to memorize Arabic babble without understanding it.
And that is precisely what often happens. Recite these syllables whether you understand them or not. It happens. And some people do not have sufficient capacity to retain in memory the meanings of what they are saying at the same time they are reciting those — to them — meaningless syllables. (And please do not claim that everybody should just learn Arabic. Allah knows best, but from my human perspective that is just not going to happen.)
Is the message of the Qur’an a message for all of humanity? If it is, then it can be communicated with at least minimal adequacy in every human language on earth. If it cannot, then the Qur’an is not a message for all of humanity.
Allahuakbar….Many different opinions…..first of all to my understanding which may be not the most acceptable by all, Allah is the Most Gracious ans Most Loving who never test more than we can bear (even if we think it is, Allah is just testing us, I can see the reason why the Qur’an and the prayers to be in arabic is standardisation to avoid changes. However Allah will accept whatever we can afford to do in terms recitation and memory abilities. Most important in the intention and sincerity in everything we do, utter to Allah, to whom we pray and try to please. Similarly in the prayer movements, hajj rituals etc, even to burial practices..islam is all about standardisation (which professionals nowadays call it accreditation, ISO, SOP????) but in the end Allah counts our inner part to which only Allah can see….because Allah knows very that its a human nature and tendency to change in all aspects, not consistent…we need a basic universal guideline but why arabic we may ask? why not english??I dont know if we notice or not, but i do, Quranic and solat arabic are melodious enough, juz like musics that our brain can memorize (even without understanding it)!!!. But Allah also says more blessings to those who listen, memorize,understand and practise with sincerity in comparison with those who does all blindly with understanding and sincerity??isn’t Allah fair???
Learning any language fluently requires around 10 years of about 4 hours a day, and that’s for those who live in a country where the language is spoken. It makes no sense for the average person to spend that amount of time to learn Arabic.
The ability to speak Arabic and make references to so-called other ‘scholars’ and their writings do not make a person a better Muslim, and certainly does not give that person the right to call others ‘lacking in Islamic knowledge’. It smacks of arrogance when it is only God, as said in surah Al-Fathir, who decides which one of us is on the true path or who is on the wrong path. He himself is the ultimate Judge, not us.
All that we need to do to be a good Muslim are written in the Quran. In surah Al-Israa, there is a long list of what the Muslims are not supposed to do. In the same surah, God also said that we should not follow something blindly and without knowledge because your sight, hearing and heart will be questioned in the hereafter. And God also said in surah Al-Nisaa that you shouldn’t pray while you’re drunk or “not able to understand what you’re saying”. And God also said in the same surah that he does not intend to burden us, for men was created weak.
At most, surah Al-Muzammil mentions God asked us to read from the Quran as many verses as we can during prayers. But nowhere in the Quran did God say you must pray or read the surah in Arabic, despite whatever (lame) argument that surah meanings can be lost from literal translations. These false rulings were clearly made by men who claimed themselves as scholars, as warned by God in surah Al-Maidah, “they tamper with words out of their context and say, if this is given to you, accept it, if not, then beware”.
To say that the Quranic verses are easily remembered by treating them like poetry are also wrong because surah Al-Haqqah clearly said Quran is not a poetry.
Islam is for everyone of all races – and not all races speak Arabic, nor practice Arabic culture. As for me, I want to be a Muslim but sorry, I don’t want to be an Arab. This will not make me less of a Muslim than those who babble Quranic verses in Arabic without knowing what they mean.
In fact you made it clear and l am very happy that you provide your evidence quranicaly but I wish you will also make another attempt to that Arabic quran is unique and cannot be substantiated by translation or transliteration. And despite this to understand and analyze it is far better than just reading it Arabicaly without understanding it content
Wallahu’alambissawaab…Forgive your humble servant for any weaknesses..
Read this true story: In my neigbhour country,one night a man passes by a muslim graveyard and noticed that a bright light shone out one of the graves. Scared but amazed he thought: ‘this must be so somebody special” so he marked the grave with a stick with intention to determine who the owner was. So the next day he took a few of the villagers and asked them about it. To his amazement again, they said the deceased was an ordinary old man, a farmer who stayed with his old wife at the quiet end of the village. They said he was no imam,no muazzin, not a qur’an teacher or anything, so nothing special about him and he was an illiterate!. Very curious but determined to know more, he went to see the wife and surprisingly the wife was astonished herself upon hearing the man’s encounter. The man begged the wife to tell him anything that the old man did and practised in his daily life. The the wife remarked: “Every night before he sleeps, he would do ablution (wudhu’) and goes to a room where he places an old alquran on a shelve. Then he would take and hold, hug it so lovingly. He opens the pages and scanned and pointed along the passages as if he was reading them (remember he was an illiterate!). There were times he would cry and the tears dropped on the pages. He would then say “Oh my Lord Allah, please forgive me for being uneducated, an illiterate and unable to read your holy wonderful book. I want to understand it, You and befriend You. Please don’t punish me for this weakness but I love You and Your book so deeply”. He would then hug the qur’an sleeping……. So to those who find it a burden to memorize the arabics…just do what you can do, a little at a time, step by step. We still can pray as routinely with whatever arabics you remember. Talk and complain to Allah who is All-Listening and ask Him to help. But with sincerity, patience and positive mind about Allah. InshaaAllah. I pray Allah will guide us in all matters. Aamiiin.
Telling mystical stories (a.k.a. twilight zone stories) to convince others about the benefit of being religious is like equating Islam to Paganism.
You can make anybody’s grave shining with light if you erect a lamp post next to it. We are living in the 21st century.
To my dearest brother,
Yes I admit that I can be wrong, yes that shining light from the grave could be a LED torch light after all that was dropped from an undetectable steath-like UFO! This is 21st century, not many people believe in things that can’t be proven scientifically especially the unseen.but the morale of the mystical story wasn’t the lamp post……May I request you to pray to Allah, our very same Lord, for me to be guided to the truths instead of us arguing endlessly over one of minor issues..and also please pray for the more unfotunate muslims around the globe, who are mistreated such as the Rakhines and the Palestinians, and figure out how to unite us muslims. Surely Allah would want you, the more guided among us to lead us to unison. Thank you very much again. Assalamualaikum. Love all the muslims.
OKAY MY DEAREST BROTHERS AND SISTERS…..WE LEAVE EVERYTHING TO ALLAH THE ALL-KNOWING HERE. WE JUST DO WHAT’S BEST. AFTER ALL IT IS ALLAH WE ARE TO PLEASE. I STILL FIRMLY BELIEVE ALLAH PREFERS ALL MUSLIMS TO BE UNITED DESPITE SOME DIFFERENCES IN OPINION. NO BODY IS SAYING WHO IS BETTER HERE. WE STICK TO WHAT EACH OF US BELIEVE IN AND BY PRAYING THE BESTS FOR EACH OTHER AND FOR EVERY MUSLIM.OH ALLAH FORGIVE US ALL FOR OUR WEAKNESSES. PLEASE GUIDE US AND KEEP OUR HEARTS AS ONE AND OUR IMAN TO YOU ALONE. ACCEPT OUR GOOD INTENTIONS AND REMOVE OUR BAD THOUGHTS AND SUSPICIONS. AAMIIIN
Al Quran the truth tells us that to get to paradise all we have to do is believe in Allah alone and believe in who he sent as messengers…. That is all we have to do everything past that is adding onto where in the seven heavens we will be yes the fast alms prayer etc are the good deeds that out weigh sin. You can not tell anyone that believes in Allah and his messengers they will not make paradise your not Allah and you don’t know that persons heart only Allah does. Did not Allah create the heavens and earth if he wanted everyone to be the same we would all speak Arabic and do everything the same. This is simple why do you not get it.
Dear Brother Paul, I send prayers to Allah to bring peace to your troubled soul. I am also a convert; I did not grow up Christian but in a Christian environment. God gave me facility with language, but I do find Arabic difficult. I beg you not to let what you can’t do keep you from what you can do. I beg you not to let your loneliness or your personal history or any barriers of language or rules keep you away from God, whom we long for and who is always ready to welcome our efforts and our pleas. Start from where you are, turn your face to God, ask for God’s help, and be ready to receive it. Be kind to other humans, Muslim or not; keep reaching out to God any way you can, and trying to understand the Qur’an any way you can. Piece by piece, day by day, you can be closer to God. Islam can be very complex and detailed, and it can also be very, very simple. God knows best, sees all, and will be our only judge. I am your sister in Islam and I wish you only unity with God.
Arab nationalism (which was funnily enough promoted and spearheaded by an Arab Christian) infected Islam. It was through Arab Nationalism that Islam was viewed as an “Arab religion” and that it belonged to Arabs. Sadly, these views are held today. Speak Arabic, dress like an Arab, eat like an Arab, pray like and Arab. If you don’t your prayers are invalid and you are not a “real” muslim. Sounds like a gang to me. God is beyond nationalism. God hears us when we cry to him no matter what language we speak. We have forgotten that we are human beings first and foremost.
Dear writer. Assalamualaikum. I couldn’t agree more to you and firmly believe that if non Arabs pray the salat in their native language then it will dramatically change their lives. It will be a real spiritual experience every time they will say their salat. Take this – when i pray i say ‘Allah is greatest’ instead of allahuakbar then i know i dont need to bow down to anyone else in this world..not my boss, colleague, parents, children, spouses, leaders, none. When i say ‘all praise is for allah’ instead of alhamdulillah i immediately know i need to refrain from sychophancy for anyone in this world, i can speak truth without any fear, i shouldn’t indulge in self-praise or being egoistic. When i say ‘lead me to the straight path’ instead of ihdenas siratalmustaqim, then i know i am asking my lord to prevent me to go astray and follow the path of truth.
The verses of our book are so powerful, yet we keep reciting it in arabic without having an iota of knowledge what it talks about and this is a tragedy. Needless to say a higher spiritual experience will help not only in afterlife but more importantly in this world to lead a happy, peaceful and contended life that would be free from greed, fear, showoff, ego, rivalry to accumulate wealth and many other evil.
This is a very old thread, but I thoroughly agree with you. Some people almost seem to act and/or speak as if the Arabic words of the prayers are some sort of magic incantation, whether one understands them or not. As if Allah (may he protect us from such aspersions on Him) is unable or unwilling to hear the prayers of those who cannot master the tongue of some long-ago, isolated desert tribe! Which is better, to pray to the best of one’s ability in one’s own language in the assurance that Allah can understand, or to become so disheartened and discouraged that one gives up praying altogether (which I did, long ago)?