Dawah (Outreach) Misconceptions

Should Islam Seem Foreign in a Non-Muslim Society?

Balancing Arabization SeriesPart I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI |  Part VII Part VIII Part IX

Some devoted Muslims might answer this question by saying yes because that’s what the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) taught! It is authentically narrated that our beloved Prophet ﷺ said:

“.إن الإسلام بدأ غريبا، وسيعود غريبا كما بدأ، فطوبى للغرباء”

“Islam started as something strange and it will return to be something strange so glad tidings to the strangers.” (Tirmidhi 2629)

The question here is what does this hadith (record of the words or actions of the Prophet ﷺ) mean? Well let’s ask the great scholars of our past so some won’t be confused by this seemingly modern Americanized Imam’s analysis. The great scholar Al-Qadi Eyyad said, “The general meaning of the Hadith is that Islam started as a small group of people then it spread and became common then the Muslims will get weak and be at loss until it is only known through small groups and even individuals here and there…” (Tuhfatul-Ahwathi #2629).

The other commentators concur with this meaning. So the strangeness has to do with the Muslims being small in number and Islam being an unpopular religion in the society they live in. The Muslims were not strange because they used a different language, wore different clothes or ate different foods. It was their beliefs, morals and values that set them apart. The style of food for all Arabs, Muslim and non-Muslim, was the same—they all ate on the floor with their hands—but the Muslims would only eat meat slaughtered in the name of God or by the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) and only with their right hand for hygiene. They wore the same style of garments, but they covered their nakedness in humility as defined by Islam. Their language was the main tool that led them to Islam. These blessed strangers reached that station of greatness through the powerful language of Arabic with which they were familiar. Imagine if the Qur’an had had so many Hebrew words in it like the Israelites’ revelations, which were revealed in Hebrew long before any record of written Arabic. Trust me—they wouldn’t have felt that Islam was completely their own. For this reason God sent His message in an Arabic or arabized form; He did arabize a handful of Babylonian, Hebrew, Persian and other words to make it flow in perfection as an Arabic Qur’an.

The Prophet ﷺ was a familiar Arab man with Arab customs and habits, but with a divine revelation which he articulated most eloquently in the language of his people. Through the new beliefs, morals and values of this new tradition he and his companions became strangers to a society engulfed in a corrupt polytheistic superstitious lifestyle. Thus the verse of this 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).

Many of those who have read this series take offense to it because they have been conditioned to believe that this is somehow attacking Islam as they know it. Let me share with you some real experiences which led me to write this series:

I’ve had many discussions with apostates who were negatively affected by the Arabization/Cultural Islam phenomenon.

I’ve met hundreds of kids in grades 6-12 from public and Islamic schools across the U.S. who memorize many chapters of the Qur’an and many supplications, yet can’t even explain the meaning of Surat al-Fatihah (Qur’an 1, most often recited chapter of the Qur’an)! They all say that at one time they were taught a translation, but that they forgot. Many of them openly admit that they understood that it wasn’t important to know its meaning as long as it was said in Arabic. They are not growing up with Islam as some familiar spiritual experience; rather it is some mysterious foreign religion for many. When I began teaching some of those supplications in English, they thought it was funny and, believe it or not, they said it seems strange to say it like that, in English! How ironic is that! So when I looked at their attitudes and general knowledge, I came to understand the identity struggle they face. Many of these same kids call their teachers and parents FOBs (fresh off the boat).

I held a youth camp last summer for kids ages 11-14 and we did a 15-minute talk on the importance of supplication (du`a’) as it is the epitome of worship in Islam as well as being a powerful spiritual experience. So then I said let’s go around the room and everyone raise their hands and make a supplication. The first girl was all giggly and when I compassionately coached her, she still couldn’t think of anything. She asked the girl next to her to go first. The next girl was a 14-year-old child of Arab immigrants so she spilled off a memorized du`a’ in Arabic. Although this is great for her if she understands it, most of the kids in the group don’t understand Arabic. No doubt English is her first language, but when I asked her to translate that du`a’ or make an original supplication she struggled. She has been conditioned to believe that true spirituality must be in Arabic.

I’ve been to communities from the Asian subcontinent whose Imam gives the supplication in Arabic first then in Urdu or English. Most people don’t understand the Arabic, yet they all say ameen (amen). They think that it is somehow not authentic if it is not done in Arabic. I’ve experienced people asking me to do supplications/khubtahs (sermons) in Arabic even though they don’t understand!

In speaking with many of our non-Arab elders, they readily admit that their mind wanders in salat (prayer) because they really don’t know what they are saying. Many of them don’t pray as a result!

In Ramadan, I gave a sermon about pondering over the Qur’an in your native tongue. A well-established non-Arab brother who is a Doctor in his late 40’s told me that through his whole life he never really read the Qur’an in his native tongue, yet he had completed reading it in Arabic many times. I told him, “Dear brother, the Qur’an is not a mystical holy talisman that blesses through osmosis. Rather, it is a clear book of divine guidance which is meant to be pondered and contemplated.” This brother came to me over the next month with many questions about his reading and his faith and practice grew immensely as a result of pondering over the meanings of the Qur’an.

I have attended customary parties called the “Bismillah” where kids initiate their reading of the Qur’an and they have another when they finish the khatm (full recitation of the Qur’an) called the “Ameen”. At these parties I’ve seen many who don’t pray Maghrib or Isha (the prayer after sunset and the night prayer, respectively) and women who are dressed very provocatively. Part of this may be because Islam doesn’t have meaning to them since they aren’t Arabs. If they were to have read the Quran’s meaning in their own language then it might have had an impact upon them.

I’ve met brothers from the subcontinent that tell me they were taught to show respect to Arabs because they have the language of the Qur’an. So I thought even the atheists, Christians and Jews. What happened to that Qur’anic principle found in Surat al-Hujurat, “[…] Indeed the noblest among you in the sight of God are those with more piety […]” (Qur’an 49:13)?

I’ve read many pamphlets and watched many interfaith/da`wah (calling to Islam) sessions where we totally alienate ourselves with this ethnocentric religious arrogance and lack of relatability in delivering our message to a western audience. I call this the anti-Da`wah disease of Muslims.

 In my own early indoctrination to this Arabization, I alienated many non-Muslims including my own family. Through the unscientific and textually false claims that Arabic was the language of Adam and that it is the language of Paradise, we are encouraged to have Arabic names. We often can’t say a sentence without some Arabic word coming out. All this sends the message that we have an Arabic religion. We do this while claiming that Islam is not an Arab religion, attempting to prove our point in vain by saying that only 20% of all Muslims are Arabs. While in fact the other 80% have developed an inferiority complex that gives them the idea that they are not authentic because of their lack of Arabization. So they do whatever they can to seem more Islamic and they feel they can do that by expressing Islam in Arabic as much as possible. We are not the first nation to take this linguistically ethnocentric route. Please read the following:

Check out #8 of the following link—http://www.convert.org/Conversion_Process.html

After reading those all I have to say is that we need to read Surat al-Baqarah (Qur’an 2) and learn the lessons intended.

God is greater than a language and His message can be taught and practiced comprehensively regardless of language or culture. The depth of spiritual experience and practice is universal. God has revealed Himself to us through language so that we may relate to Him in this life and thus return to Him. His last message was in Arabic and to be able to recite it purely as He revealed it, then a person must at least learn the phonetic reading of it. On the other hand, for anyone to claim scholarly mastery of it and  teach it to others as Islamic Sciences, then they must first master the Arabic language. This is the balance we are looking for.

Our well-grounded beliefs and morals already make us strangers, so let’s not make it worse by presenting ourselves as both religiously and culturally irrelevant to the world we live in. That is simply against the sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet ﷺ.

About the author

John (Yahya) Ederer

John (Yahya) Ederer

Imam John Yahya Ederer left a life of spiritual decadence and embraced Islam in 1998. In 2002, he accepted a scholarship offer from the Islamic American University in Michigan and spent 6 years travelling the Muslim world studying with prominent scholars. He attained an associates with IAU, a certification of mastery of the Arabic sciences from the ministry of education in Egypt, a diploma in Islamic Studies from the Cordoba Institute in Kuwait and a license with one of the highest chains of transmission in Qur’an memorization and recitation. He served as the Religious Director of the Islamic Foundation of South Florida for two years and now lives with his wife and two children in Charlotte, North Carolina where he serves as Imam of the Muslim American Society. He currently sits on the clergy board of one of the largest interfaith coalitions in Mecklenburg Ministries and is a board member of the Shamrock Drive Development Association.


  • Salam Alaikum Brother John,
    I always look forward to your posts because they set the record straight. We need to make our religion intelligible and make our religious and spiritual experiences universal. You are elucidating what is on many people’s minds, but not on their tongues. Since most of us lack religious authority, we cannot bring up these matters with authority figures in our communities. JazakAllah Khair for everything you do!

  • When I first became a Muslim, I memorised the prayer in English first, despite critisism. I wanted to feel the prayer. After about a year then I learnt it in Arabic section by section. That was 19 yrs ago. The du’at I had learnt in Arabic recently felt like I was reciting them parrot fashion so I have gone back to saying them in English, that way they feel more heart felt. Allah created all languages and knows what I say before I even know what I want to say.

  • I have also observed that when we are in awe of Arabic or tend to recite Quran in Arabic without understanding, we tend to perform wuzu. and When we just want to read the translation, we don’t necessarily perform ablution, thinking that Arabic is the purer version or something.

    • Salaam, what you’re describing isn’t a mistake from a legal perspective. We make wudu’ to touch a copy of the Qur’an which contains the written words of God. It is a matter of respect, and a requirement according to some. If you want to make wudu’ when touching a translation, that is an option but nobody could make it an obligation, since a translation (which is done by a human) is not raised to the same level as the Quranic text. In fact, *insisting* on ablution would be wrong. I point this out because I’m concerned that some may take the important point our brother John is making, and take it to an unwarranted extreme.

    • Peace be with you sister Rabiya,

      The Qur’an is only truly divine speech in Arabic thus why most scholars of Fiqh interpreted some verses and hadiths to mean we must have ablution (Wudoo) before touching it. On the other hand they are both Holy and should be revered primarily by reading and following its message.

    • Oh no, that’s irrelevant to Arabic being purer.. its because the real version of the Quran is in Arabic which is also why many scholars believe that girl’s can hold a translated Quran if they are not praying but shouldn’t touch an Arabic one 🙂

  • Even though I was born into a Muslim family and grew up in Saudi Arabia (originally Pakistani), I can relate to this. It’s been on my mind too… because sometimes, when I think of the Hadith of the Strangers, that’s what I think it refers to… that you, as a practising Muslim, *have* to go through that experience of being the “weird” one, the strange one. It’s refreshing and very liberating to hear from scholarly sources how it’s not about appearances (or not just about appearances) but more importantly, what it really comes down to – being closer to Allah(Swt).

  • Much needed! JazakumAllah khairan. This is a subject of many-a-circle among my friends, and I look forward to sharing this with them.

  • Assalamu ‘Alaikum, While we know Muslims follow many innovations and follow their culture blindly. It is not only the Arabs, or people from the subcontinent, but even us Americans who think we can twist our religion because we feel way to civilized. As Muslims we are all commanded to seek knowledge by Allah.
    “….Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition. (The Noble Quran, 39:9)”

    “…Those truly fear God, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for God is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving. (The Noble Quran, 35:28)”

    Now when it comes to Arabic, I by no means respect an Arab based on his tongue but Allah in His divine wisdom sent down the book in Arabic. It is funny because this weekend I saw Imam Suhaib in a documentary on the Islam Channel and they were saying that any translation of the Qur’an cannot be called Qur’an it is just a translation. (43:1) Ha’. Mim. (43:2) By the Clear Book (43:3) verily We have made it an Arabic Qur’an that you may understand. *1 So instead of having superiority or inferiority complexes we should learn Arabic and study and practice our religion as should. Insha Allah.

    • May the Peace, Blessings and Mercy of God be upon you sister,

      It seems you have chosen to completely misunderstand the point of this series. We are not accusing Arabs of anything nor are we saying Americans do everything right.

      The primary purpose of this series is to encourage Muslims to balance between two points 1- The everyday natural expression of religious concepts which should be done quite naturally in one’s native tongue and 2- The scholarly reference or discourse of Islam should be done or based in using the pure Arabic it was revealed in. Even in the Arab world, almost every scholar I took knowledge from speaks pure fus-ha (traditional Arabic) when giving an Islamic lecture, but when they have general conversations it is in the colloquial slang.

      Nobody is saying don’t seek knowledge sister. What I am saying is that if you have the time and ability and want a deep scholarly insight into Islam then you MUST do that in Arabic. THE FACT IS THAT THIS IS UNREALISTIC FOR MILLIONS WHO WOULD LIKE TO.

      On the other hand, if you want a comprehensive understanding of Islam that would enable you to be the best practicing Muslim you could be then that can be done in any language. The problem is there is a feeling that your Islam is somehow not as authentic or maybe too western unless you say Salamu alaikum, Insha Allah, Allahu Akbar, La ilaha Illa Allah etc… instead of Peace be with you, God willing, God is the Greatest, There is no deity other than God etc…

      When the meaning is exactly the same.

  • As’salaamolaikum brother John and everyone. Nice article; the article was a particularly good one because you address many observations that many people either don’t pick up on or that do pick up on but don’t materialize into words.

    However too many people just address the observations; but don’t remedy the negative impacts of what they’re observing (i.e. The inferiority complex often created amongst the 80% of Muslims). It’s quite CLEAR…a person (irregardless of their ethnicity, creed, race, national origin, gender; etc.); is only better than another person if their DEEDS are better. In the eyes of Allah (swt); one person isn’t any better than the other because they are Arab, Asian, Hispanic, African, female, male, white, black, yellow, brown, etc…rather; in the eyes of Allah a persons deeds is the distinguishing factor.

    Btw; just out of curiosity…John; what did you want the readers to gain from checking out the links you included within the article? If you can please clarify what was intended so as not to miss the purpose behind it; that’ll be appreciated.

    • The Jews had developed this ethnocentric idea that Hebrew is the original language of God, heaven and man long before Muslims did. This ridiculous arrogance has been mimicked by Muslims. The good thing is that it was our great Orthodox scholars of the past and present who have pointed out the falsehood of these claims where for Jews it was the secular modernists.

      • Thank you for your reply John. I just want to clarify; so what is THE language that will be spoken by the citizens of Heaven??

        • God only knows bro! Whatever it is it will be perfect which is something that no worldly language can claim. 🙂

  • Amazing article Masha Allah, you’re very articulate. One of the questions that I have is how did this perception of ‘Islam is Arabic and Arabic is Islam’ actually come about? Best Regards

    • Simply because the Qur’an was revealed and miraculously preserved in Arabic by Almighty God. That is a noble intention which works great for many, but it has hindered the da’wa/integration process in many non-Muslim environments.

      The idea has authenticity to it, it just needs balance.

  • Jazzak Allahu Khayr brother. I have to admit I am one of the people who are rubbed wrong with the tone of this series, although tone is easy to misinterpret on the internet so probably we don’t disagree too much substantively. I think you bring out many important problems in our ummah, but I just think that some of us may disagree about the solutions. I grew up as a Catholic and church services were all in english, as were the bibles we had in our homes. Still most people’s mind wandered in church or in prayer quite a bit and even though I already didn’t really believe any of it, I was one of the few kids in my high school CCD class that could explain the religious concepts we were supposedly taught and believed in as well and believe me I knew very little of them at that point myself (I understand them much better now to be honest). So the point is that really I don’t think at the end of the day that language is the issue here. Certainly it may relate to issues of cultural relevancy, immigrant and convert identity crises, generations gaps and a whole bunch of other things, but it is not clear to me at least that de-emphasizing arabic is the solution. (And I don’t think you are really calling for de-emphasizing arabic but you are emphasizing the importance of understanding what we are saying, what we are reading, etc….I have never met a Muslim who disagreed with that message) I think there are actually a lot of benefits to having a sacred language (which one should strive to learn and understand) which is not the same as one’s day to day language. This is an extremely common phenomenon throughout human history. Again, I am not saying it is mandatory and there are pros and cons in addressing these issues through different strategies. Allah knows best.

    • I think the nuance that you address here is very important. It is ultimately all about understanding what we say rather than in what language we say it. Perhaps it is good to learn the “original” texts, etc in Arabic but also to feel comfortable knowing how to translate it into our native tongues so that we can explain it to ourselves and others. What I mean here is that we should know how to translate it in an active way, not that we should merely read a translation passively. In learning the sacred phrases and being able to explain what the words themselves mean, perhaps we will have a deeper understanding of the entire meaning as a whole.

      Related to this, another issue I find is the plethora of awful renderings of Arabic into English. In this case, the broken English is just as confusing as the Arabic, and does not penetrate the soul in the same way that a fluent translation would.

    • The balance is in emphasizing Arabic according to Islamic Law and not the common folks understanding of how to express Islam. The only place some scholars held that we should only use Arabic is in Salat, so why have we decided that we should use Arabic a lot outside of that for a more “authentic” Islamic expression of identity? Look at what Ibn Taymeyyah said who is called shaikh al-Islam for his mastery of Islamic Sciences –
      “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.”

  • I forgot to mention just like Brother Yaqub said, we need to lead by example and help and educate those who need it and are willing to learn.
    The Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alaihi Wa Sallam) said, “The best among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it.”

    Bukhari Vol. 6 : No. 545

    PS Yeah I can of got confused with your links as well John and not I do not have an inferiority complex nor many of the Muslims I know, so I think your 80% ratio is way off. 🙂

    • AS Sister Elizabeth,

      You may differ with the shaikh if you like, but you should do so with etiquette. If you read his bio you should recognize that by just calling him by his name like that you are showing disrespect. Do you call your local Imam by his first name like that?

      The Prophet (saws) said “The closest of you to me are the best of you in character.” 🙂

      BTW, I’m sure he didn’t mean all of the 80%, but from what I’ve seen I’d say there are tens of millions with such a complex.

      • Sorry if I sounded kind of rude I was not aware he was an Imam, I just used his first name because he had mentioned in his article “we are encouraged to have Arabic names” so I figured he would not mind if I called him by his real American name.

      • As’salaamolaikum brother Muhammad;

        Instead of being hung up on titles and accolades that so many attach just to A/THE title (which is one pitfall so many non-Muslims have fallen into in glorifying, borderling deifying their religious representators)…it’s best to not just tag someone as being ‘disrespectful’ when they may have not known so and so is an Imam.

        Sometimes first name basis (especially when someone shares articles on first name basis as brother John has) sans the title is a good thing since so much knowledge/discussion/information on this site in particular isn’t just geared towards Muslims; but to non-Muslims alike.

  • Brilliant, and I agree, these observations are my own as well. When I was in Sunday school, I cut Arabic from the youth group program, because I figured if the kids only had a few hours once a week to learn about Islam, we need not have them struggle in vain to learn a language they would forget between Sunday and the next week that followed.

    Instead, we focused on what fatihah meant, what du’a meant in English, stories from Qur’an, and real discussions about Islam in our every day life living here in America.

    I got so much heat from immigrant community members for that.

    My whole point was the same – if they are 14 and still don’t know the meaning of Fatihah, we’ve failed them as parents and teachers. A foreign language cannot be learned by non committed teens once a week in an hour – but the meaning of Islam, why they are Muslim (and if they even want to be a Muslim) can making prayer more valid CAN be learned.

    “Tradition” is hard to break.

    In fact I felt that if in 5 years of Sunday school, the kids forgot every Arabic word they learned (batta, sayarrah, etc) but knew the meaning of Salah, both in words and reflections for the physical movements – then that would be an accomplishment!

  • Jazzak Allah Khair Imam Yahya!

    This was a very refreshing article, one which as a latino muslim I find completely relevant. When I became a muslim the brother who performed my shahadda told me to “memorize“ the prayer and pray in English and in time with study and practice you can learn the prayer in “Arabic“. Subhannallah those words from the brother are what helped me to gain a understanding of the basics of our Islam and the prayer.

    If more brothers and sisters could realize that saying words which have no meaning to us are of little benefit and that true spiritual growth lies in understanding the meanings of the Holy Qur’aan than there would not be this complete disconnection of what is made obligatory upon us (5 daily prayers) etc. What we as Muslims need is “more understanding” and the vehicle for this to be acheived is in our own native languages. Once we gain this understanding then the desire to learn arabic will naturally blossom instead of ranting off phrases and words we clearly do not
    understand leaving us in this ignorant state with respect to our religion which we will ultimately be judged by.

    The Quraan was revealed by Allah in Arabic and he promised to protect it forever. So as Muslims I pray to Allah that he helps us do our part in “understanding” his teachings in whatever language that may be inshallah!

    • One can’t and won’t truly learn Trigonometry without learning basic arithmetic…and no; 1+1+1 does not equal 3.

      And we all know Islam and the equation to God’s salvation is pure, clear, concise and straight forward…hardly even math.

      So with that said I think one should first learn the faith in their native tongue (whether it be Spanish, English, Hindi, etc.)…once they learn and understand the meaning of the tenets; only then can they TRULY appreciate and value the language the guidance was revealed in (Arabic). When someone has an appreciation and assignable value for something; they seek it, want it, appreciate and yearn it.

  • Assalamu aliakum,

    I believe I do understand where this is coming from. I have been thinking a lot about this, however I have come to two major differences in my conclusions.

    First, a quick comment concerning the strangers hadith: I think that for those of us who live in nonMuslim countries, we are bound to be strange in our belief and practices as well as appearance. Not because we are trying to alienate ourselves, but rather because nonMuslim (and Muslim for that matter) society has strayed so far from the way it should be, that those who try to stick to the proper modesty in clothing, for example, will stand out.

    Second, I have seen all the phenomena mentioned concerning the Quran and Arabic happen all around me, and I do agree that it is counter-productive to our growth in Iman. However I don’t think this is due to over-glorifying the Arabic language, rather due to the heinous mix up in priories as observed in many Muslim communities today. What I mean by this is we do not try to develop our relationship with Allah through the proper means, we are just looking for superficial actions that will make us feel better about ourselves. We dont bother to learn about Allah, the hereafter, the prophet, the tenants of our faith, because of our busy life styles before reading the Quran from cover to cover not understanding a word. Most people that I have seen doing the Bismillah and Ameen events are not really practicing in their lives and are not really trying to. In fact, if the parents of these children see them trying to practice Islam more eagerly they would not be supportive. It’s not about the Arabic language, it’s about making ourselves feel better for leading a life totally far from the way we know it should be.

    It’s amazing that most masajid in my area have Quran and Arabic classes but very few haver regular halaqaas open to the community! We should focus on building our relationship with Allah, learning more about Him and what He wants from us, before moving on to learning to read a foreign language without understanding or benefitting. However, I do advocate learning the Arabic language, because it opens the door for a more intimate relationship with Allah through the Quran and access to much more knowledge, and this is not restricted to a scholar, not at all.

    • Yeah sister, I thought about it too. When I walk outside I am definetely a stranger, when I am covered head to toe and everyone one else is wearing tights and micro skirts, with low cuts 🙂

  • My favorite article in the series so far. Jazakum Allahu khairan.

    It is more grounded in the real-world experiences (i.e. data set) which have shaped your thinking and conclusions on the subject matter.

    While I differ with some of your conclusions about how to deal with these issues (based on my different experiences around these issues, not challenging your scholarship) it is definitely necessary for our learned people including yourself to tackle them and provide us with some guidance on how to approach these issues and workable solutions.

    Your solutions might not fit everyone’s circumstances, but they certainly provide some more tools in the toolbox for living in our culture and times, and I’m sure they are and will continue to be helpful to many. Jazakum Allahu khairan

  • Assalamu Alaikum,

    MashaAllah. I’m just reading this series. I would suggest that the writer/host go back and add the link for Part V to all of the previous four sections as well, so that this part can be seen no matter where the reader begins.


  • Assalamu ‘Alaikum Brother John, , now that I know that you are an Imam, I have a question for you. You mentioned “I have attended customary parties called the “Bismillah” where kids initiate their reading of the Qur’an and they have another when they finish the khatm (full recitation of the Qur’an) called the “Ameen”. At these parties I’ve seen many who don’t pray Maghrib or Isha (the prayer after sunset and the night prayer, respectively) and women who are dressed very provocatively. Part of this may be because Islam doesn’t have meaning to them since they aren’t Arabs. If they were to have read the Quran’s meaning in their own language then it might have had an impact upon them.” In this paragraph, when you attended this parties, were you an Imam? If so, how did you deal with this, did you remain silent or did you bring this to their attention. Also, you mentioned that these (subcontinent) women wear provocative clothes because they are not Arabs, but I do not know tons of Arab girls, who wear extremely provocative clothes in Southern California, NY and Boston. So how can we deal with this? What solution do you offer to teach our women how to dress besides reading Qur’an in their language, which many already do.

    • I forgot and also, how can motivate the people to pray at this events? I have seen almost in every event, weddings, aqiqas, picnics, etc. The people gather to pray and they just sit there and watch the others pray both men and women Arabs and non-Arabs.

    • WAS,

      Yes sister I was and of course as is the obligation in the most gentle and respectful way I could I advised them away from the superficial practice of cultural Islam toward the spiritually deep and motivated to action practice of Islam as a religion.

      I also called everyone to the prayer, but was heartbroken to see many do not answer.

      Of course Arabs have the same problem as non-Arabs in which they understand the general meaning of the scripture, but do not ponder and expand their knowledge. Add to this the style in which religion is taught in most Eastern cultures is like “Heres the rules and regulations. You must follow and dont ask questions because you dont know and your elders know best! This mentality has led to the stagnation of the nation, but we must be aggressive in reviving Islamic literacy and spiritualism.

  • As-salaamu alaykum, Imam John –

    Great article, masha’Allah (I found myself cheering on each point, since it’s hardly ever articulated).
    My husband and I were just discussing how irritating it must be for new Muslims to be told by someone or another in the masjid that they must change their name or clothing or whatever. What a wonderful da’wah opp to *not* do so, and embrace Islam freely.
    And as probably already mentioned, it’s also amazing to me to meet Arabs who don’t always understand (deeply) what they’re saying, although the phenomenon is not as problematic as for non-Arabs. While learning Arabic is an integral part of understanding much of our texts, the Arabization of Muslims (who are not Arab) has always struck me as strange (yet we’ve all gone through this phase, subhanAllah).

    By the way, my husband sends his salaam to you (Abdurrahman, formerly from the ICCD in NY).

  • Whereas the fixed prayer rituals are to be recited in Arabic, du‘a’ can be spoken in each Muslim’s native language. This form of Muslim prayer can be spontaneous and informal—more along the lines of a conversation with Allah. But while the nature of du‘a’ is the individual’s articulation of needs, we all know that sometimes words don’t come fluently in prayer. For such situations, the Muslim can refer to texts that print du‘a’ prayers of an admired saint, poet, or spiritualist.

  • John, I love this post and this series. Thank you so much for bringing light to this important topic, may God reward you!

  • Salam Alaikum, I loved these articles so much…they have made more sense to me than a lot of other articles…I am a revert to Islam and I struggle with the Arabic in prayer every day and sometimes it is discourging to me. I have had even Arabs say to me…you can’t be Muslim…you are an America…who did you marry to revert to Islam and thngs like this…Alhamdaullah I reverted before I knew many Muslims and not because of a Husband. Thank you for your understanding of the Issues. May Allah reward you for your reaching out to those that are not Arab or born Muslim. Ameen

  • Assalamu alaykum,

    I know I’m commenting on these articles late, but I just ran across them…

    As for prayer in particular, I didn’t have that much trouble learning how to pray. I had taken a basic Arabic class, so I knew a little – but what helped me was that an organization (the IPC in Kuwait, before you were there, Brother John) gave me a large paper that had boxes for each of the REQUIRED parts of the prayer. Each box had a picture showing the physical position (standing with arms crossed on chest, prostrating, etc.), with a transliteration and translation of what to say. I actually kept the paper next to me at first and glanced at it as needed, and it was just a few days before I knew what to do and say, alhamdulillah. (And gradually, I added the sunnah parts.) Now that we have the Internet, where people can actually see and hear how to do it, it should be easier.

    Learning to pray is much less overwhelming, though, if you start with only the required actions. Much of what we do in the prayer is actually not required; it’s recommended (and I’m not suggesting that anyone stop doing it, just saying that you start with the required part and then add the rest as you can).

    But as someone else said, I think some of the issues here aren’t solved by requiring less Arabic. As for youth – and adults, for that matter – reciting Quran or performing actions without understanding the meaning, I don’t think the answer is to forget about saying and doing it in Arabic. The answer is to encourage them to learn what they’re doing and why. (Because the same situation could exist with Muslims who are Arabic speakers; just because they speak Arabic doesn’t mean that they understand the Quran or dress correctly.)

    I know that Brother Ederer isn’t suggesting that we forget about learning Arabic, but I do think it should be emphasized that Muslims should learn Arabic. Also, we should focus on the Quran and its associated sciences; I know that for myself and many Westerners, we often read all kinds of things ABOUT Islam and the Quran, but we don’t put the Quran in the center, where it should be. For example, when we learn tajweed, we actually learn how to articulate each sound, which certainly helps in pronouncing Arabic letters. And when we learn tafseer, it’s amazing how it deepens our connection to the Quran (and yes, this can be done in English if one is not able to study it in Arabic).

    Anyway, I’m enjoying the articles and there’s lots of food for thought.

    • I just realized I used Arabic words without translating them! Tajweed is the rules for reciting the Quran, so that one does it correctly and in a beautiful way. Tafseer refers to explanation and interpretation of the meanings of the Quran.

  • […] We make points using statistics that Islam is indeed not an Arab religion, but a universal message for all times, peoples and places. In many cases Imams or even laymen talk about Islam with many Arabic words and phrases without clarification, thus not getting across our message to non-Muslims. Many converts and youth leave Friday sermons confused. Pushing Arabic names on converts only adds to this confusion. Islam doesn’t seem natural and familiar to the American faith tradition; rather it seems foreign and strange and we already talked about the meaning of that hadith. […]

  • These concepts are revolutionary. As an Arab, I’m more and more dismayed and perplexed with each post I read as I realize how incredibly arrogant we’ve been. To realize that the mentality of the Jews (God’s-chosen-ones mindset) has crept into ours is frightening to say the least.

  • Only recently did I learn of the SuhaibWebb.com website and this particular series of articles. Br. John wrote, “I’ve had many discussions with apostates who were negatively affected by the Arabization/Cultural Islam phenomenon.” Certainly I can relate to what he is saying.

    I am now in my sixties. Many years ago, in my forties, I professed myself a Muslim in the only mosque at all close enough for me to get to with any frequency. Loud takbirs when an American would declare him/herself to be a Muslim. Otherwise? Pretty much forget it. A few dry as dust lectures full of Arabic terms and unexplained rules by someone who I sincerely think did not really understand Americans and their issues. No real effort to help a new Muslim internalize his/her Islam. Social acceptance into an overwhelmingly foreign mosque community, many of whom could not or would not speak English? Again, forget it.

    For good or for ill, I personally simply could not overcome the language barrier. Period. It was a contributing factor (not the only one) as to why I eventually gave up trying to pray at all. I was just a trained parrot reciting meaningless syllables. I might as well have been reciting the Paris telephone directory in Hindi. I simply could not retain the meanings in mind at the same time I was reciting the Arabic words (and my pronunciation may have been abominable, anyway). And, of course, in addition to the tyranny of Arabic there were the cultural barriers in that mosque.

    Eventually I pretty much gave up on Islam entirely (there were other factors as well which I am not going into here). For some time I attended meetings of a non-Islamic religion, although in the end I did not adopt that religion. The people were warm, friendly, and welcoming, and they spoke English!, all characteristics which the Muslims, for the most part, did not share.

    Now I practice no religion, even though I still retain a vague, unexplained sort of inner “resonance” (for lack of a better term) toward Islam. But being now an older person who is almost completely isolated and who was never really accepted by the Muslim community and who simply could NOT get over the language problem, I don’t know whether I would even make it back.

    • Dear Paul, I was so sad to read your story. I know it’s been a long time since you posted so I have no idea if you will ever see this but if you do please let us know how you are getting on, I really hope things are better for you now. May God be with you

  • I as a nigerian have not encountered the mistake you mentioned.I grew up in a community which emphasise more on communication and understanding instead of just talking, may Allah accept this as an act of worship

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