Community Converts Dawah (Outreach) Hot Topics

Arabism vs. Universal Islam

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

There is a big misunderstanding amongst much of our immigrant community here in the West. Sadly, this misunderstanding has been passed on to other Muslims and non-Muslims here, thus making it an accepted reality. This series—specifically this article—attempts to clear up this misunderstanding.

I was speaking with a sister who thinks that what I am preaching in the Mosque is against Arabic—which she believes is the language of Islam. She was talking about the fact that  our Mosque used to do the first half of the sermon in Arabic and then a translation in English. I told them that we should follow the majority opinion of our scholars in that we do a small intro in Arabic to fulfill the pillars of the sermon for those that believe sermons must be in Arabic and then only recite the scriptural references in Arabic with immediate translation. Other than that the general preaching should be in the language of the land we live in so that the people may benefit.

Another brother who has been here 20 years and is fluent in English defended the old way by saying that he prefers it that way because true preaching can only be in Arabic and the sermon in English just doesn’t move him the same way! I told him that his feeling is reflective of ethnocentrism which is comfortable for him as opposed to others.  The reality is that here in America there are many cultures of Muslims in our Mosques and the unifying language among them is English. This applies especially in the long run when future generations become the majority of American Muslims. Here is a previous juristic research we posted a couple years ago on the subject.

The community claimed that even if they don’t understand Arabic, having the sermon in Arabic will encourage them to learn the language! This idealist claim is completely unrealistic for the vast majority of Muslims. The purpose of the sermon is to disseminate spiritual guidance to the congregation. The one thing which strikes me as strange about both the juristic opinion as well as the cultural view against using English is that they are based on the idea that the Arabic language—outside of  scripture—is somehow holier or superior than any other language. The fact is that when an Arab Imam makes his sermon up—outside of scriptural or other quotes—it is fully his own making. What is being said is that the ideas in the Arabic sermon which came from his mind are somehow holier or more Islamic than the ideas of an Imam who delivers it in English or any other language. I lived in the Arab world for 5 years and I can easily confirm that I’ve heard many boring sermons with no substance in Arabic. These sermons could not begin to hold a candle to a sermon by say Imam Suhaib Webb, Zaid Shakir, Siraj Wahaj, Nouman Ali Khan etc  Most of the time I sought out prominent Imams and I benefitted greatly, as I would from any of our skilled orators here. The reason I benefitted was not the language; rather it was the substance, style, and meaning of the speech itself.

This is the same issue we spoke about in a previous article in this series related to supplicating in prostration in salat ( ritual prayers) . Much to our surprise, the majority of our scholars understood this point in that according to a hadith (record of the words of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) they permitted the Arab to supplicate in his language freely from his own heart (which often comes out in a far from Qur’anic colloquial dialect). So the majority position of our scholars is that the supplication of a non-Arab in his or her own language is also perfectly acceptable. The logic being that this supplication is not a revelation; rather it is of their own making. I myself am a certified master of the Arabic language and am deeply intrigued by its beauty and ability to articulate eloquent meaning in such brevity. That being said, God has revealed scripture in many languages and they were all equally divine in nature.

Many brothers from the subcontinent have told me that they were taught by their family and even their Imams to respect Arab people simply because they know/speak the language of the Qur’an/Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ). One response to this claim is that their knowledge of the Qur’an, (albeit  vastly more than non-Arabs) is not nearly as good as the knowledge of the common companion of the Prophet ﷺ. Secondly, what they speak is even farther from Qur’anic Arabic. So the justification has some issues from the get-go.

Recently, I was visiting one of my original mentors and he started talking to my 5-year-old son in Arabic. The brother was upset that my son doesn’t speak conversational Arabic. I told him that if he asked him about theological concepts and phrases, by the grace of God, he will find him more advanced than the average 5-year-old Muslim regardless of their cultural background.  He then responded in dismay and commanded me to teach him to be fluent in Arabic! I said—with all due respect sheikh—my son is an American and will live here for the rest of his life. If my son expresses a desire to become a scholar of Islamic sciences then at that time I will begin a comprehensive training, starting with the Arabic language, as that is the key to such a field of expertise. Other than that, we are raising him to be a devout Muslim of the highest level of piety and God-consciousness. Islam is a universal message that can be completely understood and practiced in any language. We teach him about Arabic concepts as we study and recite the Qur’an to give him reference, but other than that we don’t see fluency in Arabic as a priority. He paused for a minute and then said that the Arabic language comes with a depth of Islamic culture imbedded in it. I then reminded him that Arabs are just like any other people. They have atheists, Christians, Jews, etc. They have murderers, thieves, fornicators, liars, etc. This is throughout their history, and their fluency in Arabic did not save them from that. For those who have read the work of many great poets during the Ummayad and Abbaside Caliphates, they can see that many wrote of their love for intoxication and pedophilia.

The Qur’an tells mankind how to be the best believer:


“Dear Mankind, I have created you all from a male and female. I made you into different tribes and nations so that you may get to know each other. Indeed the most noble among you are the most pious. Indeed God is Omniscient and Fully Aware.  ” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Notice He is talking to all of mankind and mentioning that they are all of many different languages and cultures. He then made the criterion that it is the most pious who are the best among them. The Prophet ﷺ was very aware of ethnocentrism and that Islam will be a universal message that will reach the corners of the Earth. For this reason, in his farewell pilgrimage months before he passed, he made it very clear, preaching to thousands of believers, “There is no precedence of an Arab over a non-Arab […]” 

On more than one occasion, I have experienced this ethnocentrism from Arabs blatantly or indirectly accusing non-Arab Muslims of somehow being beneath them or having a lesser understanding of Islam than them. The fact is that I have met many non-Arabic speaking Muslims whose understanding and practice of Islam are higher than many practicing Arab Muslims I know.

Even when it comes to the Qur’an we often misrepresent the reality. I myself used to repeat the claim that much of the meaning of the Qur’an is lost in translation, thus negating a comprehensive understanding of Islam to non-Arabs. The truth is that the only literal word of God is the Arabic Qur’an which has been divinely preserved for our nation as a pure resource for true guidance in our lives. I would say—with all due respect—that if you are using any of the older English translations of the Qur’an it will not necessarily lose meaning, but because of the way it was translated it doesn’t get across the meanings very well and thus seemingly looses Qur’anic meaning. Let’s remember that English translations are barely a century old. It is undoubtedly a developing science. When reading M.A.S. Abdel-Haleem’s or better yet Yahiya Emerick’s translations, for example, you will get a much more comprehensive grasp of all of the meanings found in the Qur’an. You might have a long explanation for some words and phrases and it might not sound as poetic, but language is language and meanings are universal. That doesn’t make the translations an exact English replica of the infallible Holy Qur’an though. Rather, they are the best human works at translating the meanings of the Qur’an to English and are subject to human flaw just as is an Arab’s understanding or interpretation of the Arabic itself.

In conclusion we need to balance the Arabization of Islam in that we maintain a comprehensive understanding and expression of Islam as it relates to our culture and language here in the states. At the same time, we realize that the scholarly understanding of Islam can only be attained through mastering Arabic and learning from scholars who represent the 14-century-old tradition of Islamic scholarship. Arabic is not the language of Islam, rather it is the final language in which Islam was revealed and preserved. If we were to say that Arabic is the language of Islam then we would be saying the great Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were not true Muslims since they didn’t speak or know Arabic! No Muslim is better or more authentic than another except by piety and God-consciousness.

* The detailed differences in application of Islamic Law from culture to culture i.e. Arab to American will—God willing—be researched in a future article as I’m sure some of you thought this would be the subject matter of this article.

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.


  • May Allah swt give guidance to our ummah. So many Arabs I know have an attitude of being somehow “more Muslim” than non-Arabs that it really saddens and disgusts me.

  • Apologies for posting twice, but what would be the best way to approach Arab Muslims about their ethnocentric views? What I hear often is “it’s not because we are better, we are just different”.

    I really find it hard to accept that view or even justify it when it comes from otherwise righteous and practicing Muslims. What can I do to maintain a positive view of them? I don’t believe righteous Muslims should hold such views, so I’m afraid of thinking less of them!

  • Hi there. Absolutely loved your article and I fully agree that ethnocentrism Is the main culprit. Islam cannot withstand time, space and period if its not human-centric. You can be an Algerian, a Japanese, a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, a Monggol, a Nordic and yet be a muslim. We dont have to be like an Arab just because we are Muslims.

  • As’Salaamwalaikum brother Ederer and to all.

    This is a great article in the series you have written. The article abruptly ended at the last sentence of the article ending at “which…”; so I’m assuming it’ll continue onto the second part of the article.

    You are correct in that there exists an inferiority complex of sorts with non-Arabs or non-Arabic speaking Muslims when they compare themselves to Arab Muslims and Arabic speakers. I’ve noticed this inferiority complex mainly exists in the first generation of Muslim immigrants here in the U.S. (I’ve noticed their children do not harbor such a complex…since many of them have learned to strip away the cultural underpinnings that many sadly attach to Islam). This is testimony to the cultural, melting pot of America as a whole; but specifically within Muslims as a whole…differentiation allows one to critically analyze what TRUE Islam teaches. Whereas in a country that is majority Arab for example…they are in a vaccum of culture that blurs its line between CULTURE and FAITH.

    Shame on those Arabs that may recognize this inferiority complex mindset by others; and thus take advantage of it for their own gain (whether it be to gain in status, respect, wealth, prestige, leadership, position, etc.)

    To any non-Muslims and to recent converts who have embraced the beautiful way of life of Islam; and to those who have been raised Muslim their whole life…I remind you that Allah (The One God) does not automatically grant reward based on one’s culture, race, origin, nationality, race, ethnicity, skin color…but instead rewards on deeds and on thoughts/words/actions according to His beautiful guidance brought to us under the umbrella of Islam.

  • I am an Arab and I would never think of myself as being better or “more Muslim” than non Arabs. I can understand some people who are like that and they really drive me mad because of their narrowmindedness, but the majority of people don’t think like that I can assure you. I think we shouldn’t generalise, but most importantly try to understand that people who think like that are immigrants who are very proud of their background. The new generation of Muslims have no other choice except to learn Islam in English.

    • I would agree that there are many people who don’t think of themselves like this, but I’ve lived in the Arab world for 5 years and speak conversational Arabic fluently and I regularly talk to Arabs in Arabic. In addition to this my wife of 7 years’ family is from Syria where she grew up for 8 years. So as an insider, I can tell you that not only is each Arab nationality seeing itself as culturally superior to others Arabs, but in religion and culture there is a feeling that they are superior non-Arabs. This feeling is often innocent and not necessarily rooted in arrogance, but its just what they were taught is fact. A misunderstanding. Even a friend of mine whose family is Palestinian and is like you not consciously ethnocentric told me that when reading this article he felt defensive or annoyed as an Arab even though he knows very well that I am not against Arabs nor is what I’m writing diminishing them as a people in any way. I think in the process of self-purification we need to not be defensive and be ready and willing to accuse ourselves of being wrong.

    • Growing up as a non-arab muslim in the Middle east, I was able to meet arabs that were fiercely ethnocentric and those that were very against it.
      For the purpose of this comment, I will only discuss the negative experiences, although there were many positive ones as well, and I truly consider the middle east as my home, having the fondest memories of it.

      There is definitely a culture of ethnocentricity in Saudi Arabia. Nationalism, in the obnoxious and discriminative way, was something I experienced weekly. There was discrimination not just between inter cultures but also between intra cultures, where certain individuals of a specific nationality looked down upon other arabs, and also (of course) non arabs.

      What is most hurtful about this issue, is that many people would translate this perceived superiority outside professional and social life, into religion.
      I went to an international Islamic school, and I noticed rampant prejudice against non-arab islamic and arabic teachers (who were, often, more qualified than their arab counterparts) by arab students. They did not respect these teachers and refused to accept their teaching, arguing with them constantly.
      I also spoke to many recently migrated non-arabs, who shared bitter experiences at being treated differently and their children being treated differently in places of worship. My family had also experienced this many times.

      For me, growing up in Saudi Arabia, this issue has always been the large elephant in the room. Again, as I mentioned earlier, for the most part, my experiences in Saudi Arabia were wonderful, and I enjoyed both the culture and the people tremendously, and still today most of my best friends are arab.

      I just wanted to shed some light on an issue that I believe needs to be discussed and handled, to allow us to follow the Deen sent down by Allah SWT and taught by His Prophet (SAW) in the best way, and in accordance with the Quraan and Sunnah, and not confused by pre-Islamic cultural practices. Ameen!

  • Arabic is not the language of Islam but it’s the language of the Quran. Without knowing Arabic, one can’t truly appreciate the beauty of Quran or understand why it’s truly a miracle of Allah.

    One of the reported instructions ‘Umar wrote to Abû Mûsâ Al-Ash’arî and those under his governance during the former’s Caliphate was, “Seek knowledge and understanding of (fiqh) the Sunnah and seek knowledge and understanding of Arabic.”

    Ibn Abî Shaybah, Al-Musannaf Vol.6 p126.

    It is reported that he said, “Learn Arabic, for it strengthens the intelligence and increases one’s noble conduct (al-murû`ah).”

    Ubay ibn Ka’b (RA) said,
    “Teach Arabic like you teach the memorisation of the Qur’an!”

    Imam ash-Shaafi’ee said, “Therefore it is imperative that every Muslim should strive to learn Arabic as hard as he can, so that he can testify the shahada, and recite the Book of Allah and say the invocations that are mandatory upon him, such as the takbeer, tasbeeh, tashahud and other prayers. And the more he learns the language that Allah Himself chose to be the language of him who sealed the Prophets (SAW), and to be the language of His final revelation, the better it is for him!”

    Imam ash-Shaafi’ee also said : “It is compulsory for every responsible Muslim to learn what they can of the Arabic language.”

    Shaykul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (rh) even went so far as to say that, “The Arabic language is part of the Religion, and knowing it is an obligation.”

    • You seem to be missing the point of the article. It’s not saying that you should not learn arabic, but that knowing arabic doesn’t make you greater than someone who doesn’t know the language. It is good to learn it so that you may deepen your knowledge of the religion. The article is talking about separating culture from the religion of islam. The lines sometime get blurried and misguide people.

      • I understand & I am not claiming that knowing Arabic will make me a better muslim than a the muslim who doesn’t.

        Abu Jahl, Abu Talib all knew Arabic but didn’t become muslims.

        I would argue that even on a cultural basis, I think it’s necessary for Muslims. I speak 3 languages & I firmly believe that language unites us. It didn’t make any better than anyone else but helped me understand & mingle with those who spoke the language easier than my counterparts who spoke only English. Language bonds us & unites us… be it English, Arabic or any other language. Arabic can play key role in uniting us together as Muslims, it won’t b perfect but it will help.

    • Peace Br. Mansoor,

      Of course the style and expression of the Qur’an is a divine transmission, so it is miraculous. The fact is that only even a small % of Arabs can appreciate this as a result of their weak knowledge of their language. That being said there are many other miracles of the Qur’an which can be embraced by anyone as noted by our scholars who by no means taught that its miraculousness was restricted to its literary style/expression.

      Its miracle is in its scientific representation which was over a millennium before its time. Its miracle is in its guidance and ability to change hearts, minds and lifestyle. Its miracle is in its not contradicting itself. Its miracle is in its legislation. Its miracle is in its accuracy of history and predicting the future etc…

      Umar was writing to a governance in his Caliphate and I would agree in the case that Islam is the law of the land with the upper hand as the influence in society and maybe even the language of society then it would become great. We are living in a whole different reality and if Umar was here today he would have a whole different mind-set thus relating Islam to the reality he lives in properly. Similarly if we analyse what he is saying linguistically and juristically then we would come to -with all due respect- a different conclusion to your cut and paste understanding.

      Imam Shafi’ee too was living in a different reality and he as Umar did before him had a hopeful idealistic attitude which doesn’t make their opinion a revelation which must be followed for all times and places. Imam Malik said “You may follow or reject the opinion of anyone except the Prophet”. In the light of that statement and in looking at our current reality with understanding priorities of our situation I wrote this article which I encourage you to read again as you have misunderstood the purpose and the substance of it. 🙂

    • JAZAKALLAHU KHAIR to your above invaluable and often forgotten quotes from the best of people of the past!

      Arabic is a sacred language for the very fact that Allah, the Most High chose it has the language of the Qur’an. That in and of itself is a reason for every lay Muslim to struggle to learn the language in order to bring us closer to Allah and HIS BOOK, so that we may extract the kind of guidance the companions of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wasallam had, and those who follow their path.

      It is not the race that distinguishes or lifts one in the sight of Allah, that’s granted, but through mastering the Arabic language we can better understand our deen, and increase in our Taqwa. Whether we are Arab or non-Arab we should be proud of the Arabic language as being the language of the Qur’an.

      This is in no way degrading other languages, because all languages are from Allah, the Most High, at the end of the day. However, Arabic was selected by Allah, the One who knows the degree of superiority each and every language, and we must give the respect that it truly deserves.
      “Lo! We have revealed it, a Lecture in Arabic, that ye may understand.” (Yusuf, 2)

      “Thus have We revealed it, a decisive utterance in Arabic…” (Ar-Ra’ad, 37)

      Translations however great they are can never do the Word of Allah justice.

      • No one disputes the benefit of learning arabic to better understand Quran, the talk is about Arab elitism when it comes to the culture withing Islam. You all are taking the writing out of context but when you do, all you do is prove the author right about what he is saying. No matter what language you speak, Allah(swt) understands.

  • OMG! I’ve been saying this for years in my community and people just won’t listen, I swear! And I’m the not the only one, either.

  • I mean, what the original article says, not what the comment above me says, which I think is wholly irrelevant to the discussion at hand…

  • Interesting article mashallah. Just one question, how about the oft mentioned saying that ‘Arabic is the key to Islam?’ Do you agree with this?

    • I would say that Arabic is the key to a scholarly understanding of Islam not to Islam in general.

      The Arab layman has a similar understanding of Islam to that of a non-Arab layman. Their knowledge is based on the amount of verses and hadiths they have read. Neither have a scholarly understanding anymore than the other. One of the problems historically for non-Arabs have been a lack of available knowledge or bad/incomplete translations in what is available.

      I actually know an Arab brother who was born and raised in an Arab country and has lived here for some time know and was always a practicing Muslim. I encouraged him to read the Yahiya Emerick translation of the Qur’an and he said he was greatly surprised as to the benefit from the linguistic explanation as well as the commentary that he never knew.

      A scholar of Arabic and Islamic sciences has a superior understanding to one who is not trained in the sciences of Arab and Islamic studies. This is regardless if that scholar is an Arab or non-Arab.

      I get so annoyed when people say that people like Imam Suhaib, Sh. Yasir, Sh. Hamza etc… are not true scholars but just preachers while Imam’s with the same background in studies who are from Arab countries are claimed to be the real scholars. This is falsehood based in ethnocentrism.

      • Of course there are always EXCEPTIONS; so to readers I’d like to say that blanket statements and generalizations aren’t being made in the brother Ederer’s article here; nor do I feel that is the intent.

        There are exceptions in the sense that of course there are Arabs and Arabic-speakers who do NOT feel, think or act on as if they are superior.

        But the reality is that there are MANY Arabs and Arabic-speakers who feel they are superior to other Muslims. And the reality is that we should recognize this and should have a solution for that.

        The START to the solution and cure is to simply go back to the clear/concise guidance of Allah in the Quran, the hadith and sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions.

  • While I understand the point! I don’t know why “as an Arab” felt degraded or being attacked by this article!

  • We’ve all heard about Iblis, how he refused to bow, because he was proud and he said: “Ana khairun min!” “I am better than he is, I am made of smokeless fire, and he is made of dust, mud molded into shape!”
    Another lesson: We must avoid vanity and pride, that leads us to think we are better than someone else. If we ever hear those words in our heads, “I am better than him or her,” remember where they came from.

  • Salaam,

    This article for the most point is directly on point. I wish to make that clear first before I address one area of disagreement, since aside from this disagreement I totally agree with what the author says.

    The statement by the author, “If my son expresses a desire to become a scholar of Islamic sciences then at that time I will begin a comprehensive training, starting with the Arabic language, as that is the key to such a field of expertise.” is really sad. The idea that we all shouldn’t strive to learn arabic is distressing and parents should try to encourage and raise their children to learn arabic. Being a scholar is not the only reason one should know arabic.

    As Muslims, I think we should expect everyone to strive to know arabic. To relegate it to only scholars means we are relegating our religion as a portion of our lives and the rest of our lives can be for the dunya. Surely this is a terrible thing. Arabic is the medium of the Qur’an and is the highest source for knowing our creator. Without knowing Arabic, one will always be deficient in know one’s creator and that should be unacceptable for everyone.

    Moreover, I challenge the author to bring me a scholar who says that reading the Quran in arabic will not give one more insight and meaning than reading an english translation. I challenge the author to find me a scholar who says there are more books in english to help one get closeness to Allah (swt) than there are in Arabic.

    I agree with the overall message that we must recognize that the medium that is spoken by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America is English. However, to relegate the arabic language to scholars and those with just an interesting is a HUGE mistake. We should all find it to be a borderline obligation (just short of fard) to know arabic (fusha not modern standard) in order to better ourselves and get close to Allah (swt).

    As always, Allah (swt) knows best.

    • Peace dear Shahzeb,

      I was also condiitioned to think in this idealist Caliphate based thinking from the day I became Muslim. I wish everyone could have access to what I am now blessed with, but I have come to a deeply researched well thought out conclusion that this is not nor will be the case and to assume so would be a confusion of priorities and naive to reality thus a hinderance to the progress and growth of Islam and Muslims in America.

      After completing formal training through college Arabic and then Islamic sciences I began teaching Arabic. I have been teaching Arabic classes for adults and kids for 7 years now some groups for 2 full years of 3 hours a week. After that, I realized that those people would be spiritually better off if I had been teaching them Islamic studies in English.

      In addition to that I have done many surveys on many kids who spent years in both weekend and full-time Islamic schools. I am certain that we waste 1000’s of precious hours on both Arabic and Qur’an memorization programs that only benefit a small percentage of our youth. Had we have used that precious time for moral growth educational (tarbiyyah) programs and activities our youth would be in a much better place.

      Thats it for now. I encourage you to read the other articles try and put them together without feeling threatened or defensive and be a realist not an idealist. I will also do that in my conclusion article. God does surely know best, 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this article! At the MSA East Zone conference last year, there was an anonymous question/statement, after the comedy entertainment, about the permissibility of making fun of Arabs. I couldn’t understand why the concern was with the jokes about Arabs as opposed to all groups that were joked about. This sort of put that into context for me.

  • as salaamu alaykum,

    Br. John, May Allah reward you for your efforts. I agree that Arabic should not be over-emphasized, but at the same time I would be concerned about going to the opposite extreme in undermining its importance altogether for the layperson, to the extent that it becomes like Latin was in the Christian tradition: known only to those higher up in the religious hierarchy, and leaving those below without a direct connection to their sacred sources.

    If we as a community relegate classical Arabic to the scholars completely, then this may leave the rest of us bereft of an important connection to the sacred words in the Quran/Hadith that we should find inspiring and that we act on on a daily basis. For example, I believe every Muslim, regardless of background should know or be striving to know the meaning of the words of al-Fatiha, and similar adhkar we recite in our prayers and on a daily basis.

    This need for balance should also come into play by not responding to the oppression and wrongs committed by the immigrant community by engaging in reverse discrimination, where people from an immigrant background would be considered irrevocably colored by cultural biases. I think discussing positions away from personalities or naming certain groups may be a wiser and less emotion-evoking way of discussing things. And I have found non-Arabs some of the most vehement in their defense of some of these incorrect ideas.

    Allah knows best.

    With much respect to you and the important ideas you are seeking to highlight,


    • May the Peace, Blessings and Mercy of God be with you Shaikhah Shazia,

      Please see the response to Shahzeb above.

      The scriptures of the Bible are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. So the usage of Latin wasn’t necessary. It was used as a intermediary language between the scripture and the church which was the original roman language where the church resided. So not much of a parallel, but I get your point. 🙂

      The church and the Jews realized long ago what I am realizing now. You lose spirituality and/or members of your congregation when you expect the population to either learn a language which they probably won’t be able to or to expect them to live in an abased reverence for those special people who learned it.

      I think you may have missed my point though. I am not saying COMPLETELY leave any learning of the Arabic language for the layman. I think we should learn to read the Qur’an and learn some reoccurring words/phrases of the Qur’an and Hadith. Particularly used in Salat and remembrance (although I think many of our common remembrances used need to be said in translation). If our neighbors heard us remembering God with something familiar that will earn us respect for our spirituality and/or open their hearts to Islam as it did with Addaas al-Ninowi the Christian who heard the Prophet (PBUH) say “In the Name of God” before he ate.

      You have to admit sister even most Arabs don’t really have an understanding of Arabic that unlocks the secrets or divine wisdoms in some special way. I had many of our Arab community ask me as to the meanings of much of the Qur’an.

      In the end a scholarly understanding of Arabic is what is required to have a special/exclusive relationship with the Qur’an and even then that is an intellectual 1up not necessarily a spiritual one.

      Finally, this article/series is in no way any sort of culture war or discrimination to the Arab community. I was just simply identifying a misunderstanding and trying to clarify the balance. There are many respectful Arabs who are very pious humble and deeply knowledgeable. I should have made that point so satan wouldn’t convince people to have bad suspicion about what I am saying. 🙂

      God knows best!

      • Salaam Br. John,

        I’d be curious about how you view of the experience of other Muslim non-Arab cultures and how they have coped with the same/similar issues over time.

        I’d also like to know more about what has led you to conclude (in one of your comments above) that “After that, I realized that those people [the ones who’d been teaching Arabic] would be spiritually better off if I had been teaching them Islamic studies in English.”

        Are there specific goals that were not reached for example? Or their manners were not what you would have expected? Or they are learning at a much slower pace than you anticipated?

        Also curious, what are your criteria and/or evaluation tool for evaluating their spirituality, and evaluating their current spirituality now versus what it would have been if only you had been teaching them something else?

        This seems to have driven, at least in part, your research and conclusions around this issue, so that’s what makes me interested.

        Finally, you indicate a distinction between a spiritual relationship with the Quran and an intellectual one, and I’d like to know more about your idea of spirituality, and a split between it and the intellect.

        That’s a lot but thank you.

      • as salaamu alaykum Imam John,

        Thank you for your response, and I sincerely pray to Allah for His protection from any untoward thoughts concerning you as my brother in Islam, and one who is clearly sincere in his loving concern for his community. You have brought up some critical and important issues that we as a community need to start discussing and thinking about.

        Personally I am very concerned about a fracturing of our community and for this reason feel that there needs to be a sensitivity of tone when dealing with these issues that are often emotionally fraught.

        I do agree with several of your major points, though we may differ in the extent to which we feel they should be taken.

        Apologies for the incorrect analogy with Christianity – it’s been some time since my European AP class 🙂


  • Salaam Alaikum, May Allah reward our brother Yahya for his efforts!

    I would say though, that if two parents can understand and speak Arabic, which is the language of the Quran, yet intentionally decide not to use it when talking to their children in their own homes, to the point that their children don’t understand the Quran, is doing them a disservice. Teaching Arabic to our children requires little more than using the language in the house as the main form of communication. Of course our understanding of the Quran is related to our understanding of the Language, so a child will normally not be able to grasp everything in it, but there is a lot of CAN understand, so we should give them that chance if possible.

  • “On more than one occasion, I have experienced this ethnocentrism from Arabs blatantly or indirectly accusing non-Arab Muslims of somehow being beneath them or having a lesser understanding of Islam than them. The fact is that I have met many non-Arabic speaking Muslims whose understanding and practice of Islam are higher than many practicing Arab Muslims I know.”

    Honestly- sounds to me that you are just hanging around the wrong people. I have never felt that any of the Arabs that I know feel this way. As a matter of fact I feel it’s the opposite. I feel that so many non-Arabs out there are obsessing over the fact that Arabs “feel superior” or “look down on others” when in fact most Arab’s don’t. People who see Arabs this way probably just feel self-conscious about themselves and thus reflect their own subconscious thoughts onto others.
    I know that you don’t mean for the article to be an attack on the Arab community- but just letting you know- it completely reads like one.
    I apologize for your bad experiences, but I genuinely feel that this article is uncalled for.

    • Peace D,

      Before I answer let me say that on more than one occasion DOES NOT and HAS NEVER meant most of my experience or in most cases. Actually, it means quite the opposite.
      That being said, I am not “hanging around” in one place. My experience of this bias with a concerning percentage of our Arab population as well as the inferiority complex among a larger part of the subcontinent Muslims and other non-Arabs as a result of their own Imams indoctrination of the exaggerated Arabization is what we are talking about.

      This experience comes from being in Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, England, Egypt, and Kuwait. This experience is with thousands of people in many environments across the world and in at least 50 different Mosques.
      Lastly if you not yourself born and raised for at least half of your life in the middle east then you aren’t truly an Arab you have Arab roots and heritage. I have rarely found this bias among children of immigrants mainly because even though they were brainwashed to believe that they are Arab or Indian they are American which is common between them regardless of their heritage.

      Some of my best friends and most highly respected teachers of the best character are Arabs.

      Finally if you read this article as somehow anti-Arab or against Arabs then you should be aware that in Psychology defensiveness can mean guilt. Am I offended by this group? YES, But touching on them has been a small part of this series. The article and series is identifying a bigger underlying problem and using facts, scripture and advice to fix it. There is nothing personal or malicious intended by it in any way.
      But alas I agree, I should have been more sensitive and made some disclaimer or mention the good of the Arab community so as not to be misunderstood.

  • hello

    “… The brother was upset that my son doesn’t speak conversational Arabic. … … ”
    i think maybe he said that not only with intention to make you better muslims. there is other possible reason, intention: to try to keep arab people arab. why? because it is useful for arab people. so it is like egoism. if your son will speak arabic fluently, he will speak fluently with arab people in usa, and he can translate things into arabic. you are produced in arabic community, but you are going to make your son like english, so english language people will benefit of him, at jobs, and maybe some good features of his character that he got from arabic origin, that english language people may need to learn. so this is like sadaqa from arabic community to english community. are arabs nowadays so much rich? i think very may be that not. but yes they are more rich with islam. but english people seems more rich with science, and territory where they live. so your son could translate some scientific things into arabic, and make usa more comfortable for arab people, if he could speak arabic fluently.

    also look at ayat 30:22 abdel haleem translation: Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know.

  • Nice articles, good continuation of them. Wonderful!!! Just one question: we can print these articles now, and if I do, will it print the comments also or just the article? Because I don’t wanna waste paper?

    Salaams to the Ummah.

  • Assalamu alaikum,

    I disagree with this article. Like you, I became Muslim quite a while ago. I do understand Arabic, even though I haven’t had the opportunity to study it as I wish. However, I do agree with your mentor that you should teach your children Arabic and you should speak Arabic to them. Here is why:

    We have tried, to a certain degree, to speak fus-ha at home. The result is that all my kids’ teachers have said that my children have the correct makharij of letters even if I don’t have them. Their father is from Algeria and none of us had knowledge of tajweed.

    The knowledge that you can gain if you know Arabic is not comparable to the knowledge that you can gain if you don’t know the language. Imam Ash-Shafi’ee (alayhi rahmatullah) spent many years living with a tribe who spoke the best of Arabic to learn fully the language. Thus, learning Arabic is a must for any seeker of knowledge.

    It is wrong to compare an Arab thief to a non-Arab Muslim who fears Allah. You should compare (if we are allowed to compare anyway) an English-speaking student of knowledge with an Arab-speaking student of knowledge. Arabic is not the door to enter Jannah but it is a tool. Learning Arabic will make you a better Muslim insha Allah because, first of all, you would do it for the sake of Allah. Secondly, it will make you better understand the words spoken by Allah and the words spoken by His chosen Prophet.

    You also compared the khutbah of my local Shaykh Usamah with Shaykh Suhayb Webb. Can you compare the khutbah of Shaykh Muhammad Hassan with the khutbah of Shaykh Nouman Ali Khan? Can you compare the khutbah of Shaykh Al-Arifi with the khutbah of Shaykh Muhammad Shareef? Can you compare the khutbah of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi with the khutbah of Shaykh Al-Albani? Compare the khutbahs of the best of Arab-speaking people with the khutbahs of the best of non-Arab speaking people.

    If I did compare the akhlaaq of my non-Muslim family with the akhlaaq of the majority of Muslims I know, I would quit Islam. So, following your reasoning, Islam is not superior to non-Islam? Astaghfirullah.

    Aren’t we told again and again to follow the salaf? Did the salaf learn Arabic or no? From Iraq to Morocco or Spain, they learnt Arabic. Aren’t we indebted to all those scholars who came from non-Arab countries and gave us such beautiful books, the most famous being Sahih al-Bukhari and some of the latest one being Shaykh al-Albani and Shaykh Mubarakpuri who wrote Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtoum (The Sealed Nectar),

    I finish by saying that I hope that your son will not come one day to you and say: “I wish you taught us Arabic” just the way my children have said: “I wish you taught us French”. My answer to my kids tough is that I left French to learn Arabic and so that you know Arabic and, now, I can say that my kids can speak many Arabic dialects, Algerian, Libyan, Egyptian. They probably forgot a bit of Syrian and Saudi but they can pick up any dialect very quickly, walhamdulillah.

  • There are many fascinating studies and personal accounts regarding immigrant experience with language. There are also a lot of myths surrounding it.

    The idea that immigrants do not wish to learn English plays in the background here, and it is a myth according to the ACLU, which states on their website: “Throughout our country’s history, critics of immigration have accused new immigrants of refusing to learn English and to otherwise assimilate. These charges are no truer today than they were then… In the first ever major longitudinal study of the children of immigrants, in 1992 Rambaut and Portes found that “the pattern of linguistic assimilation prevails across nationalities.”

    The fact that this is on the ACLU website hints at the fact that this myth is often exploited in the service of various forms of discrimination against immigrants.

    There is a lot of research extolling the benefits of bilingualism. Many language experts in the U.S. are now intent on helping new immigrants preserve what are called the “heritage languages.” Supporting new immigrants in preserving their culture and language not only helps them acquire their second language (English), since it lessens trauma, loss, and disorientation, it also helps them and their families make a smoother transition in other ways. Further, it enriches the experiences and knowledge base of the entire community, especially in a global society.

    There is a very rich academic discussion going on around these kinds of topics. I hope our community will not be afraid to benefit from opening up our experiences with immigration and language to larger vistas of inquiry and research.

  • I agree with this perspective which many people who have commented have misunderstood. I understand from the article that we should try to learn Arabic but at times it can be difficult so learning our religion in our mother language is sufficient. Just because one doesn’t speak Arabic doesn’t mean we cannot learn and be exposed to its greatness and unique qualities in poetry or the Quran. It’s great. Fantastic. Mysterious. Awesome. Beautiful. Etc. I know this and I do not speak Arabic. May Allah reward you for pointing this out brother.

  • I agree, some people who have misunderstood the author’s intentions….

    For example blanket comments saying “shame on” Arabs who exploit ethnocentrism for their own gains, or say that Arab attitude of “ethnocentrism” “saddens and disgusts” them, that they wonder how they can even maintain a “positive view” of Arabs, that many non-Arab muslims are laboring under an “inferiority complex” “indoctrination” and “brainwashing”.

    Maybe if some of this extreme and provocative language could be re-calibrated, we would see the author’s balanced insights shining through.

  • I am a Muslim convert. I converted last Ramadhan. In the years leading up to my conversion, I had travelled a lot throughout East Africa and the Middle East.

    One thing that left the most impact on me was the feeling that I had to become Arab to be a true/good Muslim.That is change my name to an Arabic one, learn the Arabic language, wrap my hair in the Arabic way (as opposed to the Turban wrap more commonly used in the West Indies/Africa).

    Oddly enough one the things that prevented me from converting earlier was this feeling that I had to abandon my own culture. I felt alot of resentment for not being accepted as an American Muslim.

    To this day, I do not pray in Arabic. When studying, I read the Quran in English. Islamic sayings such as “Bismillah” or “Inshallah.” ? I grew up saying these phrases daily, but English, so I continued to do so.

    As a non-Arab, a Westerner, turning into an Arab (as I viewed it) only made me feel like more alienated from Islam and God. I believe that this idea of Arabic/Arabization has made our religion one where we mimic practices and traditions with no sincere intentions, (almost sounds like the same message the prophet Jesus had). Alot of us don’t even know our religion and rely on scholars and others, because of this belief that everything must be done in the Arabic language. Who says that we as individuals cannot become scholars in our own religion? It is this practice that has created a space where our brother and sisters can be easily led astray.

    For me personally, I try my hardest to hold on to my West Indian American (culture) while still practicing Islam (my religion).

    To this day I still do not understand the ruling on Arabic. Yes, the Quran is the word of Allah, revealed in Arabic, for the pagan Arabs, but does the word of God change in English, Spanish, French, or Persian.

    Does the meaning of God Willing change if I say inshallah, or Si Dieu le veut or Si Dieu le veut?

    When the prophet came to with the message he said:

    14:4 —And We did not send any messenger except [speaking] in the language of his people to state clearly for them, and Allah sends astray [thereby] whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

    41:3-A Book whose verses have been detailed, an Arabic Qur’an for a people who know,

    It is well known, the prophet came with a message, from Allah, specifiably for the Arabs. If this is the case, then of course, The message would come in Arabic.

    If we agree the the books before (The Bible/Torah) are indeed the words of God why do we not place importance on Hebrew or Greek? While man may corrupt the word, through his practices, is not the word, still the word of God? In whatever language he choose to reveal it?

    What I really want to know is where in the Quran is it commanded that we have to recite in Arabic (Literally)? Is this a commandment? Is this tradition?

    By placing an importance of Arabic (as the language of worship) your argument about Arabization and Islam is somewhat null, why? Because if we argue that Arabic is the language of God, then of course naturally we hold whatever God chooses in high esteem, ie Arabic and by extension Arabs.

    I think the real question here is: Does god favors Arabs and the Arab language? And if so why?

    Please advise

    • “What I really want to know is where in the Quran is it commanded that we have to recite in Arabic (Literally)? Is this a commandment? Is this tradition?”

      this is not in Quran and this is not known words of Muhammad, this is just behavior of Muhammad, but seems none people of neighbour nations of Arabs like Jews or Persians or Kopts who embraced Islam asked Muhammad whether they can pray salat in their own language.

      so also i think that commandment of islamic scientists to pray salat in arabic has not strong approvement. seems it is made just to be sure.

      but , it is said in Quran that is Quran is in Arabic. Any translation changes meaning. So translations made by men are not true Qur’an. And as i know there is said in hadiths that we should read Qur’an in salat. But there are other words except Qur’an in salat.

      And, who knows, what did mean Muhammad when he said to read Qur’an? May be he did not mean to read it in language you do not understand?

      And of course Allah wants people to learn meaning of Quran. because it is book and books are to read. And as I remember in some ayats Allah says that people should think about his ayats.

      btw see ayat 62:5, Muhammad Asad translation: “THE PARABLE of those who were graced with the burden of the Torah, and thereafter failed to bear this burden, is that of an ass that carries a load of books [but cannot benefit from them]. Calamitous is the parable of people who are bent on giving the lie to God’s messages – for God does not bestow His guidance upon such evildoing folk!”
      so people who are reading Qur’an but do not understand it {because of that and because not all commandmends of Qur’an are widely known in their language community} do not do what is said in by God for us to do are like donkeys who carry books.

      • i said “And, who knows, what did mean Muhammad when he said to read Qur’an? May be he did not mean to read it in language you do not understand?”. i hurried… i did not “remember out” my thought completely. it is better to say:
        And, who knows, what did mean Muhammad when he said to say some words like “alhamdulillah”, different words when doing different things, like going into mosque, going to travel, going to sleep, etc, duas? May be he meant to tell it in own language?

  • Assalamu alaykum,

    I wouldn’t normally criticize someone’s parenting choices, but since the author put it out there, I have to say that I strongly believe that if parents know a second language, they should pass that on to their children.

    In general, that goes for any language, because as someone has mentioned, there are many benefits to being fluent in more than one language, in terms of skills, flexibility, etc. My children grew up hearing me speak English and hearing their father speak Arabic, and they’re fluent in both, masha’Allah. It was amazing to see how easily they picked up both languages, whereas anyone who’s tried to learn a new language as an adult knows that it’s much, much harder then.

    Specifically, though, for Muslims, there’s all the more reason to teach your children Arabic if you know it. A Muslim who is fluent in Arabic has access to so much more knowledge because all the classical texts are in Arabic. And when he or she travels among other Muslim communities around the world – including at Hajj – he can communicate with others, etc.

  • Peace brother, I have a question. Moses was raised in Egypt. The Israelites, after generations of slavery, would eventually lose their original language, similar to African slaves in America. This of course is an assumption but is there any likelihood that Moses and the Israelites would pick up the language of the Egyptians, or at least be influenced by it? It is also very doubtful that Egyptians of today speak the language of the Egyptians from back then (not sure of the time period).

  • I totally agree! Very nice article. At the same time, non arab speakers need to be more involved in the running of mosques, organizing activities, etc. That will help a lot in spreading the language of the country you live in.

  • […] Arabism vs. Universal Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer If we were to say that Arabic is the language of Islam then we would be saying the great Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were not true Muslims since they didn’t speak or know Arabic! The role of Arabic in Islam explored… […]

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