Estimates put the percentage of Muslims who are of Arabic-speaking ethnicity at a meager 20%, however Muslims worldwide are required to say their five daily prayers in Arabic, irrespective of their native tongue due to the fact that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in Arabic.
Why Is The Muslim Prayer In Arabic?
The five-times per day Muslim prayer consists of reciting a limited number of verses and words which could fit on one page, are familiar to all Muslims, and have become a part of the various local languages, such as “God is Great” “Allah Akbar”, “praise be to God” “AlhamduLillah”, and “Glory be to God” “Sobhana Allah” .
Prayer in one language has been a unifying factorfor over 1400 years; it facilitates communication and recognition in the diverse Muslim world. Every Muslim utters the original words of God, instead of depending on the various translations which are just attempted interpretations by humans of the Holy Qur’an. For instance, imagine how confusing things would be if every Muslim were to say “God is Great” in his/her native language during the annual pilgrimage (Hajj)season in Mecca.
The Qur’an Cannot Be Translated, Period!
The translation of any work of literature usually gets across only the superficial meaning of the original work and typically misses its spirit.
A. J.Arberry is an English Muslim who converted to Islam and who translated the Qur’an in a book titled “The Koran Interpreted”. According to Arberry, the Qur’an cannot be translated, because any translation would not be the Glorious Qur’an, “that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy”. Arberry opines that his interpretation is “only an attempt to present the meaning of the Koran — and peradventure something of the charm — in English”.
Are Non-Arab Muslims at a Disadvantage?
Non-Arabs may feel disadvantaged about having to learn Arabic in order to understand the Qur’an, however as a native speaker of Arabic I have to testify that I need to read the interpretation (tafseer) of the Qur’an in Arabic in addition to English in order to understand it.
For example in the 29th chapter, the Spider(Al-Ankabut) verse 29:64“the real life” is one word “alhayawan” which to the casual reader sounds exactly like the Arabic word for animal.
Verse 29:64 “This worldly life is no more than vanity and play, while the abode of the Hereafter is the real life, if they only knew”
The Diversity ofMuslims’ Ethnicities and Languages
The Holy Qur’an emphasizes that the diversity of ethnicities and languages is one of the rich features of Islam, Surat Al-Hujurat (The Dwellings) 49:13 “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another….”
Similarly SuratHud (11:118) “And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one Ummah [one nation or community(following one religion i.e. Islam)], but [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views….”
The Diverse Interpretations of the Qur’an
As a demonstration of the diverse and possibly subjective interpretations of the Qur’anconsider four different interpretations that are available online of the 52nd verse of the 23rd chapter Al-Mu’minun (The Believers) 23:52
- “And verily this religion (of Islamic Monotheism) is one religion, and I am your Lord, so fear (keep your duty to) Me.”
- “Surely this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord; so fear Me. ”
- “And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me!”
- “Such is your congregation – one congregation – and I am your Lord; you shall reverence Me ”
Impact of the Qur’an on the Arabic Language
There is debate whether Arabic is a divine language that was created by God or if God has created in humans the ability to produce Arabic.Some opine that the Arabic language has been able to stand the test of time with hardly a noticeable change over at least 1400 years in its literary form, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation. This strength is credited mainly to the divinity of the Holy Qur’an whose style and grammar hasset the rules and cannot be challenged by anyone.
A lot has been written about the unique features of the Arabic language, its eloquence, precision, clarity, richness and its ability to express profound concepts using concise words. It is interesting to compare the number of words of a given verse in Arabic versus its English “translation”, for example, in Al-Nisaa (The Women) a part of Verse [4: 124], consists of three words in Arabic “la yozlamonanaqiran” compared to 8 in English “they will not be wronged in the least”. Another interpretation of the same phrase by another author is much longr“..And not the least injustice, even to the size of a speck on the back of a date stone, will be done to them”
Eleven Verses Which Emphasize Arabic as The Language Of The Qur’an:
- Joseph 12:2 “Verily, we have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an in order that you may understand”.
- Alrad(The Thunder)13:37“and thus we have sent it (the Qur’an) down to be a judgment of authority in Arabic….”
- An-Nahl (The Bee)16:103: “And indeed We know that they (polytheists and pagans) say: ‘It is only a human being who teaches him (Muhammad PBUH)’. The tongue of the man they refer to is foreign, while this (the Qur’an) is a clear Arabic tongue.”
- TAHA 20:113 “And thus We have sent it down as a Qur’an in Arabic, and have explained therein in detail the warnings…..”
- Al-Shoaraa(The Poets) 26:192-195 “and truly this (the Qur’an) is a revelation from the lord of the Alamin[mankind, jinn and all that exists]”… which the trustworthy divine spirit[Gabriel] has brought down upon your heart [O’ Muhamad] so that you may be one of the warners in the plain Arabic language”
- Az-Zumar (The Goups) 39:27 “And indeed We have put forth for men, in this Qur’an every kind of similitude in order that they may remember. 39:28 AnArabic Qur’an, without any crookedness….”
- Fussilat(Explained In Detail) 41:2-3 “revelation from (Allah), the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. A Book whereof the Verses are explained in detail- A Qur’an in Arabic for people who know”
- Fussilat41:44 “And if We had sent this as a Qur’an in a foreign language (other than Arabic) they would have said: ‘why are not its verses explained in detail (in our language)? What! (A Book) not in Arabicand (the Messengar) an Arab?’…..”
- Al-Shura (The Consultation) 42:7 “ And thus we have revealed to you (O Muhammad) a Qur’an in Arabic that you may warn the Mother of the Towns (Makkah) and all around it..”.
- Al-Zukhruf (The Gold Adornments) 43:2 “By the manifest Book (i.e. this Qur’an that makes things clear). 43:3 Verily, We have made it a Qur’an in Arabic that you may be able to understand (its meanings and its admonitions).”
- Al-Ahqaf (The Sand-Dunes)46:12 “And before this was the Scripture of Moses as a guide and a mercy. And this is a confirming Book (the Qur’an) in the Arabic language, to warn those who do wrong, as a glad tidings to the good doers”