Is Arabic a Holy Language?
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In its latest issue, the magazine carries an interesting article by Shakir
Ebrahim who makes the case of praying to Allah in our mother tongues, and
not restrict praying in Arabic alone.
Ebrahim writes, "Try praying just one of the five prayers in the language
you know best. Write it down on a piece of paper and read it while you
perform the prayers. See how deeply you will understand your communication
with the Almighty God, and I promise you that you will come out having felt
that this is the first time in your life that you have truly spoken with the
One who created you; the Almighty, the Marvelous God."
Read and reflect.
Is Arabic a Holy Language?
By Shakir Ebrahim
Why do Muslims across the world use Arabic in their communication with God,
whether Hindi speaking Indians, Malay speaking Malaysians and Indonesians,
or Swahili speaking East Africans?
Over time, Arabic became the default language of Muslims, assuming such a
close link with Islam itself that it became regarded as divine. But how did
this process happen?
Picture this. The Arabs, forever the laggards in the region, suddenly
grouped together under the inspiration of a new religion and became a strong
nation. They conquered the whole of Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt
and Iran in a space of 10-15 years. Since the language of the court and
administration of the conquered lands became Arabic, slowly the people
started adopting the language, and within the next 300-400 years, all but
Iran exclusively used Arabic. Even in Iran, the script was borrowed from
Arabic and all religious literature was in Arabic, while the arts and other
books were written in Persian, a language derived from Pahlavi.
When the empire extended into Africa, India and Spain the ascendancy of
Islam in the 11th century was complete. Jewish traders in Europe spoke
Arabic, though for religious ceremonies they used Hebrew. Under these
circumstances the language of the future looked Arabic, just as English
looks like the language of the future today.
Why do we want our children to study in English medium schools today. If we
can afford it, we will not put them in Gujarati or Urdu medium schools. That
was the thinking with regard to Arabic right up to the 14th and 15th
centuries, when it received a challenge from Turkish. Such was the dominance
of Arabic and Islam that the Mongol invaders who sacked Baghdad in 1258 and
ended the Abbasid Dynasty, themselves embraced Islam within 50 years.
Historians say that never before has an invader accepted the religion and
language of the invaded. The British ruled India, but they did not become
Hindus, instead we learned English. You can imagine the power Islam held in
Since Islam was revealed in Arabic, the two were closely interlinked. And
since every land the Arabs occupied replaced their own language with Arabic,
nobody thought of making a distinction between the religion and the
language. It was taken as given that sooner or later Islam would conquer the
Since a majority of Muslims worldwide come from non-Arab speaking
backgrounds, the question arises; how relevant is Arabic as a language to
us. This is what God says about Arabic in the Quran:
And if we had made it a Quran in a foreign tongue, they would certainly
have said: If only its communication had been made clear? What! A foreign
tongue and an Arab? (Quran 41:44)
This verse clearly states that the reason for sending the Holy Quran in
Arabic was: (a) to prevent miscommunication in the message since the
listeners knew only Arabic and
(b) revelation in another language would put doubts on the Prophets
credibility. Already there were people who tried undermining him with
charges of sorcery, equating the verses with poetry and his credibility to
those of a rawi (a wandering poet).
In another verse, God states: Surely we have revealed it -- an Arabic Qur
an -- that you may understand. (Quran 12:2)
How many non-Arab Muslims understand Arabic? My guess -- not even one
percent. Then what is God telling us with this verse? Asking non-Arabs to
learn Arabic is a rigid position and impractical.
We must understand that the first listeners of Gods final word were Arabs.
How could He possibly have sent His message in another language, as the Qur
an itself says in 41:44 and as I have explained earlier. If God were to
speak to you today, would he speak to you in Arabic or English? This verse
teaches us an important lesson to interpret the Quran in its correct
If Arabic was Gods favorite language, would he have sent the Bible or the
Old Testament in Hebrew? Take another verse:
And We did not send any Apostle but with the language of his people, so
that he might explain to them clearly (Quran 14:4)
Again the rationale for Gods usage of any particular language in the
messages He has sent during the history of humankind is simply a matter of
circumstance, so that the message is understood properly. There is period --
no other reason. I can therefore deduce using logic, that were God to send a
message to us, he would send it in a language you understood, and being
non-Arab, that language is certainly not Arabic; keeping with verse 12:2,
so that you may understand
But we non-Arab Muslims, who are so obsessed with following Islam as the
Arabs do, follow them blindly, by choosing Arabic as the language of
communication with the Almighty God, who understands all languages.
Our five daily prayers contain nothing but praise for the Glory of Almighty
God. People of all faiths would never object to this praise. I challenge any
Hindu or Christian to say that no, we do not agree to what you say in your
prayers. They cannot because it is pure glorification of the Lord.
But the problem is that they dont know what we say in our prayers.
Worse, the bigger problem is that not many of us understand what we recite
in our prayers, even though we do it every single day of our lives. Isnt
that a shame? Isnt that a blind following of Islam?
With so many negatives, I dont see why we continue to pray in Arabic. To
understand Islam better and make Islam better understood, we should all pray
in a language we are familiar with. After praying my ritual prayers for 19
years in Arabic, I have since 2 years now begun to pray in English.
There are many arguments scholars will give to continue to pray in Arabic,
but they are all theoretical, none make practical sense. Try praying just
one of the five prayers in the language you know best. Write it down on a
piece of paper and read it while you perform the prayers. See how deeply you
will understand your communication with the Almighty God, and I promise you
that you will come out having felt that this is the first time in your life
that you have truly spoken with the One who created you; the Almighty, the