Learning Arabic: How Important is it to our Faith?
There are about 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. Less than 15% of them live in the Arab world. Yet, the Arabic language rolls off the tongues of every Muslim during solah, Qur’anic reading and recitation and even simple conversations! Although it may be broken or accented, most Muslims are able to read, recite, and understand at least some Arabic.
Although the Arabic language is not the native language of a majority of the Muslim population, the general consensus remains that it is an important part of Islam. Those surveyed brought up the significance of the Arabic language in our understanding of Islam.
Why is Arabic so important to understanding the faith of Islam?
Islam is founded on the belief in the Almighty Creator, Allah SWT who has sent down onto us the Qur’an – His Word. The Qur’an is a direct communication between Allah and His creation. The Qur’an emphasises the necessity of learning Arabic in order to fully comprehend Allah’s word:[quote]“We have sent down an Arabic Qur’an, in order that you may learn wisdom” (12:2)[/quote] [quote]“Thus have We sent this down – an Arabic Qur’an – and explained therein some of the warnings, in order that they may remember Allah, or that it may cause their remembrance (of Him)” (20:113)[/quote] [quote]“(It is) a Qur’an in Arabic, without any crookedness (therein): in order that they may guard against Evil.” (39:28)[/quote]
Part of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an lies in its “literary and linguistic nature… [which] transcends the productive capacity of the Arabic language” (Hamza & Adam. Unknown). However, the potency of Allah’s message and the poetic beauty of the Qur’an, which moved the heart of Sayyidina Umar Al-Khattab RA to Islam, cannot be encapsulated in translations and will be lost on non-Arab speakers.
Just as with any other language, it is impossible to directly translate Arabic into another language without losing its meaning. Highlighting this fact, translators have always called the translations as “The translation of the meaning of the Qur’an” because literary and linguistic terms are embedded in the language itself.
In addition, translations cannot replace the original language as a language of worship.
To quote Elsayed M.H Omran (1988),[box_dark]“It is implicit that anyone professing Islam cannot ignore the role Arabic plays in his faith. Embracing Islam, therefore, entails exposure to, and familiarity with, the Arabic language.”[/box_dark]
Some learn to speak, some learn to be pious
Recently, the Arabic language landed on the list of top ten most difficult languages in the world. Still, those that I spoke to expressed their intent to study the language, but with slightly differing motives.
The older generation (i.e. my parents’ generation) are especially concerned about the ukhrawi aspect of learning Arabic. One experienced adult pointed out that, aside from learning how to read the Qur’an, one must be able to recite the Qur’an accurately. He brought up the example of kalb as oppose to qalb. Both words, while sounding similar, have vastly different meanings – the former means ‘dog’ and the latter, ‘heart’.
Imagine reading the verses of the Qur’an without care. The meanings can be completely altered and possibly conflicting to the original message. Thus, we see more of the older generation voluntarily seeking out Qur’anic studies such as tajwid classes.
On the other hand, the younger generation are more focused on the learning the language for communication. As Middle East-Singapore relations continue to improve, it seems prudent to learn the Arabic language in order to take advantage of the flourishing business and job opportunities available.
Yet, a significant majority of the younger generation are not pursuing a serious study of the Arabic language. Most pointed out the difficulty of the language and the need to study it in depth, in order to master the language. According to some from weekend madasahs, the knowledge they have learnt was insufficient and mastery of the language can only be gotten through a serious study of the language itself.
Therefore, given time in the future insya Allah, they hope to study the language in depth.
It will be a misjudgement to assume that the young are not interested in gaining knowledge for the sake of improving their understanding of the Islamic faith. Rather, every one of those surveyed mentioned the “inherent” link the Arabic language has to Islam. Even when expressing the communicative aspect of the Arabic language, one young individual mentioned the usefulness of knowing Arabic while doing hajj or umrah on Arab land.
A friend of mine had also, cleverly pointed out that the Arabic language serves as a common language between Muslim brothers and sisters. Therefore, it is a very useful thing to know the Arabic language well enough for communication.
Conversational Arabic & Modern Standard Arabic
However, conversational Arabic language such as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and the different Arabic dialects may not allow an understanding of the faith of Islam but not enough to fully appreciate the Qur’an. Just as knowing how to speak, read, and write English does not immediately allow you to appreciate Shakespeare, knowing how to speak, read, and write Arabic does not translate into immediate enlightenment on the glory of the Qur’an.
Consequently, we must not stop at just learning the Arabic language but also, further knowledge about our Islamic faith. Islamic studies should be a life-long learning process. Prophet Muhammad SAW has even ordered his followers to actively search for Islamic knowledge (“The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74). A Muslim must know the obligatory basics of Islam in order to function as a Muslim as part of society.
Sending Children Abroad for Islamic Studies
The search for Islamic knowledge coupled with a better economy has evidently led to an increase in parents sending children abroad for Islamic studies. To the outsider, it may seem that the parents are the ones pushing their children abroad but there are some cases where the children request to go abroad for Islamic studies.
According to those furthering their Islamic education, full-time madrasahs can only offer them the fundamentals. Therefore, it is necessary to go abroad to pursue further Islamic studies. Those sending their young children off largely cite the Islamic learning environment abroad which allows the children to study both duniawi and ukhrawi subjects while maintaining their obligations as Muslims.
Learning more about Islam can still be done without going pass the immigration point. In recent years, there are more Islamic and Arabic programs catering to the young, old, and the busy. A quick search over the Internet will not only yield the available programs and activities being held locally, but also online lectures by the experts which can be watched or listened to at any time. If there is a will, there is a way.
As in the Qur’an, we pray “O my Lord! bestow wisdom on me, and join me with the righteous;” (26:83). Wallahualam.
- Elsayed M.H Omran. 1988. “Islam, the Qur’an and the Arabic Literature.” AL-SERAT 14:1 Retrieved June 2012.(http://www.al-islam.org/al-serat/arabic.htm)
- Unknown. 2010. “The Importance of the Arabic Language.” Retrieved June 2012.(http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/concepts/islamic-culture/10654-the-importance-of-the-arabic-language)
- “Importance of Arabic Language.” 2009. TurnToIslam. Retrieved June 2012. (http://www.turntoislam.com/forum/showthread.php?t=51946)
Aishah is a fourth year Sociology undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University who enjoys reading, and letting her mind wander. She talks to herself a lot… allegedly.