Sunday, August 30, 2009

Language - The Mysterious Access to Allah?

As Salaamu Alaikum and Greetings of Peace:

Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim readers, and hello to everyone else.

I have been so busy at the prison, trying to get everyone, staff and inmates, settled in for the month of Ramadan. The holy month creates a huge change in prison routine, so you can imagine how the initial week or so makes everyone a little crazy, lol. So, forgive me if I have not responded to comments and such. Anyhow...

I have been thinking about language a lot lately. Why? Because I just ordered a Qur'an with French translation for a Cambodian inmate.

Inmates (as well as Muslims in the street, especially re-verts) try to pepper their speech with Arabic. For example, if I ask an inmate "how are you?" I am likely to get "tayeeb" as a response. The correct response for a woman would be "tayeeba" but "tayeeb" is what inmates learn through the various generalized Arabic books and Arabic expression charts that they have access to. I also get "naam" as a response to questions I ask. Or, "shukran" as an expression of thanks or gratitude.

Inmates are always asking me how-do-you-say questions about the Arabic language, to which I have to tell them I-don't-know-but-I-can-find-out-for-you-insha-Allah."

Personally, I have learned how to make salaat in Arabic because it is required. (Anyone who disputes this, perhaps it is a post for another time.)

And I have learned my surahs in Arabic. Granted, I do not know many, but the ones I do know I feel that I can recite as perfectly as I am able, Alhamdulillah.


I admit that I am resistant to learning Arabic for any purpose other than religious ones. Why? Well, it's not that I have anything against Arabs or the Arabic language, it's just that it's not a priority for me. I did make it a priority to learn how to pronounce the letters of the Arabic alphabet properly, and it is a priority for me to learn more surahs, but not to speak the Arabic language in general. I refuse to run around replying "naam" or "lah" to questions asked of me.

Perhaps this resistance has roots in my childhood. My father was Jewish, and my mother was Catholic.

In the synagogue, children were pressured to learn Hebrew.

And in Catholic Sunday school, children were pressured to learn Latin.

All synagogue services were in Hebrew, and Mass was celebrated in Latin (although the Catholic church has changed that).

Is access to God dependent upon one's ability to speak a certain language? Especially one that is not their own? Jeez!!!

Before anyone accuses me of being a Muslim heathen, can you answer the following questions?

Are we, as Muslims, required to learn the Arabic language? Do the People of Paradise speak Arabic? Will Allah speak to us in Arabic in Jennah?

Many Muslims will answer "yes" to these questions.

But, I did a little investigation.

According to Shaykh Al-Munajjid from Islam QA, specifically, Fatwa No. 83262:

"There is no mention in the Qur'aan or in the saheeh Sunnah - as far as we know - of which language is spoken by the people of Paradise. What is narrated concerning that is a hadeeth which is not soundly narrated from our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and some other reports (athaar)."

Here is the hadith that has been narrated:

"It was narrated by al-Tabaraani in al-Awsat, al-Haakim, al-Bayhaqi in Shu’ab al-Eemaan and others that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Love the Arabs for three reasons, because I am an Arab, the Qur’aan is Arabic and the speech of the people of Paradise is Arabic.”

You can read the full discussion of this hadith in the fatwa, but it also relates:

"Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked: in what (language) will Allaah address the people on the Day of Resurrection? Will Allaah address them in the tongue of the Arabs? Is it true that the language of the people of Hell will be Farsi and that the language of the people of Paradise will be Arabic? He replied: Praise be to Allaah, the Lord of the Worlds. It is not known what language the people will speak on that Day, or in what language they will hear the words of the Lord, may He be exalted, because Allaah has not told us anything about that, nor has His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). It is not true that Farsi will be the language of the people of Hell, or that Arabic will be the language of the people of Paradise. We do not know of any discussion of that among the Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them), rather all of them refrained from speaking of that because speaking about such a thing is discussion of something unnecessary… but there was a dispute concerning that among later scholars. Some people said that they will be addressed in Arabic and others said that the people of Hell will respond in Farsi, which will be their language in Hell. Others said that they will be addressed in Syriac because that was the language of Adam and from it stemmed all other languages. Others said that the people of Paradise will speak Arabic. There is no basis for any of these ideas, whether on the grounds of common sense or in any report or text, rather they are mere claims that are devoid of any evidence. And Allaah knows best and is most Wise."

Hmmm ...

Arabic is the language of the Qur'an, so we must study enough Arabic to accomplish the goal of reading and comprehension of the Qur'an. And there is sound saheeh hadith to that end:

The People of the Quran are from Best of People:

‘Uthmaan said that the Prophet said: “The best of you are those who learn the Quran and teach it to others.” [Al-Bukhaari]

There are Ten Rewards for Every Letter Recited from the Quran

As a Hadeeth (prophetic statement) in At-Tirmithi proves: “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allaah, he will have a reward, and this reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that 'Alif, Laam, Meem' (a combination of letters frequently mentioned in the Holy Quran) is a letter, rather I am saying that 'Alif' is a letter, 'Laam' is a letter and 'Meem' is a letter.” [At-Tirmithi] So increase your recitation of the Quran to gain these merits, as well as the following ones.

The Reciters of the Quran Will Be in the Company of the Noble and Obedient Angels

‘Aa'ishah related that the Prophet said: “Indeed the one who recites the Quran beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. As for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhaari & Muslim]

So dear brother or sister Muslim, do not let the Shaytaan (Satan) give you false excuses, such as 'I am not an Arab.' or 'It is not in my language.' This Hadeeth is a firm proof against these whisperings.

Dedicate yourself to the Book of Allaah, whether you are an Arab or not! The excuses have been eliminated and the pathway has been cleared for you to embrace the Book of Allaah without holding back or offering excuses! Surely you will not hesitate to seek a teacher or a study circle for the Quran once you hear the last and perhaps greatest benefits of reading and contemplating over the Quran.

One's Position and Rank in Paradise is Determined by the Amount of Quran He Memorised in this Lifed compehending the Qur'an.

For all of you non Arab Muslims like me out there:

May your rewards be doubled as you increase your Arabic knowledge of this deen during this blessed month of Ramadan/Ameen!


Nikki said...

I am interested in your opinion on the matter of praying in Arabic being required. I'm aware that most people think this, so I pray in Arabic to 'be safe,' per say, but I know that God can understand all languages, so I don't really understand this ruling.

Could you please shed some light on this matter for me? I understand that the Qur'an recitation should be in Arabic, but not the rest of the prayer...? I honestly feel that I would 'feel' my prayers more if they were in English, because right now I'm just stumbling through memorized recitation. As I become more comfortable hopefully the feeling and meaning will come as well, but I get quite frustrated thinking that I can only come to God in Arabic, a language I do not know.

Thanks in advance for any advice/opinions you can share,


iMuslimah said...

Excellent post sister, and Ramadan Mubarak!

Zarmeena said...


Interesting notion about language of Paradise being Arabic and that of Hell, Farsi.

I am no scholar, but I am strongly inclined towards anti-ethnicity and anti-racism.

In his last srmon, the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, among other things, 'No Arab has any precedence over an Ajam and vice versa'

Now the Arabs felt, and still do feel very strongly against non-Arabs. And Ajam was basically for the peopole who spoke Faras, who again thought very high of themselves and their language.

Perhaps somebody, in the ancient but after Muhammad Arab world, was so charged up against the Ajams that he went to the extent of declaring Arabic as the language of Paradise and Farsi that of hell.

May Allah forgive me if I am wrong or disrespectful but I did read somewhere that many ahadith were cooked up to favor one nation or another.. maybe this is one of them?

Imane said...

As-Salamou 'Alaykoum wa rahmatoullahi wa barakatouhou.

Dear sister Safyyah,
First, thanks for this very interesting post.
Al hamdoulillah, every one with a common sense can understand that The Almighty understands every language.
Mohammed صلى الله عليه وسلم was Arab but above all the best of mankind, and our Holy book was revealed in Arabic, and until the end of times it will never change.
Performing the 5 obligatory prayers is the 2nd pillar of our faith, and to have a united Ummah, we can only perform them the way Mohammed صلى الله عليه وسلم used to do it. But of course when one makes douaa (supplication), it’s in one’s language! If you go to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, all the prayers are in Arabic, but when the imam talks it’s in their own language.
Astaghfor Allah, Asshaytan is very strong: how can a real believer think that because “I don’t like some Arab people, all the Arabs are bad, so I’m not keen on using Arabic even in my obligatory prayers????”
Have they really understood the message: one Ummah, whatever your condition, your colour, your background, united following Mohammed صلى الله عليه وسلم to one goal: seeing the face of Allah.

May He forget us, and make us stronger to have A REAL UNITED UMMAH, the only way to success, and Ramadan Kareem.
Fi amanillah,

Jules UmmEmJoey said...

asalaam alaikum,

EXCELLENT post! Mash'Allah! I think this is soooo important, especially for those of us who struggle with the Arabic. I do agree that salah in Arabic is a good thing. But I also know that I don't understand all of what I say, even after the couple of years I have been Muslim. And some of it, when I have time, which isn't often, I repeat the English silently after I recite the Arabic to internalize it for myself.

I am also excited about a class that will come to my city early next year, insha'Allah which will cover the Arabic that we say in salah with an explanation for non-Arabic speakers. Just finished a class about the literary characteristics of the Quran for non-Arabic speakers and it was excellent, and greatly extended my understanding of Quran, alhamdulilah.

Most importantly though I think is to remember that Allah understands us no matter what language we speak, and if we reach out with sincerity Allah hears.

Hugs, and Ramadan Mubarak dear Sis!

Anonymous said...

As-salamu Alaykum, and Ramadan Mubarak!

The way I see it is that Arabic is the lingua franca of the Muslim world. If we all have a language in common, then we can communicate with our brothers and sisters in different countries, whether they are in Arab countries or in other countries. Some might argue that English is more widely spoken and could just as effectively serve as a lingua franca. Well, perhaps that is true to some extent, but I do believe that Arabic is special due to it being the language used to transmit the Qur'an. If you learn "just enough Arabic to read the Qur'an properly," that would probably be a lifelong task and lead to you having the ability to speak Arabic in everyday situations as well.

There is also the fact that the original Qur'an is preserved in Arabic and cannot ever be altered the way translations can. I think it is important for Muslims to continue learning Arabic so that the meanings are not altered or lost as they have been in other religions whose holy books have gone through multiple translations. You might have a very good English translation of the Qur'an that was translated directly from Arabic to English. However, someone might come along at a later time to translate the Qur'an to a more obscure language and not use the original Arabic Qur'an to perform this task. Instead, he/she might rely on the English translation. Then someone might use that translation to translate to yet another language and so on. This is how religious texts have the potential to get distorted and lost over time.

Finally, there is a lot more written about Islamic topics in Arabic than there is in English. Learning Arabic gives you access to literature and hundreds of years of scholarly thought.

Some people think if you do not know Arabic that you cannot know God or the Qur'an, and I totally disagree with this. You are not less religious or spiritual if you do not have knowledge of the Arabic language. I myself prefer to read the English-language translation of the Qur'an and refer back to the Arabic for enrichment. A lot of Muslims do tend to pepper their speech with Arabic phrases and terms, and I am sensing some backlash against this. I think it is okay if people pepper their language in this manner because they share a belief in common and are looking for ways to bond. I think this is only natural and is not a problem at all. From personal experience, however, I can say that it does become problematic when you can't stop doing it in other situations where the people are not Muslims and do not understand Arabic at all. This can cause confusion for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

Salaams Safiyyah:

This is completely off the topic but...

I was reading one of your old posts and saw tht you had purchased your first home (congratualtions by the way) and i was wondering how you had done so without indulging in riba?
I look forward(hope really) to buy my first home as well but didnt know how I could go about it here.

I hope that you are able to respond :)

Ramadan Mubarak

Anonymous said...

Salaams Safiyyah:

This is completely off the topic but...

I was reading one of your old posts and saw tht you had purchased your first home (congratualtions by the way) and i was wondering how you had done so without indulging in riba?
I look forward(hope really) to buy my first home as well but didnt know how I could go about it here.

I hope that you are able to respond :)

Ramadan Mubarak

mezba said...

salaams sister.

I increase my knowledge of Arabic only to help understand the glorious Quran better.

As for Arabs, they have always had a superior sense of entitlement (despite the Prophet saying Arab is no better than non-Arab).

I can't believe that hadith (about Arabic being the language of Paradise) being true, especially as it includes Farsi hatred.

There were thousands of Prophets (only 25 are mentioned in the Quran) who were non Arab. In fact, only Muhammad pbuh as per my knowledge is Arab.

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Everyone:

Insha Allah I will respond to comments soon (been crazy busy), but here's a link that implies that learning Urdu is fard (lol):

It also blames "high pan toilets" for much of the corruption of Muslims in the West, loool.

Br00ke said...

I want to know why plant watering cans are used for stinga in the masjid. That don't reach very well, ya know. Are these fard? :P

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaykum sister,

I’ve read that”fard”stuff in that mentioned site.. I think that site is from Urdu speaking west settled or pakistani Muslims...most of Urdu speaking Muslims forgot learning their mother tongue Urdu themselves and also stoped sending their children to learn the same....

When he/they started the website, the site provider may not be aware about browsing others who are non Urdu speaking Muslims.

I think they added FARD for Pakistani or Indian Urdu speaking citizens. Not for any others.

They may think forwarding such thing is their duty, but never thought that doesn’t exist in Islam...never.

High pan toilet…hahahaha (lol).. Maybe that is against their culture or difficult to use.

This type of sites helps us to look into real/authentic Islamic sites.

wan zaharizan b wan zan said...

I rad your site i am impressed. I am interested in Judaism and meeting a Jew. I wish i could meet you. For me you can pray in any languages. God will listen. The obligatory prayers are in Arabic. The only surah that is compulsory and is part of the obligatory prayers is the fatihah. The rest of the words are sunat. whether Sunat abaat or haiah.The movement, rukuu' prostrating etc are required but can be wave if you are sick or infirm.You must always be in ablution and must always be cloth for prayers. It is best if you smell good. A sunat and encourage. A doa or supplication is such a difficult word. A doa is a prayer in layman terms. For that you begin each with Bismillah, In the name of God and say in what ever language, be it chinese tamil hindi persian malay or in yiddish. Insyallah he will listen. A Sunnah is not Sunat. A Sunnah is about Mohammad but Sunat is things that are encourage for you to do. A Makruh is things best left avoided. So beside faithah in oblgatory prayers the first salam is also wajib (must do).
In the quran there is a verse that say God has created man of many tribes and languages so if Jesus or Isa spoke Aramaic thus God words must have come down in Aramaic. So be it. What ever languages comes from him do good and walk the straight path, always

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Halima said...

Asalaamu aleikum-

I don't know why anyone would reply "tayib" to a question asking how they are- a more likely response would be "b'kheir, alhamdulillah" or something like that, even just "alhamdulillah" will do. My husband, who speaks Arabic as his first language says "No one talks like that"! And a woman would NOT say "tayiba", either. I don't know where this stuff comes from. And there's a big difference between ethnic/regional uses of everyday Arabic to the Arabic of the Qur'an or "Fusha". But recitation inside the salat MUST be made in Arabic to be valid- that's without doubt. Du'aa can be made in any language, though.
I don't see the harm in using Arabic phrases that ALL muslims use, regardless of culture- like "inshallah", "alhamdulillah", "jezakallu kheiran", "Allah y'salmak", etc.- these expressions are distinctive to muslims and distinguish us from the non-believers and unite us as an Ummah.

Safiyyah said...

Wow, JAK to Halima for posting a comment. It made me realize I hadn't responded here. I must have been REAL busy. Anyhow:

@ Nikki - yes, my understanding is that salat must be in Arabic. Salat is a pillar of Islam, and all pillars have arkan (rules) attached to them. There are things that have to be done, and things that should not be done. Dikr and Dua can be in your own language.

Since writing this post, I have started to study Arabic, Alhamdulillah.

@ Halima - Ana tayeeb or tayeeba is commonly heard in the prison environment. It is heard mostly from African-American inmates. Not sure where they get this from. But definitely female inmates shouldn't say ana tayeeb! So, I guess you are correct in that there are cultural/region uses of Arabic that may not make sense to a native speaker of Arabic. Even they, from my understanding, disagree about certain points like pronunciation, dialect, etc.

@ Brooke - yuk, those watering cans! If one isn't careful they can poke themselves where the sun doesn't shine ... jus' sayin ...