You have to know Arabic to become a Muslim … ?

My own early attempts to understand and learn Arabic

I am going to suggest that you do not, but also why it’s a good idea in the long term.

To become a Muslim you simply have to submit to God (Allah in Arabic) and you do this through the declaration of faith, the Shahada*, (literally ‘the testimony’).

*”I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of God.”

Yes, you could learn this in Arabic and this is great, but even more wonderful is that you clearly understand and truely commit to what you are saying. If that is best done in your native language then so be it.

Its worth noting that some mosques conduct all of their services in the language of the country they are based in to become more open to those joining the ummah (the islamic community).

Likewise when learning to pray (Salah) , you will include a number or chapters (Surah’s) from the Quran. As you do so make sure you don’t simply learn by copying the sounds from an audio file or reading transliterations from Arabic into your native language, Instead start in your own language and make sure you understand each and every word and phrase so you pray with meaning rather than simple repetitions.

Put simply Allah wouldn’t wish language to be a barrier to the Islamic faith for any nation.

“You are all brothers and are all equal. None of you can claim any privilege or any superiority over any other. An Arab is not to be preferred to a non-Arab, nor is a non Arab to be preferred to an Arab; nor is a white man to be preferred to a coloured one, or a coloured one to a white, except on the basis of righteousness”.

(The Prophet in his farewell speech – Hanbal V p411)

Why is it so important to begin to learn the Surah’s in Arabic?

If you read the Quran in your own language then you are reading translations from the original text. When translating a text it is almost impossible to do a word for word translation and retain any coherence. Therefore translators focus on translating through meaning, and in doing so they are sharing their own understanding which may differ from others.

I now have three Quran’s which have translations into English all purchased from the same Mosque in London, all three differ in their translations in various ways, mostly minor but sometime significantly in their expiations. Now is not the time to explore this further though and I’d just ask you to accept this as a reason to start to learn Arabic so that you can read the original text in the language it was shared with us by God.

A great Quran for English readers to buy is Al-Quran Al-Karim: The Nobel Quran. This has the Quran in Arabic alongside a translation into English by meaning and importantly a word by word translation from the Arabic which allows you to start to compare the two.

As you progress then yes you should start to learn to recite your prayers in Arabic, especially since these prayers require you to learn chapters from the Quran (I’d suggest you always start with the short ones at the end eg Surah’s 103 – 114 again more on that in another post).

So pray and read the Quran, in your native language if that ensures your understand of what you are reading and saying.

As time moves on then try to learn to recite in Arabic at first and then later to read in Arabic. But above all don’t let the Arabic language become a barrier to either your understanding or your faith.

Remember I’ve emphasised that you might ‘begin’ to learn the Arabic. This was a significant challenge for me and I’ll share my thoughts on that in another post.

*Note: The Arabic terms here are expressed through Transliterations – these are literally the sound of the Arabic words expressed in the English alphabet. Since there are some Arabic sounds that do not have equivalents in English these are at best approximations. I need to also to add that I live in a household of mixed ethnicity and some of the transliterations and words also reflect this mixed English and Urdu heritage. I make no apologies for this and see this as the richness of our Islamic community.

Al-Quran Al-Karim: The Nobel Quran

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