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Ramadan: The Month of the Qur’an

The Qur’an begins the description of this blessed month with, ‘Ramadan is the month in which was revealed the Qur’an – a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (between right and wrong)’1. Ever since divine revelation was inspired to Muhammad (peace be upon him), people (Muslims as well as non-Muslims) have marvelled at the Qur’an’s inimitability, both in reference to its content and language. Great scholars such as Imam al-Shafi’i have stated that if no other chapter were to be revealed except al-‘Asr, it would be sufficient for mankind. This is due to the concise text and meaning which provides a wealth of information and direction although the chapter only consists of three verses. The Qur’an carries such conciseness throughout being a light of guidance2and wisdom3, admonition4 and a clear message5 in the Arabic language6.

In this article I would like to discuss two main points: the importance of the Qur’an as a source of guidance and its relationship with the Arabic language. As is evident to all Muslims, the Qur’an is Allah’s supreme word to mankind revealed in the Arabic language, and thus, both the Qur’an and the Arabic language have become synonymous with one another.

The Qur’an was revealed over a period of twenty three years to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and is the first source of Islam and the speech of God. It is referred to as the book, guide, glad tidings and criterion amongst others, although most titles tend to point to the same semantic meaning. It delivers guidance to mankind by providing them with a criterion between truth and falsehood and thereafter gives glad tidings to those who successfully adhere to it.

Inevitably, being a source of guidance, The Qur’an is a manual for our lives, encouraging and ordering the believers towards righteousness and warning the evil doers and disbelievers. Its commandments are full of divine wisdom and those who adhere to them will attain felicity. However, how can a person adhere to something that he or she does not understand?

As a result of a lack of understanding, many people neither study the Qur’an nor ponder over its verses. Many argue that a study of the Qur’an is time consuming and that such study is not viable due to other commitments such as work, study etc. However, throughout life we read many things in an attempt to gain a better degree of understanding such as newspapers, books and magazines. Throughout our schooling we study various languages and books on various disciplines seeking to learn not only their contents but to also enhance skills of reading, writing, speaking etc. Thus we must also equally dedicate time to study Arabic and the Qur’an which will not only save us in the hereafter but also enhance our intellectual abilities and life skills. Studying increases the individual in reading and comprehension ability, and seeking a deeper insight into specific verses enhances one’s analytical ability. Additionally, the Qur’an provides life skills which if adhered to, would create an exceptional society whereby citizens would be prime examples of good manners, etiquette, patience and humility, as well as other traits. For example, with regard to interaction between one another we are commanded ‘when you are greeted with a greeting (of peace), answer with an even better greeting, (or at least) with the like thereof.’7 Thereafter you should ‘abstain from lewd speech, from all wicked conduct, and from quarrelling’8. If the Muslims ‘hear vain talk, they turn away from it and say “To us our deeds, and to you yours; peace be to you – we seek not the ignorant.”’9. If anybody engages in moral and conceptual bankrupt speech about Islam, we are commanded ‘leave them to indulge in idle talk and play [with words] until they face that [Judgment] Day of theirs which they have been promised’10. When we do speak we ‘enjoin in virtue and forbid vice’11, ‘extol His (Allah) limitless glory and praise’12 and ‘invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching’13. Additionally, you should be humble and ‘be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.’14 This is just a snippet of the beautiful conduct encouraged in the Qur’an. However, due to the lack of knowledge of the Arabic language in the West, we are seemingly oblivious to the wisdoms found in it.

In addition, there tends to be a culture of ignorance particularly among South Asian communities where the emphasis is on the recitation of the Qur’an while neglecting its translation and meanings. Thus, there has been an air of ignorance among such communities, although surprisingly, such ignorance is either encouraged or overlooked by scholars respected by these communities. It would be true to say that many of these scholars do not know Arabic themselves and are ignorant in terms of Islamic laws and rules of conduct. Recently, in a discussion about the importance of Arabic language with a colleague (a teacher in the UK madrasah system), I enquired as to why children in madrasah’s were not required to learn the Arabic language as well as the Qur’an. I was informed that the majority of teachers (as well as parents) among the South Asian community believe that learning the entire language is not important, learning to read the Qur’an by deciphering the alphabet is sufficient to accrue blessing and fulfil the obligations of prayers. They have completely disregarded the importance of understanding the words they recite, and are content in blindly following the ‘Maulana’s’ in the community.

Such beliefs are unislamic and it is certainly time that we as Muslims procure adequate facilities to learn Arabic alongside the Qur’an for both ourselves and our children as they will be the flag bearers of Islam in the West tomorrow.

It is most certainly a blessing to be able to read the Qur’an in Arabic, but understanding it holds equal weight as both are considered by the vast majority of scholars as fard al-ayn (incumbent upon all individuals). Ibn Taymiyyah wrote, ‘Arabic language is from the religion and knowledge of it is an obligation. Understanding the Qur’an and the sunnah is an obligation, and they cannot be understood except by understanding the Arabic language. Whatever it takes to complete an obligation is in itself an obligation.’15 Allah states: ‘We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran, in order that you may learn wisdom.’16 How can we learn the divine wisdom if the wisdom revealed is not even understood? Additionally, Allah states: ‘And certainly We have set forth to men in this Quran similitudes of every sort that they may reflect. An Arabic Qur’an without any crookedness, that they may guard (against evil).’17 Allah specifically mentions that the Qur’an is an Arabic one, which we must use to guard ourselves, although this task is unfeasible for those who have no command over the language. It is evident from the above verses that the purpose of Qur’an was not only to be recited, but also to be understood.

In the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), people submitted to the religion of Muhammad by merely overhearing a few verses (as opposed to now where people recite it repetitively although their hearts are empty). Famous is the story of Umar bin Khattab who heard the opening of chapter TaHa which brought him to tears and consequently led to his conversion. For over a millennium people have been memorising the Qur’an, and the best practice is that of the early generations [salaf] whereby the sahabah (companions of the prophet) would commit ten verses to memory, study their meanings and explanations, and then act upon them before memorising another ten. Memorising the divine scripture is a great act which Allah encourages ‘Saad. Consider this Qur’an, endowed with all that one ought to remember!’18 The noble companions of the prophet memorised the book of Allah in its entirety and fashioned their lives, actions and beliefs around the divine revelation. {quotes}The fact that it was the main source from which they understood and acquired their deen was a major factor in making them not only some of the most distinctive individuals in history, but also the most honoured and pleased with by Allah.{/quotes}

It is incumbent upon us (may Allah have mercy upon us) to understand the Qur’an, its warnings, stories, laws and glad tidings so that we may be successful. If we believe it to be a manual, how do we expect to benefit from it? Knowledge of the Qur’an and its language is essential for protection against misguided innovated ideas and beliefs such as shirk, forbidden types of tawassul etc. which become rampant due to ignorance of the correct beliefs. Allah states, ‘And [on that Day] the Apostle will say “O my Sustainer! (some of) my people have come to regard this Qur’an as something (that ought to be) discarded!”’19 This will not only be the disbelievers, but also those individuals who pay no heed to it, ignoring its heightened importance and disregarding its significance as a communication from Allah the Most High. As was discussed in the previous paragraph, the sahabah’s relationship with the Qur’an was one of the fundamental reasons as to why Allah gave them status and honour, to the extent that people 1400 years later still read their stories and aspire to imitate their heroic actions.

We must also recognise that the Arabic language has a much larger part to play then we as a community in the West have previously assumed. Ibn Taymiyyah wrote ‘As for becoming accustomed to talking to one another in a language other than Arabic…undoubtedly this is makrooh (disliked)…Such was also the case in Khurasaan in the past (that they spoke Arabic), then they became lax with regard to the language and got used to speaking Farsee (Persian) until it became prevalent and Arabic was forgotten by most of them. Undoubtedly this is disliked. The best way is to become accustomed to speaking Arabic so that the young people will learn it in their homes and schools, so that the symbol of Islam and its people will prevail. This will make it easier for the people of Islam to understand the Qur‘aan and Sunnah, and the words of the salaf…Know that being used to using a language has a clear and strong effect on one’s thinking, behaviour and religious commitment. It also has an effect on making one resemble the early generations of this Ummah, the Companions and the Taabi’een. Being like them improves one’s thinking, religious commitment and behaviour.’20 Research undertaken by Coffman (in Algeria) reiterates this whereby he states ‘My research shows that the language of study is the most significant variable in determining a student’s attachment to Islamic or Islamist principles.’21 During the occupation of Algeria by the French, officials noted that they would never be able to fully colonialise Algeria unless they were able to remove the Arabic language from Algerian society.22

Learning from the mistakes of those before us, we come to realise that many follow scriptures recorded in dead languages. For example, the Christians first spoke Aramaic and some spoke Hebrew. Both languages died out (among Christians) and in their stead Greek was adopted as the language of Christianity. Later on, Latin (the language of the Romans) was adopted and now English has become the main language of Christendom. As a result of the loss of the first languages, Christianity and the Bible have found themselves in a dilemma. The bible has changed through so many languages that the semantics of many words were either corrupted and altered or lost. The original manuscripts of the bible no longer exist and with regards to the oldest copies of the Gospels, no two are identical. This led to the division of Christianity into many different sects where each sect claims to hold the ‘truth’. However, as Allah stated in the Qur’an ‘and from them are illiterate (people) who do not know the scriptures, but they rely upon false desires and they follow nothing but conjecture.’23 From this verse we may deduce that the people were illiterate and could not read, and that they were also considered ‘illiterate’ due to their lack of knowledge about the scriptures. As a result, they had to speculate parts of their faith and in their attempt they resulted in following their desires (what they wanted to believe in, and what seemed correct to them) as their conjecture was baseless.

As is evident, the impact of the Qur’an and Arabic as its language is multifaceted; enhancing an individual’s behaviour and providing them a deeper understanding about the world around them, as well as benefiting Muslims as a community by improving their religious commitment and sense of Islamic culture. Fundamentally, studying both Arabic and the Qur’an is important for our success in this life and in the hereafter. What better language than the one with which Allah spoke to mankind, and what better speech is there than the speech of Allah?



Notes:This article has been reposted


1. 2:185
2. 42:52
3. 10:1
4. 38:1
5. 43:2
6. 20:113
7. 4:86
8. 2:197
9. 28:55
10. 70:42
11. 3:110
12. 25:58
13. 16:125
14. 31:19
15. Ibn Taymiyyah. Iqitidaa Siratul Mustaqeem. 1/470
16. 12:2
17. 39:27-28
18. 38:1
19. 25:30
20. Ibn Taymiyyah. Iqitidaa Siratul Mustaqeem.
21. James Coffman. Does the Arabic Language Encourage Radical Islam?
22. The role of Arabic language in Muslim societies may be discussed in another article as it is beyond the scope of this one.
23. 2:78


About Shaikh Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi

Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi was born and brought up in High Wycombe. He currently studies with Shaykh Haitham Al-Haddad and, previously, Shaykh Abu AbdiRahman Al-Libee. He graduated from Imperial College from the faculty of Electronic Engineering. He currently works as a Software Engineer and is the chairman of WISE (Wycombe Islamic Society). He is very active in his local community, especially with his Masjid and working with youth. He has translated a number of books such as 'The Criterion between the Friends of Allah and the Friends of Shaytan,' and 'Relief from Distress (the Dua of Yunus 'alayhī al-Salām),' both by Ibn Taymiyyah as well as many others. He has also written an explanation of Surah al-Fatihah called ‘The Spiritual Cure.’ He currently gives weekly circles in High Wycombe on a variety of topics covering aqidah, fiqh, hadith, tafsir and Arabic Language. He is also a Lecturer for MRDF.


  1. A few points
    Everything you have said brother is true, it is important to know the ‘Quranic’Arabic. I say this because the notion amongst people nowadays that if you dont know how to ‘speak’ arabic even though you have studied in the madrasa system, you dont know anything!!
    However i find the paragraph about your discussion with a colleague confusing. If by ‘madrasa system’ you mean the evening maktabs then it is true they are not taught the language just recitation. 2hrs in the evenings 2/5 days/week is much too less to cover recitation,memorisation,masaa’il,aqaa’id etc and then language!! Some of these children do not last in these makaatibs more than 2/3 years. Within the attended time what is more important? Learning to recite the qur’aan correclty along with fiqh,aqaaid etc or learning the language first? This said alhamdulillah there are steps taken recently to also deliver language lessons aswel but ultimatlely…..Knowing/understanding/speaking the Arabic language in no way says you will be a better muslim, as a few previous comments have already mentioned. If that was the case abu jahl shoud have been the best muslim with his mastery of the arabic language.

  2. Ramadan month of the Quran
    The usual article making a good point but in the normal confused ‘self-appointed inhertors of the salaf way’ with contradictory arguments. If the hypothisis is so true why is the arab world the most ignorant of all the muslims!

  3. nice article.never mind the is to the point.we should agree differences have crept into our religion through in complete agreement that this is all due to ignorance or ignorancy from ourselves.or shall go a step further by saying that we feign ignorance thus creating divisions among ourselves.

    We should all speak with one voice.why do we differ ? is it because we think of ourselves above everyone or is it simply through sheer ignorance of our RELIGION ?cultures and customs should be kept well separated from our RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

    We should be grateful to ALLAH-swt ,for making us be born a muslim.All that remain for us to do is to stick to 1.THE QURAN AND NOTHING BUT THE QURAN.Oh by the way don’t rush out to call me a munkir-hadith.This indeed am not.Neither do I expect this from my muslim brothers and sisters.Only advice from me here will be to OUTRIGHTLY REJECT WEAK OR CONTROVERSIAL HADITH which is totally against the HOLY QURAN.One thing which we can’t is to REJECT EVEN THE SMALL PORTION OF GUIDANCE AS STATED IN THE HOLY QURAN.

    We should all think in creating UNITY , PEACE and HARMONY AMONG OURSELVES with the understanding that nothing else matters.We should bring clarity instead of controversies as being controversial will lead us astray.

    We should be able to clear MISCONCEPTIONS from among ourselves first before we start blaming others.

    Iam concluding by expressing warmest of wishes for an excellent Ramadhan and fothcoming Eid-ul fitr.Remember to be benevolent and charitable towards all the sufferers of this world irrespective of their beliefs-some may disagree with this but am not concerned as ALLAH-swt , is not just for us but for each and every individuals as ACCONTABILITY is and should always be to ALLAH-swt.



  4. Ramadhan
    Any time any clarifications of the HOLY QURAN has been attempted there has been some or should I rather few of the readers thinking of themselves as more knowledgeable.While browsing over some of the comment Ihave now had my beliefs on muslims confirmed.Whether we are from the EAST OR WEST wew tend to find faults among ourselves.We are already associated with terror or terrorism.From the westerners point of view they regard us – muslims as being backwards.Ask ourselves this simple question -WHY ?.From the Hijaab to the Jilbaab ,education on equal term -giving both male and female the same rights ,freedom of worship for both our sisters and brothers , the rights to go to the Kabarastan to both male and female ,we are continuously being taunted by the west. Reason for which is very simple -it is because of the IGNORANCE FROM OURSELVES AS REGARD THE PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE QURAN AND ISLAM.We cannot come up with UNIFIED AND MOST SINGULAR STATEMENT when probed.


    Ido realise Iam taking long for this comment Nevertheless Idon’t think that the contents are unimportant.Ido realise that many or some of the readers create or will have a negative view on this comment .This I cannot stop.Of course the most common comment will be { LOOK HERE WE ARE ALL ENTITLED FOR OUR OWN OPINION }and that is regardless of whether their opinions are RIGHT or WRONG.

    ALLAH -swt,alone is enough for the protection of THE HOLY QURAN.Ask ourselves whether we will be protected when we are at loggerheads with our brothers and sisters.

    My plea is very SIMPLE -WE SHOULD ALL SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE.Remember this IN UNITY THEIR IS UNDERSTANDING , PEACE , and HARMONY whereas the complete opposite happen in DISUNITY.

    I do not and will never debase my RELIGION and never will I profess to be
    more educated.




  5. In response to Abu Jameelah

    Those Arabs ignorant of Islam are as such because they speak colloquial filth and they have little if no iman. In fact i think the Middle East is almost in the state similar to that of the Quraysh during the Makkan phase of the Prophet’s sirah – there are plenty of disbelievers and enemies of Islam amongst the Arabs now; or indeed a situation like in Medina where there were a significant minority of hypocrites.

    Moreover, i dont think was it suggested that a language alone will create a strong civilisation. But it was during the Abbasid phase that trade, commerce, philosophy, and all sorts of knowledge flourished precisely because vast swathes of people and vast stretches of land were united by a common language and thus united by a common culture. This is why Ibn Khaldun could work as a judge thousands of miles away from his homeland. Today Muslims don’t respect each other – a fact perpetuated by lack of common langauge and artificial state borders created by colonial forces hostile to Muslims. Muslims now treat each other as strangers. We all tend to be quite ethnocentric but it’s much harder to do that when someone speaks your own language and speaks it well – it has the ability to break down all sorts of prejudices.

    Your comment about the abbasids is perhaps a mistake – the Abbasids fell in 1519 and both the Ottomans and Mughals emerged after that. In any case i dont think your comment about turkish for this and persian for that etc is strictly true. Each region spoke its specific vernacular for almost all cultural activity.

    Your last comment was the most disappointing though. The fact that the UK Muslims struggle with English is an indictment upon them and it is certainly not a reason to give up on language skills. By encouraging people to understand the importance of language in general it is likely to foster a revival in eloquence in Arabic and English or indeed any other useful vernacular. The Messenger of Allah was eloquent and any Muslim who isnt skilled in English but prides him/herself on adopting the sunnah should bear that in mind. Language is everything…it’s the basic unit of discourse and narratives which shape what we believe and feel. Muslims in the West are losing the narrative wars and emphasising the importance of langauge skills (then transferred into various discursive products like film, magazine, novels, plays, books etc) could never be more important than now. Elegant mastery over classical Arabic and the most important secular language of the age(if not Arabic) should be in the skill set of every Muslim in every age. May Allah make it so.

    P.S that brother who felt that this article was too long…all rigorous BA/MA course require you to read articles about 5 times the size of this daily. I think it’s perhaps you that should pracitice reading (waAllahi i mean no offense). Perhaps what this article does need is more rigorous editing…but the author’s message i concur with 100%

  6. Bilingualism
    Research has shown that the cognition of children who speak more than one language develops faster, which is why children are encouraged to become fully literate in their home language AS WELL AS English. Go to North Wales and I am sure you will find a school where no one speaks English as a mother tongue. Are the English going to deny them all British citizenship ??

    Bilingual Muslim children need to learn and be well versed in standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and resarch to serve humanity. They also need to learn and be well versed in Arabic to recite the Holy Quran with understanding and perform their prayers with understanding. At the same time, they need to learn and be well versed in Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry.

    Bilingual mUslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental period. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim childrn are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be opted out as Muslim Academies.

    A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit.

  7. we are human
    because we are human,
    who shall act not to give a bad towards others,
    thus, to the people who have willingness, time, and their chances for learning arabic as a way to learn quran and preach about it,…
    we shall praise allah, and not to say bad towards them.
    And so, to the people who doesn’t understand yet, or knowing it but choose not to understand… thus, it is our chances to educate them with positive and politely.

    may allah put hidayah to all of us who read upon this matter,
    and allah put us into his people who loves Islamic Teaching. (amiin).

  8. Whats wrong with blind following. Its better to follow blindly someone who has a good eyesight rather than following a blind person with eyes wide open.
    A have seen people who are qualified MA in Arabic but have a serious lack of knowledge in Islamic sciences.
    The article points out that is is obligatory to know Arabic. I would say it is desirable although that does not give a person the right to interpret the Qur’an and hadith

  9. dr.shaukat Ali

    Ramadan:the month of quran
    Its very nice article but had it be bit short it would have been easy and convenient for many to read,hope in future you try to make short and compact artcles,Jazakallah

  10. muslim/believer
    I agree that we must learn Arabic but furthermore we must practice Islam as an Ummah. With all the disunity in the Ummah,my brother,we must practice simple acts of civilized people. Kindness, sharing,caring,and wanting for your brother what you want for yourself. Please practice acts of kindness
    not only during Ramadan but throughout the year. Personally, the Ummah needs re-envigorating so we can appreciate the words of Al-Quran Al-Karim. One of my most treasured sermons is; The Farewell Sermon by The Prophet(PBUH) These treasured words lay the format for all muslims to approach a life of progress in this life and the next. Inshallah, we will do a better job of learning our deen and inherit Allah’s bounty that awaits us.

  11. Great article!
    Hi there, just wanted to say this is a fantastic article which is absolutely right and hits a major problem head on…people need to understand what they are reciting or else what could be the point of reciting if the words you hear can only be interpreted as sounds!!

    Wonderful article….thank you so much for sharing…Ja Zak Allah Khair

  12. Culture of Ignorance?

    I think the writer in harsh in saying that there exists a culture of ignorance “particularly” in the South Asian community. A poor choice of words in the part of the writer. I am from the South Asian community, and took the time to travel abroad and learn the basics of Quranic Arabic. I have therefore lived amongst Arabs and also have Arab friends in the UK. My obsevations are that while most will not understand Arabic, they are much closer to the Deen regarding observing the rules of Shariah, keeping the acts of worship and respecting Islamic etiquette/practising the sunnah – this is especially true of the Indian community in my opinion. It is also ignorant to say that the S Asian community do not value the Arabic language – this observation being based on a conversation with one person?! In London at least, most large Mosques and almost all S Asian community centres will be running some form of Arabic course via some avenue. I agree with the writer, as do most younger S Asians, that it is a weakness that Arabic language is not taught through the madresa system, but this too is changing as younger people take charge of the committees. May Allah give us all hidayah and hikmah to increase in knowledge and avoid fitnah.


  13. Faraz Choudhry

    The Prophet (pbuh) did say that there would come a time when the people of the East would recite the Qur-aan and it wouldn’t affect beyond their lips. Who was he talking about? Look at the state of us Asians today and how many deviant sects have come from the part of the world i.e. Bareilvis, Qaadhianis, etc. and all the fithna in the society top-down. No wonder there are so many natural disasters occurring, Allah is Angry!

  14. Miss
    Salaam! Thankyou for sharing all that knowledge! Was a great and very interesting read! I was just wondering, would it be sufficient for me to be able to understand the Quran by reading it in english? Or would i have to learn Arabic? An answer would be much appreciated, thankyou!

  15. Eugene S. Jones

    Ramadan : Month of the Qu’ran
    Thanks for making the point that what you pronounce should be understood. As you stated language unites people, and we as Muslims need to be united.

  16. Imtiaze Ahmed

    Article too long…
    The sheer size [length] of this article put me off to read it with full attention and concentration, not to mention chunk of text blocks which adds to the reluctance. If you really want more people [especially Muslims] to read, it is a good idea to make such articles/information short and succinct. May Allah give us all ‘hidayat’ and love for Islam. Ameen.

  17. If Arabic is so important, then why are Arabs so ignorant of the religion

    Thanks for good article. But can you explain the following:
    – Why are most Arabs so ignorant of the religion if they
    know arabic?
    – Why most of the cirlces, talks and events are attended
    by non-Arabs ?
    – Why the Arab world is the most illiterate areas of the
    world ?

    Points to consider:
    – Perhaps it should be Quranic Arabic and not colliqual
    – Quran Arabic is important for understanding the religion
    only but won’t make a civilisation otherwise why are we
    seing a renaissance of India and China ? Nothing from
    the Muslim world ? Attitudes must change first.
    – Most Abbasid period i.e Mughal, Ottoman and
    Safvarids in the muslim heart lands, arabic
    was language of law, farsi was the languae of
    poetry and turkish was the language of commerce.
    UK Muslims struggle with English. As a long as they
    have read the quran well and have some good comprehension
    of Quran, we should not think more, otherwise look
    at the Arab world.

  18. understand this verse
    One for the brothers here, Allah says in the Quran “those who rule by other than what Allah has revealed are the Fasiqoon, Zalimoon, Kafiroon” why don’t people in the west understand this verse before making a backward istihaad?

  19. “Is brother Muhammad a shaikh (scholar)? How come we’ve never heard of him?”

    He used to visit my uni to give khutbahs, Mashallah, some of the most AMAZING I have ever heard. May Allah reward him and increase him.

  20. Great article.
    A really good article with interesting debate. I wonder if anybody has drawn up a possible plan of how we can change ethnically traditional communities (like the S.Asian communities for example). It seems such a shame that we have let go of the most important aspects of our deen and are happy with being second class muslims!!

  21. Good points. For a while in the Asian community women have been forbidden to go to the mosque, but I really hope things will change.

  22. Understanding the Quran
    I think with reference to point 1 by brother S Haider, as Maria mentioned the arab layperson has more knowledge than an average non-arab of the qur’an, but very little as compared to someone who actually studies classical arabic properly. Therefore it for the one who studies arabic properly whether arab or not, to be a better custodian of knowledge rather than the arab in and of themselves.

    A last important point with regards to understanding the qur’an with regards to arabic. It is true that you have more access to information with which you can increase your knowledge of the deen. However more significantly for the one who learns arabic, is that they can receive and be humbled by the word of Allah swt.

    By Allah if the mountains carried this word, they would be split asunder. It is enough to realise that a minimum of 60% of our daily salawat contain the audible recitation of the Qur’an. Should we not ponder over this? Just being able to grasp what Allah swt is saying is enough to elevate heart through every ayah. Even those with little understanding or none, are profoundly moved by the recitation of the Qur’an, and this is the unique aspect of the Qur’an, that it is a recitation after all, for the tongue to recite and the heart to be moved, and not merely a book to be read and understood.

    A constructed understanding of the meaning of the ayaat is what we all have, we learn what the ayaat mean through the Qur’an itself, ahadith and other sources etc. Whichever way and to whatever level we understand the Qur’an, the one who can hear and perceive the general meaning of the Qur’an and the one who can’t is a distance between the earth and the heavens, and that is what arabic gives which no english translation can.

  23. !
    Good article and about time we challenge ‘traditions’ in our community.

  24. Zionism is racism

    Another dead language
    Hebrew, probably extinct since the 3rd century C.E. as a spoken language, persevered along the ages as the main language for written purposes by Jewish communities around the world. It has been ‘revived’ several times as a literary language, and most significantly by the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement of early and mid-19th century. Near the end of that century the Jewish activist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was no scholar or linguist, owing to the ideology of the national revival (“Hibbat Tziyon”, later Zionism) began reviving Hebrew as a modern spoken language. Eventually, as a result of the local movement he created, but more significantly as a result of the new groups of immigrants known under the name of ‘the Second Aliya’, it replaced a score of languages spoken by Jews at that time, such as Arabic, Ladino (also called Judezmo), Yiddish, Russian, and other languages of the Jewish diaspora.

    Arabic seems to be the oldest living religious language, and it seems that this fact is due to the continued efforts of Muslims to adopt it as one of their major languages. As brother Muhammad indicated, let’s not fall into the same pit as those before us…

  25. Quoted from James Coffman

    Does the Arabic Language Encourage Radical Islam?
    ‘Native speakers of Arabic have long claimed that Arabic is far more than a language; rather, the language of Islam, the language chosen by God to speak to mankind, influences how a person perceives the world and expresses reality. This, in turn, has a profound impact on a society’s outlook…Looking at the differences between students schooled primarily in Arabic and primarily in French, I found the differences between them to be many and profound. To sum up the differences, Arabized students see the world in a far more Islamic fashion than do their French-oriented peers. What Arabic-speakers say about their language, in short, is true.’

  26. Would it ‘appen in London?
    ‘but the level of scholarship was extremely high and masters of hadith flowed from there in abundance!’

    Only if….

  27. Replying to S. Haider
    1)It is commonly held by the majority of scholars that there exists a major difference between the laity and the Arabic speaking laity. However, to make an assertion that understanding Arabic gives greater impetus to understanding Islam as the religion comprises of multi facets such as fiqh , tafsir, aqeedah, hadith etc. It would be irresponsible to assume that understanding Arabic automatically implies that you will study the deeper and finer points of the faith. However, if two individuals (one Arabic speaking and one non-Arabic speaking) were to embark on a journey to study Islam, inevitably the Arabic speaking student would be able to provide research of a much higher caliber and more insightful. However, in terms of merely understanding the Qur’an, I have found the majority of lay Arabs (that I have come across during my travels and studies) to be much more knowledgeable about it than non-Arabs.

    2) Understanding the Qur’an is not an impossible feat but requires years of in depth study. Ash Shafii’ said that Muhammad bin Hassan Ash Shaibani (student of Abu Hanifah) spoke Arabic as eloquently as if it were his mother tongue. It is known that many foreigners have contributed to the Islamic sciences, and consequently such contributions can only be made through mastery of the Arabic language. However, we are discussing the Qur’an, and a basic understanding of the Arabic language will get you very far. I believe the problem lies in the fact that most non-Arabs have no clue as to the content of the Qur’an, let alone some kind of idea. I believe this is what Nizami was hinting at (all hats off to him!).

    3) Historically, Arabic became the lingua franca in the sense of being the language of Islam primarily, and consequently, the language of administration. However, the main reason (for most people) to learn Arabic has beenfor the sake of Islam. Obviously things such as politics and economics have affected some learners, but I don’t believe this subtracts from the need to learn.

    4) Lastly, I think ‘culture and language’s’ comment was quite comprehensive, in the sense that we should be promoting an Islamic culture. Our use of Arabic should be to embody that culture orally among ourselves as a society, although native tongues can be kept alive at home. This has been the case here in the UK with English.
    I personally believe that theorising must be left behind and we should all make it a priority to learn the Arabic language to the best of our abilities (…Fear Allah as much as you can). If we analyse our very own history, we can see the role that Arabic played – as indicated by ibn Taymiyyah. Although Khurasan adopted Arabic as their language, they never lost their ethnic identity, but the level of scholarship was extremely high and masters of hadith flowed from there in abundance! Even if we look at the Middle East today, different countries have different traditions although they all have Arabic in common. To the extent that you can see a clear difference between the Sudanese culture and ‘khaleeji’ culture. I believe we need to start know as we have already seen the ill effects of the lack of the Arabic language in our communities.

  28. culture and language

    A reader
    Culture and language are inevitably linked, but the question is this – Bases upon the fact that Arabic plays an important part for religion, is it Arab culture we will pick up or Islamic culture. Many people argue that culture of an individual is extremely important as it provides a sense of ‘ethnic belonging’, but I’m Indian and feel no link to the Hindu’s of India. Having grown up in LA, we kinda have our own hybrid culture where neither India nor Arabia nor Mexico have anything to do with – it’s a culture formed with people from different backgrounds.

    Islam also offers an inclusive culture, and of course supercedes the one in LA, but what would the problem be of Muslims all around the speaking in Arabic? Don’t the Jews speak Hebrew (although within their respective homes they may speak German, Yiddish etc.)?

    If we are to assimilate, it should be into an Islamic identity, and we should be recognised as such, from our language to our dresscode. Recently I watched a clip on Qiyaamu ul Layl. All the people were dressed in white thobes and red shimag’s and it looked absolutely beautiful, the fact that all the believers were syncrinised. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really favour the red scarf as I believe it is a symbol of Arab nationalism, but the uniformity made them look united and strong. Maybe we as Muslims in the West should adopt something similar.

    Let the believers be one!!

  29. figures!!…
    Imam al-Shafi’i stated:
    “People did not become ignorant nor differed except after their abandonment of the Arabic language and their inclination to the language of Aristoteles.”

    (Ad-Dhahabi, Siyar A’lam al-Nubala 10:74 and al-Suyuti in Sawn al-Mantiq p.15)

  30. Interesting…
    In regards to the level of understanding, shouldn’t it be enough to understand the apparent verses of the Qur’an (so that it has an effect) without having to delve into the deeper matters of balagah etc.

    To have a working knowledge of Arabic in order to communicate effectively between eath other would be amazing. As for other languages, I don’t think there is a problem in their usage at home – but Ibn Taymiyyah definitely points to Arabic being the Lingua Franca between Muslims.

  31. Ibn Taymiyah
    Masha Allah interesting article and ensuing discussion. The quotes from Ibn Taymiyyah all seem to originate to a particular passage though split here into manageable chunks The first part of his discussion is in answer to Muslim Arabs moving to foreign lands and taking up foreign tongues and customs, etc. This context is thus important in understanding the detail of what he is saying. It may not seem it at first but the part where he tries to logically prove the obligation of Arabic is not unambiguous because it follows from a certain context, and he is not quantifying what level of Arabic a person requires to fulfil ‘the obligation’ apart from the coverall the Qur’an and Sunnah, indeed we cannot know from this translaion what type of obligation he is referring to. As understanding the Qur’an and Sunnah is in reality extremely difficult, even for native Arabs, it seem unlikely that Ibn Taymiyyah is suggesting that every Muslim must understand Arabic to the level of a scholar because that is the implication of ‘Understanding the Qur’an and sunnah’.

    Maybe the emphasis is on understanding, and that this is obligatory upon everyone (of course, how can you submit to something you have no comprehension of whatsoever?!), but each to their limit, ‘Are those and those who don’t know equal?’ They are not, but this also indicates that whilst those who know are better, still there are ranks and levels of knowledge and thus abilities. So, is an illiterate farmer sinful because he doesn’t understand the finer points of balagha or what about taqdir and idmar?

    I think also we could perhaps refer to a reply in the fatwa section of Shaykh Salman Al-Awda’s site and one on Islamqa (from Shaykh Ibn Jibrin) to the question of obligation of knowing Arabic, that one needs it to fulfil ones religious duties (most centrally in ibadah). One of the responses also makes the point that to know Arabic well is hard even for Arabs. I’d like to add that we need remember that there is a world of difference between the pure fusha of the Qur’an and ahadith and the colloquial Arabic spoken throughout the Middle East. Also the level of Arabic a student of knowledge requires is vastly more complex than the local newsagent, and a scholar more than the student. None of this should detract from the importance of Arabic as the language of Islam and to know Islam more deeply one requires Arabic. If the pint is made that a person can have insight even though they do not have Arabic, then masha Allah that is good, but how much deeper might they have been able to delve, how much greater would the yield have been if this had been accompanied by Arabic? Arabic can only add to understanding, it can only beautify one’s insights and knowledge, after all it is the language Allah chose for the final revelation to al of mankind for the rest of time. It is essential to have some familiarity with Arabic, not mere pronunciation but proper understanding of the words and formulas prescribed, for the Muslim in order that s/he complete the levels of ibadah required, but to know the language beyond this is not an obligation upon everyone, and even if some scholars say so, it does not mean they are talking about our specific context, perhaps even they are wrong? And Allah knows best.

  32. Wonderful
    Alhumdulillah, a wonderful piece of writing, concise, clear, and on the whole conceptually coherent. A few questions/points though –

    1) If it is true that understanding Arabic gives greater impetus to understanding Islam, are the Arabs the custodians of the best of understandings about Islam? If not (and I suspect it is not the case) then what other factor must be kept in mind for “understanding” the Qu’ran?

    2) What does one get from learning Arabic in relation to the Qu’ran? I suppose one understands directly what Allah is saying without a translator. But is this entirely true? Native speakers of a tongue have an intriguing capacity of understanding a language through reference to itself. When a second language is learnt however, is it not the case that it is understood in relation to another language and hence a trnaslatory process is in place. This involves the use of dictionaries, people’s explanation of the applicability and conceptual boundaries of words and, in the case of the Qu’ran, a historically established exegesis of the words of the Qu’ran.

    3) Historically, when Islam spread to Iran, India, North Africa, and Spain for example, Arabic followed as the language of power – but did it become the lingua franca in the sense of being the language of administration? I suspect it did, in which case, historical learning of Arabic had as much to do with entering the echelons of power as for the sake of Islam. That is not to say one ought not to learn Arabic but that historically it has been learnt because it was carried forth on the back of power. Our discussion about the past ought not to forget this, for then a skewered picture emerges of the present when compared to the past.

    4) Lastly, what is to be said of other languages and what place do they hold in Islam? If the Algerian example is to be taken to its extreme then the implication is that a people’s distinctiveness is encapsulated in language. If true then is there not a subtle danger, if the idea is to make Arabic dominant, of imposing Arabic culture as well?

    The above may seem like an unnecessary obfuscation, but I am doing it deliberately so as to suggest perhaps that amongst Muslims we need more thorough theorising around issues of culture, language and its relation to thinking and identity, and in this case, what it means for Allah to have chosen Arabic as the language in which to reveal the Qu’ran. I am NOT – emphatically not – questioning the central argument in Muhammed’s article of the importance of learning Arabic as a language for the better appreciation of the Qu’ran (as an Arabic text); that to me seems perfectly sensible.

  33. Another brother

    In defence of Br. Muhammad
    I think Abu Mariam’s comments effectively and concisely discuss footnote 22 and it seems that most people among the Western Muslim community agree that Arabic had a major part to play.

    To be fair to the author, I think his reference to the S.Asian community is based on those living in Britain. From experience, I can wholeheartedly say that my time spent in the madrasah system would have been much more fruitful with lessons surrounding the Arabic language instead of monotonously reading urdu ‘kitaabs’. Although Muhammad could have clarified his examples – he has a point – ‘there tends to be a culture of ignorance particularly among South Asian communities’. This is demonstrated by the Tabligh as well as the general populace of mosques.

    Additionally, I believe Muhammad refers to so called ‘scholars’ among the Asian community, those individuals who are looked up to by the community, although in reality they are not trained in any of the islamic sciences. As he states ‘It would be true to say that many of these scholars do not know Arabic themselves and are ignorant in terms of Islamic laws and rules of conduct’. Thus implying they are NOT scholars. However, this statement does not negate the fact that scholars DO exist in the Asian sub continent (some of a very high caliber). As for his general statements, he states that ‘I was informed…’ and by his use of inverted comma’s, the ‘Maulana’s’ he refers to are those who are taken to titles rather than educating their community.

    From a personal point of view, I believe if the Asian community were to review their policy on imamate and scholarship in their communities, Muslims would possibly be lifted out of much of the ignorance they dwell in – and I say this due to the fact that most Muslims in the UK are from an S.Asian background.

    And Allah knows best.

  34. Take a step back
    as-salaam alaikum,
    It is important to remember that we are talking about an axiomatic issue of identity. Al-Shafi’ee and Ibn Taimiyya may be the most famous of the proponents of the obligation of learning Arabic but they are far from alone among the scholars. With the ascendency of Anglophone and Francophone influence, as a result of Colonialism/neo-colonilaism and the resulting divisive legacy within the Muslim lands we have become desensitised to the political, economic, societal let alone religious dimensions of our ‘true’ mother tongue – the same that influenced all Muslim countries’ written scripts without exception (until the likes of Attaturk and others dictated otherwise). Sheikh Ali Tamimi – after his trip to Beijing’s UN Womens’s Conference – related how Arabic was to be found inscribed in stone within the confines of the ancent Forbidden City – a testimony that Arabic was once employed even within a non-Muslim Chinese government. It is notable that the fledgling Pakistan was to adopt Arabic as alingua Franca and teach it to its citizens. Had this happened, one can imagine that Pakistan would asserted a national identity that demonstrated a seriousness within a unique intellectual dimension that would reach out to Muslims worldwide and may a clean break with India – whose Urdu dialect is held to be ‘purer’ than that used in Pakistan. The argument put forward by one of our respected Deobandi brothers that they have more Huffaaz and Ulema (than who?) is misleading: The first translation of the Qur’an in India (al-Hind) appeared at the hands of Shah Walullah Al-Dehliwai. Muslims in India, who didn’t know Arabic, were thus limited to their scholars for translations of the Qur’an. Why? Because the Qur’an is supposed to be understood in Arabic. We have a very real and distinct advantage over non-Muslims (whatever their religious heritage) in that we have the word of Allah before us – preserved – and it’s not preserved in English or Singalese! Should we seek to understand or obscure (through wilful negligence). Didn’t Allah say: ‘Indeed We have revealed an Arabic Qur’an, in order that you may understand’ – what relevance is this verse to a non-Arabic speaker? Must he or she limit themself to a third-party understanding? Whether a priest or monk or ‘maulavi’ or translator – a barrier has been erected between you and Allah’s speech. As a translator of Arabic, one is fully aware of the ease with which one may tailor a translation.
    Muslims must learn Arabic to strengthen their understanding of their faith and retaining it’s uniqueness. We don’t have to have perfect Arabic (it’s breadth is akin to an ocean) yet will grow in understanding of our Deen inshallah. A final note to the author: Arabic is often taught to a reasonable level in mant madrassas in the sub-continent yet the spoken component, for obvios reasons, may be quite weak. The author of the Madina University Arabic book series is a non-Arab – in fact an Indian alim (although his knowledge of Arabic means he is classed as an Arab). While reading your article, while agreeing with the principle message, one is a little taken aback at the generalist statements which attack scholars of teh sub-continent’s apparent non-commitment to Arabic and diparaging use of the title ‘maulavi’. Our Shareah disdains negative generalisations which slur a people. They were uncalled for and could have been worded in a neutral manner, with less propensity to offend. Jazaak Allahu khaira.
    without Arabic

  35. ..
    I don’t think anyone referred to ‘Deobandi’s’ as ‘ignorant’, it’s important not to put words into people’s mouths as matters then become exaggerated.

  36. Another brother

    Really fard ‘ayn? Depends
    I believe the issue of whether Fard al ayn is matter of ijhtihad, and brother Muhammad’s point was that many scholars hold the view that it is Fard. Additionally, reading Ibn Taymiyyah’s view ‘properly’, I agree with the author as Ibn Taymiyyah strongly indicates the presence of Fard al ain in regards to Arabic.

  37. I agree
    I agree with the brother that learning Arabic is not fard al ayn. Not everybody has the time to learn Arabic, and it is something which the scholars need to know. We refer to them and they assist us in knowledge.

    I think it is unfair to claim the Debandi’s are ignorant – we probably have the highest rate of hafiz’s and alim’s than other types of Muslims. At the same time, we CAN read the Qur’an in English!

  38. Really fard ‘ayn?
    ‘It is most certainly a blessing to be able to read the Qur’an in Arabic, but understanding it holds equal weight as both are considered by the vast majority of scholars as fard al-ayn (incumbent upon all individuals).

    Is the author really suggesting that learning Arabic is fard ‘ayn? I must say that in my studies scholars have certainly not said that it is fard ‘ayn. What is fard ‘ayn pertains to the necessities of worship such as the requirements of prayer and hajj or example. It is of course necessary to understand Arabic well if one wishes to understand the Qur’an well, to be a strong student of knowledge and so on, but as for the general statement that it to learn Arabic is fard ‘ayn, then I do not believe this to be the case. Please note that the statement of Ibn Taymiyyah (rh) directly following the above quote does not support the posit that Arabic is fard ‘ayn, that is, obligatory upon all Muslims unrestrictedly as a proper reading will show, and Allah knows best.

  39. Barakallahu feek
    The brother walhamdulillah is one of our blessed students of knowledge. May Allah increase him in taqwa and knowledge for using his pen in the cause of Allah. Ameen.

  40. Based upon the assumption that he is a scholar, I think we need individuals like him to come forward and become the voices of Muslims, maybe then Muslims will get somewhere in the West and Islam will be portrayed in the way it should be!

  41. About time we analyse the level of Islamic knowledge in our community!

  42. ??
    Is brother Muhammad a shaikh (scholar)? How come we’ve never heard of him?

  43. At last…
    I believe this is the first time i’ve read anything addressing the problem of the lack of knowledge in the Asian Muslim community. To tell the truth, it’s quite depressing when you go to these Pakistani and Bangladeshi Mosque’s and nobody knows what they’re doing!

    Sometimes I feel like we have become an extremely ritualistic community, worshipping for the sake of it instead of actually understanding and feeling the words of Allah. Bravo Muhammad!

  44. Farouk Michaels

    good advice
    A really nice article, its nice to see that priorities have changed. When I first came to Islam, I had a major problem with our local mosque where nobody know the Arabic language and all their talks were in Urdu. I then went to Syria, and when I returned, I was shocked to find out that non of the scholars in the community knew the Arabic language.

    To me, this is a gross negligence of Islam and its knowledge. It should also be a wake up call for the many ‘deobandi’s’ residing in the UK – maybe then we will be rid of the misguided beliefs that have plagued us for centuries.

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