Can worshipping be performed in English?

The Details of the Question

Can worshipping be performed in English?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

All divine books were sent down in the language of the prophets who were appointed to convey the message to people. Since the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) grew up among Arabs and spoke Arabic, the Quran, which he conveyed to people, was sent down in Arabic.

However, the Quran, which is the last book sent by our Lord to all humanity and His eternal address, was sent down not only for Arabs and speakers of Arabic but also all human beings in order to protect them from perversions, to teach them the truth and to show them guidance and the way to happiness. For the realization of this, it is necessary for the divine truths and advice stated by the Quran to be conveyed to all humanity, to be learned, understood, thought and realized by everybody and to be placed into hearts. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in the Quran:

“Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear Allah.” (Aal-i Imran, 3/138)

“O Messenger! Proclaim the (message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission...” (al-Maida, 5/67)

“We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them.” (an-Nahl, 16/44)

“(Here is) a Book which We have sent down unto thee, full of blessings, that they may meditate on its Signs, and that men of understanding may receive admonition.” (Sad, 38/29)

As it is stated above, the language of the Quran is Arabic. It is something desirable for every Muslim to learn and understand the language of the holy book, the speech of Allah Almighty, but it is not possible. In that case, it is necessary and obligatory for the Quran to be translated into other languages and explained with short and long statements so that it will be conveyed to those who do not speak Arabic, so that they will understand and think about the divine facts and advice stated in the holy book and to benefit from its guiding. As a matter of fact, this became necessary beginning from the first periods of Islam. It is written in resources that Salman al-Farisi translated the chapter of al-Fatiha into Persian upon the request of his fellow citizens in Iran and sent it to them (see Sarakhsi, al-Mabsut, I/37, Beirut, 1398/1978). Today, the Quran has been translated into almost all of the common languages in the world. There are more than a hundred explanations, translations and interpretations of the Quran in Turkish.

As for the issue of reading the English translation of the Quran in prayer,

The following is stated in the Quran: “Read ye, therefore, as much of the Qur´an as may be easy (for you).” (al-Muzzammil, 73/20) The Prophet (pbuh) read the Quran in all prayers and stated the following while describing how to perform prayers to a Companion who did not know how to pray very well:

“... then, read by heart from the Quran what is easy for you.” (Muslim, Salah, 45)

Therefore, qira’ah (reading the Quran) is a fard that is determined by the Book, Sunnah and ijma.

As it is known, the Quran is the name of the meaningful words that Allah Almighty sent down to Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) through Jibril. It was sent down to the heart of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) not only in the form of meaning but also in words. Therefore, the meaning understood from these words but expressed with other words is not the Quran. For, the meaning expressed by other words, even if they are in Arabic, is not the word of Allah Almighty but the interpretation of the translator. However, the concept of the Quran includes both the meaning and words.

“Verily this is a Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds: With it came down the spirit of Faith and Truth- To thy heart and mind, that thou mayest admonish. In the perspicuous Arabic tongue.” (ash-Shuara, 26/192-195)

“Thus have We sent this down - an arabic Qur´an.”  (Ta-Ha, 20/113)

“(It is) a Qur´an in Arabic, without any crookedness (therein): in order that they may guard against Evil.” (az-Zumar, 39/28)

“A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail;- a Qur´an in Arabic, for people who understand.” (Fussilat, 41/3)

As a matter of fact, it is clearly and definitely understood from the verses stating that the Quran is in Arabic in ten different places in the Quran (Yusuf, 12/2; ar-Ra’d, 13/37; an-Nahl, 16/103; ash-Shura, 42/7; az-Zukhruf, 43/3; al-Ahqaf, 46/12) that not only the meaning but also the words are included in the concept of the Quran. Therefore, Islamic scholars agree unanimously that its translation cannot be called the Quran and that  its translation is not regarded as the Quran.

As it is known, translation means to express the meaning of a word with an equal one in another language. However, each language has expressions, styles and narrative properties peculiar to it. Therefore, no translation can be as the original except for some dry expressions that have no literary and emotional aspects; no translation is like the original in all aspects. In that case, the difference between a book like the Quran, which has divine eloquence and miraculousness and its translation is as big as the difference between the Creator and a creature. For, one of them is the speech of the Almighty Creator and the other is the weak statement of a created slave. Is it possible for such a translation to replace the speech of Allah and to be regarded as the same?

Besides, Islam is a universal language. It is the necessity of Islam’s being universal that all Muslims with different languages use a common language in worshipping.

If everybody tries to worship in the language they speak, it will be contrary to what the Prophet (pbuh) taught and what has been practiced up to now; it is certain that it will also bring about some discussions that will be impossible to settle.

On the other hand, it does not seem possible to choose one translation that will be accepted by everybody among more than one hundred translations without harming the freedom of religion and conscience to be read in prayers.

Prayer (salah) in English and supplication (dua) in English should not be confused. For dua means a slave wanting something from Allah. It is natural for everybody to make dua in their own languages; besides, people say dua in English all over the world.

On the other hand, one of the most important characteristics of the Quran is its miraculousness. The Quran challenged the whole humanity to produce something similar to it. Thismiraculousness is not related to meaning only.

“And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto.”

On the contrary, it is understood from the verse above and the other verses of challenge (al-Baqara, 2/23-24; Yunus, 10/37-38; Hud, 11/13; al-Isra, 17/88; at-Tur, 52/33-34) that this is related to words more.

In addition, it is clearly understood from the verse stating that even if the whole of mankind and jinn were to gather together and support each other to produce the like of the Quran, they could not do it (al-Isra, 17/88) that something similar to the Quran cannot be produced and hence its translation could not be regarded as the speech of Allah and could not be read in prayers (salat).

It is definitely very important and it is not difficult for a Muslim to know the meaning of at least the verses and chapters that he reads in prayers and to read them by understanding and feeling them in prayers. However, it is something to translate the Quran in order to understand it, to benefit from its guiding and to learn about the orders, prohibitions and advice of our Lord, and to read the translations, explanations and interpretations of the Quran with this intention; and it is something else to replace the Quran with those translations and to regard them as the Quran.

In prayers and worshipping, the Quran is read in its original form. Its translations and interpretations are read in order to learn our Lord’s advice, orders and prohibitions and to benefit from its guiding. It is full of thawabs and is regarded as worship in general to read the translations, explanations and interpretations of the Quran with this intention.

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