Why is the language of the Quran Arabic? How can we answer those who regard this as nationalism? Is it not better if we read the translation of the Quran?
Submitted by on Tue, 20/07/2010 - 14:31
Dear Brother / Sister,
To write about the issue in detail is beyond our “question and answer” style; it is necessary to write a book or a very long article to give a detailed answer. Therefore, we find it sufficient to point out some aspects of the issue as far as we know.
a. The language of the Prophet (pbuh) to whom the Quran was sent down as revelation was Arabic. If the Quran had been sent down to Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) in another language, he would not have understood it. Could it have been possible for a prophet who was appointed to convey and explain a book that he could not understand to convey and explain it to others?
The following verses attract attention to the issue: “We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them”(Ibrahim, 14/4), “Had We sent this as a Qur'an (in a language) other than Arabic, they would have said: "Why are not its verses explained in detail? What! (a Book) not in Arabic and (a Messenger) an Arab?"?” (Fussilat, 41/44)
b. The Quran had to be sent down to a certain place and environment like the other books and pages of Allah. That is, it is contrary to the laws of Allah to send down books like rain in all of the languages at the same time to address all human beings. The Torah had to be sent down in Hebrew because the first people it was sent to spoke Hebrew; similarly, the Quran had to be sent in Arabic to Arabs, the first people to be addressed.
c. One of the differences of the Quran from the other heavenly books is that it is a miracle in terms of its style and words. The divine wisdom gave Arabic a special characteristic and vastness – different from the other languages – in the course of history so that the extraordinary rhetoric, unique fluency and unmatched beauty would be understood by Arabs, the first people to be addressed. To this end, Arabs were brought up as an illiterate nation; they had to memorize their historical achievements because they were unable to write them. They had use aphorisms and figures of speech like parables, metonymies, metaphors and similes in order to record history in their heads.
That system took poetry and rhetoric to an unmatched peak in Arabs among the human communities. That property made Arabs understand that the Quran is a word beyond the power of humans. Therefore, hundreds of thousands of people had to bow down to the rhetoric of the Quran. The majority of them could not resist against the unmatched style of the Quran any more and adopted Islam. Even those who did not accept Islam due to some social, cultural and economic reasons had to confess the beauty of the unmatched style of the expression of the Quran. They tried to get away with it by calling that miracle “magic” because they did not want to abandon the religion of their fathers.
It is understood from those explanations that one of the reasons why the Quran was sent down in Arabic is the special position of the language of Arabic – which had the ability to reflect the wonder of the Quran, which is a mental, spiritual and lingual miracle.
d. Another reason in terms of wisdom can be this: The position of the language used by the Quran, which is a universal revelation, which addresses the whole mankind and which will be valid until the Day of Judgment, is very important. Arabic, which has a wide comprehension that makes it possible for words to have different meanings, which has a laconic style to express many meanings with few words, which has an aesthetic art that contain subtleties to reflect figurative and lexical meanings, logic and concepts, open and hidden meanings, has deserved to be the language of the Quran – which is a universal revelation.
e. It should not be forgotten that the same questions would be valid no matter in which language the Quran was sent down. In fact, the revelation had to be sent in one of the languages used by human beings.
Since a divine book cannot be sent to all nations in their own languages at the same time and since prophets cannot emerge from all nations at the same time, it is mentally necessary for a language and nation to be chosen.
The fact that our Prophet was chosen among Arabs and that the Quran was sent in Arabic has nothing to do with nationalism because Islam prohibits negative nationalism, that is, racism. Each nation acts in accordance with its customs and conventions and carries out its own traditions except for worshipping, forbidden things (harams) and legitimate things (halals) and the judgments that the Quran prescribes. The other nations do not have to live in accordance with the Arab culture. However, it is natural that Muslim nations affect each other because they belong to the same religion.
Another issue is that it is Allah who ordained that the Quran would be Arabic and Hazrat Prophet would emerge among Arabs. Allah does not account to His slaves for what He does.
There are numerous wisdoms behind the fact that the Quran was sent in Arabic, which has been protected from external effects and which is a language of syntax.
Allah, who created us, sent the Quran to us in Arabic. We should definitely read its translations like Turkish and English in order to learn its meaning. However, when we perform prayers, we must read the original Quran, which is Arabic. Allah sent the Quran in Arabic. The translation of the Quran cannot replace the original.
For instance, if we break an original seed into pieces and then sow it in the ground, it will not produce a tree because its properties have disappeared. Similarly, the verses, words and letters of the Quran are like seeds. When it is translated into other languages, it will not be regarded as the Quran because it will lose its properties.
As for the thought of: “We do not understand its meaning”, it is the duty of every Muslim to understand the meaning of the Quran whether from its original form or translations and to act in accordance with the judgments and decrees of the Quran. Besides, the Quran was sent down so that it would be practiced. It is necessary to think why a Muslim who learns English in order to understand an English book does not learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran.
Even if we do not understand it, it is useful for us. For instance, a person whose tongue has lost the property of tasting will benefit from the food and meals that he eats; although his tongue does not taste them, they will go to the necessary organs. Reading the Quran is like that. A person whose mind does not understand the Quran will understand it when he sends it to his stomach, that is, his spirit will understand its meaning.
Besides, it is stated that at least ten thawabs (rewards) will be given for each letter of the Quran. (Tirmidhi , Thawabu'l Qur'an 16, 2912) Look at the grant of our Lord; he gives at least ten thawabs for each letter of the Quran. If we read the Quran on Fridays, eid days, in Ramadan at the night of Power (Qadr) and at special times, the reward for each letter goes up to 700 and even to 700.000. The translations are definitely useful but since no translation can replace the original Quran, the reward for each letter of the Quran will not be received when one reads its translation.
At first glance, it looks more natural and something more desired to worship Allah in a language that a believer can understand; the best tool for it is one’s mother tongue. However, when the issue is examined, different dimensions appear. First of all, it is necessary to make a distinction between dua (supplication) and salah (prayer). It is not forbidden for a believer to present his needs and requests to Allah in a language that he wishes in his dua outside salah. It is a personal issue and is about his direct relations with his Creator. However, salah is a kind of collective and general worshipping; the needs of the other believers that join it should be taken into consideration. In principle, salah is preferably performed in congregation; individual salah is permissible but it is not preferable; salah in congregation is preferable.
If Islam was the religion of a region, race or nation, doubtlessly, only the language of that region, race or nation could be used. However, the necessities of a universal religion that is adopted by all races, and people living all over the world and speaking hundreds of different languages, each of which cannot be understood by others will be different. For instance, when a Turk that cannot speak Chinese goes to China, he will hear some Chinese words in the streets but he will not be able to understand them. If those words were the translations of the adhan (call to prayer) or Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest), he would not understand any thing and he could miss the Friday prayer. (The mosques in China are not at all like the mosques in Turkey that become apparent with minarets.) Similarly, a Chinese Muslim who came to Turkey would not have any common aspects with his fellow Muslims if Muslims in Turkey worshipped in Turkish. Then, a universal religion must have some common principles. Adhan and reading the Quran constitute two essentials regarding the issue.
A similar situation can be seen in international congresses and meetings. For instance, in the United Nations, people do not use their own languages; they use permitted languages like French and English. Individual interests are sacrificed for the benefit of the general interests.
There is another aspect of the issue. No translation can be the same as the original. We should state something specially here: No other religion except Islam has the original revelation sent to their prophets. All of the religious books that Christians, Jews and Fireworshippers have are translations, compilations, etc.
We should not forget that the words and sentences that have to be used in salah are very few. First the adhan and iqamahh, then Allahu akbar, Subhana rabbiya'l-azim, Subhana rabbiya'l-ala; in addition, the chapter al-Fatiha and two short chapters. They will not cover more than one page. And most of those sentences are known by everybody; they are used in the languages of all Muslims. A child, or someone who starts to perform salah for the first time learns them with their meanings very easily, without exerting much effort. When the meanings of those expressions are learnt once, then, there is no need for objection.
If those who memorize a lot of foreign words for their worldly business regard it extra to memorize only one page from the words of Allah for worshipping, which is the prescription for the endless bliss, should remember this truth very well: Allah does not need our worshipping. We need worshipping for ourselves.
Why must the Quran be read in its original language?
In the Quran, the expression “Arabic Quran” is used in six places. That is, God Almighty states that he sent the Quran in Arabic. The meaning of the 4th verse of the chapter Ibrahim as follows:
“We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now Allah leaves stray those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is Exalted in power, Full of Wisdom.”
Then, just as the meaning of the Quran comes from Allah, so too are its words, expressions and spelling divine. When the word the Quran is mentioned, both its words in Arabic and its meaning are understood; and it is true. It is not possible to separate those two aspects and to consider them separately. Since the Quran can be read only in its original language, it can be written and read only using the letters of that language.
Along with Arabs, Muslims speaking Persian, Hindi, Chinese, Far East languages, Turkish, etc have written and read the Quran in Arabic since they became Muslims. The unanimous view of the Islamic scholars is that the Quran cannot be written in any other language.
Besides, it is not possible to write the Quran in another language; it is not possible to read it correctly in another language, either, because the letters of the Quran has peculiar characteristics. The equivalents of some letters and their pronunciation are not present in the alphabets of the other languages. Although they are similar in terms of pronunciation, they are different in terms of the places of articulation. For instance, the phrase “the language of dad” is used for Arabic, that is, the letter “dad” in the phrase “waladdaallin” at the end of the chapter al-Fatiha is not present in any language. It is impossible to pronounce a word in which that letter is present in any other language.
For instance, for the letter “h” in Turkish, three types of the letter “h” is present in Arabic. They are: “h” without a dot, guttural “h” (kh) with a dot, and soft “h”. Let us explain the difference among them with a small example. The words “mahluq”, “makhluq” and “mahluk” are written and pronounced in the same way in Turkish: (mahluk). However, in Arabic the first one means that has had a haircut, the second one means that has been created, and the last one means that has been destroyed. A person who reads the Quran in the Latin alphabet cannot understand those differences and may read a verse that mentions Allah’s creating as giving a haircut or destroying without noticing it.
There are also three types of “z” in Arabic. The first one is front “z”, the second one is “dh” with a lisp, and the third one is back “z”.
There are also three types of “s” in Arabic: “sin, sad” and lisping “th”. There is another letter that is peculiar to Arabic: “ayn”. It is not present in most languages.
How will a person who cannot read the letters of the Quran read the letters mentioned above when they are written in Turkish? He will not be able to articulate those letters; and the words and verses that he reads will be far away from being the words and verses of the Quran.
Therefore, it is not possible to read the Quran written in Latin letters due to the drawbacks mentioned above and similar ones. A person who wants to read the Quran can only learn it by reading it in its original letters. Thus, he will have a healthy result.
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Questions on Islam
- Is it better to read the Quran in Arabic or in its translation in one’s own language?
- Is it permissible for a Muslim to read the translations of the Qur'an in English in order to understand the meaning?
- What is the benefit of listening to the recitation of the Holy Qur'an even though one cannot understand its context and meaning?
- Why do we worship in Arabic? What if we do that in our own language?
- Can worshipping be performed in English?
- What are the wisdoms of reading the Qur´an in Arabic?
- Why there are so many foreign words in the Arabic of Quran?
- Why do we worship in Arabic language? Why not in our own language?
- Will the language of Paradise be Arabic? Will Arabic be spoken in the hereafter? If so, is there a verse or hadith indicating this?
- Why does Qur'an have seven recitations (Qiraat)?