السلام عليكم و رحمة الله,
When something’s as important as Arabic, you can bet that the discussions about the reasons to learn it and why it’s so important will abound as they have through the centuries right up until our time. I’m going to give my own take. It is edgy, it is opinionated, but don’t let that stop you from going through it. Keep in mind that when I say “Arabic”, I mean the pure Arabic that was present during final era of revelation, not what is known as “dialects” today.
Arabic is the language of Islam
This is something we really need to wrap our heads around to understand how important Arabic is. All the primary sources are in Arabic. All our rituals use them. The understanding of many Islamic concepts go back to what the words originally mean in Arabic. It is a symbol of Islam, so much, that for much of history, the Muslims were simply called “the Arabs”, because the world closely related Arabic and Islam together (i.e. that the Muslims are an Arabic-speaking nation).
Is it amazing that for centuries there were kings in Europe with fair skin and light-colored eyes who spoke Arabic? That is because these dynasties, while far in time and place from the birth of Islam, knew that Arabic was and will always be the “official language” of Islam. They used it for both religious duties and for governance. How far we’ve come from that standard!
In fact, it is because of Islam that pure Arabic has been preserved at such a high level. There is no Islam without Arabic, and there is no Arabic without Islam.
My point is not that it is wrong to learn about Islam in other languages, if you’re a beginner, but you will never have more than a beginner-level knowledge without Arabic. If you want to progress further, you will have to consult the works of the scholars, and that means learning the language of the scholars. The whole point of the Quran being in Arabic is so that you can grasp it. Just look:
Every one of us has to learn from the Quran and Sunnah to the level where we can perform our duties to our Lord and to each other properly, so whatever Arabic we need in order to learn that is also mandatory.
Arabic is the language of the love of your life
If someone captures your heart, you want to find out as much as you can about them. You find out where they live, who their friends are, what classes they’re taking, which way they take home, basically everything about this beautiful, fascinating person….
And then you find out they’re a foreign exchange student who only speaks French. When they say something, you’re dying to know what they say. What does it mean? Do they like you? You have no idea, so what do you do? You decide to learn their language and buy some solution to learn it, because you have to learn their language so you can speak with them and just know for yourself.
You’re tired of bugging your French-speaking friends to give you a translation (which is you know is only a shadow of the real meaning, but hey, you’re desperate). Your friends hoot at you and tell you you won’t be able to learn it. But it doesn’t matter, because one day you will have a real conversation with one you love and revel in understanding what they say.
YET, when it comes to Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, who we love more than anyone else, even ourselves, and who in turn is more merciful and loving to us than than ourselves, we are content to read translations and rely on others to give the “gist” of what he came with. We need to fix the disconnect between the love we profess on our lips and the lack of effort in learning the language of the one we claim to love. It takes courage and bravery to be a real lover… Learn the language of your beloved!
The language of your forefathers
Arabic was the language spoken by the greatest generations that ever lived on this earth. It is unfathomable that we can understand their wisdom and history without knowing the language they conversed and wrote in. If someone came to you with letters that your grandfather wrote and raved about how awesome and excellent his writings were, yet you didn’t know the language, wouldn’t you feel a pang of regret that you wouldn’t be able to appreciate what he did? Now, take that feeling and multiply it by a thousand and that’s the pitiable distance we have between ourselves and the earliest generations of this glorious ummah.
To bring it closer to home, I was surprised to learn that until recently, Arabic was part of the standard curriculum of study among the cultured elite in non-Arab Muslim countries. Our grandfathers studied Persian, Urdu and Turkish, in addition to Arabic, but we’ve been cut off from all of that.
Instead, our Westernized thinking associates “advanced” culture with knowing English and other Western European languages, and backwardness with learning Arabic and other “third world” languages.
The colonial powers, as strong as they were, knew that physical occupation and military strength were not enough to keep other nations under their influence. They knew that if they could employ soft tactics to ensure mental occupation, then they could create and maintain a world order that was to their liking without having to point a rifle.
They put their energy into creating a new class that resembled the colonized nations externally, but identified with the occupiers internally. An essential part of that is replacing the language of these countries with their own, so that they would be cut off from the history of their ancestors and lose their identity. They knew that you can never convince a lion cub that he is a sheep if he knows that his father was a lion.
The last European armies left decades ago, but we’re still acting like subjugated people, with no self-pride and huge inferiority complexes. The victors have re-written history to associate human advancement with their civilization, and to associate backwardness with the defeated. Our mental occupation will never cease until we reconnect our sense of identity to our ancestors, and that can’t happen without coming back to the language they carried. Then we will know what lions were amongst our ancestors and that the son of a lion is a lion!
The lingua franca of Muslims
When the colonialist powers of Europe left, they left behind a people fractured by geographical and linguistic lines. That was to their benefit, for in unity lies strength and in division lies weakness. If Arabic was the language that united the Muslims, then promoting dialects and diverting the Muslims from their shared language was a no-brainer decision.
Like any other language, Arabic has its own psychology that is shared by its speakers. It reflects a shared culture, a shared identity. As someone who only knows proper Arabic (never having lived in the Arab world), I find that whenever I am able to have a conversation with someone else with the little Arabic I know, it feels so much better than if it were in English. There is just something about it that makes a bond between people. I have experienced it both with Coptic Christians from Egypt and Arabic-speaking Muslim non-Arabs.
If people are calling for unity of the ummah, neglecting the Arabic language will not help their cause. If they can see how it’s necessary for people who live in a country to learn its official language, the argument is stronger for why if a religion has an official language, then its adherents should learn it!
Religious revival is impossible without it
I’ve mentioned some of the worldly troubles that can be rectified by learning Arabic, but there is another serious aspect to it, a religious one. The proper way to believe in Allah, approach what His messenger Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم came with and develop our souls all rested on the understanding of the first generations. That understanding relied on their knowledge of Arabic. After they passed, there were many attempts to innovate things into Islam, and the number of sects rose, each with its own understanding. Every time innovation proliferated, brave men and women rose up to revive things and bring them back to the original understanding. They couldn’t have done it without knowing Arabic, because you cannot bring things back to the understanding of the first generations if you don’t know what that understanding was. If we want to have a share of the reward in supporting Islam, we need to take our share of learning Arabic.
Language of the last miracle that is left with us
If someone came and told you a she-camel was born out of a mountain, or that someone has split the sea in half, or that someone had revived a dead person, you’d rush to see it. A miracle of God is not something you would want to miss. The sad fact is that there is a miracle with us, right here, right now, and yet we’re missing out in a huge way. You know what I’m talking about; it’s the Quran. It is the greatest miracle ever sent to earth, conveyed by the greatest angel ever, to the greatest messenger ever. And do you know what it makes it miraculous before anything else? Its linguistic power and ability to capture hearts.
I speak to myself first before you, if we know the last miracle that God ever sent is here with us, in an easily understood language, why aren’t we doing what we can to learn it?
Many of us come from immigrant families and we understand the effort someone takes to learn English to get by. They’re afraid of the hardship that will come from not understanding what people say. But the hardship that comes from not understanding what the Lord of the people said is even worse, so where are we with Arabic? Don’t deprive yourself. If you haven’t started learning, start (and if you don’t know where then start here). If you have started, then never, ever stop!
May Allah help us to learn the language of His last miracle, His prophet and the generation that He was pleased with. Ameen!
All the good in this post is from Allah, and whatever mistakes are present are from the accursed devil and my own flaws.
Until next time, السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته
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