Ramadan Reflections '13, Day 13: The Many Languages of Islam

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted (Quran, Chapter 49: Verse 13).

My first language is English, next is Persian/Farsi, and I have an odd smattering of French and Spanish. Growing up, my parents taught me how to read Arabic for the purpose of reciting of the Quran, but I was not taught how to comprehend what I was reciting. I had to read the English translation, verse by verse, to grasp what this holy text meant. That started around the time I was 8 years old and continued until this year. Every time I read the Quran in Arabic, I would have to immediately read the English translation, and try to match the Arabic word to the English. For those who also can't understand Arabic, you'll understand when I say how disjointed and frustrating this is.

While I would love to be able to understand Arabic and have started taking baby steps towards this, I needed to change what I was doing in the meantime, especially during Ramadan. It's frustrating to not be able to read the holy text fluently without interruptions. I've never really read the Quran fully in English due to the fear I've been instilled that this wrong and the Quran was ONLY meant to be read in Arabic. But honestly, I'm tired of not comprehending what I read and needing to fill in the gaps. I want to be able to read the holy book from start to finish, uninterrupted.

So this Ramadan, I am doing precisely this. Reading the Quran from start to finish in English.

Too bad others don't adopt this philosophy. Each prayer I attend at a musallah or mosque, I wish it was recited in English. While I have a grasp of the meaning of Sura Fatiha and a select other short verses for prayer purposes, when it comes to Taraweeh, I'm really lost. I try my best to repeat in my head what the Imam is saying...but what does it mean? I can only imagine what a difference it would make to have English subtitles, or to wear some sort of ear device that would translate what the Imam is reciting. To those who understand Arabic, you may not understand the full extent of the frustration us non-speakers feel.

Which is why after attending Friday prayer at the NW Musallah this past week, I was thrilled when the entire khutbah (minus the dua parts) were in English! I can't tell you how many other prayers I've attended at the larger mosques, and I spend the first half trying to pay attention when the khutbah is yelled over the microphone in Arabic. And then when the English part comes along, it's fractured and doesn't flow. I'm not saying to NOT speak in Arabic at all. But if we were German and lived in Germany right now, wouldn't it seem odd for the most of the khutbah to be delivered in Arabic followed by broken German? If one Imam can deliver his entire khutbah in English, then it must be "ok" and therefore other Imams should think about doing this too. 

When Asif and I pray together, we actually recite both in Arabic and English. It is very powerful to recite in English...I feel as though my concentration and depth of prayer increases tremendously. The words coming out of Asif's mouths all make sense. My attention is sustained and I'm fully into the prayer. It's a beautiful thing. My duas are also all in English. Alhamdulillah, since I've been blessed with my soulmate, I'm pretty sure Allah (swt) has listened to them.

And when you read the verse above, you perhaps start to think about how Muslims come from predominately non-Arab countries (80%). Many of these followers don't have a grasp of Arabic, and they may too pray in their native languages. I think this is beautiful in its own way. Imagine Muslims from all over the world, standing before their prayer mat, reciting both in Arabic and their first language. 

If this isn't a sense of "ummah" we so badly talk about creating, I don't know what is.

And Allah knows best. 


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