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Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

By Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

Q. Dear Abdullah, could you explain why (we) Muslims pray only in the Arabic language? All praise be to Allah for guiding us to His Law and Way, and for inspiring us the means of realising His higher objectives [Maqasid] and outlining systematic argumentation to establish them. May the blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him], through whom Allah laid solid foundations for reform. May His mercy be upon the Prophet's companions and the members of his household, luminaries of Islam and jewels in its crown, and upon the leading scholars through whom divine knowledge has radiated following the advent of Islam. Answer: This is a frequently asked question by people ­ Muslims and nonMuslims alike. We know that Muslims all over the World rely on the Arabic language to perform their prayer (Salah). It is required from them that they recite certain portions from the Qur'an that affirms the greatness of Allah and the submissiveness of the people to Him. This is practiced equally by both the native Arabic speaking worshippers as well as nonnative speakers who, in most cases, may not understand what they recite in their prayers (Salah). This was the situation during the time of the Prophet and continues to be the case today. In answering this question I will summarise (with additional notes) the answer given by the late erudite Syrian scholar Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa (in Fatawa Mustafa Zarqa, p.106109) to a similar question and hope that this will give more credence and authority to the explanation. Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa states that it would seem natural and logical (practical) that a believer address his prayers (Salah) and supplications from the deep feelings of his conscious and the mother tongue is the most effective way to achieve that objective of successfully expressing what one feels and desires. He says that looking at it from this perspective may seem to be prudent, in terms of expressing adab (manners) with Allah in view of the fact that people are able to communicate more appropriately and show better etiquette in their mother tongue that they grew up with. However, he says, the matter is deeper and more complex than simply looking at the issue from this perspective due to the following reasons: 1. There are certain theological and psychological implications to consider. God says:

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Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

By Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

`'The Prophet is closer to the believers than their ownselves, and his wives are their (believers') mothers.'' (33:6) This explicit text of the Qur'an considers the wives of the Prophet as the mothers of the believers; and we know that all of the wives of the Prophet spoke the Arabic language. Therefore, from this angle the Arabic language is regarded as the mother tongue of all Muslims. Hence, there should be no room for any objection in performing the prayers (Salah) except in the Arabic tongue since this is the (spiritual) mother language (of all believers). 2. In Islamic theology (aqida), the Qur'an is considered the kalam (speech) of Allah, the Most High. And its recitation is accepted or valid as a form of drawing closer to Allah. Also, from the spiritual angle, the believer journeys to Allah ( ) through reciting His Holy speech, and the original text of this speech, which was revealed to the Prophet, is in Arabic. As a consequence, no matter how accurate the translation is, it is an estimation of the translator (to explain the spirit of the original language) and cannot possibly attain the same objective of journeying to God ( ) which is achieved through the Arabic language. It is not humanly possible to render the same precise maqsad (meaning, spirit) conveyed in the Arabic language in any other foreign tongue. A simple example: (112:1) { }

Translator (s) Translation (s) Comments Sahih Say, `He is Allah , Although the translations try to convey the original International [who is] One,' meaning of the Arabic, they are still not precise. The Pickthall Say: `He is Allah, the word `ahadun' in Arabic signifies or denotes the number one. The word `wahidun' also means one, but the One!' difference between them is that after `wahidun' (one) Yusuf Ali Say: `He is Allah, the you have ithnanun (two), but after `ahadun' (One) there One and Only;' is no two in the Arabic language. Thus, Allahu Ahadun Shakir Say: `He, Allah, is means that Allah is that Being Who is One and Alone in One.' the sense that when we think of Him, the very idea that Muhammad (Muhammad), say, there is any other being or thing is absent from our Sarwar `He is the only God.' minds. He is One and Alone in every sense. He is neither Mohsin Khan Say (O Muhammad the starting link of any chain, nor its last link. Nothing is (Peace be upon like Him, nor is He like anything else him)): `He is Allah, (the) One.' Arberry Say: 'He is God, One,'

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Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

By Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

3. A distinction needs to be made between supplication (dua) and prayer (Salah). Both are generally called salah in Arabic. However, the former is the original and more general meaning of salah (supplication) and not the formal and specific form to worship Allah. It is also known as the intimate pleading (munajat) to Allah. Therefore, there is no objection to a person who directs his/her prayers (duas/supplications) in any language he/she chooses in any form or method. This is because supplication is a specific and personal connection through individual relationship between the creation and the Creator. As for the latter, prayer (Salah) in the specific and formal meaning: the worship in the form of the prescribed Islamic method ­ it is a specific prayer which has a universal quality or description that must be observed. The prescribed prayer (Salah) of the Muslim should be, in its original ruling, performed in the universal description with others (in a jama'ah); although performing Salah individually is valid, the desired option, which carries more virtue, is to perform it behind the Imamship (leadership) of an Imam in congregation. This ruling is applicable to both men and women. Table of comparison between Salah and Dua: Salah Salah is formal Salah is performed at fixed time Salah requires ablution Salah should be performed in congregation Salah must be performed in Arabic In Salah specific passages must be performed Dua Dua is not formal Dua may be performed at any time Dua does not require ablution Dua is performed individually Dua can be performed in any language In supplication, a person can ask or use any words

4. If Islam was a national or a geographical or a tribal or an ethnic religion, which is connected to a specific race, it would have been unavoidable not to employ the language of that nation, race or tribe in Salah (prayer). However, in the case of Islam, which is a universal religion, the issue is completely opposite to that given that the believers speak in the tongue of hundreds of local and regional languages and no one except he who is from the same region or race will understand another nation's language. Therefore, as a point of unification, and as our life is ever growing and widening towards the universal way, prayers performed in one language is more conducive to ease and tranquillity. 5. There is no religion in the world other than Islam that can claim their text has not been changed or altered in some way or another. Muslims are the only people who still preserve the original Book, which was revealed hundreds of years ago to the Prophet without even a single dot being erased, changed, or manipulated. This is a great blessing for the Muslims to know, learn and understand.

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Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

By Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

6. In addition to what has preceded it must be observed that the Qur'an (although it is not poetry) includes all the qualities, language, prose and taste of a poem. The stoppage signs, the expressive language and the eloquence of the Qur'an are such that a single addition or omission of a letter will reveal discrepancies and contradictions. Similarly, in a poem, if there were any additions or omissions made to it, the rhythm would be lost. 7. A translation may not engender the same religious awe and reverence as the original text of the Qur'an revealed from Allah to His Prophet; This is because the translation is only a estimation and production of a common person and it is not a construction coming from a source that is protected from mistakes and error, as is the case with the original Arabic Qur'an, which was protected by Allah, the Most High. A simple example: (12:23) In this verse, God Almighty describes how the wife of the chief of Egypt tried to seduce Yusuf (pbuh). We do not appreciate the intensity of her work or the great wrong she is carrying out against Prophet Yusuf in the translation of the verse. However, a simple look at the Arabic gives us a more profound insight of what happened. Translation And she, in whose house he was, seduced him towards herself, and closed the doors, and said, "come on!" Comments This part (seduce him towards herself) uses This part (and she closed) the doors. Allah `the' (al) ­ it describes the injustice and the uses this verb to mean `closed'. But there is wrong of the chief's wife against Yusuf another word which is in the same root to (pbuh). When `the' (al) is placed before a mean closed and that is `aghlaqa' ( ) ­ to relative pronoun (he, she, we, etc ) it `close'. But why did Allah use the former? conveys six different meanings: 1) singling The pattern of `gallaqa' is `faa'ala' which out, 2) definition, 3) intensification, 4) denotes intensity and repetition. Implying informing of fault, 5) attention, 6) that the wife of the chief worked tirelessly, glorification. In this verse it is used to intensely and vigorously to close the doors. emphasise the great wrong and injustices There are some reports that state that there done to Prophet Yusuf. This is done by were several doors in the room ­ again placing the `an' before `nafsishi'. Hence in implying that she run to shut, close and the translation this meaning is lost. bolted the doors. Thus, in the English language this eloquent and precise meaning is lost.

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Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

By Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

8. There are some people (writers/academics) who rely on an opinion expressed by some of the elite scholars of Islam such as Imam Abu Hanifa, who allowed the recitation of the Qur'an to be done in translation during Salah. However, these scholars mentioned one aspect and failed to discern the other. Imam Abu Hanifah, although holding this view at the beginning of his scholarship, later retracted it and agreed with the opinion of the majority of the scholars. This is mentioned in the books of the Hanafi school of thought such as al Hidaya by Imam Margiyani, alDar alMukhtar by Imam Hasfaki, alHashiyat Rad alMuhtar by Imam Ibn Abidin and other texts. Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa then states that in reality there are some exceptional situations where the translation of the Qur'an may be used in Salah, such as when a nonMuslim embraces Islam and does not know the Arabic language. This new Muslim has to perform the Salah from the time he/she embraces Islam. This of course includes the obligatory portion of the Qur'an that a person must recite in order for the Salah to be complete. Therefore, because this person is unable, due to necessity he/she is allowed to read the translation of the Qur'an in Salah until he/she learns the sufficient sections of the Qur'an to perform the Salah. This is based on the report from the companion, Salman alFarsi, which was approved by the Prophet that the people of Persia wrote to Salman alFarisi to send them sura alFatiha written in Persian. He did so and the Persians used to recite it in prayer until their tongues became used to it. (This is reported in Kitab Taj alShari'at, and the Chapter on Salah in Nihayat Hashiyat alHidaya). It should be noted that all the scholars of the other schools are against the use of translations in prayer, whether one is able to recite the original Arabic or not. They state that a new Muslim should do some basic tasbih, such alhamdulillah or subhan Allah, in the prayer or remain silent. In conclusion: 9. A person, whether he/she is a new Muslim or does not know Arabic, should exert all efforts and endeavour to learn the required portion of the Qur'an which is sufficient to fulfil the obligation of the Salah. 10. Otherwise, a person has the following options: a) he/she may read the translation in Salah, b) recite praises such as alhamdulillah, subhan Allah, etc, c) or remain silent. To overcome any difficulty for the new Muslim or a person who does not know the Arabic language or has not learnt any portion of the Qur'an by heart and is not able to pronounce it, he/she is encouraged to attend the mosque for the obligatory prayers and follow the Imam. The Imams recitations will be his/her recitation. At the same time, he/she should try to learn the Qur'an as best as his/her ability affords them. In case of the Muslim who is not able to recite from the Qur'an due to the reasons mentioned above, he/she is encouraged

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Why is Salah not allowed except in Arabic?

By Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

(take the view of the majority) to simply recite the praises of alhamdulillah or subhan Allah, and that would suffice. And Allah knows best. Abdullah Hasan 28/03/2010

Imam Abdullah Hasan graduated with an Imam Diploma and BA in Islamic Studies from the European College for Islamic Studies (Wales). He holds a diploma in Arabic from Zarqa Private University (Jordan) and studied with numerous renowned scholars of Jordan. He was a teacher and Director of Student Affairs at the European Academy for Islamic Studies (London, UK). He is a founding director of Spring Foundation (SF), a scholarship charity, a member of the European Assembly of Imams and Spiritual Guides and the Imam of UKIM Mosque in Euston Square. Abdullah Hasan is also pursuing a postgraduate programme in Counselling Psychology, focusing on youth counselling.

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