Understanding the Arabic Language does not Mean One Understands the Qur’an!
The majority of the people assume that if one understands the Arabic language, it means he is capable of understanding the Qur’an. They are also quick to dismiss anyone who has a point to make about the Quran’s verses, if they are not an Arab or do not speak Arabic. A consistent feature of these sorts of people is that they themselves know little about the Qur’an because they never attempt to research the Qur’an directly. This is because of an intentionally induced inferiority complex of not knowing Arabic which gives them the excuses they need to stay distant from the Qur’an, as well as due to some other vain excuses. They never attempt to understand the verses of the Qur’an themselves. All of their views on the Qur’an are formed entirely by following other people and texts written by those whose trust they assume. They have only read the Qur’an’s verses in text books in the context created by their trusted writers, or otherwise read the Arabic verses in ritualistic recitation, or in prayer without understanding them. Sometimes, he feels he has done enough by reading the translation of the few verses he recites frequently in prayer.
As stated above, their excuse is that the Qur’an is not in their language and only an Arab or an Arabic speaker can understand the verses. The truth is however far from their mistaken beliefs. A believer can understand the Qur’an and live by it even while possessing little or no Arabic knowledge.
History is witness to many people who are proficient in the Arabic language, yet made very twisted and perverted interpretations of the Qur’an, all while they are accepted to be well skilled by the majority. The majority being the group we have identified above. These interpreters of the Qur’an consider themselves Muslims, yet made countless erroneous interpretations – even while knowing Arabic. This begs the question, does knowing Arabic mean one can understand the Qur’an? The disbelievers of Makkah were expert in the language of the Qur’an, but they did not understand many of the concepts and similitudes of the Qur’an. They thus rejected it as being words of a madman.
What one needs to comprehend is that understanding the Qur’an means to understand correctly what is being told in the verses, the concepts, lessons, signs, admonitions metaphors and imagery. All of these aspects of the Qur’an hold true regardless of the language used. When one does not understand the Qur’an, that is, makes erroneous interpretations, he is incapable of understanding these lessons, admonitions and true purposes of the verses. One may even be in possession of great Arabic skills, yet be incapable of understanding the verses due to his or her lack of comprehension of what is being told in the verses. We can compare this with the following scenario. Imagine you are explaining a concept to someone in perfect English. The person you are explaining to can also understand English perfectly. However, due to a lack of comprehension on their part, that person fails to understand what you are explaining to them despite your perfect explanations in English and their ability to understand the language. Likewise, the same can be said about the Qur’an. Even an expert Arabic speaker may well be incapable of understanding and interpreting the verses correctly as a direct result of that missing comprehension. This comprehension is given by Allah to whoever He pleases. A verse identifies this:
“…But the disbelievers say, ‘what does Allah mean by such a similitude?’ Through it, Allah misguides many and He also guides many. But He misguides only the rebels.” (Qur’an 2:26)
The comprehension we have mentioned is actually a gift from Allah to His sincere believers only. A believer who does not know Arabic may be endowed with this ability to understand the Qur’an. When the verses of the Qur’an are explained to him by another true believer in his language, he grasps them correctly, even though he does not know Arabic. And it is probable that a person fluent in Arabic could not understand the same verses correctly even in his own language. Skill in the Arabic language did not afford him the true interpretations of Allah’s verses, and so he remained bereft of Allah’s guidance. Another person who is a more sincere believer could understand the verses, even though he did not speak the language of the Qur’an. Allah explains this ‘veiling of perception’ in a verse:
“When you recite the Qur’an, we place an invisible barrier between you and those who do not believe in the life to come. We have put covers on their hearts that prevents them from understanding it, and heaviness in their ears.” (Qur’an 17:45-46)
That is why a true believer can live by the Qur’an without knowing Arabic. It is true that a non-Arabic speaking believer will need to overcome the obstacle of language, but with his sincerity and motivation, he overcomes them without difficulty. Today, there are many translations of the Qur’an available in almost any language. It is possible to draw a fairly accurate understanding of the Qur’an by studying different translations.
People who speak Arabic do not automatically posses the comprehension to understand the meanings of the Verses of the Qur’an. The comprehension is given by Allah to whom He wills regardless of ones language. All people who consider themselves Muslim must not hide behind excuses from gaining a first-hand understanding of the Book revealed by Allah, which is a guide, mercy and cure for them if they only make the effort to understand it themselves. Allah has held everyone responsible for adhering to the Qur’an, regardless of their spoken languages.
DO WE HAVE TO READ THE QURAN IN ARABIC?
The answer is no, the Quran can be read in any language:
The Quran was revealed in Arabic, but Allah promised to be its teacher (55:1-4) and the One to explain it (75:18-19). Allah told us in the verse (41:44) that language is irrelevant, and that only the sincere ones are going to understand the Quran irrespective of their language; while those who are not sincere or failed to worship Him alone will fail to understand it, even if they speak, read, and write Arabic (56:79).
In a lot of non-Arabic speaking countries Muslims are forced as children to read the Quran in Arabic and still as adults read the Quran in Arabic but they do not understand a single word of what they read. What good is it to read the Quran like a parrot without understanding its meanings or like a donkey carrying valuable books (62:5)? It does not make any sense. The blessing of the Quran does not come by just reading it, but it comes by understanding it and accepting its message. The majority of those who learn Arabic to study the Quran do not excel enough to understand the implications or interpretations of certain words when used in a special way in the Arabic language. Therefore, if you wait until you become a good Arabic speaking person, you may waste a lot of precious time of your life before being able to read the Quran.
Of course, if you insist in reading the Quran in Arabic you can do so by studying the Arabic language and reading the Quran in English at the same time. The Quran is a message, not just another beautiful language book. We have to trust Allah and know that He is the teacher of the Quran. He will teach it in any language and to any nationality, He created all things.
Translation of the verses cited in the above Text.
[Quran 55:0] In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
[Quran 55:1] The Most Gracious.
[Quran 55:2] Teacher of the Quran.
[Quran 55:3] Creator of the human beings.
[Quran 55:4] He taught them how to distinguish.
[Quran 75:18] Once we recite it, you shall follow such a Quran.
[Quran 75:19] Then it is We who will explain it.
[Quran 41:44] If we made it a non-Arabic Quran they would have said, “Why did it come down in that language?” Whether it is Arabic or non-Arabic, say, “For those who believe, it is a guide and healing. As for those who disbelieve, they will be deaf and blind to it, as if they are being addressed from faraway.”
[Quran 56:79] None can grasp it except the sincere.
[Quran 62:5] The example of those who were given the Torah, then failed to uphold it, is like the donkey carrying great works of literature. Miserable indeed is the example of people who rejected Allah’s revelations. Allah does not guide the wicked people.
[Quran 2:37] Then, Adam received from his Lord words, whereby He redeemed him. He is the Redeemer, Most Merciful.