Lack Of Arabic Skills Holds Many Muslims Back
I’m not a convert to Islam, but Arabic is not my first language. Nor was it the first language of my parents, both of whom were converts to Islam.
For millions of Muslims here in America and around the world, Arabic is not their first language. In fact, I’m willing to bet (if betting was permissible) that most Muslims today, do NOT speak Arabic.
Yet here we are with this beautiful, magnificent Book called the Quran that we’re told is the Word of Allah and a divine miracle. Our entire lives as Muslims is based around the Quran. Our very reason for being is so that we can live according to the rules established in the Quran.
And what language is the Quran in?
Arabic, of course.
Now, if most Muslims don’t speak Arabic, yet the book that we’ve built our lives around is in Arabic, it would seem that our lives are built around something we don’t fully understand.
And to me, that sounds like a scary proposition.
But as humans will do, we’ve found ways around this predicament.
We have sheikhs and scholars and Imams whom we rely upon to explain the mysteries of the Quran to us. And that’s definitely a good thing.
Especially for those of us that live in areas where there are a lot of Muslims.
However, for many Muslims, that is not an easy option. Many Muslims live in non-Muslim nations where Muslims are a minority.
Take for example where I live, the United States.
Yes, in the big cities like New York and Atlanta and Chicago where thousands upon thousands of Muslims live, it’s no problem finding a qualified brother or sister to teach you about the Quran.
But there are many Muslims who do not live in these big cities. There are many Muslims living in small towns and tiny communities all over the United States that do not have access to qualified teachers.
This is a sad fact, but there is actually a shortage of Muslim Imams in America. Hence, many Muslims do not have immediate access to someone who can explain the subtleties of the Quran in a way that makes sense.
Lack Of Scholars Is Not An Excuse
With all that being said, this still isn’t an excuse for Muslims to go years without studying the Quran. Even for those Muslims who do not have someone to help them with the Quran, there are several options available.
This is especially true in this time of readily available (if not always reliable) information at our disposal.
So, it doesn’t really matter if you live in New York City, just miles from the central offices of the Islamic Circle of North America, or Paducah, Kentucky, just miles from Ted’s Farming Supplies. There are many ways for you to learn the meaning of the Quran, even if you don’t speak Arabic fluently.
Yes, I get it. A translation of the Arabic language is nowhere near the same as reading and understanding the original language. No matter how sincere the translator was, he or she will inevitably fall short in some way.
The thing is, Arabic words can often have several different meanings. And the only way to truly know which meaning is intended is to understand the context of the entire passage.
Any translator is going to have to choose one of those many meanings to convey the best understanding. And while they may have the best intentions, their understanding may not be the best understanding.
Or perhaps it’s not the only understanding.
Furthermore, no matter which translation you choose, you are ultimately reading it through someone else’s filter. You are forced to read what THEY believe is the best understanding of that passage.
Nonetheless, there are some very good translations out there. And you have the option of sorting through them in order to get at the best understanding of any particular word or passage.
And these translations will give you a solid, albeit limited, understanding of the Quran.
So while it may not be the best option, if you don’t have anything else, a translation will do just fine.
Online Classes With A Learned Muslim
Nowadays, there are many options for studying the Quran online. And this is perhaps one of the best ways to understand the Quran.
You can go to YouTube and search for the Tafsir (exegesis) of pretty much any Surah in the Quran and you’ll get several options.
It’s just a matter of whether you feel like doing it or not.
This information is free, and in most cases, legitimate.
Now for full disclosure, I have to admit that I don’t do this too often myself. I rarely, if ever, go to YouTube and search for the Tafsir of any Surah.
I have listened to Tafsir podcasts while driving or waiting in the Iftar line during Ramadan.
But the thought of sitting in front of my computer screen watching one man discuss the many different meanings of “and” in the Quran is not very appealing.
And that’s one of the problems I have with many Tafsir videos on YouTube. They are exceedingly long!
I’ve seen videos for short Surahs like Naas and Kawthar that were over an hour long. You can only imagine how long a video about some of the longer Surahs would be.
However, that might be your thing. Perhaps you don’t mind watching a long video so that might be right up your alley.
And even though I’m not too fond of the length of some of these videos, I do believe they will give you much more insight into the Quran than simply reading a translation.
Furthermore, some of the speakers on these videos are quite good. Nouman Ali Khan comes to mind as someone I probably wouldn’t mind listening to for an hour.
I would say that these lectures are most beneficial if you at least if you have some decent knowledge of Islam and the Arabic language.
You don’t have to be fluent. But having that little edge makes these lectures all the more beneficial.
One of the reasons I’m not too fond of these video lectures is because there’s another method that I really enjoy. And I do mean…ENJOY!
I truly do love studying the Quran myself and trying to get the most out of the meaning on my own.
Now of course, I do have a little more background in this, so it makes it a little easier for me.
- Tafsir classes with Bilal Philps and other scholars at Islamic Online University.
- Several Arabic language classes and a pretty good grasp of Arabic in general.
- Being able to read Arabic almost as well as English.
All of this make self-study much more enjoyable and easier. It’s almost like doing research, but into something I really love.
You will have to discover what method of self-study works best for you. But here’s what I do:
- First, I try to focus on those Surahs I’ve already memorized. This is best for when I pray and I want to understand what I’m reciting.
- I use online resources like Quran Word for Word to learn the roots of every word and see how those words are used in other parts of the Quran. This to me is invaluable information as it helps to build my vocabulary as well as understand the Quran more deeply.
- For those words I’m not familiar with, I look them up in an online Arabic dictionary to get an even deeper understanding of that word as well as see other forms that I might find in the Quran.
- Finally, I read the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir for that Surah so that I can verify that my understanding is not too far off from the understanding of one of the most widely accepted Quranic interpretations.
Of course, this method of self-study fits my bookish, nerdish, introverted personality and may not work for you.
Also, for all my talk about how I dislike the long videos on YouTube, this method is much, much longer. Sometimes it takes me several days to study one Surah in depth.
So I encourage you to come up with your own method of self-study that fits your schedule and personality.
But in the end, the most important thing to understand is that you don’t have to speak Arabic fluently in order to understand the Quran.
Of course, the more Arabic you know, the easier this will all be.
However, Allah has given us several options to learn more about His miraculous book and its our duty to take advantage of them.