In the name of Allāh,
the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Peace and Blessings of Allāh on Mohammad.
Allāh–the Glorious and the High,
Lord of the worlds
Mohammad–who brought the world
to our feet and eternity to our arms.
WHY PRAY IN ARABIC?
In her book The Trouble With Islam Irshad Manji wrote: “Taslima Nasrin, a feminist writer and doctor exiled from Bangladesh, gave me a concrete example of what she experienced well before the Saudis got rich. “As a child,” she said, “I was told that Allah knows everything. Everything means everything. So Allah should know Bengali, shouldn’t He?” She asked her mother, “How come I have to pray in Arabic? When I want to talk to Allah, why do I have to use somebody else’s language?” Her mother didn’t offer reasons only routines. (Perhaps her mother was not learned)…The Koran insists that “to God belongs the east and the west. Whichever way you turn there is the face of God.” Why, then, must Muslims bow to Mecca five times a day? Isn’t that a sign of being desert-whipped?” (pp. 152-153).
Though Muslims may communicate with Allāh, God, in his native tongue at times other than in our salah –formatted prayer; Muslims communicate with Allah in their salah in the Arabic language precisely because Allah knows everything and all languages, even Bengali– so we can reap the full wealth of the meanings of the Qur’an/Arabic.
Muslims who are of the view that the Qur’anic portions of salah should be offered in a person’s own language, which he understands, as opposed to these portions being recited in the Qur’anic Arabic, must know that in reciting the equivalent to the Qur’anic verses is to compromise one’s prayer. (You can obtain a translation of the Qur’an in the language you know; have an understanding of what you are reading).
There are certain Arabic terms, such as Rabb, that cannot adequately be compensated for in any other language. In fact, there are some Muslim scholars who are of the view that the Qur’an should not be translated into any language, as these languages are deficient in expressing the Qur’an.
When we pray subhan Allah, we are not merely offering the English equivalent, thanksgiving; but are also declaring Allah to be free of all imperfections and defects.
When we pray “Allah” instead of the generic, God (or other names), we are honoring God as the One and Only; the Eternal, Absolute; on Whom all depend; Who begets not nor is begotten; there is none like unto Him; He incarnates not; He has no “chosen people” to the exclusion of others; is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden; the belief in all His Angels, Revelations, Prophets, in the Resurrection and Judgment, and in Hell and Heaven /Paradise.
When we pray al-Rahman and al-Raheem instead of the common Beneficent and Merciful we are expressing, as Muham-mad Ali notes from the Prophet Mohammad, that “Al-Rahman is the Beneficent God Whose love and mercy are manifested in the creation of this world (and Who forgives sins without the need for some satisfaction, as vicarious atonement–Admin.); and al-Raheem is the Merciful God Whose love and mercy are mani-fested in the state that comes after.” Muhammad Ali added, “the English language lacks an equivalent of al-Rahman”–(Qur’anic comm. #3).
When we pray “Rabb” instead of the common, Lord, we are acknowledging Allah to be the Fosterer, Nourisher, Regulator, Completer and Accomplisher –or “Nourisher to perfection”– of all things. “Hence, Rabb is the Author of all existence, Who has not only given to the whole creation its means of nourishment but has also beforehand ordained for each a sphere of capacity and within that sphere provided the means by which it continues to attain gradually to its goal of perfection.” (M. Ali. Qur’anic comm. #5).
Sura Fatiha (the opening Chapter of the Qur’an) is the “quintessence” of the Qur’an. Offering the Fatiha in a language other than Arabic, one is depriving him/herself of an expanse of irreplaceable blessings. Multiply this loss by five (for the five daily prayers). Calculate the rewards lost in reciting the remainder of the prayer in an equivalent language. Now calculate the loss over one’s lifetime. Even if one does not understand Arabic (though he/she can learn it or can consult the translation) it is the meaning expressed in its Arabic recitation that is paramount.
Moreover, Islam is the universal religion and the Qur’anic expression is a universal language. A person of one language can offer congregational salah in any part of the world and would be conversant with the Qur’anic recitation, as opposed to salah being offered in a language which the traveler may not understand. Islam is the universal religion. There is no universality in each person offering his salah in his own tongue.
While Muslims are to offer the salah in Arabic, Muslims are not to “parrot” the Qur’an; knowledge of its contents is mandatory; this knowledge can be acquired by learning the Arabic language or by obtaining a translation of the Qur’an. As the Qur’an is not a story-book, a translation with commentaries is essential to understand the background of verses. (With respect to notes and commentaries, I have found Muhammad Ali’s translation of the Qur’an to be superior. His translation of the Qur’an can be viewed online: www.muslim.org).
(I recall hearing it said that on the Day of Judgment Arabic will be the language that will be spoken. It may be advanced that how can this be when everyone does not speak or know Arabic? Firstly, as Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din points out, “no one of the languages of the world, excepting that of the Hedjaz, is spoken now in the form in which it existed at the time of the Holy Prophet.”1 Thus, Arabic seems to be the only language in its pristine purity. That everyone will be speaking Arabic in the Hereafter is not fantastic. According to the Bible “the whole earth was of ONE language, and of ONE speech,” but to confuse the builders of the Tower of Babel from reaching Him God “confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech”–Genesis 11:1-8).
Since God gave one language and can “confound” peo-ple into various languages then clearly He can also bring all people of all languages into speaking/ understanding one language –Arabic).
Why bow to Makkah?: Muslims do not “bow” to Makkah. We bow to Allah. We only face Makkah. We face Makkah because, even though Allah’s face is everywhere, He enjoins on us to face the Ka’ba in Makkah, when we offer our salah–(Qur’an 2:144, 149). This is part of the universality of Islam: Muslims all around the globe facing one direction. The other three factors of the universality of Islam are: (1) Offering salah in Arabic; (2) circumambulating the Ka’bah, which symbolizes unity with Muslims from every point of the world; (3) the hajj–gathering of Muslims from all over the world. The hajj is the only Divinely instituted pilgrimage.
Muslims, desert whipped: Allah instructs us to obey Him and to obey the Prophet Mohammad: “O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and make not your deeds in vain”–(Qur’an 47:33); and that “Whoever obeys the Messenger, he indeed obeys Allah”–(Qur’an 4:80).
Thus obedience to the Prophet Mohammad is obedience to Allah, and whatever instructions the Prophet gives us it is as if they were given to us by Allah Himself.
The Prophet Mohammad tells us to pray as we see him pray. He demonstrated the format of the five daily prayers to Muslims and explained their timings of the day: (this practice was relayed to us by our ascendants, as we demonstrate to our descendants). A Muslim who disregards or condemns this format of prayer and their timings could not be deemed a “practicing Muslim.” Those who consider themselves Muslims and view prayers in their es-tablished format and prescribed times as “mindless” and “sub-missiveness” have not grasped the benefits of prayers. The entire practice of Islam is “submissiveness,” to Allah. Allah informs us in His Qur’an 29:45:
“Surely prayer keeps (one) away
from indecency and evil; and certainly
the remembrance of Allāh
is the greatest (force).
And Allah knows what you do.”
Muslims are thus conditioned by these regimented prayers to demonstrate (by prostrating ourselves) –the highest form of “submissiveness”– that Allah is the only Being worthy of worship: the only Being greater than ourselves; and at the same time, by virtue of this physical act, are more cognizant of the fact that Allah is ever Seeing us; which in turn impels (or should) impel us to avoid indecency and evil. One who prays five times a day is like a person who takes a bath five times a day –washing away the impurities from his body.
Islam “requires communion with the Divine Being to be observed throughout the entire week, five times daily.” “The Islamic division of prayers is much more suited to elevate a man spiritually, affording true spiritual food to the soul than is to be discovered in any other form of worship”–(M. Ali, Qur’anic comm. 2505).
Allah does not “desert-whipped” His servants: His servants have a free choice. Islam abolished slavery. Following the laws of Allāh –Unity of God, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, and Hajj– are to our benefit. Being “robotic” to the laws of Allah is hardly any effort to benefit in His Everlasting Grandeur.
Muslims pray five times a day because prayer distinguishes us from other religionists; it also keeps one from evil and shameful deeds, and is the greatest force–(Qur’an 29:45).
If following the injunctions of Allāh –which elevates us social-ly, morally, spiritually and intellectually– is “a sign of being des-ert-whipped,” it is the most rewarding, most beneficial whipping one could ever receive. Or hope to receive.
(That Allāh is watching and seeing us does not mean His vision follows us at work, shopping and in the bathroom etc; it means that our actions and speech are being recorded and by our limbs–(Qur’an 82:10-12); which would give evidence on the Day of Judgment: “On the day when their tongues and their hands and their feet bear witness against them as to what they did”–(Qur’an 24: 24. Also 36:65; 41:19-23. See Genesis 31:45-52; Joshua 24:26-27 where a “stone” shall bear witness).
Man have satellites hundreds of miles away in surveil-lance of the earth, can transmit words and pictures through space from one corner of the Globe to the other, can store mountains of data on the head of a pin and in computer chips, can record sounds and images on plastics and replay them, can be in one place and operate through remote control distant objects, can transmit audio and video signals through the air and have his television (even in the off mode) receive and convert these signals into sound and image and record them, how much more advanced and sophisticated the recording system of Allāh the Fashioner of the universe must be. Allāh calls on us to reflect: “Does man think that we shall not gather his bones? Yea, We are Powerful to make complete his whole make”–Qur’an 75:3-4). See also Allah, Liberty & Love-Irshad Manji).
1. Introduction To The Study Of The Holy Qur’an, p. 61. (See Qur’an).