"The language Allah chose is the Arabic language. He sent his precious book (the Quran) written in Arabic, the language of the last prophet. For this reason, it is the duty of everyone to learn Arabic." Al-Shafi'i (772-826)
As of 2010, 1.6 billion people from across the Arab world as well as far beyond it, considered themselves Muslim, making Islam the second most widespread religion in the world after Christianity (2.4 billion practitioners).
History tells us that Islam was the third monotheistic religion to emerge after Judaism and Christianity.
Muslims recognize only one God, Allah (اللّه in Arabic), who rules all humanity and to whom humanity owes all.
This divine being is indivisible (childless), has no image, and commands total submission from believers in Islam (الإسلام, Islam means "submission to God" in Arabic).
Manifested in the holy scriptures known as the Quran, Islam was revealed to the prophet Mohammad (570-632), political, religious, and military leader from Mecca (Saudi Arabia). Muslims consider Mohammad to be the last prophet.
Extensive study of the Quran and research into the origins of Islam have given rise to a legitimate discipline among Muslims, a Quranic science, that has sparked debate among Eastern researchers since the 19th century.
- What is the true interpretation of the Quran?
- Why was the Holy Quran written in Arabic?
- Is learning Quranic Arabic more difficult than learning other foreign languages?
The importance of Arabic for Islam is undeniable, and so Superprof has examined the reasons why the Arabic language was chosen over all others by Allah for the Quran.
Allah: A Semitic Word with Roots in Many Faiths
There is a lot that you probably didn't know about Arabic. Did you know that it is written in the opposite direction to English?
Or that "Allah" is the Arabic word for the Islamic divinity, or God?
The history of this term is actually quite enlightening.
As students enrolled in Quranic Arabic courses at a mosque and those learning Arabic literary translation and writing know, in Arabic, the word for God is composed of the article "al" - ال - which means "the" and the Arabic word "ilah" - إِلَاه - meaning "god".
Together, the two terms make "Allah" (اللّٰه) meaning "the god". The Quran declares that God is absolutely unique, a monotheistic concept called tawhid (the one God).
However, attributing this Arabic word exclusively to Islam would be historically inaccurate.
Yes, the word "Allah" has origins in the middle eastern Semitic languages of Aramaic and Hebrew.
It existed well before the publication of the Arabic-language Quran, and its usage can be traced back to before the emergence of monotheistic Islam.
The word "Allah" was already in use by pre-Islamic people.
- The Akkadians used the term "ilu" to invoke God between 4,000 and 2,000 BCE.
- In Hebrew, Jews call God "Elohim". To this day, some Jews in Maghreb countries and the Middle East use the term "Allah".
- In the Bible, Christians speaking Aramaic (the native language of Jesus Christ) called their god "Allaha".
- Arabic Christians from Syria and Arabia who were persecuted in the 3rd century also used the word "Allah".
Linguistic note: the terms "Allah" and "Elohim" come from the same Semitic root!
In pre-Islamic Arabia - meaning before Mohammad's 622 pilgrimage and founding of Islam - Allah is said to have had sons and daughters in the form of associated divinities.
The Holy Quran itself admits to the existence of pan-Arab divinities who were venerated at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and Aleppo and Palmyra in modern day Syria.
So, the first Arabs of the Islamic world were polytheists, just as the Romans and Greeks of antiquity were!
An interesting story:
In 2009, the Malaysian Supreme Court banned the use of the term "Allah" by Christian Malaysians, an act of law illustrating to what degree our society is intolerant of those claiming their identity. Some might even call it archaic!
Arabic as a Means of Islamic Expansion
Why did Allah Choose Arabic When Dictating His Laws?
Finding reliable sources of information and scientific studies about Allah and Arabic is rather difficult because Allah never really existed as a physical entity.
That leaves us with only hypotheses.
The one God is called "Allah" because the Quran was revealed via the Arabic language.
Such glorification and recognition of the divine uniqueness (Tawhid) - a requirement of all faithful Muslims - came when preachers needed to convert polytheistic 7th-century Arabs living on the Arabian peninsula to monotheism.
We can be sure that the Quran was "revealed" to Mohammad and then propagated in the Arabic language because the prophet came from Saudi Arabia and thus spoke Arabic as a native tongue.
Learning to read and speak Arabic, especially Quranic Arabic, allows practicing Muslims to understand the verses (or suras) in the Quran.
The Arabic language is, therefore, the means by which all believers in Islam might understand one another.
Islamic culture tells us that Islam was born in 610, when Mohammad - while on a spiritual retreat on Mount Hira - received a revelation from the archangel Gabriel. Mohammad heard the holy word of God.
Upon returning to Mecca, Mohammad was presented as the messenger of God and undertook to spread the holy word.
Muslim tradition says that the prophet Mohammad was illiterate. He had no other means than his native language by which to teach the verses of the Quran and spread Islamic language and culture throughout the Arabian peninsula.
God must have chosen the Arabic language for dictating Islamic law, called the sunnah, because Arabic was simply the most appropriate language for the task.
The "task" was to communicate with the greatest possible number of people who might join the new religion.
Between 602 and 628, pre-Islamic Arabia was devastated by the war between the Byzantine Empire in the western Mediterranean region and the Persian Empire to the east (today's Iran).
Mohammad died in 632. His death and the territorial loses accompanying the Arabian victory against Sassanian Persia in 636 marked the beginning of Islamic expansion by Arabs of the Near East.
Naming Arabic as the Official Language of Islam Unifies Muslims
In pre-Islamic times, before the Hijra - when Mohammad left Mecca for Medina in 622 - Arabic speakers were not all monotheists.
Some were Jews, others Christians. But, Mohammad was the messenger of a revelation that must be delivered and understood by his countrymen.
Documentary research has revealed several hypotheses.
- Islam and the Quran were created in the Arabic language simply because the last prophet Mohammad was an Arab.
- The Quran is written in Arabic because it addressed an Arabic-speaking population when it first appeared.
- Allah chose an Arabic-speaking prophet because the city of Mecca had not yet been told of the existence of God.
- Muslims were being called to meditation and reason.
- Arabic was chosen to issue a challenge of eloquence and rhetoric to Arab populations.
Whatever the reason, the Islamization of Arabia, the progressive turn toward Allah, and the diffusion of Islam throughout the Arab-Muslim countries of the Middle East appears to be the result of successive territorial annexations from the east to the west at the end of the 7th century.
Submission to Allah - "Islam" means "submission" in Arabic - appears to have sought the eradication of polytheistic beliefs and the installation of a unique dogma that would unite all Muslims.
Learning Arabic Facilitates the Practice of Islam
"Through the Arabic language, we understand the Quran, and through the Quran, we learn the Islamic laws. Those who do not know Arabic do not know Islam."
Faithful Muslims are guided by the Holy Quran.
Therefore, learning Arabic and the Muslim world are closely tied together. Learning classical Arabic for example is mandatory for those wishing to follow the precepts of Mohammad.
What is classical Arabic?
The language of the Arab community is nearly 2000 years old. The Quran was written in the 7th century in a form of ancient Arabic believed to be understood by all Arabic speakers. Quranic Arabic is called literary Arabic.
Literary Arabic is very similar to Modern standard Arabic (Msa) which is the basis of Arabic script across all Arabic speaking countries. It is used in Arabic writing where the audience is international (in the media, books, newspapers etc)
Literary Arabic is opposed to dialectical Arabic in that the latter refers to the dialects spoken in each Arab country. This complicates matters for anyone looking for an Arabic course as the language spoken across the Middle East and North Africa is different from country to country.
In other words, Moroccan Arabic (also known as Darija) isn't the same as Palestinian Arabic, and Iraqi Arabic isn't the same as Egyptian or Syrian Arabic.
Aside from the difference in the Arabic pronunciation, there are divergences in grammatical structures, vocabulary, and phrases.
When it comes to formal written Arabic tuition, the majority of native Arabic speakers living in Muslim countries learn the standard Arabic of Msa that has been modernized for the 20th.
However, to be able to understand the verses of the Quran, one must learn another level of ancient classical Arabic, Quranic Arabic.
Still today, this literary Arabic is used for sacred Islamic texts and liturgies.
Fortunately, Arabic is a very phonetic (easy to pronounce) language because it contains only four vowels.
Of all the languages in the world, Arabic is among those with the weakest vowels and the easiest pronunciation.
The degree to which a language is difficult to pronounce is directly linked to the number of vowels in that language.
There are eight vowels in Turkish.
In some European languages, such as English and French, there are more than ten vowel sounds.
Other languages found elsewhere in the world have more than seven or eight vowels.
The four vowels (A, E, I, and U) in Arabic also exist in nearly every other language and are used quite extensively.
So, an Arabic speaker who wishes to learn another language and speak well must get used to making a few sounds that don't exist in Arabic.
On the other hand, a non-Arabic-speaking person would have no difficulty getting accustomed to Arabic sounds because the sounds used in Arabic are most likely the principle sounds used in his or her own language.
When we consider that non-Arabic speaking Muslims must recite the Quran in its original language, it is clear that Arabic must be rather easy for them to learn and why Arabic is considered a universal language.
Taking courses in Quranic and literary Arabic can help learners achieve the following vital goals:
- improving oral communication in one of the world's most beautiful languages
- discovering the origin of their first name in Arabic
- learning the Arabic alphabet
- learning Arabic grammar in order to write in Arabic
- extending knowledge of Arabic words
- learning Arabic calligraphy
- exploring Arabic poetry through poets like Avicenna.
- receiving a high-quality Islamic education
- practising the art of tajwid, improving Quranic recitation
- understanding the Quran
- learning to read Arabic
Achieving your goals is simple. Just head on over to your nearest mosque and inquire about Arabic language classes and Islamic training.
Is the mosque too far away?
Then, try online Arabic lessons. They're yours for the taking! Just put in "Arabic course London" or Leeds or Glasgow or Aberystwyth in your search engine bar and you will soon be able to read the first sutras.