Balancing Arabization


Balancing Arabization SeriesPart I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII Part VIII Part IX

Issue #2 - Names of Prophets and Naming Kids

Our love of the Qur’an is something very special and nothing should ever hinder that. That said, once again, I pray that this special reality doesn’t confuse us regarding our understanding or representation of Islam in America. Islam is something natural to all of us. It should not seem foreign at all. Our Creator exalted be He said:

“Direct yourself toward the pure monotheistic way of life. It is the natural inclination to God in which we were all created […]” (Qur’an 30:30).

It was brought up in response to the last article that what we are presenting makes perfect sense to most when we are dealing with non-Muslims, but why use these words when talking amongst Muslims? My response is that the reality I’m presenting is seen by some as a compromise just for teaching non-Muslims (i.e. da`wah, calling to Islam). What we are proving here with the Qur’an, sunnah (traditions of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) and logic is that the Arabic words are for Arabic speakers in an Arabic discussion on Islam (or religion) and generally the equivalent of these words should be expressed in English for English speakers in an English discussion. And it is perfectly fine to do so regardless of to whom you are speaking. I say ‘generally’ because some words will need to be brought into the English lexicon because they simply can’t be translated as a single word or simple phrase. An example of this is ‘salat’, which some English dictionaries such as Random House and Encyclopedia Britannica have already included).

The point is that we don’t translate many words which have an equivalent in English and that is seen as some sort of religious arrogance or Arabic bias rather than showing the beauty of Islam in our native tongue. In my experience, the more one is accustomed to using this terminology in their native tongue the more likely they will engage in discussions with their kids as well as with non-Muslims while not seeming to be presenting some foreign religion. What we are doing doesn’t change or hide the fact that our faith was revealed and preserved in Arabic and anyone who so chooses can go learn it in its original form. So before going on let’s remind you of the founding verse of this discussion:

“We merely sent messengers preaching in their people’s native tongue so that they may clarify to them the guidance […]” (Qur’an 14:4).

The fact is that the English language has had scriptural teachings in it for a long time. As you know, there are 25 Prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Since the English language already has a representation of most of these very Prophets’ names there is no need to force an Arabic representation of them. I mean the point is that similarly to the previously mentioned “God vs. Allah” discussion, generally we are referring to the same person and it is our mission to teach people about any differences we might have in belief about these things. Someone might say, “Well, these are the names God used in the book He revealed and preserved so it is better to use them.” The next point should indeed interest the one who sees it that way.

Any student of Arabic grammar would notice that most of the Prophets’ names mentioned in the Qur’an are of the “prevented from morphology” category (ممنوع من الصرف). You see, in Arabic grammar there are many special types of words that are prevented from taking certain morphological case markings and thus do not get kasrah (-/i/) or tanween (-/n/). One of the categories that is “prevented from morphology” is the non-Arabic proper noun (العلم الأعجمي). Indeed, most of the Prophets’ names are of this category because those Prophets were not Arabs and therefore their names are not Arabic. So when revealing the Qur’an, God Arabized those names in order for the Arabs to relate to them. Whereas had he kept those names in their original Hebrew or otherwise it wouldn’t have flowed right for them. Ponder the following verse:

“Surely we have revealed it (the scripture) as an Arabic Qur’an (recitation) so that you (Arabs) may understand it,” (Qur’an 12:2).

Based on this, these Prophets were not called, in their time and by their people, by their Arabized names, like Ibrahim, Is’haaq, Ya`qoob, Yusuf, Musa, `Isa, etc. What I am suggesting we do is follow the example of the All-Wise and Omniscient and thus we refer to the Prophets in English according to the translations of the Bible already available so as to help English speakers relate to it.

On a related note, I remember when a brother named his son Noah and the Muslims were bothered by this and somehow found fault with it. So I reminded them that first of all nowhere does the Qur’an or sunnah say that all Muslims must use Arabic names to name their kids. Sadly, we do see many scholars saying this based upon the concept of the universal Arabization of Islam we are dealing with. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying; our religion was revealed in Arabic and those divine words and the tradition that gives detail and wisdom to them can only be mastered in Arabic. That said, this research shows that there is a clear difference between scholarly reference to Islam and everyday expression of Islam for a common non-Arab Muslim. So yes, you can name your children in Malay, Urdu, Persian, or English, etc. The only condition is that the name you choose has a good spiritually sound meaning because the Prophet ﷺ said:

“You will be called on the Day of Judgment by your name and you father’s name so pick the best names,”  (Abu Dawood 4948).

Issue #3 – The Language of Adam and the Hereafter

I was once giving a lecture about Islam and mentioned the Semitic languages (i.e. Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic, etc.) and how they are descendants of older Afro-Asiatic languages like Chaldean or Akkadian. So someone then asked if Adam spoke Arabic and I said that this is impossible since Arabic is one of the youngest Semitic languages whose oldest documented written form was in the 3rd century C.E.  At the conclusion, a sincere brother snatched the microphone and told the crowd that this is the speaker’s personal opinion, but that Islam teaches that Adam indeed spoke Arabic!!!

You see, here’s where many modern educated youth are getting turned off from religion in general these days—religious arrogance/ignorance dominating the discussion. The fact is there is nothing in the Qur’an or sunnah which teaches that Adam spoke Arabic. In the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah (the Chapter of the Cow, Qur’an 2) it says very clearly that God taught Adam the names of everything. Many of our commentators of the Qur’an mention that this refers to the mother tongue which holds all keys that over time will become many languages including Arabic. This brother’s belief comes from the over-exaggerated emphasis on the precedence of the Arabic language. The truth is that the Arabic language is one of the richest languages—if not the richest language—with the ability to convey many meanings in short expressions. Obviously, God chose it for this reason so that it would be the final revelation which holds the means of undoubtedly translatable guidance for all of mankind until the Last Day.

On another occasion someone asked me what language we will speak in the Hereafter. I first answered- whatever language you know, and then added that I don’t really know since I have never read of any text which clarifies that to us. Once again a no-doubt sincere brother was bothered by that and interjected that it is well-known, and all scholars teach, that the language of the Hereafter is Arabic! Another brother added that there is a hadith (recording of the words or actions of the Prophet ﷺ) confirming this. So I told them that I would research it for them and get back to them next time. So in my research I found this hadith:

“The speech of Heaven is Arabic and the language spoken in front of God on the Day of Judgment is Arabic.”

The following notable scholars of hadith ruled this hadith and a few others like it to be an outright fabrication (موضوع): Ibn al-Jawzi, Imam al-Dhahabi, al-Shawkani, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Hazm, and Albani (May God have mercy on them).

I’m sure many of you know that Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) was called Shaikh al-Islam. A handful of others have been given this title in Islamic history by their peers, but undoubtedly he has become the most famous for it. This title refers to a scholar—other than the 4 well-known codifiers of the schools of Islamic Law—who comprehensively mastered all of the sciences of Islamic Law. Here is Ibn Taymiyyah’s response when asked about the aforementioned hadith and others like it:

“All praises to God the Lord of the Universe; it is not known which language people will be spoken to on that Day. This is because neither God nor His messenger has informed us of such a thing. The claim that the people of Heaven speak Arabic and the people of Hell speak Persian is not reliable and we know of none of the companions who held such a view—may God be pleased with them. The debate started after the early generations of Muslims when some scholars started to make such claims. All of these claims have no basis either in text or logic and God knows best,” (Mujmoo’ al-Fatawa 4/299).

The last point I would like to make is regarding another angle from which many people try to prove that both the language of Adam and of the Afterlife is Arabic. I was a little taken back as to the ignorance about and exaggerated belief in Arabic when one brother tried to say that the proof that the language of Adam and the Afterlife is Arabic is simply because when we read the Qur’an and hadith Adam is speaking Arabic, and God and the angels are speaking Arabic on the Day of Judgment and in Heaven! I was completely blown away having this conversation with a scholar of hadith sciences who reiterated the same argument in response to the fact that there is no reliable proof from hadith. So I asked him if Abraham, Pharoah, Moses and the rest of the people whose stories were mentioned were also speaking Arabic since the Qur’an narrates their stories in Arabic. I also reminded him of the abovementioned second verse of Surat Yusuf (the Chapter of Joseph, Qur’an 12):

“Surely we have revealed it (the scripture) as an Arabic Quran (recitation) so that you (Arabs) may understand it,” (Qur’an 12:2).

In that discussion and many other ones like it with PhD-level scholars, I came to realize that although we love, respect and learn from our scholars, we cannot assume that whatever they say is somehow untouchable, absolute, divine truth.

I pray from the bottom of my heart that our knowledge is purified from arrogance and biased or un-Islamic cultural influence.

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58 Comments

  1. Usman says:

    Very interesting – I have frequently wondered this issue as well. Just one thought I pondered on:

    My Christian teacher for Religious Studies mentioned once that the “el” at the end of names such as “Ishmael” means God. Hence, a name such as “Ishmael” comes from the verb “to hear” combined with “el” (“God hears”). I found this explanation very interesting, not only because of the meaning of the word, but because – from my understanding of Arabic at least – this meaning can NOT come from the Arabic word of Isma’eel. “‘eel” is not meaningful in Arabic.

    The conclusion I came to… Isma’eel is the Arabised version of the name, and perhaps – just perhaps – the Hebrew is closer to what his name would have been.

    • Shibli Zaman says:

      Usman, the Hebrew יִשְׁמָעֵאל is pronounced Yišmā’īl in the Tiberian dialect. “Eel” is not meaningless in that it is acknowledged by the Sahaba as an early name for God. This is where the name Īliyā’, the name used by the early Muslims for Jerusalem, comes from meaning, “Godly Place”. While Prophets’ names may be subject to Arabic pronunciation when rendered in the Qur’ān, they are often closer to the actual names than their modern Hebrew renditions.

  2. mike says:

    Beautiful articulation brother “John” :)about some subtle but serious issues our community should be thinking about. Specifically in regard to the preservation and development of Islam in the West. Much love, mike

  3. Ellen Keim says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I am a convert of two years and I have strong opinions about this issue. While I can understand using Arabic terms and phrases if you speak Arabic, I don’t think Muslims who do this around American converts realize how alienating this can be. Not only do we not know what is being said, which makes us feel like outsiders, but we ourselves do not use these words naturally, especially at first.

    I’m always torn between wanting to express myself in my own language and feeling like I should use the Arabic in order to be a “real” Muslim. (For example, saying “Praise God” instead of “Alhamdulillah.)

    I know I miss fine shades of meaning sometimes when I don’t use the Arabic, but what difference does it make when I don’t know Arabic well enough to know the fuller meanings anyway?

    Bottom line: I wish those who push Arabic would think of those who don’t speak it as if we were from a different country. I wouldn’t spout off in English to someone who doesn’t know it very well. I would try to communicate in words they do understand and if I do have to use English words they don’t know, I would explain the meanings.

    Why can’t Arabic speakers do the same for us?

    One last point: If we believe that Islam is meant for all people, shouldn’t we make the effort to explain it to them in their languages?

    • Fatima says:

      I am a non-Arab Muslim and I find that Islam was presented to my people with a good balance between Arabic and local terms. As for the feeling of superiority/arrogance by Arabs, I experience that frequently and realise that many of them are unaware of or have forgotten the words of the Prophet(S.A.W.) on the last Pilgrimage,when he spoke on tribalism and feeling of superiority of Quraish/Arab over others. We are all from Adam…May Allah guide us onto and along the Straight Path

  4. Yasmin says:

    Jazakallah Khair for this very important post. I think that the author made some very valid points! I loved the first part and I was looking forward to this part amd I’m glad that it was finally posted! Mashallah, very well done!

  5. Diane says:

    Peace-You are wrong in this bro, as in S. Al Baqara(verses 31-33) Allah said “anbiuuni bi asmaai haaulaai in kuntum saadiqeen”-inform me of those names if you are truthful.” Since we know that the original names were in Arabic, the truthful tongue for Muslims is Arabic. Which is why you are described as a hypocrite if you prefer to converse in any other language(hadith from ibn Umar ist class sahaba), if the person you are speaking with knows Arabic. Also found in Quran, the phrase “qawlu al haqq” true speech, wa ma ba’d al haqq ilaa al Baatil-and what is after truth but falsehood. Also, “lisaanin Arabiyyin ghayr dhi ‘iwaj”-an Arabic tongue not crooked-I have much more, but now I have to make the Friday prayer. Oh, don’t forget the resonant power of the letters themselves as a curative for what ails the mind and body-this effect is not only for the believers, but is known to affect others as well, and Shaytaan flees from the sound. Salaam alaykum

    • MW_m says:

      ……..not a single thing you said had anything to do with Arabic.

    • AS says:

      salam,

      1. What you are essentially saying, is that because the Quran is in Arabic, every story it mentions occurred in Arabic.

      So your claim is that because Adam’s story is narrated in Arabic, he must have spoken it.

      Would you say the same applies for every other Prophet (including Musa and Isa) who as we know, did not speak Arabic historically but Hebrew and Aramaic?

      Sister – any book from Allah has to be in SOME language. Do you think that when the Torah was revealed to Musa with Adam’s story in it, Musa should have assumed that Adam spoke Hebrew because the Torah was in Hebrew?

      The logic is extremely flawed.

    • Muslima says:

      Assalaamu alaykum sis

      We should be careful when we take quotes from Quran that we understand the situation and history behind the revelation of specifiic ayat. In addition to the hadith you mentioned are you therefore saying that everyone here who is writing/speaking other than Arabic is a hypocrite or untruthful…. yourself included?? Or are you saying if two people know the arabic language but prefer to converse in another tongue then they are hypocirtes?
      I agree that there is shifa/a cure and a blsessing in the arabic letters of the Quran.

    • Abu Majeed says:

      I pray the peace blessings and mercy of our Almighty Creator be upon you Diane,
      1- I kindly request you to try and re-read the article objectively and ponder over the proofs without bias or preprogramming.
      2- Dear Sister I suggest you study the history of languages and etymology.
      3- The opinion “Ijtihad” of a companion- May God be content with all of them- in the absence of a clear text to support is not a proof and should not be used in such strong terms as you have.
      4- I have studied the concept of “Shifaa” or healing of the Qur’an and am convinced of the following- According to the stronger opinion of the commentators the general meaning is that the Quran’s guidance heals the hearts and minds of doubt, wordly attachments, superstition and disbelief (see soorah Yunus 57). That being said it has been understood by a large group of our scholars that the Qur’a itself recited can heal actual physical ailments and there is established cases to prove it. On that same note, there is sufficient scientific study that man types of music and melodic tones can bring even cancer into recession.

    • Jane says:

      There is little to no logic in what you are saying at all and I am saying that with sincere love for you as my sister in Islam. Allah swt guide us all. Ameen!

  6. Sr Ann says:

    As a revert, I find that there is a lot of ego involved in Arab Muslims and the way they deal with people who are not Arab….to the point that they openly criticize non-Arabs for things that are of little importance but will not tolerate correction by non-Arabs in areas of great importance. Just because the Quran was revealed in Arabic should not mean Arabs feel that they are superior or that they are “off the hook” in practicing Islam according to the Sunnah and the Quran itself. We should keep these brothers and sisters in our dua for softening of their hearts and lessening of this type of ego problem.

    • Yaman says:

      As an Arab brother, I’m with you all the way on this issue my sister! The arrogance of the “chosen people” mindset of the Jews has crept into the minds of a lot of Arabs unfortunately.

  7. Sr Ann says:

    Also, if you think about it, while our prayers are to be said in Arabic, our dua…which often times is the time when we’re closest in our hearts to Allah (SWT) are spoken in our native language. If Arabic was the only “right” way to communicate Islam or in the hereafter, Allah (SWT) would have made that the only language spoken on earth, since Islam was sent to all mankind, not just Arabs.

  8. Alex says:

    Beautiful article, interesting and strong points

  9. Mustafa Hill says:

    Salam Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Baraka tu

    Great two part post. Very lively food for spiritual and intellectual rumination.

    First I’d like to say, I am a convert, and a non arab.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that for both Dawa and use in everyday speech, the best term for me, personally, is Allah.

    I believe every single word in the quran is Holy. I also believe that the “meanings” of it can be understood by people in any language. I’ve also read the ayat which paraphrased states for us to call on Him by whichever of the names you choose and to Him belong the most beautiful names.
    With that being said, the main point I see in the use of Allah to non arabs and non muslims, is to understand that Allah has a Kitab. A kitab (book) by which he clearly states who He is, what He likes, what He does, why He does things etc. Now with that being said the “meaning” of Allah is definitively
    tied to His description of Himself in His final and divinely revealed and protected Revelation. So using the word God, specifically as it relates to inviting or communicating with non arab english speaking peoples about Islam, one can read any number of ” holy books” i.e. King James Bibles, and be informed of a description of “God”. Some which may or may not agree with how Allah describes Himself through the tongue of his Beloved s.a.w. and His final Revelation. We however, I think are trying to invite people to a description of Allah, of an “ilah” or “God” which is has commanded humanity to the five times a day salaat and the fasting of Ramadhan. Whereas the “ilah” of “God” has not. The “God” of the “Holy Bible” does not say he revealed his any of His HOLY names in English. Once again, I believe the Holy factor is crucial in this, because we as muslims believe in sacred words.

    In closing I’d like to also share that somewhere I read, the article of which I can’t find at the moment. Of a cardiologist, and M.D. as it were, who was given an ijaza from a Shaykh to give the name Allah to his patients. In the article in stated that the majority of his patients showed significant and tremendous imporevements in their conditions as a result. With all that being said if were going to “invite” or give dawa to people. I think we should invite them to the definitive “ilah” of Quran. Not the ambigous and relative God of the english language.

    baraka allah fikum wa ziyadukum allah
    salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah wa baraka tu

    • MW_m says:

      Yeah, I think Allah definitely is a better term to use than “God” but I agree with the rest of the article.

      • Abu Majeed says:

        I came to this conclusion because of the actual root meaning of Allah in Arabic which coincided exactly with God with a capital G in English. If the word the Quran used was just a completely unique phonetic word then I would be more inclined to believe it to be a special word unique to God and thus the preferred way to refer to Him. In addition to that the meanings of His other “names” like Rahman, Quddoos, Ghafoor The (absolutely and perfectly) Merciful, Pure and Forgiving etc…
        Plus our scholars of linguistic scriptural interpretation (Usool) say in their principles-
        العبرة بالمسميات و ليست الأسماء
        The significant issue is in what is being defined not the name of it!
        So say God and define Him as He did in His guidance :-)

    • Abu Majeed says:

      Dear Brother Mustafa May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of the Most High be with you as well,

      Actually I had the similar approach to you for my first 6 years as a Muslim except I wasn’t as tolerant as you which I appreciate. In deep contemplation of the Quran and its tafseer- ironically after being blessed by The Beneficent to master Arabic- I came to an awakening which led me to see how I was being over-Arabized in my religion which is often times the “accepted norm” among most common Muslims while in many cases not necessarily authentic Islamic teachings or in others the most wise way of presenting ourselves as a local/familiar and not foreign option of faith to our children and neighbors.
      Hence the need to write this series.

    • su says:

      Brother Mustafa, your comment suggests that the Bible was originally written in English. I hope you know this was not actually the case.

      And whatever we call Him His nature is unchanging and eternal.

    • Fatima says:

      I would avoid the term God and use Allah, because of the trinity and the realisation that when many of my Christian acquaintances say God, they mean Jesus. When they want to refer to Allah, they say Father.

      • Jane says:

        @Fatimah, you do realize, don’t you, that “Allah” has been used by Arab Jews and Christians since before the time of the prophet pbuh.

  10. Deen says:

    Interesting article. And at the same time let us remember that unity in Islam is an obligatory requirement. So let us not allow these language differences – whichever side we find ourselves on, Arabic-speaking or not, disunite us or be a cause of division or enmity. Muslims are all one, whatever language we speak. Noone should look down on any other – as the Prophet (s) said in his last sermon, an Arab is not better than a non-Arab, nor is a non-Arab better than an Arab. And I am sure this can also apply to other imaginary divisions we create – a born-Muslim is not better than a convert, nor is a convert better than a born-Muslim.

    One of my favourite verses in the Qur’an: ‘The most honoured amongst you in the sight of Allah are those best in Taqwa’. (49: 13). So this is what we should be striving for. And we should not judge one another, nor make assumptions about others looking down on us. We should try to make 70 excuses for each other, and think the best of each other.

    What I would say is that as a non-Arab, I often use Arabic words to express myself because the English language, though very rich and beautiful in its own way, does not always encapsulate the depth of meaning. For example, the word Taqwa which I used above when translating the verse of the Qur’an means: Consciousness of God, sincerity, self-restraint, protecting oneself from sin, having a conscience, knowing the difference between right and wrong, obedience to Allah…. and there are more meanings all included in this one word! So using the Arabic is often a very useful short-hand. I honestly do not use Arabic terms to make anyone else feel inferior! May Allah protect me from doing so.

    I just pray that all Muslims can always remain united, regardless of race, colour, language, nationality or culture.

    Allah’s peace and blessings be upon you all.

  11. Very interesting points in this article Brother Yahya!

    There is a balance we need to find between appreciating the wisdom of Allah in sending the final message to humanity in the Arabic language and communicating that message effectively in other languages. As someone who became a Muslim, the Arabic terminology we commonly use – at least initially – was a way for me to distinguish my worship in Islam from that in Christianity. I still feel that there are some terms (Alhamdulillah, for example) that, as Br. Nouman Ali Khan explains, are profound in Arabic and have nuanced meaning not necessarily present in English words of praise.

    However, I was young and interested in language as well. I can completely appreciate and have witnessed how overemphasizing Arabic can make a person feel linguistically crippled and unable to communicate with his or her Creator – and of course this is against the goals of Islam. I have seen well-meaning imams walk a person becoming a Muslim through very long Arabic Shahadahs (Ashadu an la ilaaha illallah, wah dahu la shareeka lah, lahul mulk wa lahu hamd… and so on) in from of an audience!

    We have a long way to go! Thank you for continuing the conversation and reseach and may God reward you!

    • su says:

      Brother, you mentioned the word alhamdulillah, which is so beautiful to us. The word hallelujah, or alleluia, is really the same. It’s not originally English, but it’s still very familar to Christians. Sometimes I use it when I’m speaking with non-Muslims.

  12. seri_melati says:

    mashaAllah, very interesting. something to think about.

    • Muslima says:

      Assalaamu alaykum

      Very interesting article. I’m a revert and I’ve heard that Muslims are encouraged to learn Arabic to the best of their abilities and as I personally enjoy learning languages (though I’m not very good at it :) I’m more than happy to do this. However I think it’s important for us to remember that Allah (swt) created our speech and our powers of speech and as somebody else mentioned in this thread, if we were only supposed to speak one tongue then Allah would have created us that way. Other languages didn’t come about by mistake.

      With reference to ‘ God vs Allah’, I once knew of an Egyptian Jew and Christian Arabs who would say ‘Insha’Allah and Masha’Allah’ after all, as native Arabic speakers what else would they say. So on the one hand one could argue that it’s purely a difference in language. But on the other hand you could say that there is no room for confusion/ambiguity if you use the word Allah that you are only referring to the one who created all that is in the heavens and the earth and the one who revealed the scriptures and not to somebody else’s version of God e.g. ‘the god of war/love etc.’ as per ancient Greek mythology or ‘demi-gods’ or even the concept of ‘mother-nature’ being a controlling force.

      I think if a Muslim calls out saying ‘oh God help me’ or ‘thank God’ for such as such with sincerity then why should we assume that Allah will not accept this dua because s/he uses the term ‘God’ in that instance. For those who believe it’s incorrect for a Muslim to use the term ‘God’, I hope they will also apply the same rule to Urdu and Farsi speakers who say ‘Khuda Hafiz’ (Khuda being the Persian word for God if I’m not mistaken) on departure so we are not just developing a bias against the English language and making excuses for other languages and cultures as this only paves the way to arrogance, pride, disunity and segregation. However if a person is being stubborn in the matter i.e. flatly refusing to use the word Allah or to learn the Arabic language just to make a point then perhaps they are doing themselves an injustice after all Allah has referred to himself as Allah in the Quran.

      I think this is quite a complex area and not something that has a black and white answer and whilst we are all entitled to our own opinion nobody should assume that only they have the definitive answer. The truth is with the Creator.

      • MW_m says:

        “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” (Qur’an 30:22)

  13. sarah says:

    salam~ a very enlightening article~!

    But, just for clarification, the Prophets names like Isma’il, Ibrahim, Yaa’cob etc are NOT arabic names, they are truely from their original language. Which why they’re exempted from the nahu (arabic grammar). Example: Zaid-in arabic language (mufrad) Zaidaani (Muthanna), while there is no muthanna or jama’ (plural) word for either Ibrahim or Yaa’cob. Furthermore, the names of these Prophets are then translated to English in the bible. In my opinion, for the newly converts, it is not wrong for them to use the translated names, but they should try to familirize themselves with the names as being said in Holy Quran.

    The same goes to the usage of Allah instead of God. We should use Allah the Almighty as the name of our God in Islam as stated in the Holy Quran, while the word “God” is very general, people like new converts will easily confused with their old religion.

    • Abu Majeed says:

      Dear Sister Sarah May the Peace of the Most Exalted be with you,

      The vast majority of our traditions Quranic commentators (mufassireen) disagree with you. Allah brought a ballpark representation of them into Arabic so as to keep the flow. Ask any Rabbi how to say Hebrew names of Hebrew Prophets and you will see. :-).

      I am a convert and I always knew God to be the Omniscient All-Powerful Creator of the universe. Others who were more brainwashed in polytheism should understand God as He has revealed Himself in the only pure revelation. BTW I had long conversations with Coptic Christian Egyptians who beleive that Allah is Jesus!!! What do you say about that :-)

  14. Munira says:

    Thank you for the brilliant article. I completely agree with you.
    I once taught Islamic Studies to 6th graders and they were dumbfounded when I taught them the “english” names of our Prophet’s. They had no idea they were the same prophets! We are doing a huge disservice to our next generation by arabizing our religion. Culture is different than religion and one culture is not necessarily better than another.

  15. JazakAllah for this post! I learned a lot!

    Arabic is really important and a its a responsibility for all of us to understand it, but it isn’t EVERYTHING.

    At first, we may feel like we’re losing our Islamic heritage when we see Muslim parents naming their children English names, or when someone says Prophet Jesus (as) instead of Prophet Eesa, but as a community we should realize that Islam, our submission to Allah, is greater than any one language.

  16. Muhammad says:

    Asalaamu Alaikum

    I would echo what brother Abdurrahman Wood said. There is a fine line that needs to be balanced. While it is true as was mentioned, that Allah(swt) sends revelations in the mother-tongue of the Prophets/Messengers He sends, we have to keep in mind that there is a unique difference between all the previously revealed Books and Messengers and the Final Messenger and Book, i.e. Muhammad(pbuh) and the Qur’an.

    While all the previous Prophets/Messengers were sent to specific nations, towns, people, mostly to their own native brethren with the exception of some special cases, Lud or Lot(as) for example, Muhammad(pbuh) was sent for All Peoples and Allah(swt) chose in His infinite wisdom to reveal His Final Revelation, in the mother tongue of Muhammad(pbuh) i.e. Arabic.

    I completely agree with the points of the article with respect to the wisdom of Dawah and also for the accommodation of new reverts in their earlier stages. I’m sure there are plenty of ignorant or arrogant, Allah-forbid perhaps some who are both ignorant and arrogant, Arabic speaking Muslims who go to the extreme that was mentioned. I must also caution the other side of the extreme, which is to say that one can be an ideal Muslim or Muslimah, without needing/knowing/using a single Arabic word. Those of us whose mother tongue is not Arabic, should never allow those few ignorant or arrogant to push us to the other extreme and drive us away from striving to learn and use Arabic in our daily life, because as Muslims, Ibadah is our daily Life.

    Naming children is one thing, Ibadah is another. If we desire for every single second of our life to be in servitude to Allah(swt)in the best of manners – it is of vital importance that we learn and follow the life and teachings of Muhammad(pbuh) and the life of Muhammad(pbuh) was the Qur’an, and the Qur’an is in Arabic.

    Allah(swt) knows best.

  17. Saad B. says:

    Interesting point! The “arabization” of peoples and cultures is quite prevalent especially among converts. I’ve seen sincere Muslims suggests to new converts the importance of changing their Anglo-Saxon name into an Arabic name. From Stan into Ahmed or Cindy into Maryam. It seems we have blurred and tangled the lines between culture and religion. It’s a shortcoming on our part and unfortunately it causes an array of identity confusions amongst our youth and new converts.

    I think part of Islams’ success lies in its’ ability to incorporate the principles of faith and spirituality into whatever culture its’ followers are from. Maybe I’m wrong, but what kind of religion would be able to spread from Africa to China if it called its’ followers to abandon their cultural identity? My conclusion is none, and thus our understanding of Islam and its’ conveying to others cannot be reduced to this principle (of stripping ones’ cultural identity), which unknowingly and unintentionally we sometimes push on to others. Let what is good and natural from culture flourish and this will allow the all human incorporating message of Islam to be seen in actuality!

  18. abu Abdullah says:

    Salamualaikum,

    I understand where you are coming from in this article and I hope and pray for guidance from Allah so that we reach the conclusion which is Best, seeking his pleasure and I pray that you are well and increase you in the good.

    That being said, I live in India. A place referred to as of people of much intellect, YET doing shirk with Allaah. Are you saying I use Sanskrit equivalent phrases/words to communicate dawah with ? Like Parameshwar or Bhagwan instead of Allaah?

    Thank you for the research and we hope we try to understand the Qur’an as best companions of rasulullah understood it. sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

    Its possible language of Adam AS could be any language even sign language, but I don’t know that and it would not be on the itenery of questions to be asked on any one’s day of judgment. So we say Allahu ‘alam (and not God knows best :).

    PS I understand that most of praises of this post are coming from people who are convert to Islaam. I hope I am wrong in any or all of what I said, so that someone may correct me with truth.

    • Abu Majeed says:

      I pray the Peace, Mercy and infinite Blessings of the Most Merciful be upon you Abu Abdullah,

      1- As I mentioned I have met many Christian Arabs who believe God is Jesus!

      2- If you have a word in your language that refers to to the All Powerful Omniscient Supreme being who Created everything then you should use that name but define him according to the Quran. I thought this to be Brahman. I think the English word God may be better since it is attached to the monotheistic dogma of people of the book.

      3- Probably your most famous Caller to Islam is Zakir Naik and he speaks in different languages most efficiently English with hundreds of converts a year!
      I think I heard of him giving debating about Hinduism being monotheistic religion equating Brahman to Allah if I’m not mistaken.

      الله أعلم means God knows best. Just cut and past the Arabic and put into onto Google translation Arabic to English.:-)

  19. Yusuf says:

    . I mean the point is that similarly to the previously mentioned “God vs. Allah” discussion, generally we are referring to the same person and it is our mission to teach people about any differences we might have in belief about these things.

    God (Allah) is not a person.

    • Abu Majeed says:

      Comon Bro you know what I mean “same entity”. I hope you are joking cause otherwise you should read the article about no letting religiosity make you a jerk. :-)

  20. Brazilian sister says:

    Assalamu alaikum!
    I’m also a convert. :)

    For what I can see, non-muslims really think we worship a different god just because we call God by Allah.
    I agree that as muslims we must study our religion and that to do so the best is to learn Arabic. But we should be more sensitive when dealing with people who are not familiar with the Arabic expressions or with the religion itself.
    And in my personal opinion, anyone who says that it’s a sin to speak in whatever language that not Arabic should consider that Allah has created us with different cultures so that we could enjoy and learn from each other.

    If I said something wrong, it was by my own faults. If I said anything right, it was by Allah’s grace.

  21. Shibli Zaman says:

    Abu Majeed, this article so lucidly puts into words what many of us have been thinking, and lamenting, for years. Jazākum Allāhu Khayran!

  22. Ellen Keim says:

    I belong to a convert group on Facebook and often one of the members will refer to a term in Arabic without explaining what it means. I always appreciate it when they define the term in English but I also love to hear what the Arabic means as well, because it is always difficult to convey the entire meaning of a word when you’re explaining it to someone who doesn’t know that language. Often a synonym is not sufficient. That’s one argument for using the Arabic, but as I stated in my previous comment, using the Arabic without any explanation doesn’t do me any good if I don’t know Arabic.

    I’m not trying to evade my responsibility to learn Arabic, and I have tried, but it’s slow going for me. It’s harder to learn languages when you’re older and I’m almost 60. In the meantime, I struggle to understand what other Muslims are saying when they’re supposedly speaking my language. Peppering their speech with Arabic words without putting them in context is just plain frustrating.

    As for calling Allah God; I find myself using the term “God” quite often in my personal prayers and writing because it’s what I’m used to as a former Christian.In support of those who think that a Muslim should only use the word “Allah,” I do think that I will be able to cement my identity as a Muslim if I do the same. But it’s a hard habit to break. And since Allah judges our intentions, I believe that He accepts my words even when I say “God.”

    I am definitely not a scholar: I’m just trying to present the viewpoint of one convert.

    • Deen says:

      Dear sister Ellen, just wanted to say may God reward you and bless you for all your efforts! Allah is all-merciful, and all-knowing – He hears us whatever language we turn to Him with. He created us and our languages. And a Muslim is a Muslim no matter what language she or he speaks in

      I hope Allah makes the path of knowledge easier for all of us. I was moved by your message because it just proves how universal Islam is, for all people of all ages, and how beautiful the ummah is in its diversity and difference. Thank you.

      I pray you reach your goals and that everything is made easy – for you, me and all of us striving in different ways, ameen.

      wa alaikum salaam

  23. Maryam Amir-Ebrahimi says:

    Imam John, God bless you. Please keep these coming!!! just reading through these comments, it’s obvious we have a long, long way to go to have proper understanding of our religion in the way God intended us to live and preach it. May God give you lots of rewards!

  24. su says:

    Wonderful article and wonderful discussion in the comments. Another interesting area, I think, is the way that we interrupt our sentences, like saying subhana wa ta’ala every time we say Allah (swt), or “peace be upon him” every time we refer to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), or saying insha’allah/God willing about the future. Non-Muslims can be startled by this excellent habit. Insha’allah it will become normal for everyone soon enough.

  25. Hamza Khan says:

    This is a point I have again and again raised with lay Muslims who seem to confuse Islam with Arab nationalism. Arabic is indeed a blessed language, and its flexibility and utility is undeniable. However, Adam did not speak Arabic. This is not an insult to Arabic, but a fact. Nor did the prophets Avraham, Ishmael, and Ihtzak (forgive the Tiberian pronunciation). The sooner we defeat Shaytan’s newest tactic of weakening our Imaan by making brothers and sisters sincerely believe arrogance-in-piety is the right approach to life, the sooner we can all strive to make this Duniya a more sanctified domain for our worldly bodies.

  26. Atif says:

    Assalamu’alaykum
    I was looking up something in the dictionary, and I came across something, and I was reminded of this article. I found that the Divine Name Allah has indeed been incorporated into the English language:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/allah
    Maybe Sh. Yahya and others would prefer to say “God” instead of “Allah” even to Muslims, but I respectfully disagree and will say “Allah” to Muslims based on the above finding :)

    I have a question which I hope Sh. Yahya might address in a future article: to what extent should we translate Arabic terms? As for myself, if I’m giving a talk or something, I’ll immediately translate the Arabic after I mention it. So if I’m talking about Salah or Dhikr, I’ll say “prayer” or “remembrance” from that point on. But in some cases, it would just seem awkward if there was no Arabic at all. There needs at least some Arabic; for example if you are talking about Zakat or Hajj. Everyone knows what those are if you mention them, but if you stick to only saying “charity/poor-due” or “pilgrimage”, it might lead to some obfuscation.
    Also, since “Islam” is an Arabic word, should we say “Submission” instead? If we are saying that “God” is a suitable translation of the Divine Name Allah, should we translate the name of our Messenger (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him), “Muhammad”, as well?

    May Allah bless you (baarakAllahu feek)

    • John Ederer says:

      سلام الله عليك أخي

      Deat Atif, The point you posted of Allah meaning God in English precisely proves my point that English has a word for the Creator so why import the Arabic one. We know God has revealed Himself with many names in different languages all valid. Part of what we are doing here is to remove the religious arrogance that we have a monopoly on divine truth and that God’s “true” name is Allah thus it must be used in all languages.
      Islam should be sometimes referred to as the submission to God as that would bring people to see the beauty of our faith rather than the division of labels so that people may see the universality of our faith. Zakat as alms and Hajj as pilgrimage. Muhammad is the name of a man (pbuh) so that would be silly.

  27. Ishaq Abul Haqq says:

    Ellen, focus on learning as many prayers as you can in Arabic, and you’ll be just fine.

  28. YusFromtheNati says:

    Assalaamu ‘alaikum Ya Abu Majeed!

    Do we have a reference/source/credible opinions for the following:

    “So when revealing the Qur’an, God Arabized those names in order for the Arabs to relate to them. Whereas had he kept those names in their original Hebrew or otherwise it wouldn’t have flowed right for them.”

    I found this VERY interesting mashaAllah. JazakAllahukhair.

    I always assumed(?), I think taught(?) that the names in the Quran were as they were in the time they existed? i.e. “‘Isa was ‘Isa in ‘Isa alaihissalaam’s time?

    Please help my confusion.

    • John Ederer says:

      Research it bro their names were (Avraham)not Ibrahim, (Yitschak) not Isaac, (Yeshua) not Esa. etc… The Arabic is for the flow of the Qur’an. Imagine how Qur’an would sound if these Hebrew/Aramaic words were like the above!

      • YusFromtheNati says:

        I will and then I shall refute you. jk

        Very interesting and enlightening for me.
        jazakAllahuhkair.

        Allahu akbar.

  29. N. says:

    I’ve encountered plenty of Christians who do not accept or appreciate my attempts at making them feel comfortable or making Islam less foreign sounding by using the word “God”. They — not me, not Muslims — refute that we (Muslims and Christians) worship the same God.

    Their position is that no, we do not worship the same God. God is Jesus. Jesus is God. Unless you accept that God is Jesus, you do not believe in God, you do not worship God no matter what you say, and you are not saved (i.e. you are going to hell).

    This is a mainstream Christian belief.

    • Jane says:

      @ N, yes, but not everyone will see it that way 100%. I was a Christian before and though I knew Muslims didn’t worship Jesus I know they worshiped what I, in my ignorance, viewed as God “the father”. Not all Christians will see that but plenty of them will. You know, even to this day with atheists, I sometimes thing to myself well, you say you don’t believe in God but how do you define Him? And then I think well I don’t believe in that god either. (Notice the lowercase ‘g’ there. Often atheists (esp. in this country) define God in a very Christian way and I don’t believe in that god either). Hope you understand what I am trying to say. Maybe tell these Christians you worship the CREATOR, and if they really think about it, they might get it, if not, you may have just planted a seed…

  30. Umm Abdullah says:

    Assalamu alaykum,

    I do editing for an Islamic publishing company that produces English-language books, and our policy is to use English whenever possible. For those words that can’t be easily translated, we define them and include them in a glossary.

    I’m reminded of The Deen Show, where the host always makes a point of having the guest define any Arabic words that are used.

    One point about the converts/reverts taking Arabic names… Personally, I kept my name; I always liked it, I was in my 30s when I embraced Islam and was used to it, and it has a good meaning. Many of my friends chose to take Arabic names, and I can see where that can give you a fresh start identifying yourself as a Muslim. To me, either choice is fine. I do think, though, that if you’re going to take an Arabic name, you should take one that has some Islamic significance (names of Prophets or Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, or Abdul… or Amat…, etc.), so that it is Islamic and not simply Arabic. I don’t see the point of taking an Arabic name that means some animal or something and has no Islamic significance.

  31. Frank says:

    Salaat. I guess I got to this post pretty late but I wanted to mention something about the Prophetic names. Yusuf Ali mentions in his commentary in the meaning of the Holy Qur’an why he sometimes will use the English translation of the prophets’ name over the Arabic and vice versa. He says it has to with connotations. Also that when comparing the biblical accounts with the quranic accounts of the same prophets, the prophets often seem like completely different people from their same name counterpart. For example, as you already know, in the Bible David, Lot, and Noah commit acts incongruous with the depiction we have in the Qur’an of Dawud, Lut, and Nuh. And for some reason, some Christians get negative just from hearing the name Ishmael, but have no problem with Isma’il. As a side note, it’s more common for Spanish speaking Christians to be named Jesus (hey Zeus) : than for English speakers to be named Jesus.

    So for dawah, or Islamic evangelism, if you want to use the English version of the Hebrew names, it would be wise to note the differences in each religion.

    But those and others are just the center of the venn diagram. Kitabis and Muslims each have their own Prophets that aren’t mentioned that by name in the other’s books.

  32. Kirana says:

    It could be that monolinguals, or cultures that have not had to be multilingual for generations of collective memory, are less able to understand issues of translation and the equivalence/non-equivalence of terms and ideas in different language worldviews. Just knowing a single other language *fluently* will immediately enrich your worldview (because you will have 2), and the less related the languages are, the more so this is.

    You can speak to a multilingual person who is from a completely different culture about a new concept or idea of something and chances are you can see how they’re working in their minds to find an equivalence in the worldviews they know, to understand the idea as closely as possible to the *original* language view of the idea. A monolingual instead would usually not only try to understand the idea from *their own* worldview, but it would not even occur to them that this is an inefficient and incorrect way of understanding the idea. And if their own language has preconceived notions of a similar idea, it will be really hard for them to view the new form in a different way. Try this out and see. I’ve noted it in my people who are basically monolingual Malay, and multilingual Malay, in monolingual English, multilingual Chinese, etc.

    Teach your kids a second language – the cognitive and thinking benefits go far beyond knowing the second language itself.

  33. Fuseini says:

    I’m west african whose native language is Hausa from Ghana!I believe they’ve definitely being some exxageration in the use of Arabic especially in the issue of names as this article largely duelled on!But imagine I travelled to the U.S or England and a muslim brother greets me with “Peace be on you” instead of salaamu alaik!would I even recognise that he meant me.even here in Africa(Ghana) with our diverse ethnicities some of these ‘catchy’ Arabic phrases have helped to bridge the gap between our diverse Muslim ethnic groups!I believe my ancestors might’ve had some of the difficulties being cited here but these in particular culturally unite muslims the world over we should not foster some of these without exagerating!salaamu alaik!

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