By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New
9 Feb 2019
A Turkish lawmaker, Öztürk Yılmaz, has
proposed that the Muslims in Turkey be called to prayer in Turkish, and not
Arabic. His Republican People’s Party threw him out for the demand, though when
the party, which now leads the Opposition, was in power, the azaan was in
Not just azaan, even namaz was offered in
Turkish during 1932-1950. But the Arab colonisation of Muslim minds was so
comprehensive that it was a very unpopular decision, and was rolled back when
the party lost the election in 1950.
The first time prayers were said in Turkish
in an Istanbul mosque was on 19 March, 1926 — the first Friday of Ramzan that
year. Cemaleddin Efendi, who was leading the prayer, noticed that most of the
people left without completing their prayers.
The issue of prayers in local languages
came up the moment Islam crossed the Arabian Peninsula into the Sasanian
Empire. In the second half of the seventh century CE, Islam was spreading in
what is today Iran and the proud Persians asked for prayers in their language.
This was fair and in consonance with
instructions in the Quran that prayers be said in the language people
understood. The Quran says god’s messengers went to different parts of the
world, conveying His message in local languages. God showed no preference for
Arab hegemony. Jurists, too, weighed in. Imam Mālik ibn Anas, Imam Muhammad
al-Shāfi’ī, and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, all Arab jurists, opposed the idea.
A senior jurist of Persian origin, Imam Abu
Hanifa, the founder of Hanafi jurisprudence, favoured the change but several of
his followers didn’t agree with him.
Officially adopted by the Ottoman Turks in
the 16th century, the Hanafi School is followed by many in West Asia, South
Asia and the Far East. And yet, the idea of prayers in local languages has not
The push for languages arose from two
sources: a pride in local culture and a desire to have a closer connection to
Not only god in the Quran, even Prophet
Mohammad in his final sermon made clear that the Arabs don’t have superiority
But the Arabs, who used Arabic to further
imperialistic ambitions, have not only sought to impose the language but also
their dress code, architecture and other cultural identity-markers. The result
is that some of the respected clerics in India feel honoured to call themselves
slaves (Ghulam) and even dogs (Kalb) of Arab spiritual masters.
Talk To Me
Does this mean that Islam does not have a
regional colour? No. Indian Islam has features that the Arabs would not be able
to identify with. For instance, our caste-system, the practice of dowry and
married women wearing sindoor and bindi. But clerics have made every effort to
obscure the syncretism of Indian Islam.
The word used for worship in the
translation of the Quran by Shah Rafiuddin is pūjnā, associated with the Hindu
ritual. In the 18th century, both the indigenous pūjā and the Arabic ibādā were
permissible substitutes. It was only a century later, when the boundaries of
Muslim identity began to tighten, that the Arabic word became mandatory.
The world’s largest movement for preaching
Islamic uniformity and exclusivism, Tablighi Jamaat, was started by Deobandi
scholar Maulana Ilyas Kandhlawi in 1927 after he noticed that Muslims in Mewat
continued to be well integrated with their original Hindu culture.
Tablighi efforts have been aided by an
injection of Saudi petrodollars. The familiar Muslim greeting of Khuda Hafiz is
now Allah Hafiz. It is no longer unusual to see a Muslim woman in a hijab or a
man dressed in an abaya or sporting a keffiyeh. It’s all right in West Asia,
where these clothes protect from sun, dust and sandstorms, but in Kolkata,
Jakarta, London, Paris or Boston? It is nothing but a sign of a colonised
Transition to local languages has not been
easy for other religions too. A certain holiness does attach itself to some
languages. Vedic Sanskrit, for instance, is sacred for Hindus, Hebrew for Jews.
Christianity’s struggle to retain the Bible in Latin and Greek was intense and
bloody, with a powerful Church putting up a stiff resistance. Eventually, the
Bible did speak to the people in their language.
The Ulema in India refuse to accept as
Quran an Urdu or English translation of the holy book. Mosques, too, do not
display translated copies of the Quran, but in Europe and the US they do. In
fact, much of Islamic literature is now easily available in translation on the
In South Asia, there has never been a call
for azaan or namaz in local languages. How can Muslims come close to Allah if
they don’t understand the language they are praying in? Maybe the debate in
Turkey will open our hearts and minds.
Sultan Shahin is the founder-editor of a
Delhi-based progressive Islamic website, NewAgeIslam.com
Note: This article first appeared in the
Print edition of the weekly Firstpost, New Delhi on February 9, 2019.
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Rashid sb, you say -“We will end up with
another failed attempt like Turkey tried for 18 years”. Allow me to say that it
failed not for the reason that you seem to suggest, but the fact that 14
centuries of Arab/Arabic reverence implanted in the system could not be removed
in mere 18 years or even 180 years. Turkish danishwar Fatheullah Gulen may be
able to elaborate.
You seem to miss the obvious point that
while there may be millions who will support offering prayer in a local
language, these are not from among the worshipers which is why the experiment
failed in Turkey and will fail anywhere. Why are those who will not offer the ritual prayers come
what may, bent upon changing those who do? Why don’t they mind their own
Everyone remembers Allah, sitting standing, lying etc but this is
not the ritual prayer. What is Salat or Prayer? It is performed facing Kabaa (2:149 and 150),
celebrating “Allah´s praises in the manner Allah has taught you, which ye knew
not before” (2:239). Congregational prayer is implied in most verses “bow down
with those who bow down in worship.” Obligatory prayers are to be performed at
stated time (4:103). The prayer timings for regular prayers which are
obligatory are contained in verses 2:238 (Asr), 11:114 (fajr, maghrib, isha),
17:78 (Zuhar +), 24:58 (fajr and Isha), 50:39 (fajr, asr, isha). Wudhu need to be performed in the manner described in verse
5:6 or Tayamum in 4:43.
Naseer Saheb, your fixation with “5 times a day” of
worship/namaz, glued to the Arabic language as prayers has me
in knots., in spite of your concession - “From a
religious/theological point of view, there can be no objection
if you offer your ritual prayer in another language”.
believe that it is the reverence to a language-Arabic, that has,
thanks to the religious industry, made the followers of ad deen
into monastic worshippers. It has played Iblees's agency to the
hilt when he ordered them : pukhta tar kardo mijaaje khaankahi may
isay; as the poet said.
know and I know that there are scholars/Daanishwar among us who
would argue that there are … … three, five, six and yes, even
seven times namaz in a day.
rang a lady friend teacher once at 10am. She did not pick up the
phone then but rang few minutes later with an apology – “I was
praying”, she said. What! namaz at 10am? “Don't you know that
there is a mid morning namaz of duhaa?” she chided me – a person
of twice her age, in holier than thou voice and proceeded to recite
a 'Rasullah's hadis', the details of which I will spare you.
reminded her that in the same hadis book the 'concerned and worried'
Rasul ran to and fro, nine times to the “throne room” to have 45
namaz reduced from 50 given to him as a gift to his people by God.
Thus he came back with only 5 a day; and that people like her have
added two more – that of midnight and mid morning! Lo! Since then
I have found 2 more!
what number makes a person “a devout Muslim” even if praying in
I worship many times a day standing, sitting and lying down
3-190 without the physical calisthenics of namaz in Arabic. My old
body does not let me forget my Maker for the aches and pains it goes
am afraid we will get into the language wrangle of “dihkar”,
salaat and “ibadah” in Arabic, which I have no
idea of. I am struggling to work out the recent fad of Arabic
standard reply of “al hamdullillah” really means when I
ask somebody in English “how are you” or in Urdu “keysey ho”? How does one reply when one is NOT well?
"I don't know' is the reply!
say -“We will end up with another failed attempt like Turkey tried
for 18 years”. Allow me to say that it failed not for the reason
that you seem to suggest, but the fact that 14 centuries of
Arab/Arabic reverence implanted in the system could not be removed
in mere 18 years or even 180 years. Turkish danishwar Fatheullah
Gulen may be able to elaborate.
is an example of linguistic wrangling and shows – ehle-Danish
ney buhot soch kay ulzhayee hai.
اللَّـهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّـهَ
بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ” “keep
Allah and know well that Allah knows everything” (2:231)
to you and other scholars and danishwar of Arabic language “wattaqu
=and keep fearing. But for me who has no idea of Arabic, it is not
so. Deducing from many translations and hundreds of al-rehman al
raheem in Quran, it is not “fear” that God wants attributed
to Himself. The word for fear in there is “khof” eg 2-38. For
me, I go with a like minded poet who said- 'bandaa hun' jaantaahun'
tu bandaa nawaz hai'.
اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ”
knows well what lies within the hearts.” (3:119)
He knows well what is in my heart then what does it matter in what
language I store it there as He knows every language, as you believe
also say - 'Our primary goal should be to learn Arabic so as to
understand the Quran in its original text'. Are you then
saying that the 'scholars – the Danishwar/A'lim' who have
translated the Arabic Quran none of them understand Arabic as you do, and
hence the differences therein? It must be then a case of
“zubaane-yaare-man Turki, man Turki nami daanum”!!
No, Mr Naseer Ahmad, that is not the
right question to ask as the topic is specifically the 'language'. The question
should be - “Is God monolingual and understands only Arabic?”