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Islamic Society ( 21 Jul 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Friday Sermons and Call for Prayers in Local Language

By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam

22 July 2022

Universality And Pluralism Of Islam Can Be Understood From The Fact That Islam, Embraced The Local Languages, It Did Not Impose Arabic Language On The Common Masses Of Different Lands.

Main Points:

1.    Friday sermons and Azaan can be delivered in local language.

2.    The emphasis on learning Arabic for salvation is a misplaced priority among Muslims.

3.    Iqbal supported the Turkish project under Mustafa Kamal Ataturk as an attempt aiming at Ijtihad.


The universality and pluralism of Islam can be understood from the fact that Islam, embraced the local languages. It did not impose Arabic language on the common masses of different lands. So a number of languages were preserved, encouraged and thrived in the Muslim world. In fact Persian, as a language became more prominent than Arabic in newly conquered and converted South Asia and large parts of Middle East. Arabic could never become a lingua franca, except for the places where it was spoken. In most parts of the Muslim world it remained a language of elites and religious scholars. In fact most of these religious scholars chose to write, interpret and speak in their local languages, instead of Arabic. It is due to this very fact that the Holy Quran came to be translated in almost all the major languages of the world. Further, Islamic literature continued to be produced in local, regional, national and international languages of the world.


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There was a movement in many muslim communities to propagate the learning and teaching of Arabic as the basic texts of Islam are in Arabic and they needed to be engaged in the original language only. The protagonists of these movements believed and alleged that without first learning Arabic, Islam cannot be understood. They undermined the fact that it was impossible for majority of Muslims to learn Arabic, despite herculean efforts. Further, Islam strives for the salvation of people in the Hereafter particularly Muslims. So it disputes the salvation of majority retrograding them towards disbelief and despair. If they cannot understand Arabic certainly they fail to know the path towards salvation, hence end up in the depths of Hell.


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These movements and campaigns also failed to understand the fact that the vigorous translations of texts in most local languages have filled the void about the need to understand Arabic language. Now in regional languages if Urdu can be called so, such huge amount of Islamic literature is present that the need for Arabic is no longer there. Muslims who are interested to learn about Islam through original sources can find the traditional texts as well as contemporary Islamic writers continuing to produce texts and books on variegated Islamic themes at an amazing speed. So those who want to know Islam and pave way for their salvation can certainly seek refuge in Urdu literature about Islam.

Recently, a scholar suggested that the call for prayer (Azaan) should be articulated in a local language (Hindi), so that Muslims as well as non Muslims can understand it. It was a valid suggestion because not only non Muslims even most Muslims cannot comprehend the meaning of Azaan. For many in India, it is praising Akbar the Great, Mughal emperor instead of God who is Great.

This move was opposed by many scholars without understanding the fact that Islam strives for salvation and by understanding the meaning of the prayer, the spirit of Islam could be understood that will ultimately pave way towards salvation. So the call for prayer in Arabic, can be accompanied with its meaning in local language that can certainly render its message more impactful and strong. It can certainly be a step towards improving the interfaith relations in India.


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This articulation of Azaan in local language is not something new because after the abolition of Ottoman caliphate, as a project of Turkish nationalism Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, tried to impose the prayers to be held in Turkish instead of Arabic. Ataturk had political project for undertaking such steps that were rued in hatred for Arabs, so his project could not take off. But Sir Muhammad Iqbal, who was initially too impressed by this Turkish project supported it (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 2003, P-160-161). The Muslim prayers certainly cannot be completed and executed without Arabic but a translation, can certainly help to understand the meaning.

Similar is the case with Friday sermons. They are delivered in the local languages as many scholars like Imam Abu Hanifa and his two students Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad both state that the preacher can deliver the Friday sermon in local languages, if he is not an expert in Arabic. So besides Arabic, other languages are used and can be utilized to make the masses understand the true meaning and spirit of Islam, because it can best be conveyed in the local language only, not in Arabic that majority of muslims cannot understand.


A New Age Islam columnist, M.H.A. Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir


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