“But isn’t this what is stated in the Quran?”
“But isn’t this a hadith?”
I hear this type of question all the time, with someone citing a verse of Quran or hadith in English. Most often the translation being cited is inaccurate, incomplete, or downright incorrect.An extremely uncomfortable situation, to which I find myself needing torespond: you really need to learn Arabic. I can translate this for you, but I will never be able to give you the full understanding of the true meaning and beauty of that phase.
Dr. Anna-Maria Ramezanzadeh refers to the translators of sacred texts as gatekeepers. Certainly, they do provide a critical service to Muslims who do not know the Arabic language by giving them access to the meanings of the words of Allah (swt) and Prophet Muhammad (s). However, they are in themselves an additional barrier to truly accessing the true meanings of these words. How can one build a relationship in which communication can be through a translator? Similarly, how can I build a relationship with my Creator, my Prophet, my religion, while needing to rely on a translation?
In the middle of seventh grade I moved from the United States to Syria. I was rushed directly into a fully Arabic curriculum school. While I had been speaking Arabic at home and going to Arabic school every weekend my whole life, I found myself to be very much a second language learner. It took a full year of immersion and constant exposure to the language until I felt I could read and decipher a text on my own, no longer needing full-time assistance and guidance. This was only the generic curriculum that any high schooler would be exposed to, history, geography, science, physics and so on. Five years later, I began learning the Islamic sciences in Arabic, and only during this time did I learn the true classical Arabic that is used in Quran and Hadith.
This was a unique experience of changing from someone who does not understand a language into someone who is fluent in it. It was not an easy process, and it was certainly time consuming, but with enough practice and experience, I’m confident to say that it is possible. As with anything that is worthwhile in this life, it takes a great deal of patience, time, and grit.
In lieu of offering a full immersive experience, at Ribaat, our aim is to provide women around the world with the understanding of Arabic they need to access the Quran and Sunnah on their own terms, without waiting for a gatekeeper to translate it for them, or needing to trust the words of an invisible scholar to which they cannot refer back to ask questions or clarify understandings.
Case in point, a few months ago, I wrote a full article just to try and explain the meaning of one word, Ribaat. (Click here to read it!) I used 3 dictionaries and wrote an article of 850 words. Even with all that, I still felt I hadn’t done justice to the true meaning.
As Nadia Naviwala, one of our students, shares after 3 levels of learning Arabic with Ribaat, “Arabic personally helped my relationship with the Quran. I didn’t feel like the Quran was so foreign anymore. Because I am not a native Arabic speaker, I’ve always let that be a reason why I’d just recite and never attempt to actually understand it. Learning Arabic helped with my recitation, with my understanding of certain things, with my love for it. And there’s literally NO FEELING that can compare to when you’re reading a verse and can tell what parts of it mean. I’d honestly recommend Arabic to EVERY SINGLE PERSON.”
I invite each and every one of you to begin your Arabic learning, for whichever point you are at, there is always room to improve.
Education Director, Rabata