Making Salat in English & Translations of the Qur'an
As you are the translator of Can One Make Salat in English?, I have a
few questions I'd like to ask you based on conversation amongst several
Muslim sisters and myself. Inshallah you will be able to advise us.
My question is if you cannot make salat in English, why is it ok to read
the Qur'an in english? I understand that the translation from Arabic to
English of the Qur'an is a very difficult thing to do, and thus causes
for much confusion. But to me this says that anyone learning Arabic for
whatever reason, will never really know the true translation of the
Qur'an as you will have to explain the Arabic word in English terms!
Does that make you a different Muslim then, because if you do not know
Arabic Qur'an you really do not know it? To me, the answer given says
that if you just read the Qur'an in Arabic and you do not know Arabic
you will eventually have religious enlightenment. Granted, my heart
swells and I often tear up when I hear a beautifully spoken surah. But
that doesn't mean that I understand it nor ever will unless I read it
in English first!
I totally agree with the enormous amount of translations leading to
variations about what the original text says. Hence a lot of my own
frustration in what I read and what others tell me is sunnah. I have
two different Qur'ans in English, and some parts of them I can read
the exact same surrah, etc, and they can mean two totally different
things to me. It was written based on what the translator perceived it
to be, and possibly what English word and meaning he thought it best
These seem to be difficult questions, and we sisters can not come up
with any answers. Inshallah you can help us.
- Sarrah, 10 July 2002
The points that Sayyid Mawdudi made for why salat can only be made in English,
except for new Muslims who have not learnt the Arabic salat yet, are quite
convincing and satisfying and I can perhaps add nothing more to it. Since you
have read his arguments, I am proceeding with the assumption that you do agree
that salat should be made in Arabic but this, however, is resulting in some
other questions in your mind that you have expressed. I will here try to address
If salat cannot be made in English, why is it ok to read the Qur'an
This can be understood by considering the following two points:
Unlike reading the Qur'an, salat is a formal institution of the religion. Its
format and originality comes from the instructions of Allah (swt) and the
tradition of the Prophet (p) himself. So is the case for other formal
institutions of the religion. The importance and significance of these formal
institutions cannot be equated with non-institutional and voluntary activities,
such as reading the Qur'an or doing any other good works.
In salat, we are asked to read the words of God. For Muslims, 'words of God' means
exactly what it is, i.e., the actual words used by God and not the 3rd
party historical narratives (like the gospels) or the interpretation of God's
words (like the English translations of the Qur'an). Translations are sincere
attempts by humans to interpret God's words. In doing so, they make their own
choice of words based on what they perceive the God's message to be.
Therefore, although translations made by different translators provide a fairly
close meaning, they are not identical but can be slightly different
We cannot call these different translations words of God. That would be a
serious offense by Muslims. It is really unfortunate that all four gospels are
called the Words of God although not only the text varies but also in some cases
the gospels contradict one another. Muslims are fortunate that the original text
of the Qur'an has been preserved and so is the case for the formal
institutions, which, in result, has preserved the entire religion in its
original form. This has been possible by giving such importance and significance
to originality as we give for salat. Otherwise, what the result would have been
is given in the answer by Sayyid Mawdudi.
Because non-Arabs do not read the Arabic Qur'an, does it make them
That would be an extreme view. Short of having a universal language spoken and
understood by every human being, a religious text can only be revealed in one
specific language. That cannot prevent it from being understood by the rest of
the world. As a matter of fact, Islam is a proof for that since 80% Muslims are
non-Arabs. Translations can and do provide a fair interpretation of God's
message for ordinarily individuals.
It is not correct that non-Arabs who
learn Arabic will still not get the same understanding of the Qur'an as the
Arabs do. Unlike common Arabic spoken by the Arabs, the Qur'anic Arabic is
more dynamic and its words convey deeper meaning. That is why Qur'an seems
like an endless ocean to those who read and reflect upon its verses. This is not
just for non-Arabs who learn Arabic, but for Arabs themselves as well. In other
words, once someone learns Arabic well enough, his position vis-a-vis an Arab
in understanding the Qur'an is no more difficult. As a matter of fact, many
world famous scholars of Islam and interpreters of the Qur'an are non-Arabs,
such as Mawdudi and Yusuf Ali.
Having addressed the above questions, I would like to say that one should be clear
about this point: One is asked to make salat in Arabic not because he or she
will not comprehend the meaning of the verses in translations. Rather, it is
because interpretations are subjective and can vary from one translator's to
another. Therefore, interpretations - be that for the Qur'an or any other
literary work - can never replace the original. Believers of any religion,
therefore, must adhere to the text to preserve its originality and save it from
corruption. The other end of this matter is that when one makes salat, he or she
should know the meaning of the recitals. That is equally significant, for
devotion and concentration cannot come from recitals without comprehension.
Besides, if we are reciting God's words, then it is imperative that we also
know what He is saying to us.
- Mushfiqur Rahman, 14 July 2002
I respectfully differ with the position that two translations mean two
totally different things. At best, that may be for a specific verse that is
difficult to translate, but different translations usually convey a fairly
close general meaning.
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