Friday, September 29, 2006

Reading and reciting the Qur'an

Sorry about that blip--

What I wanted to ask was: How many of the people reading or contributing to this blog are native speakers of Arabic or have enough Arabic to read and recite the Qur'an in Arabic without having to translate in their heads? For you who do speak Arabic, is it difficult to read and recite in the Arabic of the Qur'an as opposed to modern standard or dialect Arabic? I have to confess that it's been difficult for me to enjoy and feel close to the Qur'an, and this Ramadan I'm very grateful to have found Michael Sells' Approaching the Qur'an, which not only translated the Meccan surahs beautifully but gives a lot of background about the structure and style of the text and so on.

So I'm curious-- What language do you prefer when reading the Qur'an to yourself? What about those of you who are bi- or multi-lingual? And for those of you who don't speak Arabic, how does praying in Arabic work for you? (I know it's required; I'm just wondering if it makes you feel closer of more removed when you pray?)

Sleepy this morning-- I apologize if my grammar's horrible!


Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

I studied Arabic a few months so when I read I can get the general idea of what I read. Some places I get exactly what I read other times I am lost entirely.

Yes the Arabic is quite different to MSA (modern standard arabic). Certain wrods that were used back then have a totally different meaning now.

I like to follow up my reading by reading the same chapter or verse in Swedish.

A swedish convert, Mohammad Knut Bernström, an ambassador to Morocco for over 20 years, completed the translation/interpretation of theQur'an and has done such a fantastic job.

I think it is easy to feel distant when reading soemthing in a language you dont understand unless you think about it in a different way.

If you imagine that the words you are speaking in your prayer are teh exact same words and language in which the prophet pbuh once spoke, you will feel a different intimacy towards the language.

If you imagine, while reading the qur'aan, that at one time th eprophet recieved the same very words, in the same language, sounding the same way as you read might feel a greater connection to it.

Having said that, it is recommended to read the quran in your native tongue for a better understanding and closeness to the message.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Another example...imagine reading shakespeare in Urdu? or even Arabic?

It would so not be the same and if you were an Arab with a huge interest of shakespeare you would most likely start learning english so that you could better study his works and get the feeling of them in their original setting.

Anonymous said...

Mohammad Knut Bernströms translation of the Qur'an is the one I have been reading as i dont speek a word of arabic, And if I can be so bold I dont think God cares what language you pray in as I'm sure he/she understands them all...

I have also tryed to read a english version but as swedish is closer to me the swedish version gives me more. And there is also the original text next to the swedish so the "kids" who speek both languages can use both.

This version of the Qur'an shoud also be a useful tool for the new swedes to learn swedish. I dont know if its used in swedish studies for the imigrants but if I had a tool like that I whoud use it.


boo! said...

Not an Arabic speaker, and don't understand much either. The little bit i do understand is actually from reciting the Quran and listening/reading to translation on and off. I am not totally lost while reading in arabic but am close.

I started reading an English translation some time ago and that was pretty good. So even though I mostly read in arabic, I do read english/urdu translation at times as well.

I actually ended up getting a pretty handy gadget... a digital Quran. Will write more about it in a post. Right now i'm at the airport and have a flight to catch :)

Best of luck with you rrecitation and may you feel close to the Quran. Do pray the same for me!

al-Hajji Umar said...

I have a MA in Near Eastern Studies with an emphasis in language and literature from the University of Michigan. To read the Qur'an with understanding requires a lot more than just a facility with the language.

I owned a copy of Lisan ul-Arab which was a great help in contextualizing concepts and words. Such a lexicon is needed reading Imam Malik's Muwatta'a, too.

Once you have studied the Qur'an with the appropriate tools and guidance, when you then recite it eventually the meanings will materialize without the hindrance of simultaneous translation.

As a non-native speaker, this state comes and goes based, to some degree, on my ability to focus on the recitation.

The fusha is more elegant than MSA but MSA is a goof place to start. Besides, the verb forms that are not in use in MSA are not that prevalent in the Qur'an; the biggest issues for me had to do with specific meanings (ex., the words for the various times of the day).

Destitute Rebel said...

I'm from Pakistan so arabic is not my language. I have learnt to read arabic but do not understand most of it. So I read the Quran in arabic also but mostly when I want to understand I read it in English, recently I'v been reading more english than arabic.

kaya said...

In my part of the world anytime starting age 6+ (younger/older) a man (usually)(known as a maulvi saheb)comes to teach us to read the Quran In Arabic. For the children it is divided into 30 seperate booklets.
We start with the QAIDAH, which has the alphabet and the various inflections required.
For most of us we will complete the Quran, and then for many years not touch it, except when someones passes away, or in ramadan.
That also not in a lot of families.
As a result there will be a few surahs which we will have memorised and use them in our daily prayers (assuming we pray).
It is preferred to be able to read the Quran and recite in Arabic. It was the chosen language.
My own turn towards Islam has been slow and in the last 10 years. More a result of some earth shattering issues of personal loss. In the missing years if I have ever read anything it was not in Arabic, but ROMAN ARABIC. (Arabic words with english letters).
However in todays world where islam is globally diversified, the question remains of whether it is mandatory to read the Quran in Arabic.
Purists will maintain, that arabic is the only language to learn the Quran in, for how else can we read duas in namaaz etc.
It is almost ironical that in our countries a lot of people will be Hafiz e Quraan yet clueless as to the meanings.
What is the use we argue of parroting words in a language we dont not understand and therefore being unable to comprehend the essence of the book.
It is said that especially in ramadan to read even a single line of the Holy Quran will give you the reward of having read it in toto.
I have lived in the middle east 20 years now and my understanding of spoken arabic is quite pathetic.
yes, I would like to understand what I read as I read it, reading it in Arabic and then reading the transalation is not the same for me.

kaya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm tri-lingual English/Arabic?French but I learned all three at such an early age that I don't translate the Qu'ran from Arabic into another language. I do however feel and aapreciate the cadence and soul of Arabic in a good translation.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Casmee, welcome to our blog :)

Abrahim said...

An interesting chain of comments... Well in India its quite the same as in Pakistan (as Destitute and Kaya point out). We all go through the routine of learning from Maulvis content with the ability to read (literally) the Quran, but without understanding.

If a native English speakerwere asked to 'read' a french book, it would imply that he should 'read and understand' rather than 'just read, without understanding'. That, I believe, is also the message in the first word evealed 'Iqra' or 'Read'.
Haveing said that, I must confess my own limited understanding of Arabic I mostly rely on the several Urdu translations as they are very eloquent, emotive and appaer richer than the English translations. English, surprisingly, has a shortage of words for some key terms - such as for 'Sawaab' or 'Thawaab' (Virtue would be the closest but does not convey the complete sense).

In fact, there is a saying that the Quran was revealed perfectly in Arabia, was read perfectly (Qirat) in Egypt and was understood perfectly in India. Perhps explains why the lading English Translation (Abdullah Yusuf Ali) is also of Indian origin.

Anonymous said...

well im egyptain and arabic is my native language but still when i read quran i feel like i need some further guidance and to know meanings of some words it's true that the modersn standerd arabic is different than the classic one adding the different arabic slangs so ive been always curious how do non arabic speaking muslims get along esp in pakstan and india i ve met a guy 4rom pakistan who knows the whole quran by heart yet he doesnt speak any arabic which was amazing to me really!!!!
that chain of comments helped me undersatnd somehow how they can master their prayers and reciting of quran even if they dont speak arabic

Walking sis with flippies said...


Well that was a long chain of comments, masha'Allah.

Don't forget that the language of djannah (the hereafter) is actually arabic. Do your best to learn arabic, and don't give up!

Shaykhspeara sha'ira is a living example of it, masha'Allah.

You can do it toooo!
By the way, check this link out!

May Allah bless all of us on this holy month, Ameen!

MJ said...

I just love reading this blog, great job everyone and keep it up!

I consider myself a bi-lingual (Arabic and English) I write and read better English but my parents were very strict about us using Arabic at home just like they were about us listening to Quran all the time growing up which is why I don’t have any problem reading it –as for understanding, I would think most people would find the need to go back and check what was meant by something.

The sad and unfortunate thing is that people around me, my cousins for example, can barely read it and they mispronounced it all the time, I also believe they don't understand half of what they are reading.

I think Quran should be read in Arabic because it's the way it was sent to the prophet and it just sounds different; I'm also all for reading a translation to understand it though. I would add again that listening to Quran all the time helped me in learning how to read and pronounce it right.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this blog from a non-Muslim visitor from the U.S.

I have wondered why the Quran in English is varyingly spelled "Qu'ran," "Quran," and "Koran."

Can anyone tell me what this is about and if any English spelling is more accurate than another?

I see that a number of bloggers here use in common a "Q" spelling.

Thanks again!

Musafir said...

I had a maulvi teach me arabic when I was young. But that was a generation ago. Now I can barely read, let alone understand the meaning. So I read the arabic (I take ages to do so) and at the same time check with the english transliteration and then check up the english translation.
Now let me tell you something interesting. My wife is a very pious person. All these years she has been reading the Koran which she keeps in her almirah out of my reach. She is very particular about anybody touching her Koran. One day I happened to look at her Koran and found out that it is not in arabic! It was in English! All these years she was reading in english. It turns out that she never learnt arabic. However this has not diminished her faith, neither in my eyes and, I assume, nor in the almighty allah's eyes.

RIJJU said...

I also had a Arabic reading of the Quran as did most of my Asian friends. I now my self have started reading the Quran in both Arabic and Urdu. This is very helpful in the sense that i fulfill the requirement of reading in arabic and also understanding it. What more i try do do is read the explenations of the various noted points in the Quran.
I think we should read the Quran both in Arabic and also in our native language as to understand it completly

Hannah said...

Wow, thank you all for your interesting comments! Shaykhspeara, I like your advice to think of myself as reciting the very words revealed to the Prophet, peace be upon him. That's a powerful image. I was surprised when I first started to memorize enough of the Qur'an to pray that the verses do have a rhythm and rhyme that even I could detect. Inshallah I'll become more famiilar with Arabic over time. I've always been interested even before I became a Muslim. WHen I lived in Japan when I was younger I became familiar enough with Japanese to really understand how different languages open you to different concepts, how they color the world for you. So you who can read the Qur'an in Arabic are fortunate!

BuJ said...

Arabic is my first language, and thus I read the Koran in Arabic and enjoy it as such. However, as a kid and for more difficult passages I always found it useful to read the Koran with the Tafseer (explanation) that lists the verses in Arabic then with their common Arabic translation as well as Asbab Al Nuzool (Reasons for the descent (of the verse)). These usually are the most interesting, and they list the reasons why the verse was revealed and tracks the history behind each verse.

Anon: Koran or Quran (etc.) is just a phonetic transliteration of the Arabic word for the Islamic holy book. It thus can have many spelling variations in English. Just as the name of the Prophet (pbuh) is spelt sometimes as Mohammed or Mohamad etc.