“To grasp the meaning of the world of today we use a language created to express the world of yesterday. The life of the past seems to us nearer our true natures only for the reason that it is nearer our language”.
By Exupery, (from his book: ‘Wind, Sand and Star’, (1939).
Every celestial or terrestrial creature is an exclusive enclose with a special master key that can open it in a peculiar way. That master key is the effective but invisible substance called language. Without language, no interaction of one creature with another would have been effective in coexistence.
In all situations and circumstances of life, it is not possible to coexist without a means of understandable communication called language. Language is not just a means of sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences, to facilitate understanding among pares, it is also an instrument of documenting events through which the occurrences of the past and those of the present are related meaningfully to the future.
In another clime, language is the prima-facie identity of any culture. A culture without language is a culture without identity.
Every language is primarily spoken either by words of mouth or by gesticulation. But it later becomes converted into writing for the purpose of recording sounds and preserving history. In a nutshell, language is the foundation of all civilizations in all human eras. It is man’s greatest invention without which all other inventions would have been meaningless.
Whether in spoken or written form, language serves as the main intermediary among the races and tribes of mankind as well as among the species of other creatures.
Whether in the primordial or contemporary time, language has consistently stood out as a distinguished entity that serves the same purpose in all eras throughout the epoch of history. The birth and death of humans; the rise and fall of empires; the migrations and settlements of races and tribes are all recorded or chronicled in languages. Even some inanimate objects like water, stone and glass do speak onomatopoeically sometimes to the admiration of man.
It is with language alone that every human thought germinates and is turned into reality from dream. Not only that, language is also the cultural law that governs the wild life, be it agro or aqua. The nature of language, its importance, its complexity and its role in human life are such that, this world would have been meaningless without it.
Allah tells us in Qur’an 49:13 thus: “Oh people! We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may interact with one another. Surely the noblest of you, before Allah, is the most righteous one among you. Allah is all-wise and all-knowing”.
The idea of this topic arose from a strange question, posed to yours sincerely, sometime ago, by a Lagos Muslim socialite. He said: “rather than observing Salat in Arabic language which most of us do not understand, why don’t we do it either in English language or vernacular which we understand very well?”
He cited the example of the Churches where Christians worship in various but understandable languages and concluded that such an innovation might bring more converts into Islam and more people to the Mosque. He did not stop there. He went further to advocate for reduction in the number of times we (Muslims) observe Salat daily saying that such might be ‘more realistic’ and ‘more convenient’ especially for busy and travelling people.
You can see, from that question, the extent of naivety which ignorance is capable of conferring on its victims. Or how else can one perceive a mortal being who wants to amend the constitution of his Immortal Creator? And, the questioner, who claims to be a Muslim, is not the only one with such a parochial idea. There are some others like him.
In my response, I asked the enquirer to tell me why Islam remains the fastest growing religion in the world today, despite the worship by Muslims in ‘a non-understandable’ language. I made a particular reference to Britain where Churches are sold to Muslims in scores to be converted into Mosques and asked him to tell me any religion he knew that was ever revealed in English language.
I did not stop there. I also went further to ask him whether it was reasonable to let his employees work for only three days in a week instead of six days while he pays them fully for the whole week. I then took advantage of the glaring evidence of confusion on his visage to put burner in my fervour, as a student of English language, and I tutored my him, a little, on the fact that English which he parochially perceived as an ideal language was neither natural nor original. I told him how England was colonized severally, for many centuries, by various countries and empires including France, Germany, Rome and Scandinavia. And, from that, I let him know that English language only emerged as an adopted language from a combination of the languages of England’s colonial masters, in the 9th/10th century (CE). I then pointed out to my interlocutor that his highly revered English language which contains about 9,700 words borrowed from French alone and Anglicized does not have its own morphology without the borrowed words. I also told him that most of the words clustered with consonant letters in English language, in the contemporary time, are either German or Scandinavian in origin. I cited examples of such words as ‘acknowledgement’, psychology, knight, gnash, rhythm, etc. I did not stop there. I also told him that there is a great influence of some other Indo-European languages, especially from the Upper and Lower Germanic, on English language. Besides, I pointed out to him that the country called Britain today, which is a combination of England, Scotland, part of Ireland and Wales, is not monolingual, as generally misconceived by most non-English people. Other languages like Celtic and Welsh are still very much spoken in that country today, though restrictedly.
After thorough tutoring as analysed above, I then settled the ignorant enquirer down to religion proper and called his attention to the original common language of revelation of the ‘Tawrah’ (Talmud) of Prophet Musa (Moses), the Zabur (Psalms) of Prophet Daud (David) and ‘injil’ (Bible) of Prophet Isa (Jesus) which is Aramaic. The Jews still worship in that language today.
In countries like China, Japan, Korea and India, where religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto and Hinduism are in vogue, respectively, the languages of worship by the adherents of those religions are Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hindu, respectively. And, in terms of numerical strength, no religion in the world today enjoys so large follower-ship as Buddhism which is closely followed by Hinduism because of the huge populations of China and India. Yet worshiping in those religions does not go beyond their countries of nativity.
In the West, where Christianity holds sway, no single language was ever adopted for worship after the death of Latin, which was the official language of the Roman Empire.
While the Germans worship in German language, the French, the Spanish, the British, the Americans, the Italians, the Swedish, the Danish, the Russians, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Portuguese and all others, do worship in only in their respective languages.
This means that no French or Russian man can enter a Church in Portugal and worship, with thorough understanding, except he understands Portuguese language.
This is not the case with Islam. The fulfilment of Allah’s global will for mankind is a universal reality, guaranteed by a common language. That will is contained in Qur’an 21:107 thus: “We have not sent you (Muhammad) forth but as a mercy to the entire world. Say it is revealed to me that your God is one God. Won’t you submit to Him?”
It is only in Islam, of all religions, that adherents from different parts of the world can easily walk into any Mosque in any part of the world and worship jointly behind an Imam without any fear of racial or language discrimination. And, that is what makes Islam the uniquely universal religion that Allah designs and wills it to be. This is made possible by Arabic language which is the language of the Qur’an.
In all other religions of the world, adherents, irrespective of their populations, do worship only locally according to their different languages and interpretation of the language of their believed scripture.
To call for the abandonment of Arabic language in Salat, therefore, is to call for the reduction of Islam from a universal religion into a local one. Not only that, such a call is a way of advocating for the dismantling of global Muslim unity.
What our pitied Lagos Muslim socialite does not know is that worshipping in Arabic language, which is the language of the Qur’an is the main cause of antagonism against Islam by those who have lost the originality of their own religion. That “Allah is all-wise and all-knowing” as quoted above, in the Quran, is not in vain. All divine religions were deliberately revealed in the languages of their ‘Messengers’. And, no Messenger was sent to the entire world except Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
Arabic is the language of Islam which requires no interpretation before it is used for worship. It is only with that language that the authenticity of Islam is preserved and, the formidability as well as the courage of resistance, which enables Islam to survive all intrigues, aggressions and intimidations through the centuries is maintained.
Islam, as a religious culture, remains irrepressible, till today, for two main reasons. One of those reasons is that Islam is a superior nation divinely guaranteed with a nonesuch, everlasting spiritual ideology. Even if its adherents are conquered, the idea that makes that religion a nation can never be conquered because it is invisible.
The other reason is contained in Qur’an 15:9 thus: “It was ‘We’ (Allah) who revealed the Qur’an and it is ‘We’ (Allah) who will certainly preserve it”.
Formidability of a culture depends, very much, on the tenacity accorded its language by the speakers of that language.
Sometimes, a culture may get absorbed into another culture without losing its accompanying language. Sometimes, a language may be assimilated into another language even as the culture of the original language is retained.
Islam has resistance for both. The earliest Muslim Arabs did not spread only Islam to all conquered nations, they also spread Arabic language that serves as it vehicle, to those territories. The only exception is Farisi (Persian language) which was very strong philologically before the advent of Islam.
We have similar example here in Nigeria. The Fulanis, who were led by Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, to re-introduce Islam, in its purified form, to the conquered areas now called northern Nigeria, had to compromise their language in favour of Islam which was their culture. The Hausas, on the other hand, preferred to sacrifice their (pagan) culture in favour of their language. Thus, the combination of both has come to give the northern Nigeria a foremost cultural veracity that is almost second to none in Africa. Not only has Hausa language become an international language spoken in the media of most civilized countries, Shari’ah, has also been imbibed as the Islamic cultural law of the region.
Today, while most parts of the Southern Nigeria have enslaved themselves irredeemably to foreign cultures, the north gives a new hope of cultural renaissance to Nigeria and even Africa. From the cultural way the northerners dress, eat, and, from the way they insist on speaking Hausa language irrespective of where they find themselves, it is becoming clearer that adoption of that language in the UN is just a matter of time. Already, virtually all the countries that matter in the world today have Hausa programmes on their radio and television stations. And, far from the self-deception of the southern people who want to eat their cake and still have it, the long expected African civilization may start from northern Nigeria. The numerical strength of that region is an added advantage.
It is rather unfortunate that the southern Muslims have had to join non-Muslims in replacing their cultural language with the colonial language. The tragedy of this development is that while they are losing their own language, they are unable to grasp the foreign language for which they are craving. In both ways, they are the losers, not only today but tomorrow as well.
Although, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) counselled Muslims on the need to understand languages other than mother-tongues, he never preached the abdication of one’s own language in favour of any foreign language. The Southern Nigerian Muslims must note this point very well in the interest of their future and their prosperity.