[lg policy] Language policy and Islam: what should have been said?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 21 14:32:17 UTC 2013

   Jabal al-Lughat <http://lughat.blogspot.com/>

Climbing the Mountain of Languages
   Sunday, October 20, 2013  Language policy and Islam: what should have
been said?
 Following up on my last
what should a chapter on "Language policy and Islam" have looked like? It's
not exactly my field, but here are a few basic notes – a more complete
version would have to cite specific rulings from the major madhhabs, and
discuss more extensively the realisation of these ideas in everyday
practice, but this should give a general idea.

First of all, insofar as we can speak of Islam as having a formal language
policy at all, that policy would be defined by the extensive body of
jurisprudence on which languages may or must be used in particular
religious contexts. Ṣalāt, ritual prayer, has to be in Arabic
(Mawdudi 1957<http://www.welcome-back.org/question/salat_english.shtml>notes
a few arguable exceptions to this). Duʕā', asking favours of God, may
be in any language. The adhān, the call to prayer, has to be in Arabic
according to most scholars, although Atatürk briefly forced Turkish mosques
to make it in Turkish (Atalay
For the khuṭbah, the Friday sermon, scholars' opinions
differ<http://www.islam-qa.com/en/112041>– to keep on the safe side,
it's common for the imam to deliver a sermon in
the congregation's language followed by a much shorter sermon in Arabic.
The Qur'ān may be translated, and since early times frequently has been,
but no translation of it can be considered authoritative, or substituted
for the original in ritual contexts; in fact, such translations are viewed
more as commentaries than as versions of the original. Everyday religious
formulae – bismillah (in the name of God), alhamdulillah (thank God),
inshallah (if God wills), etc – are ordinarily in Arabic, though I don't
know what the jurists have to say about that.

As a result, the ordinary believer is commonly exposed to Arabic in
religious contexts, and is individually required to memorise a certain
number of formulae and chapters of the Qur'ān in Arabic. Quite frequently,
the latter in particular are learnt by heart early with only cursory
explanation of their meaning, since reciting them verbatim is a
precondition for proper prayer, but understanding them is only really vital
at a more advanced stage. What does need to be understood immediately – the
basic religious obligations, creed, etc – is explained in a language the
student understands. However, the further a student advances, the more
important it becomes to have direct access to the original source texts;
thus learning Classical Arabic is a basic prerequisite for becoming a
serious religious scholar, although the vast majority of Muslims never get
that far, and indeed a majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic. Regionally,
other languages may also come to assume a secondary position in religious
education – for example, Urdu in Pakistan, even though most students there
have a different first language. A remarkable example of this is to be
found in northeastern Nigeria, where advanced religious education requires
mastering not just Classical Arabic but also Classical Kanembu, an
extremely archaic variety of Kanembu currently used only for explaining
Classical Arabic texts (Bondarev & Tijani

Interpreting the notion of "language policy" more broadly, one might also
talk about the influence of Islam on attitudes to language. In this
connection, the obvious point to discuss would be the (very weakly
claim commonly heard that "Arabic is the language of Paradise", and the
even more obviously fabricated claim sometimes heard east of Iraq that "Arabic
and Persian are the languages of
Yet the weakness of the religious evidence for both assertions is a strong
indication that the causality is the other way around: religious positions
on language, in Islam as elsewhere, have often been influenced by
extra-religious prejudices. The universal consensus that some Islamic
rituals must be performed in Arabic make it difficult for any Islamic
society to assert strongly negative attitudes to Arabic, but beyond that
minimum, language attitudes are determined more by social and political
factors than by Islam specifically.
  Posted by  Lameen Souag الأمين سواق
<http://www.blogger.com/profile/00773164776222840428>  at 5:08
  Labels: Arabic <http://lughat.blogspot.com/search/label/Arabic>,
sociolinguistics <http://lughat.blogspot.com/search/label/sociolinguistics>


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