Is It Important to Learn Arabic?

For the Quranist, studying Arabic for the purpose of understanding the Quran is a major one. Some Quranists feel that the Quran simply has been mistranslated in order to subvert its true purpose. Others feel that Arabic has far deeper meanings than any translation can convey. Whatever the case, the study of Arabic is never far from the Quranist mind.

Can we understand the Quran without knowing Arabic though? It is absurd to think we would not have some measure of understanding from translation. Have a read of any translation available. Does it say that there actually two gods and that we should divide our worship between these two? Of course not. The core of the message ( which is, I would argue, ‘God and Good’) remains the same. What may change with knowing Arabic are concepts related to this.

What can we get when we study Arabic? For a start, we would get to see the true links of the words. Take translations of Ar-Rahmaan and Ar-Raheem which usually ‘merciful’ and ‘merciable’ (whatever that means!). Does it occur to anyone that the meaning has a relation to the womb? Not off-hand surely but in Arabic, the link is obvious. The word for ‘womb’ is ‘rahm’ and is closely linked with Rahmaan and Raheem (say it aloud and you will see!) and even ‘rahmah’ (also translated as ‘mercy’). This shows a very tangible and practical understanding of these words. An understanding that would be missing without the aid of footnotes at the very least.

So lets study Arabic and accept everything about it! No no, its also not that simple. Arabic is a human language and like any human language, it contains a huge variety in the range of meanings in each word and various opinions on what constitutes correct grammar. Ask any literate Arab and you will see for yourself. It’s simply not good enough to learn Arabic and expect to understand the Quran. Traditional scholars have argued over meanings and grammatical correctness for centuries.

And what about politics and philosophy? Is any language divorced from political events? We only need to look in the last ten years with the War to uphold ‘democracy’ (and democracy being used to invade sovereign nations!). Language is an effective tool to justify one’s agenda. Firaun himself called musa a ‘kafir’! Philosophically speaking, we need to question if the lexicographer and grammarian of Arabic is aware of the philosophical implications of the meanings he inferred. If he is philosophically sterile, it might be possible that his inferences lack depth.

Where does that leave us then? If we can’t rely on Arabic, then can we never plumb the depths of the Quran? Of course we can! What we need to do is to use our own reason and intuition. Through interacting with chosen resources, we can effectively come to meanings which will prove useful. And that is the key point – usefulness. Are we practising what we know? If we’re not, Arabic or not, philosophy or not, there is simply no point to our study.