While I can understand using Arabic terms and phrases if you speak Arabic, I don’t think Muslims who do this around American converts realize how alienating this can be. Not only do we not know what is being said, which makes us feel like outsiders, but we feel strange using the words ourselves, especially at first.
I’m always torn between wanting to express myself in my own language and feeling like I should use the Arabic in order to be a “real” Muslim. For example, I’m more comfortable saying “Praise God” instead of “Alhamdulillah.” I tend to say morning and afternoon prayer instead of Fajr and Dhuhr (mainly because I don’t know how to pronounce the Arabic). And I don’t dare to say my prayers out loud where an Arabic speaker could hear me, because I know my pronunciation is horrible.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never had a Muslim brother or sister laugh at me or act like I’m inferior because I don’t know Arabic. But how am I going to learn my deen when I don’t understand the language?
I don’t have a problem with the Qur’an and our prayers being in Arabic. I know that the Qur’an was given to us in that language and because Allah’s holy Word is unchangeable, it has to stay that way. Having the Qur’an in its original form makes it more authentic. It’s also very meaningful to me that Muslims all over the world recite the same prayers I do all in the same language.
I know I miss fine shades of meaning sometimes when I don’t use the Arabic, but what difference does it make when I don’t know Arabic well enough to know the fuller meanings anyway? At this point all I can do is look up meanings in a dictionary or online or ask people what words mean. But if I do that while someone is speaking with me, it would slow down the conversation considerably!
I wish those who push Arabic would think of those who don’t speak it as if we were from a different country. I wouldn’t spout off in English to someone who doesn’t know it very well. I would try to communicate in words they understand and if I do have to use English words they don’t know, I would explain the meanings.
Why can’t Arabic speakers do the same for those of us who don’t speak Arabic?
[Note: Yahya Ederer (Abu Majeed) wrote a two-part article on “Balancing Arabization” that helps put this issue into perspective. He reminds us of what the Qur’an says about the use of Arabic and cautions against arrogance and chauvinism. Read Part II here.]