Recently I posted a piece on someone called Iftikhar Ahmad and his fight for what he calls “bilingualism” in British non-Islamic schools. (That fight, actually, only amounts to him demanding that Muslims be allowed to learn Arabic in non-Islamic schools. He also demands that the English teachers of Muslims learn Arabic and Urdu; as well as become Muslims; or, if they don’t do that, to stop teaching Muslims.)
I included this quote from Peter Watson’s book Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud:
“Muslims believe that Arabic is the language of God and is the tongue spoken in Paradise. They believe that Adam originally spoke Arabic but forgot it and was punished by being made to learn other – inferior – languages… Muslims, even modern grammarians, philologists and literary critics, often insist that Arabic is superior to other tongues, and that the Arabic of the Qur’an is of surpassing beauty that cannot be improved. This is why Muslims the world over must read the Qur’an in the original Arabic and why only one translation (into Turkish) has ever been authorised.”
I received a comment from someone called Amjad Lostboy. I’m not sure if the comment was a direct response to that quote from Peter Watson or to my piece on Iftikhar Ahmad . Anyway, this is what he said:
“The Qur'an is not translated because words are lost in translation (fact) - you can study it in any language but must be originally read in Arabic - I am of Pakistani decent but I had to learn Arabic to read it.”
The Arabocentrism (or, basically, the Arab racism) of Islam goes way beyond the Koran “losing words in translation” when translated into a non-Arabic language. Way beyond that! For a start, no one would make that much of a fuss about a few lost words or mistranslations here and there. After all, Christians worldwide have survived off translations of the Old Testament and New Testament for 1,700 years. Even in the domain of poetry translations are read without too many misgivings (but certainly some misgivings). And, of course, content or meaning can be divorced from expression – more so in religious or theological works but less so when it comes to poetry and perhaps prose literature.
Allah is a monoglot – he only speaks Arabic; according to Muslims. Now why would Allah only speak only one language? More to the point. Why is it deemed so important, to Muslims, that Allah only speaks one language? Why does it matter which language He speaks?
In addition, Muslims always stress the tone and texture of the Arabic Koran and say that these things are vitally important. Why? Are they important in the sense of their being important to Arabs and their Arabocentric view of the Koran (as well as of Islam itself)? Many nationalities and ethnic groups have also stressed the superior nature of their own language. That’s fine. However, Muslims also tell us that “Islam is a universal religion” that applies equally to all colours and ethnic groups. So why, again, does Allah only speak Arabic and why is the Arabic Koran the only “completely acceptable” Koran to all Muslims?
Muslims also believe Adam, as in Adam and Eve, once only spoke Arabic but that latter he was corrupted into other languages.
Let’s get some facts straight here about this superior Arabic language and how it seems intimately related to Islam.
Allah speaks only Arabic? That’s strange because Arabic is a fairly new language; compared with many other more ancient languages. Allah is presumably meant to be an “eternal” being or a being “out of time”. So what did He speak before some people starting speaking Arabic?
Arabic is a Semitic language. The Semitic language included and includes Akkadian, Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic (which Jesus spoke), Syriac and Ethiopic. Some of these languages date back to the third millennium BC. However, Arabic only dates back to the eighth century BC.
More precisely, Arabic and Aramaic are from two different branches of the Semitic language. Aramaic, like Hebrew, is west Semitic, whereas Arabic is south Semitic. Arabic at the beginning of Islam wasn’t a single language. It was a series of related dialects, none of which was dominant. It was the Koran itself which made a single dialect the dominant Arabic. That was the dialect spoken by Muhammad and the Quraysh tribe.
At the most basic level, Arabic was a dialect spoken in the north-western region of the Arabian peninsula. It was specifically spoken by the Quraysh tribe. Now we can see how everything fits into place. What I mean is that no other than the Prophet Muhammad belonged to that Arab tribe – the Quraysh! So not only is the Arabic language “the language of Islam”. It’s even more specific than that. The language of Islam, as well as the language of Allah Himself, just happens to be the language of Muhammad’s tribe – the Quraysh. Does that mean, then, that Allah Himself was a member of the Quraysh Arab tribe or was it the case that this tribe was a member of Allah’s eternal tribe? Or do the two alternatives really amount to the same thing?
Regardless of all that, Islam is still obsessed with all things Arabic. All Muslims have – or should have – Arabic names. All Muslims wear – or should wear – Arabic clothes. And we know the Arabs hate Pakistanis (such as Amjad Lostboy) and all other non-Arab Muslims. Nonetheless, most Pakistani Muslims are still Arab-wannabes.
This racism, indeed, was part of the reason for the ancient Islamic slave trade; which both pre-dates British and American slavery and still exists today. In fact many Arabs, specifically Saudis, even treat Muslims (such as Pakistanis) as near-slaves. They treat black Africans as full-slaves.
There appears to be a Muslim exception to all this Arabocentrism in the Muslim world. The Malaysians, specifically, don’t seem to like the Arabocentrism of Islam. Or is it that they don’t like the Arabocentrism of Muslims (not just Arab Muslims)?
In addition, Muslims often – very often – tell us that Muhammad “ended Arab tribalism and created a universal religion”. Did he? Or did he actually create the biggest and most important tribe in history – the Tribe of All Arab (Sunni) Muslims? This is the tribe which all other Muslims would love to belong to - but they never will!
In the end, then, it can safely be said that Arab racism is perhaps the longest-lasting racism of all racisms. And this is primarily so because Arabic racism is intimately tied into Islam itself. The Arabocentrism of Islam has made that racism possible as well long-lasting and ubiquitous.
*) Note: If Allah just happens to speak the same language – and even dialect – as Muhammad, does that mean that God speaks Aramaic because Jesus spoke Aramaic? Of course not. No Christian has ever claimed that God only speaks Aramaic. And no Christian I know has even made a big deal over the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic. That is, no Christian has made the Aramaic language a theological/religious part of Christianity; as Muslims have made the Arabic language theological/religious part of Islam.
So much for the “universal religion” that is Islam.