Other languages can certainly convey the message of the Qur’an, but what’s lost in translation is the depth of meaning, the sweetness, the multi-faceted miraculous nature of the Qur’an, its linguistic nuances, and the understanding of why Allah has used one word over its synonym.
How Busy Women Connect with the Qur’an
This tale begins in the life of a fresh-faced, bushy-tailed 17-year-old, determined to make a difference in the world. Overwhelmed with the choices that were open to her, she was also very confused about how her interests and passions might possibly have any relevance to her purpose on this earth.
Having just spent the summer in Iran learning Farsi to add to her repertoire of languages, she was enchanted and equally bewildered by what she had experienced of bustling mosques with their minarets ringing out melodious verses of the Quran, making grown men cry in the courtyards. Their haunting tunes filled her with awe at the beauty of her Creator’s words of love to her and eventually left her weeping too – not because she understood them like the people she had witnessed in the courtyard, but because she didn’t.
She felt pangs of emptiness when she read translations in English, which in her eyes, read like Shakespeare, incoherent and disjointed. What was so special about the Qur’an? What made it the miracle that it was purported to be? Why had Allah revealed it in Arabic anyway? And why couldn’t English translations capture that famed majesty and beauty?
Thus, she decided to embark on a four-year Arabic degree at SOAS, with further qualifications in translation. She travelled across the Middle East and learned different dialects, Modern Standard Arabic as well as Classical Arabic language and literature, which finally filled her void and enabled her to read and understand the Qur’an with meaning. She went on to translate several published Islamic books from Arabic into English, and even authored her first book titled: 50 Qur’anic Comforts for Mums.
She was so enamoured by Qur’anic Arabic, now being able to understand God’s words in the original language of His choosing, that she made it her life’s mission to simplify it for others who wished to learn it, without having to study it at degree level!
This marks the conception of Arabiq Online decades before it was actually born into my arms. Fast forward several years later, and now teaching many wonderful women in classrooms across North London, I empathised with the challenges they faced in attending my classes every week. As well-intentioned and committed as they were, life would simply get in the way: illnesses, unforeseen tragedies, house moves, leaks, car breakdowns, emergencies. It would be frustrating for them that the class would move on and they had to work extra hard to catch up afterwards; or for others, the frustration of lessons being repeated and recapped for the sake of absentees.
The majority of women I taught also didn’t want the pressure of exams, or compulsory homework, but cherished the regular guided exposure to ayaat of the Qur’an, exploring its words, revelling in its expressions and patterns, and uncovering the knowledge between its pages that English translations did not impart. So, I set about designing a course that would facilitate for busy women to learn Qur’anic Arabic through a streamlined system of flexible learning where they could experience the closeness and support of a teacher with her students, feel part of a community of fellow students, but still have the freedom to learn in their own time, and at their pace and convenience.
This is where the beauty and flexibility of the online courses at Arabiq Online come in: my students can now learn weekly, fortnightly, or even for fifteen minutes every day, and finish a level as quickly or slowly as they wish, without constraints of time and place! They can pause me, rewind me, and even speed me up! Best of all, we don’t have to sync our schedules to fit in Zoom calls, nor time zones. Students appreciate the highly structured approach that allows them flexibility and autonomy, with their own student dashboard and progress bar to show them exactly how far they have got, printable downloads, audiovisual elements, and regular quizzes to test their learning.
Research tells us that languages are best learned in small manageable chunks sustained and learned habitually over a period of time, rather than through intensive crash courses. Having tried and tested many different language programs myself over the years, I can certainly attest to this. The objective of Arabiq Online is to make the Qur’an comprehensible and accessible, so the course merges high-frequency vocabulary and structures with simplified grammar, and lots of practice with actual ayaat of the Qur’an.
There is nothing quite like the buzz you get from reading and understanding a surah or du’a in Arabic. My students often remark that it feels as if they are reading these surahs with fresh eyes or for the first time as they read them with knowledge of how the Arabic words in the sentences come together. They notice a difference in the quality of their salaa, the quality of their qunoot when they can now understand the du’as that they have been reciting their whole lives.
One of my students recently messaged me, saying, ‘Nazmina, what have you done to us? I used to be able to read half a juz’ of the Qur’an daily effortlessly, and now I no longer find joy in reading large chunks without understanding. I prefer to slow down and read much less but really absorb and internalise what God is saying to me. And then it seems to stay with me long after I’ve finished reading.’
Others have taken up memorization of the Qur’an because they now find it much easier to recall since they understand so much of what they’re learning. I believe the new generation of Muslims is now realising that we have to treat the Qur’an as the Book of Guidance it has been designed to be for our daily living and actually understand it, rather than just rote-learned recitations for reward, istikhara, blessings when getting married, in sickness, over the deceased, or to be left to the scholars.
Does this mean then that we can’t connect to the Qur’an through translations? No, of course it doesn’t, but it certainly does take more effort to read commentaries alongside them; and with any language, it is natural for the essence to be lost in translation. It would be unjust of Allah to have revealed a message that’s unintelligible except through Arabic or reserved exclusively for Arabs. Other languages can certainly convey the message of the Qur’an, but what’s lost in translation is the depth of meaning, the sweetness, the multi-faceted miraculous nature of the Qur’an, its linguistic nuances, and the understanding of why Allah has used one word over its synonym.
For example, at times He uses qalb for heart over fu’ād, or conversely, both words in the same verse (28:10), and the English translations don’t differentiate between them, even though Allah Himself has chosen to use two different words.
Understanding the Qur’an while we read it in Arabic helps us comprehend the root meanings behind the words that unfortunately English simply cannot capture. A glance at Arabiq Online’s Instagram page where we delve into just one word and its root meaning every Friday demonstrates just how much meaning a single word carries. For me personally, these are the areas that have exponentially increased the reverence I have for the Qur’an as the exact words of guidance sent down by my Creator.
You can enroll in Arabiq Online’s flagship course: Arabiq Online for Busy Women here, and follow their Instagram account @arabiq.online.