“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” ― Ludwig Wittgenstein
When my sisters and I were small, our parents enrolled us into normal government school. The main language that was spoken in school was Bahasa Melayu hence my sisters and I conversed most in Malay. Our English was so atrocious, that my dad would cringe every time he heard us speak. So, my dad decided that things must change for the better.
My dad made us, my sisters and I, speak English whenever he was home. It doesn’t matter if we spoke broken English, as long as we tried and practised. So, in the beginning, he would hear things like , “Abah, Abu (my dad’s pet mynah bird) jump jump his food upside down” or “eh you don’t play play with me!” or “Abah, mak are call you eat dinner now”. I’m not joking, that was how bad we were but never once did he mocked or laughed at us, instead he kept encouraging us on. Of course, every time he corrected us, we would be giggling like silly girls. Then my dad decided to take one step further in insisting that even our friends, who by came to the house, must speak English also. Now, that ignited another giggling spasm!.If we wanted something, we needed to ask for it in English. Failure to do, our request will be ignored or even denied. So, our friends were also forced to practise talking in English. We actually had fun laughing at each other.
My dad also made us read English books. He had already instilled the reading habit in us by exposing us to Malay books at a very early age. He made sure that we finished one English book a week so that we are familiar the language.
When our English got better, my sisters and I started to even speak English in school. Of course, we got taunted by a few ‘sour grapes’ students, saying that we were trying to show off or that we were forgetting our ‘Malay’ roots, but that did not deter us or the friends, whom we had roped into our little ‘project’, from continuing.
Now, I can speak and write English very well and I have my dad to thank for it. I completely understand now, why my dad emphasised on mastering English because he knows the knowledge path would be unlimited. There are of course good books in Malay but you are limited to only the local writers, unless that is, you can find a translation of the English book. The books in English are in abundance hence imagine the things that you can learn…..
When I started to re-learn about Islam, there were books that I read, written by foreign writers that gave me so much insight into the religion. Islam is not the religion of Malay or Arab but Islam is the religion of mankind. By being able to read books written by our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, from all over the world, you would be able to see Islam from through their eyes and appreciate the beauty of the religion through their perspective. Unfortunately, most of these books are written in English. That is why mastering English is very important, in my opinion.
There is one other language which I would give anything to master and that it Arabic. I realise that I am at the losing end for not being able to understand the language of the Holy Quran. Sure, there are English translations such as Yusuf Ali or Pickthall or Muhammad Asad but translations would not be able to let you experience the real spirit of Quran.
I remember in one of my Umra trips with one of my girlfriends, the realisation of my ignorance of the Arabic language really hit me hard. It was during one the maghrib prayers where the Imam started sobbing even when he started reciting Al Fatihah. His recitation was so beautiful and moving that we were sobbing with him. Of course, the fact that we understand the meaning of the Al Fatihah, made our sorrow genuine. But then, when the Imam continued with another verse, his crying got louder and harder so much so, he had to stop for a while because he was crying so hard. By this time, my friend and I were bawling like babies.
After the prayer ended, my friend asked me why I was crying after Al Fatihah and I told her that I was crying because the Imam was crying but I didn’t understand a single word he was reciting! Then I asked my friend why was she crying, and she replied that she was crying because both the Imam and I were crying, but she too didn’t understand a word the Imam was reciting! Hahahaha! We were actually two fools crying for no reason! I am very sure that the Imam’s sorrow or grief was real but ours were not.
That was when I realised that if I had learn Arabic, then I would have understood what the Imam was reciting and I would probably have cried even harder than him! Tsk!Tsk!Tsk!.
The Wise Owl once told me, that for a person who understands the language of the Quran, to him or her, reciting the Quran, is like God is talking directly to them. They feel the spirit of the verses pierce directly into their hearts and it remains.
Isn’t that wonderful? I want to be able to appreciate Quran in Arabic as how I have learnt to appreciate the classical language of Shakespear or even Jane Austin but at this moment, I just have to be contented with reading the translation.
So, moral of the story is, try to learn Arabic. Don’t make excuses about not having time as there are many ways to learn Arabic without having to step out of the comfort of your home, such as on-line courses. Trust me, I have come up with just about every excuse there is about 'why I’m not able to learn Arabic' (it’s a foreign language, no time, too old blah blah blah!) and each time, God smacked me with a solution until I simply gave up making excuses. I have started my course but I am still far from understanding Quran. My mum speaks Arabic fluently because she took the trouble to learn but pathetic me only knows (other that the common greetings and salutations), ‘lah’ which means ‘no’ and ‘naam’ which means ‘yes’. But still, I am making progress…….
If I can learn English, I should be able to learn Arabic…..right? Even Ustad Nouman Ali Khan said that God said, “We make Quran easy for those who wants to memorise”............So…..wish me luck peeps…..
“The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by God…” - Riyadh us-Saleheen, 245