Why do Muslims read the Quran in Arabic? Is the Quran translated into different languages? If so, what is the difference between the Arabic and the translated versions?
The Quran is only in Arabic. This is not to say that it cannot be translated, but the translation is not the same thing as the original text. However, the message of the oneness of God and confirming what one’s conscious already knows is available in all languages. Previous revelations were sent in the language of their people. We did not send any messenger but (speaking) in the language of his people, so that he might clearly convey the message to them (Quran 14:4).
The Quran was revealed in Arabia
The Quran is God’s final revelation and because Muhammad peace be upon him lived in Arabia, the Quran is in Arabic. And if We had made it a non-Arabic Qur’an, they would have said, “Why are its verses not explained in detail [in our language]? Is it a foreign [recitation] and an Arab [messenger]?” Say, “It is, for those who believe, a guidance and cure.” And those who do not believe – in their ears is deafness, and it is upon them blindness. Those are being called from a distant place (Quran 41:44).
Because the Quran is in Arabic does not mean that Arabs are superior to non-Arabs. Rather, all humans are equal. However, God chose to reveal His final message to mankind to a people who had a very high sensitivity and appreciation to the finest nuances of the language. The Arabs of the 7th century took great pride in their linguistic skills. The Quran is revealed in very precise Arabic. If the Quran is to be the final text, then its meaning must be preserved. In order to do that, the language itself must be very precise and defined.
Because the Quran was revealed in Arabic, scholars went to painstaking lengths to preserve the dialect, idioms, sayings, poetry of that language so that the correct understanding of Qur’an can be reached. This was always a priority for Muslim scholars, many of whom were not Arab.
Nuanced Meanings Gets Lost in Translation
When someone translates a text, their translation is not the same as the original text. It is rather their understanding of the meaning of the original text. There although translations can give one a general understanding of the text, they are not the equivalent to the actual text. For example, in American culture one often hears the expression “you are my dog” or “dog is man’s best friend.” As Americans who understand the place of dogs in this culture, we can easily understand not only the literal meaning of these phrases, but their deeper cultural connotations as well.
If these same phrases are translated into a language and culture that do not take dogs as pets, but rather view them as unclean and wild animals, a literal translation will not suffice. Rather it will require further commentary onto what these phrases mean in the original language and culture. Similarly, the Quran was revealed in Arabic in a particular context and must be understood in that context.
The Arabic Language is Rich
The Arabic language has a very complex system of grammar and word formation. One statement can mean many things, and this is only possible in the Arabic language. Arabic is syntactical which means it cannot be compared to any other languages in terms of grammatical rules.
The shortest wording without any loss in the meaning is only in the Arabic language. It is also the most advanced language amongst world languages in terms of eloquence, literature and fluency. Thus, no other language can express the meanings in the world.
Because Arabic is a highly developed language, a translation of a text like the Quran never fully convey its deeper message. Despite pre-Islamic Arabs being highly skilled in Arabic, the Quran’s literary style stunned all of the poets and language experts of the time.
Ultimately, the Quran was primarily revealed in Arabic because it was revealed to Muhammad peace be upon him who lived in Arabia. Furthermore, the Arabic language is unique among other languages in its nuance, grammatical structure, syntax, and style. Despite the Quran being revealed in Arabic does not mean its general message cannot be translated in other languages. However, those translations are not called Quran because they are actually the words of the translator and not God Himself. Have more questions about the Quran?