And We did not send any messenger but (speaking) in the tongue of his people, so that he might clearly speak to them. So, Allah lets go astray whom He wills and lets find guidance whom He wills. And He is the Mighty, the Wise. Surat Ibrahim: 4
Mentioned in the first sentence of this verse is the particular blessing and convenience granted by Allah Ta’ala that whenever He has sent a messenger to a people, He has sent him speaking their language, in order that he would convey Divine injunctions to them in their language and usage whereby understanding these becomes easy on them. If the language of the messenger had been different from that of his addressees, it is evident that his people would have to undergo the burden of having to translate the injunctions before they could understand them and, still, the understanding of injunctions correctly would have remained doubtful. Therefore, when a messenger was sent to the speakers of the Hebrew language, the language of the messenger was also Hebrew. The language of the messenger sent to the Persians was also Persian. The language of the messenger to the Berbers was appointed to be Berberi. It is possible that a person who was assigned to be a messenger would be an individual from among the same people to whom he was sent and his mother tongue would have been the language of those people, and it is also possible that the language into which he was born may have been other than that of the people he was sent to, but as Allah Ta’ala would have it, He had things arranged in a manner that the messenger learnt the language of the people he was to work with – as it was in the case of Sayyidna Lut (A.S). Actually, he was a citizen of ‘Iraq where the language spoken was Persian. But, after his migration to Syria, he married among the people there and the language of the Syrians became his own language. Then, Allah Ta’ala made him the prophet of a region of Syria.
As for our noble Messenger , his mission is, in terms of the area of operation, for the whole world and, in terms of the time duration, it is universally applicable right upto the last day of Qiyamah. No nation or group of people in this world, no matter which country they belong to and what language they speak, could be outside the circle of his mission as a messenger and prophet. And every new nation and every new language which comes into existence upto the day of Qiyamah shall all be counted among the community to which the Da’wah (call) of the Holy Prophet will reach. This is expressly mentioned by the Holy Qur’an: (O people, I am the messenger of Allah [sent] to you all – 7:158). According to a narration of Sayyidna Jabir (A.S) appearing in the Sahih of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Holy Prophet , while pointing out to his five distinctions among the universal community of prophets, has said: Before me, every messenger and prophet was sent to his people and community. Allah Ta’ala sent me to all peoples who are the children of Adam (on this earth).
Allah Ta’ala willed that humankind on this earth should originate from Sayyidna Adam (A.S) whom He made the first prophet of human beings. Then, in proportion to the increase in human population in terms of its social and economic status, arrangements to convey the right guidance to them through messengers and prophets kept being made by Allah Ta’ala. Injunctions, laws and religious codes relevant to every period of time and to the needs of every people continued coming. Finally, when the development of the human scene reached the stage of maturity, Allah Ta’ala sent the foremost among the line of prophets, Sayyidna Muhammad al-Mustafa, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, as the Rasul of the whole world, and the Kitab and Shari’ah He gave to him was given in its most complete and workable form which was valid for the whole world and for all times right upto the Last Day of Qiyamah. It was said in the Qur’an: (That is, ‘Today, I have perfected your religion and made My favour complete for you – 5:3).
The religious codes of past prophets, may peace be on all of them, were also perfect and complete in terms of their time and region. They too cannot be called imperfect or wanting. But, the perfection of the Shari’ah brought by the Holy Prophet is not restricted to any specified time and region. It is absolutely perfect (that is, without restrictions or exceptions in any respect, or circumstances) and seen from this angle, the perfection of religion is exclusive to this Shari’ah, and this is the reason why the chain of prophethood was discontinued after the appearance of the Holy Prophet who is the Last among the blessed prophets, may peace be upon all of them.
Why Was the Qur’an Revealed in the Arabic Language?
When messengers who spoke the language of past communities were sent among them, they did not have to work hard on translating the message brought by prophets. Now, a question arises here as to why the Holy Prophet was sent to Arabia alone with the Arabic language? And why was it that his Book too was revealed in the Arabic language specifically? But, a little deliberation would make the answer very clear. Everyone can understand when the mission and call of the Holy Prophet became common for all peoples of the world speaking hundreds of different languages, then, there existed only two alternatives for the guidance of all of them. The first alternative was that the Qur’an be revealed separately into the language of every group of people, and the teachings and instructions of the Holy Prophet also be made available separately in the language of every community of people. In view of the most perfect power of Allah Ta’ala, managing something like that was not difficult at all. But, the great objective of sending one Rasul, one Kitab and one Shari’ah for all peoples of the world, an objective which sought to forge a religious, moral and social unity and mutually shared orientation, despite the existence of thousands of differences among all these peoples, would have remained unrealized in the event that such an alternative was taken to.
Then, there was the other alternative of letting the Qur’an and Hadith for every people and every country be available in their separate languages. If this was ever done in that manner, it would have thrown the gates of interpolation in the Qur’an wide open through which countless inroads in it could have been made. Thus, the miraculous quality of the Glorious Qur’an, that its original words still remain perfectly protected, a quality which cannot be denied even by non-conformists and deniers of the Qur’an, would have not survived intact. What would have happened that despite there being one religion and one book, its adherents would have been dispersed on so many different tracks that there would have remained no single rallying pivot of unity. We can have some idea of this problem if we recall the amount of differences that arose in the interpretation and exegesis of the Holy Qur’an despite that it was revealed in the single Arabic language – though, these differences did remain within permissible limits. As for differences engineered through false and impermissible means, they just have no limits. But, notwithstanding all this, there is a viable unity and a sense of distinct identity still present among all those people who observe and practice what the Qur’an teaches, no matter in whatever degree it may be.
In short, the assumption that the Qur’an could have come for every human group separately making the mission and teaching of the Holy Prophet universal is something even a person of ordinary intelligence would not find correct. Therefore, it becomes necessary that the Qur’an be sent in one single language and the language spoken by the prophet should also be the same language of the Qur’an, and then its translations into other languages be made and circulated. After the Holy Prophet , his deputies, the ‘Ulama of the community, should spread out the teachings and rules of guidance left behind by him among their peoples and in their language. Therefore, Allah Ta’ala chose the Arabic language over all languages of the world for a number of reasons.
The Distinctions of Arabic
First of all, the Arabic language is the official language of the heavens. The language of angels is Arabic. The Preserved Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz ) is in the Arabic language as the Qur’an tells us: (Rather, it is a glorious Qur’an in the Preserved Tablet – 85:21,22). Then, there is Jannah, the Paradise which is the real home of human beings and to where they have to return – and its language is also Arabic. In the Mu’jim of al-Tabarani, Mustadrak of al-Hakim and in Shu’ab al-‘Iman of Al-Baihaqi, there is a narration from Sayyidna’Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas which reports that the Holy Prophet said: (That is, ‘Love Arabs for three reasons: (1) That I am an Arab; (2) and the Qur’an is in Arabic; (3) and the language of the people of Paradise is Arabic’ [In Mustadrak, Hakim calls this narration ‘Sahih.’ The same rating appears in al-Jami’ al-Saghir. However, some Hadith experts have called it weak and not authentic]. According to Ibn Taymiyyah, the subject of this Hadith is proven and cannot be rated any lesser than ‘Hasan’ or good (Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami’ al-Saghir, p. 179, v. 1).
There is a narration reported in Tafsir al-Qurtubi that the language of Sayyidna Adam in Jannah was Arabic. When he was sent to the earth, and after his repentance was accepted, so (A.S) me changes in the Arabic language itself gave birth to the Syriac language.
This appears to support narrations which have been reported from Sayyidna ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas and others. They say that the original language of all books Allah Ta’ala has revealed was Arabic. It was archangel, Sayyidna Jibra’il al-Amin who relayed it to the prophets by translating it to them while they conveyed it to their communities in their language. These narrations have been reported by ‘Allamah Al-Suyuti in Al-Itqan and by most commentators of the Qur’an under their comments on this verse. The gist of these reports is that the original language of all Scriptures is Arabic. But, with the exception of the Holy Qur’an, other books have been given as translated into the language of a country or people. Therefore, their meanings are all from Allah Ta’ala, but there is a change in words. It happens to be the unique feature of the Qur’an alone that, like its meanings, the words too are but from Allah Ta’ala. And perhaps, this is the reason why the Qur’an extended a challenge that even the combined force of the Jinns and humankind of the whole world could not produce the likeness of a small Surah, rather of one Ayah of the Qur’an – because, in terms of its high status in word and meaning, it is the Word of Allah and a Divine attribute which cannot be imitated by anyone. Given their spiritual status, other Scriptures too are the Word of Allah, but none of the other Scriptures made such a claim, perhaps because they were not in their original form in Arabic but were its translation. Otherwise, in terms of being the Divine Word like the Qur’an, the uniqueness and inimitability of every such book was certain.
One major reason for the choice of the Arabic language is the inherent treasure of capabilities of the language itself for it has countless forms and methods through which a sense could be expressed.
And there is another reason too that Allah Ta’ala has naturally gifted Muslims with a certain affinity and congruity with the Arabic language because of which everyone goes on to learn the language easily as needed. This is the reason why, in every country the Sahabah reached, it took very little time when, without any compulsion, the Arabic language came to be the language of the whole country. Take Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Arabic was not their language. Today, they are known as Arab countries.
There is yet another reason for this phenomena. The Arabs were, though involved in serious evil practices, yet their capabilities, qualities and feelings can be called unmatched even under such circumstances. That is why Allah Ta’ala raised His greatest and the last messenger from among them, and chose his language to be the language of the Qur’an, and gave instructions to His prophet that they are the ones who should be the first to be guided and educated: (and warn your close relatives – 26:214) – and the very first step taken was that He assembled around His messenger the kind of individuals from among these very people, individuals who sacrificed their life, wealth and children, almost everything for the sake of the Holy Prophet taking his teachings to be dearer than what they had, even their lives. And it was the result of this pattern of behaviour that their personalities became so deeply coloured by his company and teaching that an ideal society rose in the world the like of which was never witnessed by humanity on this earth and under these skies. The Holy Prophet charged this unique group with the mission of spreading the teachings of the Qur’an and said: that is, ‘Convey everything you hear from me to my people, even though it is a short verse.’ His Sahabah, alert and sacrificing as ever, took this order of their master so seriously that they fanned out far and wide around the world and made people become familiar with the Qur’an and its teachings. Not even twenty five years had passed after the departure of the Holy Prophet from this mortal world that the message of the Qur’an started reverberating throughout the East and West.
On the other hand it was a wisdom of Allah’s creation and a wise arrangement of His destination that He inculcated in the entire Ummah of da’wah (i.e. all those addressed by the call of the Holy Prophet including the mushriks and the Jews and the Christians), a special aptitude and zeal towards learning, teaching, writing and publishing books and promoting their respective ideas, a parallel of which is not found in the past history of the world. It was for this reason that the non-Arab nations not only acquired the disciplines of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah with a great enthusiasm, but the advances made by non-Arabs in the acquirement of the Arabic language and its promotion and wider dissemination did not lag behind the Arabs.
It is certainly an astonishing fact that, in our time, the number of books on Arabic language, usage and grammar present in the world happen to have been written by non-Arabs. And their contribution to the services rendered for the collection and documentation of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and in its exegesis and explication, has not been any lesser than Arabs.
So, it was in this manner that the language of the Holy Prophet and the Book he was given, despite being Arabic, overtook the whole world. At least, for all practical purposes of Da’wah (Call) and Tabligh (Spreading of the Message), the difference of Arab and non-Arab was eliminated. In every country and community, and among peoples speaking non-Arab languages, rose such ‘Ulama’ who communicated to their own people the teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah through their indigenous languages, easily and effectively. Thus, the wisdom of sending a messenger speaking the language of the addressed people stood realized and proved.
Toward the end of the verse it was said that it is for the convenience of people that Allah Ta’ala has sent His messengers speaking their language, so that they can explain His injunctions to them clearly and satisfactorily. But, it is still beyond human control to bring someone onto the right path. The truth is that it lies in the power of Allah Ta’ala alone. Whom He wills He lets go astray and whom He wills He would give guidance. He is Mighty, and Wise.