Short Answer: God is Merciful and He is Just. He knows everything, including what is in your heart. Try not to get too bogged down in the details of whether He will punish you for this or that. Take the process slowly. He knows you are trying your best. If you truly cannot learn the Arabic for the prayers, He knows that you tried. If you want to go on Hajj but you simply cannot, He knows that you wanted to.
Alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah
Thank you for your questions. These are important questions to answer, and ones that are often overlooked by the Islamic scholarly community. I appreciate you asking them.
Why do Muslims Pray in Arabic?
As you mentioned you are from Poland and you wrote your question in English, I am going to presume that you are at least bilingual, if not multilingual. As such, you know that there are not always clean and easy translations for words and phrases. I’m sure you can think of some Polish phrases that are difficult to express in English – even if you translate them, you might have to provide an explanation to convey the same feeling that they do in Polish.
Now, think of the Bible. The Bible has been translated across many languages and across many generations. The original text is incomprehensible to anyone except scholars who study biblical language.
Now, naturally, the Quran has been translated. But the original Arabic is still used by all Muslims. In fact, when reading a translated version of the Quran, it is not, strictly speaking, the Quran. It is only the Quran in the original form, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) more than 1400 years ago.
Two Important Reasons
The reason for this is, in my view, twofold. For one thing, as you know as a bilingual person, translating can alter meaning. Even the phrase “Bismillahi al-rahman al-raheem,” which appears at the beginning of almost every verse of the Quran and that Muslims utter multiple times daily, can be translated in myriad ways. “Al-rahman” can mean the Most Gracious, the Entirely Merciful, the most Beneficent, etc.; while “Al-Raheem” can mean the Most Merciful, the Especially Merciful, etc. You can tell that these words are difficult to convey a direct meaning in English. But if you say “Al-Rahman,” a Muslim will know what you are trying to describe: that gracious, merciful, beneficent quality that belongs to Allah.
But what about Muslims who do not know Arabic? Here is where the second reason comes in. When we pray in Arabic, we are all saying the exact same thing. At any moment, anywhere in a world, when Muslims pray we recite the same words. It creates an incredible sense of unity to know that you are spiritually connected with Muslims who have nothing in common with you – not even a language in common. Yet, we all speak the very same words in our prayers.
Is it Necessary to Pray in Arabic?
Most Muslim scholars would say that, yes, the obligatory daily prayers must be done in Arabic. However, there is a caveat.
When Islam was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it was not all done in one day. He conveyed the message of Islam to the people, bit by bit, piece by piece. Even this pious first generation of Muslims were not expected to swallow Islam whole in one day.
So, while, at the very least it is highly encouraged for you to learn the ritual daily prayers in Arabic, that should not stop you from becoming Muslim. Pray in your native tongue. Learn the words one by one.
Some argue that this gives converts an advantage over people who grew up with Islam. Non-Arabic speaking Muslims who have been Muslim all their lives often don’t learn the meaning of the verses of the Quran and the prayers. They memorize the Arabic sounds.
But if you start praying in your language, slowly learning the Arabic over time, you will have the benefit not only of the unity amongst Muslims that I mentioned above, but also of truly understanding the meaning of the words that you offer to Allah on a daily basis.
Five daily prayers can definitely sound daunting. Yes, all five are required, though they take five minutes at most. I won’t go so far as to tell you that God will punish you if you don’t perform your five prayers. Only God knows what He will do.
Again, however, I would like to go back to what I mentioned above. Islam was not revealed in its entirety overnight. The early Muslims were initially only required to pray two ritual prayers a day. It was only after they fled Makkah that more prayers were added, and even later that it became the five prayers we pray today.
It is a good idea to keep this one thing in perspective: when the prayers were increased for the Muslims, they were happy to pray them. The reason for this is because when they were in Makkah and faced harsh oppression, they had to pray in secret. Once they fled to Madinah they were able to pray in the open, without fear of harm. So while five prayers can be burdensome and time-consuming, we are blessed to be able to pray them without serious persecution.
This being said, as a new Muslim you are not expected to jump in all at once. Start with two prayers, and build up as time goes on, as you would with learning the prayers in Arabic.
What if I can’t Go on Hajj?
If a person is ill or otherwise unable to perform Hajj, due to finances, etc. then she or he is not required to do so. Do you remember the names of Allah that we discussed above? Al-Rahman and al-Raheem? Though getting a precise translation is near impossible, you will notice that one consistent concept is that of Mercy. There is no doubt that Allah is the Most Merciful. God Willing, He will not punish someone who was unable to go on Hajj. That would not be just, and he is also the Most Just.
In fact, it is good to remember this about God throughout your journey to Islam. God is Merciful and He is Just. He knows everything, including what is in your heart. Try not to get too bogged down in the details of whether He will punish you for this or that. Take the process slowly. He knows you are trying your best. If you truly cannot learn the Arabic for the prayers, He knows that you tried. If you want to go on Hajj but you simply cannot, He knows that you wanted to.
You can learn the nuts and bolts of Islam as you go along. Just make sure you carry His Mercy with you in your heart.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
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