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Can I Offer Prayer in English?

05 December, 2018
Q Dear scholars, as-salamu `alaykum. I recently spent some time with a Muslim family in which the husband was a convert to Islam. I was surprised to find that he hasn’t missed a single Prayer in 5 years, ma sha’ Allah. However, he told me that he doesn’t do the prayers in Arabic, instead, completely in English. Is this allowed? Jazakum Allah khayran.


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

In this fatwa:

Salah (prayer) must be performed as specifically taught and demonstrated by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It must be done in Arabic. Duaa and dhikr, however, can be said in any language.

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Responding to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

Prayer is the cornerstone of Islam. Prayer stands as the second pillar of Islam after testifying that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His final Messenger.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no true god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing Prayer, paying the Zakah, making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj), and fasting the month of Ramadan.”(Reported by Al-Bukhari)

Prayer (the word as commonly understood by the English speaking people) is of two kinds in Islam; one is the formal daily act of worship called salah, and the other is the more informal act of remembrance of Allah through supplications, entreaties, meditations, etc. The second is variously called dhikr and duaa.

Whereas the formal act of worship (i.e., salah, including the obligatory, recommended and the optional) must be said in Arabic, which is the language of the Qur’an, the informal prayers can be said in any language of one’s choice.

The formal worship (Salah) is governed by strict rules; the informal prayer (duaa and dhikr, etc.) is, however, fairly flexible.

As regards salah, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) repeatedly told the faithful: “Perform salah as you have seen me performing.” In conformity with this dictum, whenever people embraced Islam he insisted that they stay with him in order to learn the rules of salah.

Thanks to his great example, which was diligently followed by his companions who carefully passed on the rules of salah to the posterity, there is extraordinary uniformity in the manner of performing salah among Muslims throughout the world.

Salah must be performed as specifically taught and demonstrated by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It must be done in ArabicDuaa and dhikr, however, can be said in any language.

It is, therefore, imperative on every new Muslim to learn the rules of salah; it is the priority of priorities for him/her to do so. It must also be equally stressed that every Muslim who facilitates the conversion of anyone to Islam has an obligation to acquaint him/her with the basic rules of salah.

It is understandable that it is rather difficult for those who do not speak Arabic to say all of the salah in Arabic. But since Islam is flexible, the new Muslim can go about learning it in a gradual way.

S/He can first start saying some tasbihs (formulas of glorification of Allah) such as the words of subhana Allah, al-hamdu lillah, la ilaha illla Allaha, etc.), followed by memorizing surat Al-Fatihah, and later on the last short surahs of the Qur’an (surahs 112, 113, 114).

All of this, in sha’ Allah (Allah willing), should be fairly easy for him/her with Allah’s help and with a bit of help from fellow Muslims.

Now that a number of years have elapsed over the said brother’s conversion, it is important for you and other fellow Muslims to inform him about the urgency of learning to say his salah in Arabic.

The best gift one can give him for this purpose is the book entitled Islam in Focus by Hammudah Abdul Ati.

Almighty Allah knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.