This a long article, covering many points. Read with time, attention and care for maximum benefit—inshaAllah!
The Nature of Blessings & Our Servanthood
Before we enter our topic, we must address some hidden assumptions or misconceptions and approach with the right mindset:
Allah Almighty proclaimed: “He is not asked about what He does, but they shall be asked."1 From His complete wisdom, Allah favors some people more than others with blessings specially for them. For example, Allah Almighty selected Arabs to be close to our Beloved Prophet - peace and blessings upon him. They are close to him in lineage, land, and most of all2 in language and so understanding His noble book.
But a blessing Allah has given to certain people demonstrates his Mercy. It says nothing about the quality of those people above others! This is the lesson of the Prophet - peace and blessings upon him, when he said: no person of any ethnicity or color has superiority over others. Except by their own piety and cautious awareness of Allah Almighty.3
Thus Allah Almighty favors and tests different people in different ways. But all are equal in judgment, rising and falling by their efforts (which are of course all by Allah Almighty). Just because someone was blessed more than others means nothing in and of itself.
Allah Almighty might be setting them up for punishment, because they fail to be grateful for the blessing and to use it for good. So the blessed one is whoever did not receive this blessing! On the other hand, if someone fulfills the responsibilities that come with that blessing, and uses it for good, he increases in good beyond others. This is Allah’s favor He gives to whom He wills.
We must submit and do our best to fulfill what we are commanded in whatever situation we are placed in. As the Almighty declared: “Allah is the Self-Sufficient, while you are the needy."[^ayah-needy]
With this in mind, we dive into our topic for today:
The Blessings of the Non-Arab
There are many, but they are usually missed and rarely remembered. This is not acceptable—the first step to being grateful is to realize the blessing! Thus in the spirit of mutual advice and shared reminders, we list the below:
- The non-Arab studies Arabic for Allah Almighty, from the very beginning. If not for Islam, most Muslims on Earth would have no reason to go near Arabic. Thus when they do study it, it’s only for Allah Almighty and Islam! For some people, worldly intentions can slip in (such as peer pressure or showing off) it’s usually more sincere from the beginning.
This is because most people learn their own language at a young age before it can be counted as worship. Then when they continue in school, they learn it because they need the language to live. Later in life they get the chance to intend it for Allah, while the non-Arab does so from the start of his study.
- Overcoming difficulties for Allah is full of growth, reward and blessing. Allah Almighty makes the road to Arabic easy by His mercy. But He also tests the sincerity, resolve and effort of His servants. The non-Arab has to give lots of effort to understand Allah’s book and His prophet’s words - peace and blessings upon him. All the good deeds that come from this hard work are possible for the non-Arab who has to struggle a lot. On the other hand, Arabs who had it easier have fewer chances for this reward. The noble prophet - peace and blessings upon him - made this comparison:
“The example of one who recites the Quran and memorizes it is that of one with the ‘righteous and noble scribes’ (80:15). The example of one who recites the Quran and is committed to it, although it is difficult for him, is that of one with a double reward.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
Learning to trust in Allah and not one’s self on the way to major goals. Learning a new language is a great challenge, especially one so different from the most widespread languages. When the non-Arab learning Arabic experiences the divine help from Allah making things easy, he experiences the belief all Muslims hold: we are powerless without Allah, but with Him we are capable of everything. The Arab will need to experience this lesson somewhere else.
A deeper understanding and appreciation of Arabic and its specialties, even from an early stage. The non-Arab who already knows another language at a high level, will appreciate Arabic and the Quran in a special way. This is because different languages have different features and styles. A non-native can quickly notice and benefit from these. Of course an Arab will value Arabic, but will likely miss out some things that come quickly for the foreigner.
A great chance to practice and focus on eloquent, classical Arabic. Throughout most of the Arab world, it’s dialects that are used constantly. Older Arabic as found in the Quran is not used very much in normal life. Of course it’s all Arabic—but there are big differences. Arabic dialects have always existed and been used widely—but people were also skilled in Quranic/standardized Arabic as well. But many Arabs today know foreign languages better than their own standardized language^[less-standard].
It’s clusters of non-Arabs and dedicated students who can easily practice this classical Arabic. This is the language of the Quran, Hadith and the scholars of Islam. This is what is available in every Muslim, non-Arab country.
Gratefulness and not taking it for granted. It’s non-Arabs whose eyes are often the fastest to tears when a single word of the Quran is explained. Every drop of Arabic they learn is truly valued, and they especially treasure the language as sacred — as all people should! People value what they worked to get, while nearness to something decreases its (perceived) value. It’s harder to value what people see and hear every day on a daily basis — except those Allah blesses.
Special love from Allah and the Beloved Prophet - peace and blessings upon him. The heart of the believer cries out based on love and two hadith, hoping for special love:
O Messenger, Allah pray upon you and greet you! We have not seen you, nor were we born with your language, with which the book of your Lord was sent down. We have heard about you from far away. We met some of your guiding Companions and their followers, the ones who taught us your Path. And we remain upon it, waiting to meet you. In spite of the distance away from you we were placed, we hold tight to your Rope and strive to your nearness—alhamdulillah!
O Greatest of All Creation, Allah pray upon you and greet you! We wish to meet you—rather, a single sighting will suffice us forever. Every day without you is painful. For indeed we are the humiliated beggars, the ones placed far away from you! But by the Compassion of your Lord - which you explained to us - we find hope in knowledge: that here, distance is the same as nearness: “If Allah loves a people, he afflicts them."4 So is there an affliction more great, or a calamity more severe, or a disaster more saddening than distance from you?
O Mercy to the Worlds, Allah pray upon you and greet you! Your love for us has saved us from despair, love that reaches us without any barrier or delay. We find hope in your words that have become our most beloved5 hadith: “I wish I could meet my brothers … those who believe in me and have not seen me."6 And some of us are even poorer! Farther away from your beloved homeland, your honorable people, and your finest language. Will you not love us more because of that? For indeed the love that has been tested, is stronger than the one that came easily!
O Most Beloved, Allah pray upon you and greet you! We pray to your Lord by your standing to make us Arabs—so that we can receive all that you mentioned in their praise, honor and greatness. Even if we did not get that by birth, let it be by the sincerity of our intentions, and the strength of our efforts, and the abundance of our love for you. In learning your language, following your Way, and submitting to your Lord.
There can be many more points — please do share with us any ideas that Allah inspires within you!
With this reflection done, it’s also important to purify ourselves of any wrong ideas that may come with this discussion.
This article aims to encourage non-Arabs to learn Islam and Arabic, take hope and work hard. Sometimes people can feel feelings like sadness, distance, shyness, shame, hopelessness, weakness, left out, and more. But understanding reality paints the opposite picture! Truly Allah has not left non-Arabs distant from Islam, but rather given them different blessings.
But these ideas are not aimed to encourage a worldview of Arab vs. non-Arab or any other kind of differentiation of bad feelings. As we mentioned at the beginning, all creation is equal in utter neediness to Allah. Any specialty given to some creation above others says nothing about the worthiness of that creation. It’s about the generosity of our Creator.
Muslims feel no jealousy, dislike or anythign like it towards other Muslims. The most beloved explained in a hadith: “None of you believes until you love for your brother what you love for yourself."7 So non-Arabs celebrate the blessings their Arab brothers got, and Arabs take rejoice for the blessings non-Arabs got.
There is just great unity. Allah Almighty says in the Quran: “We have sent to you a messenger from among you, he recites upon you our Signs…” (2:151). This is the plural you, addressing all those who are addressed by the Quran: Everyone. Allah declares he - peace and blessings upon him - is from among you, whatever group or tribe you may be from! He is the Mercy to the Worlds.
We must pay attention to what we have and be grateful. We must not be discontent of what we have been given, by looking wrongly at what others have. The Almighty warns against that: “And do not crave what Allah has given some of you over others … Rather, ask Allah for His bounties.” (4:32)
If you’re a Muslim, Arabic is your language. Treasure it! Studying it is not an out of the world, far away dream. Allah has given you unique blessings – will you benefit from them?
- Allah does what He wills. We must submit, and so what we are called to do.
- Non-Arabs have unique blessings as well! They must keep hope, take action and not be shy from working towards what is their right as Muslims: Arabic.
- Differentiating between Arabs and non-Arabs can become a source of negativity. We did so today in terms of language, and with the goal of being greatful, but it’s safer not to even think in terms of this in day to day life.
Surah al-Anbiya, 21:23, translated by Fadel Soliman ↩︎
And this links to a deep topic… who is an Arab? What is their defining trait? Location, skin color, style of dress and food differ between them greatly. But language is a universally shared thing that makes someone an Arab. By learning the language and embracing it, many groups of people throughout history have become Arabs completely. ↩︎
Sunan al-Tirmidhi 2396 ↩︎
The most beloved hadith of the Sahaba was (“A person will be with those whom he loves.” Al-Bukhari and Muslim, via Abu Amina Elias) – and so it should be for all Muslims, following their example. But one can love many hadith so much, and this one (about brothers) is about us specially! ↩︎
Al-Bukhari and Muslim ↩︎