At a recent Friday prayer I heard a khateeb make these two points in the Urdu bayan (sermon) before the khutba…
- There is no deen [Islam] in English, only Arabic and Urdu
- We don’t know who writes the books in English
Any UK imam who thinks that parents must teach their kids Punjabi or Urdu in order for them to learn the religion has totally misunderstood the time and place in which he lives. It must asked of such imams, why is it that they can’t converse in English and make themselves understood to the younger generation after living in this country for so many years? Why place the burden of learning a foreign language on the kids and the parents of the community rather than the Imam himself learning the language of the land so that he may make himself understood? Isn’t it easier for such imams to learn English in order to serve the ENTIRE community of diverse people from all countries who all speak and understand English? I really think that imams who cannot make themselves understood in English in Britain are useless and not fit for purpose. It’s a dereliction of duty when an imam lives here and fails to learn English.
On the first point, I totally agree that children of Pakistani (or any other origin) should have an appreciation and understanding of the language of their heritage. I love the fact that I can converse in Urdu, Punjabi and Pahari (Kashmiri dialect), my life is enriched because of this.I’ve ensured that my own children also have some level of articulation and appreciation of these languages. My command of these languages is so good that people think I am a native speaker. That being said, I do not agree that British Muslim children in 21st century Britain should be learning any of these languages just so they can understand an Imam who hasn’t been bothered to learn the language of the land in which he has been residing and working for years.
If we are talking about languages, then Arabic is top of the list, with Persian a close second, and I reckon classical Turkish is third on the list, before you even get to Urdu. Now, my understanding of Urdu is pretty good, but even I struggle to sit through a speech in Urdu, my attention span flounders after about 15 minutes. I don’t have the specialised vocabulary to make sense of some of the terms used, and sometimes the turn of phrase often confuses and frustrates me. I can get the gist of what is being said, but not enough to have benefited properly. The level of language required to properly understand Urdu religious texts and sermons is way beyond what can be taught to a child in Britain and it is utterly foolish and unreasonable to expect this.
On the second point, WE DO know who writes the books and which books are of benefit and which are not. We’ve had reliable books in English now for well over 25 years and this number is increasing. We have a host of English speaking international scholars and translators bringing us very high quality and relevant texts that can be used for the purposes of study. To even suggest that there is a deficiency in the availability and reliability of such material in the English language shows the utter ignorance of the one making such an assertion. You may not know, since you haven’t bothered to learn English, but WE DO KNOW.
I do hope that such attitudes are not commonplace in 21st century Britain, but my guess is that there are other similar imams and khateebs in Britain who would do well to learn the language of this country, the language of the congregation and the language of the younger generation of Muslims. No wonder many young people are being driven away from their mosques and away from their religion.
The time is up for non-English speaking imported imams.