Being a non-Arab, I used to have no idea what was being said when I would stand behind the Imam for a lengthy tarawih.
But then I began reading a translation of the Quran. Every single day, for a number of years, I would sit and read five pages of the Qur’an in the English translation. I would do this while both reciting and listening to the Arabic recitation, allowing my ears to become accustomed to the Arabic words associated with the English.
After a few months of this, the first Ramadan came and I was recognizing key words.
By the second Ramadan, I was able to grasp the overarching messages of some of the verses. I also began memorizing the Qur’an and my vocabulary expanded.
Six years after I began this I moved to Egypt to learn Arabic. Learning Arabic allowed me to appreciate the linguistic miracles of the Qur’an and understand it more intimately. Alhamdulilah my now fluency in Arabic has of course affected my Quranic understanding.
But it was reading and studying the translation over years that helped me approach the Qur’an without even knowing Arabic.
Here are only 4 action items that inshaAllah that can help you have a noticeably sweeter experience in your salah beginning in this Ramadan:
1- Choose a small portion (ie 2 pages) to read in translation every day while reading/listening to the Arabic.
2- For Ramadan especially, read the translation of the surahs that will be covered in that night’s prayer so you know the general messages of the verses and your mind can focus on those general lessons
3- Listen to the Qur’an and its translation constantly; while stuck in frustrating traffic, while cooking, while walking from one end of campus to another. The more you listen to the Arabic recitation and translation, the more familiar you’ll become with understanding the Qur’an.
4- If you struggle with following the Quran, start with chapters that focus on stories, such as chapters 12 (Joseph), 19 (Mary), 20 (Taha- much about Moses) and 28 (The Stories- more about Moses). There are many more stories in the Quran but that’s for starters.
Many of you are waiting to study Arabic to truly experience a relationship with the Quran. Studying Arabic can create a more cumulative appreciation of the mind-blowing power of the Qur’an, but none of us needs to grasp onto a future hope of being fluent in Arabic in order to emotionally and intellectually become attached to the Qur’an right now.
Don’t wait for a maybe future dream to come through before you start. Enjoy the beginning of a lifetime with His Book inshAllah today!
Ustadha Maryam Amir