I speak Arabic therefore I understand the Quran

One of the most deceptive arguments native Arab speakers make when debating the Quran is the following: “I speak Arabic therefore I understand the Quran.”

This claim on its surface is erroneous on two levels. Firstly, God tells us in the Quran that the Quran is only accessible to those who are sincere. 

[56:79] None can grasp it except the sincere.

Ironically, most Arab speakers even misunderstand this verse to believe that the word “الْمُطَهَّرُونَ” in this context means to be physically clean. So many believe that they must have ablution before they touch a Quran, and that a menstruating women should not touch a Quran. The word الْمُطَهَّرُونَ comes from the root طهر (Ta-ha-ra) this root can mean to be physically clean but also to be in reference to spiritual cleanliness as in pure, righteous, or free from impurity. Notice that the verse is not a commandment, but rather a statement of fact. 

So therefore, regardless if someone is a scholar of Arabic, if they are not sincere they will not be able to access the Quran. 

[17:45] When you read the Quran, we place between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter an invisible barrier. [17:46] We place shields around their minds, to prevent them from understanding it, and deafness in their ears. And when you preach your Lord, using the Quran alone, they run away in aversion.

[41:44] If we made it a non-Arabic Quran they would have said, “Why did it come down in that language?” Whether it is Arabic or non-Arabic, say, “For those who believe, it is a guide and healing. As for those who disbelieve, they will be deaf and blind to it, as if they are being addressed from faraway.”

The second reason that the argument for a modern native Arab speaker to claim they understand the Quran because they know Arabic is deceptive is because the Quran is written in its own form of Arabic that is completely unique from the Arabic that is spoken today. It has its own grammar, syntax, and vocabulary that is vastly different than what is spoken by Arabs today. Even when we attempt to apply Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) to Quran we see numerous examples where the Quran follows its own standard let alone vocabulary that is not used in common day speech among native Arab speakers. This is because the MSA grammar was produced hundreds of years after the revelation of the Quran. This is a big reason to why the Quran has been so heavily misunderstood by millions for the last 1400 years despite being written in Arabic. 

The Quran was revealed 1400 years ago in perfect Arabic, but language is fluid but the Quran is not. Over 1400 years languages morph and change. Words are lost or transition to completely new meaning. Just because someone can read the letters and words does not mean that they understand the meaning of what’s being said. For example, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet over 400 years ago and most English speaking people today will not understand Shakespeare despite being able to read the words. Many of the words and phrases meant fundamentally different things at the time of Shakespeare, and if someone attempts to apply a modern filter to this classic work they will leave thinking they understand the material, but be completely mistaken. 

Now the Quran was written not 400 years ago, but 1400 years ago. In order to understand this text, one would have to know how the language was used back then and what the words meant at the time of the revelation. Obviously, this will not be accessible to the average Arab speaker today unless they have devoted to learning such material. To put this in perspective if we look at English from 1400 years ago the language would be almost unrecognizable to any modern-day speaker. The comparison would be like an English speaker attempting to understand Spanish or German. Yes, you will be able to read all the words and might be able to piece together the meaning, but unless you study the language you will have a false sense of understanding of the text. 

So the next time you hear someone make the claim that: they know Arabic and therefore they understand the Quran, know that they are most likely either being deceitful or ignorant.

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