"Aliya, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, what is it?"
I've just met Nelly (not her real name), a Chinese Christian lady a few weeks ago. She knows that I'm a Chinese Muslim and I had a feeling her question had something to do with my new faith. I know that she has seen me going for prayers before and after my classes.
"When you pray, do you have to use Arabic?"
Hmmm, how should I answer her?
"Well, in a way, yes. I do use Arabic during prayer when I recite the surah or one of the chapters from the Koran."
"Isn't it difficult for you to learn Arabic?"
"It's not that difficult. I don't have to learn every Arabic word in the dictionary in order to pray. We Muslims just have to recite seven short verses in the surah al-Fatihah for our daily prayer, and I managed to learn it by heart within weeks. I memorise the verses."
"Who taught you to pray? Isn't it difficult, I mean having to remember all the verses and things you have to do?"
"Not really. Islam is really simple. I learn through observations, books, videos and attending courses. I also learn from my ustazahs, roommates and my husband. Even before I learn to recite the prayer in Arabic, I could still join others in prayer in order to learn. It's up to God whether to accept my prayer or not."
"Oh, I see. You mean you recite one chapter of the Koran each time you pray in Arabic?"
"Yes, it's called al-Fatihah. Without it the prayer is not complete. Of course there are altogether 114 chapters or surah in the Koran. As Muslims, we are encouraged to read and understand the whole Koran. We gain a lot of benefits by doing so."
"Do you understand everything in the Koran? I mean it's written in Arabic. Can you read the Koran? Even I admit, I read the Bible yet there are parts that I still don't understand although it's written in English."
"Well, there are translations of the Koran in many languages, including English and Malay. So I read the translations in order to understand the Koran. Of course I also attended classes and after my marriage, my husband also teaches me to read and understand the Koran."
"Oh, you mean there are translations of the Koran in English?"
"Yes, of course."
"But how do you pray? Can you pray in your own language?"
" Well, firstly we pray or perform the solat as instructed by God and as shown by prophet Muhammad, reciting in Arabic. Then after the solat, we can continue by praying or doa in our own language."
"Oh, I see. So you can still pray in your own language?"
"That's right. It's called the doa. It can be done anytime and anywhere, even before and after the solat."
"Ahh, now I understand. Thanks."
I know why Nelly is confused. Like most non-Muslims in Malaysia, she has the concept that all Muslims have to pray in Arabic and that the Koran has to be read in Arabic. However, she also thought that all Muslims have to pray or speak to God in Arabic too, as if Arabic is the only language that connects Muslims to Allah swt. Perhaps the Muslim Malays give her the impression because she has never heard the doa being recited in English ( I myself have heard a doa recited in English only once during a state level English language teachers' conference).
Alhamdulillah, praise to Allah swt for giving me the opportunity to explain the real concept of a Muslim prayer (at least to clear some doubts) to Nelly. Perhaps my presence as a Muslim revert helps to encourage her to ask me the questions which have been in her mind for some time.