Monday, 27 March, 2023

Mother tongue, Bengali language, and Islam

Dr Muhammad Obaidullah

Language is one of the greatest blessings of Allah (SWT) upon us. Allah (SWT) has created many languages for the communication of any creation. Unlikely, the communicative language of any other creatures which needs to be discovered in detail, men’s communication through the ages have been portraited differently in various ways. Therefore, approximately 7,000 languages still exist in the present world. Moreover, diversity of language effects on the social and cultural life of men that creates another beauty of us.
The concept of mother tongue that the language learnt first by a child in his childhood and used in daily communication. It holds great position in Islam. Islam recognises positively the value of language as a tool for communication, understanding, and the preservation of culture and heritage as well.
The Qur’an and Mother Tongue
The Qur’an, the main source of Islamic Knowledge, states the importance of language in communication and its understanding. In Surah Al-Qamar, the Qur’an states, “And We have certainly made the Quran easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember?” (Surah al-Qamar, 54:17). This ayat highlights the significance of understanding and memorizing the Qur’an, and the role of language in achieving this. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also emphasises the value of language and the mother tongue as well. He encourages Muslims to learn Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, but also recognizes the importance of preserving the local languages and cultures of the people. The Prophet is quoted as saying, “Love your country, love your mother tongue, and love your fellow Muslims.” (Ibn Abi Shaybah)
The Role of Mother Tongue in Education
Education becomes easy for any learner once it is in his mother longue. It is very scientific and logical that any discussion in mother tongue can be understood easily as compared to any other languages. Likewise, Islamic education recognizes the importance of mother tongue in the process of learning and teaching as well. Children are encouraged to learn Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, but they are also taught in their mother tongue to ensure proper understanding and comprehension. Islamic schools around the world offer classes in different languages, depending on the location and the needs of the students. As an example, if any nonnative Arabic speaking believer wants to learn the teachings of the Qur’an as it is in Arabic language would be difficult in Arabic or any other languages but in his mother tongue. Therefore, the Islamic concept of ta’leem (teaching/training), or the process of education, recognizes the importance of using language effectively. Teachers are encouraged to use language that is easy to understand, to ensure students comprehend the message being conveyed. The use of mother tongue in education is a way of ensuring that students understand the material being taught and are able to apply it in their daily lives.
The Role of Mother Tongue in Communication
The use of mother tongue in communication is essential in ensuring effective communication between individuals and communities. The ability to speak and understand the local language is crucial in building relationships and fostering understanding between people of different regions, societies, cultures, and backgrounds.
Likewise, Bangladesh, in many parts of the Muslim world, the local language is used in daily communication, alongside Arabic. This reflects the recognition of the importance of local languages in building strong communities and preserving cultural diversity. The use of mother tongue in communication is also seen as a way of promoting inclusivity and breaking down barriers between people of different backgrounds.
The Role of Mother Tongue in Cultural Preservation
Mother tongue is also essential in preserving culture and heritage. The language used in daily communication plays a significant role in shaping cultural practices, traditions, and beliefs. In Islam, the local language and customs of the people are valued, and the preservation of these practices is seen as important in maintaining cultural diversity.
The Islamic tradition of storytelling, for example, emphasizes the use of the local language in conveying tales and legends. These stories often reflect the culture and traditions of the people, and their preservation in the local language is seen as a way of maintaining the heritage of the community. Therefore, the use of mother tongue in cultural preservation ensures that the stories, customs, and traditions of the community are passed down from one generation to the next, preserving the cultural identity of the people.
The Importance of Multilingualism in Islam
Islam recognizes the importance of multilingualism in promoting understanding and communication between people of different languages and cultures. The Qur’an states, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Verily, in that are signs for those who know.” (Surah al-Rum, 30:22). Ibn Kathir explains this ayat as: “… So, we see that some speak Arabic, and the Tatars have their own language, as do the Georgians, Romans, Franks, Berbers, Tou Couleurs (of Sudan), Ethiopians, Indians, Persians, Slavs, Khazars, Armenians, Kurds and others. Only Allah knows the variety of languages spoken among the sons of Adam. … Verily, in that are indeed sings for men of sound knowledge.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir) As the German philosopher Goethe stated, “The person who knows only one language does not truly know that language.”
Muslims are positively encouraged to learn multiple languages in order to better understand and appreciate the diversity of the world around them. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself was known to be fluent in multiple languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
The Qur’an also recognizes the diversity of languages and cultures in the world, stating, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Surah al-Hujurat, 49:13). This ayat emphasizes the importance of recognizing and respecting the diversity of languages and cultures in the world. Muslims are encouraged to learn about and appreciate the customs and traditions of other cultures, as a way of promoting mutual understanding and respect.
Islam and Bengali Language
It is noteworthy to state that our mother tongue is Bengali which is, according to the population, 6th most spoken native language in this modern world with approximately 300 million total speakers worldwide. Among them, 261 million people are considered as Bengali native speakers. We have a historical background of this language. With reference to that history (Mother Language Movement), we started to celebrate our national mother language day on 21 February 1952. Later on, as an initiative of Bangladesh, it has been observing the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) worldwide through the UNESCO from 21 February1999. Yes, of course, a language does not only connect between two but also promotes many things including peace, harmony, development, sustainability and so on. So, in the view of Islam, we all are responsible to preserve and develop our mother tongue and love and respect it as it is one of the most significant signs of Allah (SWT). We should be proud of it. We should also recognize the scarifies of the martyrs of our mother tongue.
It, however, is really disheartening to observe that our young generation is going far from their native language day by day. Mixing other language in speaking is one of the most vital challenges of our beloved language. Yes, we can learn other languages but should not neglect our own one. None has the right to destroy the beauty of our mother tongue. The concerned people should consider the issue seriously and handle it carefully. May our mother tongue live long!
In conclusion, the concept of mother tongue is an important aspect of Islam. Islam recognizes the importance of preserving the local languages and cultures of the people. The use of mother tongue in education, communication, and cultural preservation ensures that the local languages and customs of the people are valued and preserved. Multilingualism is also valued in Islam, as a way of promoting understanding and communication between people of different languages and cultures.

The writer is a researcher on Islamic views on contemporary issues