Is it permissible to perform ṣalāt in one’s native language?
The sharia mandates that a capable Muslim (mukallaf) must pray five daily obligatory prayers.1 Within the daily prayers a Muslim is required to perform Arabic recitations (qirāʾa). According to many renowned Shia jurists the obligatory components of daily prayers – such as the recitation whilst standing (qiyām), bowing (rukū), and prostrating (sujūd) – must only be performed in Arabic. Whilst a person has a choice to recite the non-obligatory or recommended components of daily prayers in Arabic or their native language.2
However, since the spread of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula, many non-Arabs have converted and continue to convert to Islam. As such, it can be said that the permissibility of performing daily prayers (ṣalāt) in one’s native language is of utmost importance to those who do not speak or understand the Arabic language, especially new followers of the religion. Many people feel they lack concentration and intimate engagement with God in their daily prayers as they do not relate with what they recite. The question that arises is whether there is scope within the Sharia to accommodate praying in one’s native language.
The obligatory components of daily prayers must be recited in Arabic. In reference to non-obligatory components, one has the option to perform them in their native language after completing the necessary requirements of Arabic recitations (qirāʾa). If a person cannot memorise the required Arabic recitations then they can take aid of the Quran or transliteration whilst they are in prayer. If, however, they cannot read at all then they can attempt to perform to the best of their ability.
1. Allah says in the Quran: “‘It is truly I. I am Allah! There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Me. So worship Me ˹alone˺, and establish prayer for My remembrance.”3 This verse stipulates the obligatory nature of performing daily prayers. The prayer for Muslims is always and has always been recited in Arabic – from the time of the Prophet till today. Reciting the prayers in Arabic promotes a communal uniform identity for every Muslim and this has always been the common unifying factor. Therefore, in communal congregational prayers, uniformity must be upheld, and the recitation of Arabic is necessary (wājib).
According to the Quran, the overall purpose of prayer is to attain a deep connection with God and keeps one away from immorality (faḥshāʾ) and evil deeds (munkar) “Indeed, ˹genuine˺ prayer should deter ˹one˺ from indecency and wickedness.”4 As such, one must ensure that they understand what they are saying whilst praying. This allows one to understand the full extent of becoming God-centric and deep meaningful engagement with their Lord. Accordingly, a Muslim must endeavour to learn Arabic to grasp an understanding of what they are reciting in their prayers. As the prayer is always recited in Arabic in all parts of the world, and the function of any prayer is to allow a person to attain closeness to God, the prayer should thus be meaningful to the individual praying, and as such, is another reason why Arabic must be both learned and understood.
The Quran also mentions certain components of the daily prayers such as bowing and prostrating “O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good - that you may succeed.”5 The Sunna expands upon and clarifies the method of how these acts must be performed.
2. According to the Sunna and the consensus of Muslims the obligatory components of daily prayers include the following:
- Takbīrat al-iḥrām – saying “Allāh-hu-Akbar” after making the intention of praying.
- Recitation of the first chapter of the Quran, al-Fātiḥa whilst standing (qiyām).
- Rukū (bowing)
- Sujūd (prostrating)
- Tashhahud (testimony of God’s unity and Prophet Muḥammad being His messenger)
- Salām (giving salutations)
3. The obligation of reciting the first chapter of the Quran in Arabic whilst standing can be deduced from the following narration from the 8th Imam:
People are instructed to recite the Quran in prayers so that the Quran does not become abandoned or forgotten. Moreover, this allows the Quran to remain preserved, sustained and not disregarded and ignored. The prayer is commenced with al-Fātiḥa and not another sūra (chapter) because none of the other chapters in the Quran has collected all the comprehensive goodness and wisdom, in a single sūra like al-Fātiḥa.6
Since this narration explicitly stipulates the obligation of reciting al-Fātiḥa from the Quran, it implies that al-Fātiḥa must be recited in Arabic. This is because the Quran was revealed in the Arabic language and for one to be sure (insofar as there remains no doubt) that the stipulation of reciting al-Fātiḥa is fulfilled and accurately discharged, it must be recited in Arabic. Reciting al-Fātiḥa in any other language leaves room for doubt regarding whether one’s religious obligation has been accurately discharged.
Moreover, another reason why al-Fātiḥa should be recited in Arabic is that Arabic is a multi-layered language which encapsulates the deeper spiritual meaning of the prayer. Therefore, there can be many spiritual benefits in reciting in Arabic and translating al-Fātiḥa into another language restricts the deeper meanings of the prayer which the Arabic language offers.
Furthermore, since all Muslims accept that Prophet Muḥammad achieved the highest status of spirituality and had impeccable communication with God, accurately emulating his method of prayer can be beneficial as it can also allow one to attain a higher level of spirituality. As such, since the Prophet’s prayer was in Arabic, it goes without saying that for one to attain the complete spiritual benefits of praying ṣalāt, they must pray in Arabic.
4. Additionally, Shiite jurists across generations have upheld a consensus (ijmāʿ) that al-Fātiḥa must be recited in the Arabic language.
5. Similar to al-Fātiḥa, the consensus of Shiite jurists together with certain narrations indicate that other necessary components of the prayer (such as, proclaiming “Allāh-hu-Akbar,”7 bowing,8 prostrating,9 witnessing,10 and sending salutations11) must be recited in Arabic for the above-mentioned reasons.
6. If one cannot or struggles to recite the necessary components of the prayer in Arabic, they can use aid. For instance, they can recite from the Quran open in front of them or use a transliteration whilst praying. This is supported by the fact that many Shiite jurists allow newly converted Muslims to use aid whilst praying.12
7. If one is unable to read the Quran or transliteration they should recite as much as they can in Arabic (for instance, they can recite alḥamdulillah or lā ilāha ill-Allāh or whatever adhkār they are able to recite in Arabic). This is based on a narrated principle from the 1st Imam known as qāʿidat al-maysūr. According to which “a person is not excused to abandon the feasible component (of a legal obligation) because of the inaccessibility of its other components.”13 The Imam is stating here that if a person cannot perform certain parts of a wājib act, this does not mean you abandon the whole act. Therefore, if a person cannot recite the whole prayer in Arabic they should recite as much as they can.
8. Apart from the obligatory components, ṣalāt also consists of some recommended (mustaḥab) components such as qunūt. The recommended components can be recited in one’s native language as there is no stipulated requirement for them to be performed in Arabic. Likewise, ICCI opines that any mustaḥab prayer (such as the supererogatory night prayers (ṣalāt al-layl) or the recommended prayers that are prescribed within ʿamāl) can be performed in one’s native language.
 A mukallaf is a (capable) Muslim who has fulfilled the conditions upon which Islamic acts such as praying, fasting, hajj and paying alms become obligatory.
 Sayyid Fadhlullāh, Islamic Rulings: A Guide of Islamic Practise, (Beirut: Dar al-Malak, 2011), 145-9; Ḥusayn Waḥīd Khurāsānī, Islamic Rulings (Qum: Intishārāt-e Madrasa-ye Bāqir al-ʿulūm, 1388 Sh/2010), 180-81; Sayyid ʿAlī al-Ḥusaynī Sistānī, Islamic Laws, (Stanmore, London: The World Federation, 1994), 190-6.
 Quran 20:14.
 Quran 29:45.
 Quran 22:77.
 Al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmulī, Wasā il al-Shīʿa, v. 6, pp. 38.
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 6, pp. 9-12.
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 6, pp. 299-302, 310-12.
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 6, pp. 299-302, 310-12.
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 6, pp. 396-98.
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 6, pp. 415-22.
 This is not restricted to only new converts but to Muslims as a whole.
 Ibn Abī Jamhūr al-Aḥsāʾī, ʿAwālīal-lʾālī, v. 4, pp. 57.