Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Non-Arabic speakers in UAE want to understand Friday sermon

New app to translate preachings into several languages will take imams’ messages
to a wider audience

Muslims who do not speak Arabic have expressed a keenness for there to be more sermons held in other languages. Victor Besa / The National 
Muslims who do not speak Arabic have expressed a keenness for there to be more sermons held in other languages. Victor Besa / The National 

Non-Arabic speakers are struggling to understand the meaning of the Friday sermon, despite having a keen interest in attending prayers and spiritual lessons every week.

A survey of non-Arabic speaking worshippers at 15 mosques in Abu Dhabi showed that 73 per cent said they did not grasp the meaning of the sermon, because they do not understand what is being said.

The study, by the Statistics Centre – Abu Dhabi in collaboration with the Department of Community Development and the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, or Awqaf, was conducted to find ways to enhance worshippers’ experience.

The Friday sermon is intended to provide religious information, guidance and social messages to people.

Respondents said they enjoyed the sense of belonging and the “spectacular religious atmosphere” Friday prayers brought, and its ability to form “cohesion in society”.

They also expressed a desire to better understand the sermon and its meaning, and to add to their religious knowledge.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they would like to see the sermon translated into Urdu. While several mosques preach the sermon in English or Urdu, worshippers usually go to the nearest mosque for Friday prayers.

With these results in mind, a smartphone app will be launched in coming weeks to deliver the Friday sermon in several languages.


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The service will be launched by Awqaf and the Department of Community Development, in co-operation with local telecommunication companies Etisalat and du.

Okedi Virgin Godfrey from Uganda has been attending Friday prayers in Abu Dhabi since 2009. He said he had never been able to understand what the preacher was talking about.

“Even when I ask other Asian worshippers, Pakistani and Indian, what the topic of the speech was they laugh and say, ‘We have no idea’,” said Mr Godfrey, 45.

He said he had never heard of a mosque where the sermon is delivered in English.

“I never bothered to ask because I was told that this is an Arab country, so obviously the sermon will be in Arabic,” Mr Godfrey said.

“But all across Africa, imams start the sermon in Arabic and then go on to translate and explain it in the local language so that people can understand.

“Some people might even understand Arabic but cannot understand what is being said in the Quran.”

Despite not understanding the sermon, the urban planning supervisor has been attending prayers every week since he became a Muslim in 2007.

“If we can sit some place with an imam who can translate the sermon to English, then we will be able to understand,” Mr Godfrey said.

Shakira Atuhairwe, 27, a financial adviser also from Uganda, said she did not understand much of the sermon but attended every week for spiritual reasons.

“People do not really understand,” Ms Atuhairwe said. “They use Arabic and as non-Arabic speakers, we cannot pick anything up from that.

“I can make out a few words from the sermon but many people don’t understand anything, and so it does not give them the impetus to keep going to prayers. It involves sitting for 30 minutes and listening to words you don’t understand.”

She has been living in Abu Dhabi for three years and said she had not found a mosque that preached in English.

Ms Atuhairwe said that some mosques should advertise that they preached in English.

“I tell you, people would go there,” she said. “They will make the effort as long as they know they will be listening in English.”

Updated: August 15, 2018 08:41 PM