Among the signs of Allah’s wisdom is that He created people as different nations and tribes with different colours and tongues. This is undoubtedly one of Allah’s signs. Since language is a human means of communication, achieving the universality of Islam enjoins Muslims collectively to have good command of all the languages in the world. In other words, the Muslim nation is enjoined to spread and propagate Islam all over the world, which task cannot be achieved without learning the languages of those whom we invite to Islam. Thus learning languages becomes a collective duty of the Muslim nation.
The eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states: “Among the collective duties enjoined on the Muslim nation as a whole is learning the languages of others when necessary, especially if such people enjoy what Muslims lack, be it science or knowledge, for it is impossible to benefit from people if you ignore their language. In addition, Islam never forbids learning others’ languages. Rather, Islam has always urged Muslims to learn others’ languages, as they are the means of communication among people and the means of spreading the word of Islam all over the world. In this case it is a collective duty.
Though Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was an Arab and the Book revealed to him was in Arabic to guide his own people with it, the message of Islam is universal, and Muhammad was sent to guide all humankind to the right path: “that he may be a warner to the peoples” (Al-Furqan: 1). Almighty Allah says: “We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples” (Al-Anbiya’: 107) and “Say (O Muhammad): O mankind! Lo! I am the Messenger of Allah to you all” (Al-A`raf: 158).
Therefore, there must have been a means of communication between the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the peoples of other tongues to enable him to convey the message of Islam to them. To illustrate, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had Companions who knew languages such as those of Persian, Rome, and Ethiopia; it was sufficient for him that they could translate from and into these languages. Yet, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not have a Companion who knew the Syriac language that was used by the Jews in writing. Therefore, he ordered the genius Zayd ibn Thabit Al-Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him), who was a scribe of the Revelation, to learn how to read and write Syriac so that he (that is, the Prophet) could dispense with the Jews who used to write his letters in Syriac and whom he did not trust. Zayd is reported to have said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered me to learn the Syriac language that the Jews used in writing and said, ‘For, by Allah, I do not trust them with my letters.’ Before the passage of half a month, I learned that language and had so impressive a command of it that I used to write the Prophet’s letters to them (in Syriac) and read him their letters” (Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi). Perhaps Zayd had a little knowledge of that language beforehand (due to the presence of the Jews in the neighbourhood) so that he could learn and excel in it so quickly.
Furthermore, a lot of Muslims during the rise of the Islamic civilization were keen on learning other languages and translating to and from them. An Arab poet says in this regard:
The more languages you know the more useful you are.
Languages help in relieving misfortune.
Be keen on learning other languages.
Each language you know is a human being.