This one's probably best suited to those who can read/speak Arabic.
A lot of Muslims seem to place great emphasis on learning Arabic to read the Qu'ran in its original text. I understand the peculiar about discussing concepts which don't flow well to other languages, but what ideas or passages are at the most risk of being lost in translation?
Or if this helps better, which Qu'ranic verses do you see non-Arabic speakers having the most trouble understanding? Like in the sense of "what does that even mean?"
In the 19th century a modern standard Arabic version of the Quran was developed, and like the King James Bible it's something of a definitive version for casual speakers today.
If you learn Arabic today, you will most likely be learning Modern Standard Arabic, a language formed in the late 19th century as part of a pan-Arab movement to create a universal Arabic language. Unfortunately this does not prepare one for reading pure Quranic Arabic for the same reason learning modern Greek does not readily prepare one for learning Biblical Koine Greek. There are, however, several Medieval books and dictionaries for Classical Arabic, which is an archaic form something like the English in the Canterbury Tales. This makes it easier, but one runs into another problem: Classical Arabic is itself another construct, formed in the 8th and 9th century in Iraq for a multicultural bureaucracy needing a standard language. It's similar to Quranic Arabic, but with one innovation: accent marks.
In Arabic there are many letters that have the same shape—what differentiates them as sounds is either the vowel that they carry, or the dots. But this was not the case in the seventh century when the Quran was first written. They had not yet invented vowels and dots. For example, the three consonants jim
’ and kha
’ (and likewise other pairs or triplets) were written using the same letter. Similarly, you have several other letters that are not consonantly related at all—the ba
’ would have a dot under; the ya
’, two dots under; and the nun
, one dot above—yet all have the same shape when you write them without dots, especially at the beginning and in the middle of a word. If you have a word of four letters, and each one can have two or three ways of reading it, then we have a problem. Sometimes the context tells you the meaning, which makes it easier to guess how to read un-dotted letters. But often it does not.
For example, a major difference between Sunnis and Shi‘is revolves around a vowel and a hook. In one verse of the Qur’an, a word can be read either as umma
, ‘community’, or a’imma
, ‘Imams’, to form ‘blessings on the umma’ for the Sunnis, or ‘blessings on the Imams’ for the Shi‘is—changing the whole dynamic of the chapter, which for Shi‘is validates the institution of the Imamate, whereas for Sunnis it authorizes the community to decide who rules it. So, traditionally, there arose seven or so official ways to read the Quran, each with different interpretations of words and phrases based on context within the book or without in the reader's own theological tradition as above between Sunni and Shi'a interpretation.
Of course today, you will likely find only one reading in schools and most mosques to make it easier for children and converts to learn the Quran. If one wished to properly study the book as a religious scholar, only then would you normally learn the other readings for the purpose of debate and exegesis. This is why even native Arabic speakers have trouble understanding the Quran in its pure form, and why most publications include reading guides and accents, or even commentary based on a certain school's ideals and traditions. The modern emphasis on the purity of Arabic and its importance as a holy script is usually the result of aforementioned pan-Arab and later pan-Islamist movements, but their generalizations come down from earlier traditions regarding Quran exegesis and linguistics that have been lost in translation, so to speak.
These nuanced discourses are something that can only be given justice in Arabic, but beyond that level I wouldn't say a modern standard Arabic version is that much different when it comes to distance from understanding nuance and levels of meaning as a translation into a different language altogether.