Sunday, July 28, 2013

Adventures in Arabic

Arabic is the official language of some 22 countries. It is one of five official languages of the United Nations. It is the language of formal religion of all Muslim countries. It is the language that unites the Arabs and the Muslims. It can be eloquent to the extreme, making it possible to convey an ocean of meanings in a few words! Its vocabulary is very rich and precise as it is formed on mostly three letter root words and various finite word patterns that convey specific meaning. Its grammar is very structured. Learning it is like learning a computer programming language. The Arabs are understandably proud of it even from pre-Islamic days and it has always been their halmark for which they have been known for. Its literature is rich, Arabic being the primere language of global learning in the Middle Ages.

Despite all these favorable attributes of Arabic, it is not the reason why I initially endeavored to study this language right after my graduate studies in Engineering in 1995. That reason was simply because my Creator chose Arabic as a language of my guidance through the Quran. It was self-discovery that led me to explore Arabic. I had been reading the Quran in English and listening it in proper recitation in Arabic. The Arabic was so powerful that I had a yearning to decipher it. Previously, I had spent my first 18 years in an Arab country, but never attempted to learn that language except for a handful of expressions after which at 25 years of age I started my first Arabic lesson.

My first lesson was conducted by a native Arabic teacher from the local masjid in NJ. We used to meet on the weekends in his house as we worked through grade 2 curriculum from Jordan public school, punctuated with generous helping of mint tea and kunafa nablusiah. My housemate was a profilic Quran teacher who I bellieve taught 80% of serious Quran students in Central Jersey in the mid-1990s. Not only was I fortunate to learn tajweed from him, upon request he also made me notice word structure and grammar directly from the Quran. I learnt attached pronouns, past, present, future and imperative forms by directly observing verses from the Quran. Before leaving the US in 1999, I had worked through American Open University's book 2 of "Arabic: A Bridge to Islamic Culture" by Dr. Mamdouh and "Teach Yourself Arabic" by Jack Smart.

In Islamabad, I formally completed book 3 and 4 of Arabiyya An Nashaeen (6 volume Saudi books for non-native speakers) in one semester. I was taught by an Egyptian teacher at the International Islamic University.

My adventures in Arabic continued when I came to the UAE in 2002. I completed all the levels of Modern Standard Arabic offered by the company I was working. Being in UAE meant that I had a chance to practise it too. Luckily, most of my team members were native Arabs, so our morning routine became to start off the day with "hikmat al youm", in which we wrote some Arabic on the whiteboard daily. In 2006, I completed the Modern Standard Arabic program from Arab Academy ( In 2009, I was the first student to complete the curriculum of Mother Tongue Center in Abu Dhabi ( To build up vocabulary quickly at first I used flash cards and then I went through the standard Arabic - English dictionary!

I am still learning Arabic. Currently I am studying word to word translation of the Quran from beginning to end. I have discovered the benefits of learning Arabic to be tremendous and varied -- from standing in night prayers listening to the most eloquent words of the Quran recited by the imam ... to understanding and participating in the discussion at work .. to making friends at the neighborhood masjid .. to teaching my own kids ... to understand Islam without the "cruthes" of a translation .. to not following a religious leader blindly getting a personal understanding of the deen ... to traveling in Arab countries like a local... to understanding the Friday khutbah .. to listening to Arabic radio while driving, etc.

I am so excited about Arabic that I want my children to share the joy this language has given me. So Abdullah currently has Arabic twice a week under my supervision, in addition to his Quran classes. When we ask Abdullah what he wants to be he replies "Professor". I wish that Allah (SWT) gives him taufeeq to become a Professor of Arabic so that he lives the excitement and transfers it to the next generation. Ameen.