Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Everyone's Tongue

In light of my successive failures in learning how to speak Arabic, I sometimes feel guilty being a language nazi around our house.

With me censoring English at home (Say it again but in Urdu!), fixing Quranic mispronunciations (Utter it from the throat!) and staving off Southern drawl (It's "bye," not "baaa"!), my kids often can't get a word in edgewise before I'm there to correct them.

I wish I had shown half this diligence during the slew of Arabic classes my parents enrolled me in while growing up. Unfortunately, learning the language wasn't a priority for me like it should have been.

God revealed his final book to humankind in Arabic and to properly understand the message we need to know the language, which is known for its eloquence and rich vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Indeed, God specifically describes his book as being in the Arabic language eleven times in the Quran. Among them:

"The tongue of the man they [polytheists and pagans] refer to is foreign, while this [the Quran] is a clear Arabic tongue." (Quran 16:103)

And, "Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may understand." (12:2)

"All articulation is from God," says Nouman Ali Khan of the Bayyinah Institute, which offers Arabic intensive courses. "God just took one language and honored it above others by giving it an extraordinary amount of clarity. This is important because the worst thing that can happen to a religion is misinterpretation."

Througout time scholars have emphasized the need to learn proper Arabic, even if it is one's native language.

Hussain, the son of Fatima (one of the four perfect women), said: "Learn the Arabic language for it is the language of God in which He will address the people on the Day of Judgment."

Fatima's daughter Zainab held mastery over it. She taught women with such clarity of thought and eloquence of speech that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent).

With Arabic-learning resources abundant these days, there's no excuse not to teach the language--the fifth most widely-spoken in the world--to our kids and give it another go ourselves. (Mastering Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar is considered an excellent book for adults.)

I attend a mosque of mostly Arabic speakers and often regret my unproficiency for practical reasons: language can be a huge barrier in communication and community building. 

Indeed, those who belong to the global community of God (Ummah in Arabic) and are serious about their responsibility to lead humanity towards peace and justice must have a way to network. Arabic is the lingua operandi.

The other day while approaching the kitchen table for lunch one of my daughters said something to the other in Arabic. (Both attend an Arabic preschool.)

"What did you say?" I asked excitedly.

"I said, 'I'm not sitting with you,'" was the reply.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.


Sarosh said...

Jazaka-Allah Khair Salina for sharing your blog. Masha-Allah!

Subhan-Allah Arabic is the most beautiful, eloquant and flawless language, that is why Allah chose Quran and HIS words to be in Arabic.
Subhan-Allah, It will be the language that will be spoken in Jannah too.
True, there are so many resources available on line apart from some excellent books, one such website I want to share with you & others that share my passion for this language is

Jazaki-Allah Khair again!

Salina Khan said...

Thank you, Sarosh! I am going to check that out, iA. I have also heard good things about

Hooma said...

great post (as usual). I have been thinking about taking a foriegn language class -- arabic is a good idea (I was more inclined on wokring on my spanish before, lol...).

Like you, I have the same regret, that I spent several years at IFS learning Arabic and I did not pick up the language. When I read the Holy Quran, I dont know what I am reading, I always have to resort to the translation.

As for being a language nazi -- dont feel guilty. My mother was one when I was growing up too (when it came to Urdu). The skill came in handy because I married a guy born and raised in Pakistan and it comes in handy when I speak to my in laws and all of his friends who are from back home. (Just another one of life's little jokes).

Hooma said...

Oh and by the way, one more point about language -- I have picked up so much punjabi since i got married...hehe...

Salina Khan said...

Salam, Hooma,
It's unbelievable that so many kids go through 6, 8 or even 12 years of Islamic schooling and still do not know Arabic! I hope things are improving. Best wishes on pursuiting Arabic (and Punjabi) :)