Arabic is so difficult, but why?
“Arabic is so difficult ” I have heard this a lot. And yes, it tends to be difficult for us Western Muslims, and I think I have figured out why.
Over the last 13 years, I have taught sisters from East and West Africa, from Turkey, Somalia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. While teaching these sisters, I noticed that they often did not need to be introduced to basic words like ‘kursee’ or ‘qalam’ or ‘kitaab’. Over and over again I would introduce words and in almost every lesson someone would raise their hand to inform me, “Miss, we know this word, we have it in our language.” I found that almost all of them came to me already able to read the Quran, with ease, though they didn’t understand a lot of the meaning. One of my Indonesian students started writing vocab words for me in her language and I found many similarities. I picked up a Swahili book just for fun, and found that it had numerous Arabic words. Arabic mixes with Bantu to form the Swahili language (lugha tu Sawaahil). Arabic mixes with Hindi to form Urdu, which is still written with Arabic letters. Arabic mixes with Berber and French to form the dialect of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. I realized that wherever Islam had spread, the Arabic language had spread with it along with a tradition for Quran memorization.
The Swahili language (lugha-tu Sawahil) is Arabic language mixed with Bantu. It was written with Arabic letters until the missionaireis came to EAst Africa. Turkish was written with Arbic letters until .. The Urdu language is still written with Arabic letters. The Somali language contains Arabic sounds and many Arabic words
So what happened with us?
Islam reached us in the West but it has come as a guest, not as a political power. The Arabic that has come to us has only come in the context of memorizing the Quran or learning a few religious terms. What compounds this matter is that as Western Muslims, we speak English, which has become the number 1 spoken language in the world. Arabic has had little to no influence on English in the 20th century (though we see English words entering the Arabic language at an alarming rate). , I have spent time with many Arab families living in the US from Morocco, Palestine, Egypt Syria, who are fighting to keep the Arabic language in their homes. I have spent time with Americans, Canadians, Australians, British and others living in the Middle East who are fighting for opportunities to learn the Arabic language and the Quran – and they are living in the Land of the Arabs!
When we approach learning Arabic, as distracted adults, we are taught the ‘traditional way’ which is focused on grammar rules that we are not always ready for.
Now understand me, grammar is absolutely necessary to understand the Quran, but it is ineffective without having the language on our tongues. As we already said, everywhere Islam went, the language went with it, except in the West.. So for the Eastern Muslim, learning Arabic means learning grammar because he or she already has a lot of words to play with. You see, Arabic grammar rules are like mathematical formulas. Instead of dealing with numbers, you need words to plug into those formulas .So if you have grown up both reciting the Quran and using many Arabic words in your language, then beginning with grammar is probably the best way to go .However, this is not our situation as native English-speaking Muslims. This is why I prefer to begin with lots of new words and speaking exercises using those new words.
So what do we do about this?
1/LEARN MORE WORDS: means getting the language on our tongues by memorizing more. The repetition is very important. We must use these words more and teach them in our homes. When children START EARLY they don’t have the difficulty we had as adults.
2/ USE THE WORDS IN OUR HOMES: My daughter’s first word was ‘baab’ (door), her second word was ‘Abee’. I am not actually sure when she started saying the word ‘milk’ in English because I always said ‘haleeb’ in the house. Nouns are the easiest types of words to adapt into our everyday language. This is what nations of Muslims have done over the centuries. When you see the map of Arabic dialects this is how they did it, they infused Arabic words with the language they already had.
3/ RECITING AL-QURAN: So we end at the beginning. The reason for learning the language is to understand the speech of Allah and to beautify our voices al-Quran. When we recite regularly, we then have the speech of Allah on our tongues, the Arabic flows more and more easily. Words are waiting in our minds waiting to be used.
The reality is that if we don’t take time to get this learning done, then how are we going to pass this down to our children and grandchildren? how are we going to raise our level as a community?
Not everyone can pick up and move to a Muslim country. If you are able to experience it then it can be a very fulfilling experience. And it is also possible to come together with other like-minded Muslim parents and create an environment that supports your learning and the children’s learning. In the future, I’ll be talking a lot about this subject, inshaAllah.
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Ummu Aamina Nadiya Johnson