I Want to See My People Rise by Nadiya Johnson

If you are a teacher or a homeschooler then you are familiar with the word “standard”.

In education, it is knowledge that a child is required to have at each grade level. For example, 3rd graders must know all their timetables and 4th graders must know long division; those are Math standards. Fifth graders master higher levels of spelling and can write persuasive paragraphs; these are English standards. So as American Muslims, what are our standards for Islamic education? Can we say that a 10-year old who cannot yet read the Quran in Arabic is ‘below level’? Can we say that that a Muslim high-school student who does not understand basic Quran vocabulary has ‘fallen behind’? Actually, no we can’t say that because we, as a community, have not yet set Islamic studies ‘standards’. So how can we know where we stand if don’t have standards.

If we look at other cultures: Indian and Pakistani parents enroll their children in


weekend and after school Islamic studies to make sure their children are ‘up to the standard’. And if there is no program around that is suitable, then they hire a Sheikh to come to the home and teach to make sure their children are ‘up to their standard’.  It is tradition in Indonesia and Malaysia that children recite the whole Quran by age 11 and this is considered a ‘rite of passage’ between childhood and adulthood. Somalians are known to memorize a lot of Quran.   I always get a little bit concerned when I have an Asian or a Somali student in the class because I can feel sometimes that the pace is too slow for them. Somalis, Indians even Turkish have many Arabic words in their language so they don’t really need to spend much time on ‘hatha baytun’ ‘hatha kitaabun’. When you come from a people who have Quran on their tongue you are not exactly a beginner. I’ve had Indonesian, Malaysian students say ‘I am a beginner.’ But they did their ‘khatam ul Quran’. I can see my people are behind the rest of the Muslim world.

We have to realize that we are behind the rest of the Muslim world. It is not our fault, but it is our responsibility.

When Islam was spreading to various parts of the world, the Arabic language was also being spread because the people wanted to understand the Quran. Many regions accepted Arabic as their official language or Arabic words were enmeshed in the native lughah that was already there.  For some reason that did not happen when Islam came to us in the West. There is no visible influence of Arabic on the English language today. In order to set our standard we have a lot of work to do but we keep looking for others to do it for us. We keep looking for others to take the responsibility of Islamically educating our children.

Many American Muslims are thinking the answer to move ‘overseas’ to the Arab world. Some of us are thinking ‘if we could just get into that environment, we’ll get it.’ Only few are successful.

In my personal experience, living in Egypt, Saudi and Qatar, observing and talking to many families, being on internet social groups and emailing groups over the last 15 years.  I will guess-timate that less than 30% of families living in the Arab world, have children who achieved a mastery of Arabic and Quran skills.  I will guess-timate that the highest number of them were or are in Yemen and Egypt. That number may surprise you and there are several reasons for it that I will speak about in another article entitled: Hijrah; Life in a Bubble.

Our next solution is Islamic schools. They try. but as they seek accreditation from the authorities and try to keep up with the Common Core standards, secular education takes more precedence over Islamic education. There are only so many hours in a school day.

Many of us have a picture in our mind of what we would like to achieve with our children and how we like to see them enter adulthood but we need a plan of how to a get there….

Follow this link if you are ready for Arabic to flow into your home from WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW

Let’s Get the Language on Our Tongues!

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.

Follow this link for a FREE eBook, 50 Arabic Words & Phrases NOW!

Ummu Aamina Nadiya Johnson