The Myths about Learning Arabic
( سورة يوسف , Yusuf, Chapter #12, Verse #2) “And thus We have sent it down as a Qur’an in Arabic, and have explained therein in detail the warnings, in order that they may fear Allah, or that it may cause them to have a lesson from it (or to have the honour for believing and acting on its teachings). “
( سورة طه , Taha, Chapter #20, Verse #113) “An Arabic Qur’an, without any crookedness (therein) in order that they may avoid all evil which Allah has ordered them to avoid, fear Him and keep their duty to Him. “
( سورة الزمر , Az-Zumar, Chapter #39, Verse #28) “And if We had sent this as a Qur’an in a foreign language (other than Arabic), they would have said: “Why are not its verses explained in detail (in our language)? What! (A Book) not in Arabic and (the Messenger) an Arab?” Say: “It is for those who believe, a guide and a healing. And as for those who disbelieve, there is heaviness (deafness) in their ears, and it (the Qur’an) is blindness for them. They are those who are called from a place far away (so they neither listen nor understand).”
( سورة فصلت , Fussilat, Chapter #41, Verse #44) And the Religion of Islam is in Arabic and the Sunnah and the History of Islam. Without understanding Arabic means not understanding Islam and the Quran and the Sunnah. So one must know it and understand it. Concerning what follows:
An Arabic course is designed to give the student a grasp of the Arabic language; so that the student can understand the Quran and Sunnah. There is no course on the market that will make you fluent no matter how much the course costs or what they tell you.
The reason why? Many courses cannot make you fluent because they are tools which are used to get you on the correct path. You have to look at how you learn your own mother tongue. About the age of 4, most children can make full sentences. This is due to their environment, listening, speaking, trial and error and being corrected by their care takers; while interacting with others, hearing and repeating what you hear; including being read to, or watching programs that interact and etc. Then from these, a few years in grade school of learning grammar and interaction with other studies such as math, related to problem solving. All these experiences make you who you are today with your mother language. No matter if you understand or realize this.
The Myths about learning Arabic
Many mistakes students have in learning a new language is their approach and their environment in which they are learning; if they are learning Arabic in a non Arabic speaking environment. Some students focus on grammar. This is not how you learn your mother tongue, but this approach is what is popular in many courses and likewise in mine also. But many of these courses have flaws. Grammar alone will not make you a master of Arabic unless you have other things along with the course; such as listening, reading, and vocabulary skills. Many courses push grammar, while the student is clueless on vocabulary and clueless on listening skills. Or the listening assistance used is above the student’s level. I give you an example I have observed in a class of students who do not know vocabulary; given an audio by one popular Sheikh. In this commentary on Al-A’jurumiya, the sheikh himself, explains the book well; but the students who were listening to it did not know the difference between when to use قديم و كبير Qadeem and Kabeer. In the introduction of the book, when the Sheikh gives a beautiful example of Arabic as being easy like a house being made out of sugar cane and the door from iron. They were clueless, because the vocabulary used in the commentary of the book was designed for Arabic speakers; who already know Arabic from a grade to high school understanding in vocabulary. The audio was over the heads of students not possessing a basic knowledge of Arabic and were unable study the book, with the exception of a few rules here and there; from the Matan of the book, covering it page by page and word by word. It would have been better if they had an audio, which would have taught them basic conversion; in which they could learn new simple words that are used, instead of learning big words; while unable to use the fundamentals of everyday living and usage in Arabic. This book needs to be studied along with books that are considered basic.
My approach is different. I have seen those who study Al-A’Jurumiya, while clueless about Arabic and its usage when they finish the book. The book was not designed at an elementary level for a new student to Arabic; so they remain clueless. Then there is the myth of Arabic with many Western students, who think that if they finish Al-A’Jurumiya they will know Arabic, but this is not true. These are some of the myths many Westerners hold, who study Arabic. There are Arabic countries and institutions that are known for Arabic which may never study Al-A’Jurumiya; no matter how much the scholars advise many of the students of knowledge, that this is one the introductory books to grammar. But you have to take a look at the scholar’s audience; are they Arab who have with them grade school, high school and college in Arabic language? Or are they talking to Westerners, who do not know the difference between Hamza Alif, Alif and Alif Maksuura?
There are some introductions that non Arabic speakers need to take, in learning Arabic. It should be clear, that a particular course or set of books will not make you fluent in Arabic, but they are there to help. One main goal in Arabic is to study Arabic in Arabic. Next is that many students take courses in Arabic and if they think they are not learning they quit. This is the fast food generation we live in today, as they want to see results now and if not, they think they are not learning. This is false and one of the myths of Arabic. There is difference between a beginning student who does not know Arabic and learns the Alphabet, seeing his progress. But this is not so, for a student who is intermediate to advanced. His progress is there, but he may not see it, and it is important that the student keeps going, for in the end, the progress will be big.
We find today, the next myth about learning Arabic. Due to many Westerners embracing Islam, they travel to the Middle East; some studying Arabic in class, some sitting with people to learn. This is also beneficial, but there are those who learn Arabic from the street and come back with words like those of the Egyptians, such as, “Malish, Kuwais, Iziee” and this is not proper Arabic. Then there are those who think they have to learn the dialect to understand Fus’ha and the Quran and this is not true. Today, in many Arabic cultures, words in Fus’ha are used as bad meanings or even insults like “ruhu ummuk;” “your mother spirit,” or soul. This is an insult in Egyptian dialect, but in Fus’ha, this is a good expression. Just as we have in our mother tongue, words that are considered low level class, the same applies with dialects; because of what some lack in education, they lack in understanding proper usage.
Another myth about learning Arabic is that any Arab can be my teacher. Yes and no, because I speak English, does not mean I am an English teacher; and even an ESL teacher must have training. The same thing applies to Arabs; who because they are Arab, does not mean they know how to teach Arabic. I tell my friends who travel to the Middle East to stay in contact with an institute for learning Arabic, because you can get what you need there. If I need to find a private teacher, I always look for those who have a degree in Arabic language; or at least a higher education in Arabic. I have them outline a course for them to teach me, due to my background in learning and guide me based on my experiences. If not, then I get from them usage in how Arabs understand context, which is very important.
In learning Arabic with a Sheikh or a person in a village or city, it’s best to find a Sheikh that has the time to teach you one on one. Any big scholar will go over the books of grammar with his students. But in many cases, the one who never studies Arabic and never went to an institute to learn will miss out on basic things that will prevent him from understanding a Sheikh and his lessons. In an example of an Arabic speaking environment, you will find from the Sheikh and his students, some of them attending Universities for degrees in Arabic language and degrees in Usool of the Deen, and Fiqh and Tafseer, and Shariah, Hadeeth. This means they already have acquired the basic tools from grade school and high school, in language. These basic things you will not get sitting with a scholar in a Dars; because it is already given to them from their education system. These basic things are needed first. There are many people who travel from the West to sit with a scholar and have months there; even a year or so and still does not learn Arabic or the amount of Arabic needed to learn, for that period of time; that he would’ve learned in two or three months in an Arabic institution. One important thing about learning Arabic is it takes time which you cannot get back and something you do not want to waste.
One of the myths I will cover: How long does it takes to learn Arabic?
An honest answer, I do not know, the Messenger of Allah (sallahu wa alayhi wa salam) said, “Whoever Allah wants good for He give him the understanding of the Deen.”
Learning Arabic is part of this Deen. So I cannot give you an amount of time it takes to learn it. It is not a fast food restaurant where you can make your order. It’s all about your relationship with Allah and obedience to His commandments. Allah raises people to certain levels. So I would remind students about their Niyaa and their goals to seek knowledge to please Allah only!
There are many students who study Arabic at a University level and say that even this was not enough.
Those who are serious need to know, like any person who wants something, he works for it. He does it until he is strong with it. Like a boxer, or a master in martial arts, he practices and puts his work in, until he masters his art.
Another myth about learning Arabic: I do not need to learn Arabic, translations are good enough.
This is one of the mistakes of the Christians. Their faith lies in translation, without learning the original text; having not even a topic or thought among many of them. The reason, they say, “We believe by faith and not by sight.” More about their down falls due to their ignorance and Muslims we are not like them.
How can you understand the Quran without Arabic? How can you be upon the Sunnah without Arabic? There are many respected scholarly books on Quran and Hadeeth that are not even translated. Like Fatah Al Baree, the commentary to Imam Al Bukharee’s collection. How can you be a true follower of the Messenger of Allah (sallahu wa alayhi wa salam) without Arabic? And whoever says otherwise ends up being among the blind followers, like the Christians, who believe by faith and not by sight; (knowledge/proofs/facts) leading to the road and path of the hell fire due to the major differences of their translations; with things added into them.
By Abul Baraa Muhammad Amreeki
- Learning Arabic by Shaykh al Islam Ibn Tamiyah (islamsfiniest.wordpress.com)