In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
All praise to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. And salutations and greetings upon our Master Muhammad and upon his family and companions.
Arabic is such a rich and captivating language with numerous sciences and disciplines. It is so beautiful that we rejoice in speaking it. That is the reason why it has been chosen to transmit the last revelation. It is a miraculous idiom, from another world. A delight of this world. A near-perfect creation. However, it does not mean that it is not accessible or is insurmountable. Any work requires patience and sincerity. It is the language of Islam; Allah will not give it to people who make no consistent effort. It must be approached with love and tenacity. There are ups and downs in this learning, but we must persevere and be dedicated as well as pray for success. Here are some topics regarding classical Arabic (the fus-ha) that I would like to share with you through my experience of some years as a student and as a teacher of the Arabic language.
If we look at the incredible number of students studying Arabic in the world, few are really determined or have proved themselves. Many are those who, after long years of studying Arabic, still make unacceptable grammar mistakes and do nothing to correct them. It is even more serious when these same people have chosen to teach it. For what reason is this done? Simply because of a lack of revision and motivation. We must know why we learn Arabic and remember our intentions daily. First of all, whichever language one studies, it must be constantly practiced in order not to be forgotten. Hence the language should be practiced both orally and in its written form. The best way to always improve and keep in touch with the language is instruction. This is valid regardless of the level. It’s the best way to revise our knowledge. Moreover, we all start with grammar (an- Nawh and as-Sarf) which is essential, yet we must not forget to practice reading and communicating alongside it. Some non-Arab students have a better grammar level than some native Arab teachers, however they may struggle with reading or speaking. A balance is good in everything. Just a few minutes of reading daily, with patience and perseverance can miraculously help not only with facilitated reading but also with speaking and understanding.
Then we must converse! We must not be afraid of making mistakes; we must jump into it and stretch our comfort zones. Ideally we should ask the person we are conversing with to correct little by little our mistakes or to wait until the end of a sentence or meeting – because not corrected, a mistake can remain fixed in our minds, and be difficult to replace, generating other errors. We will still make mistakes, even after twenty years of practice, however with time they will be smaller and fewer. In every corner of the world, there are Arabs and non-Arabs who know classical Arabic well. Let’s seek their company and let’s revive a sunna of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. If too many Arabs – especially the schools in the Arab world – abandon Arabic for English or French, let’s be from among the Muslims (and even non- Muslims) from all corners of the earth who do not give up on it.As far as the dialect is concerned, it can be close or different to classical Arabic depending on the country or the region.
The countries of the Shaam like Jordan, Syria or Palestine have rather close dialects, which is an advantage when you study in these countries. Many locals can understand and speak the fus-ha there. Even if they cannot or do not want to speak classical Arabic, their dialect is understandable compared to other Arab countries. It is good to learn the dialect when you live in an Arab country so that communication is fluid and pleasant for the natives. The condition is that the dialect is learned aside classical Arabic and not instead of. Knowing only a dialect will not be sufficient to understand the books of the Islamic sciences or even the Quran. However it will be very useful to expand one’s engagement with the Arabs because they can be discouraged by hearing classical Arabic that they may not know. On the contrary, the lovers of Arabic will be pleased and will consider you as an Arab, as in the Arab culture, you become an Arab if you speak Arabic.
Nothing is better than the traditional method of education. The best teacher is a human being, not a screen. The interaction with teachers and scholars is priceless and offers much more than the learning of the language. It opens a door to a chain of transmission which goes back to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. A teacher shares his culture and his Islam, it creates a strong bond which continues well after the teacher and student have parted through the prayers that they do for one another. Learning with a teacher online is not ideal either because the connection is not always good which can mean poor reception and can tire and discourage both the student and the teacher. It is a rather dry technique which lacks soul and real natural interaction. It is the method to choose when there are no other better options or no good teachers available. However, the definition of a “good teacher” may not be what the ego insinuates. Let’s drop the prejudices and stereotypes. A “good teacher” is sometimes not well known or does not always have a lot of students. One should seek a teacher who has sincerity, pedagogy and good character.
Classical Arabic has numerous sciences: an-Nawh, as-Sarf, al-Balagha, ash-Shi’r… Students may be confused sometimes and not know where to begin or when to start the next level. The learning starts with an-Nawh and as-Sarf which are the most important disciplines which deserve the most attention. The learning has no end. It is a very good initiative to repeat one’s foundational learning with different teachers. Everyone brings his or her personal touch and broadens the student’s perspective. Then come the other sciences which are not mastered by a lot of people.
Finally, this commitment requires a free spirit and a good sense of organisation. Everybody can go for it but you must commit. Some people get too easily discouraged because they have not in reality studied in the best conditions. If the conditions are not there, the best is to postpone such a project to a more suitable time to prevent further disappointments. We forget about our children, responsibilities and worries during lessons and homework. We remind ourselves of our intentions and we ask Allah for help. You must include the Arabic language in your everyday life and not practice it only when the circumstances allow for it because they will rarely be convenient!
Smaller acts of consistency are more important than large quantities in one go. I have a lot of admiration for people who continue studying whatever the situation or whatever the age. For these students, Allah will open the doors of this incredible jewel, in sha Allah. We desperately need scholars of the Arabic language – and not only simple Arabic speakers who have a superficial knowledge of it – to translate or teach these numerous books which contain thousands of secrets which are, or now, only accessible in Arabic or to a certain elite. May Allah make it a reality, Ameen.
Maryam Szkudlarek started her studies of the Arabic Language seven years ago. She has studied the Arabic Language in London, Yemen and in Jordan, where she continues her studies. She also teaches adults and children. She has written a book, entitled Les Perles du Ciel de Tarim, about her experience in Tarim whose second edition is going to be published in French soon.