Looking for something to do in Lockdown? How about learning Arabic?

Looking for something to do in Lockdown? How about learning Arabic?

April 15, 2020 corona

The Importance of Arabic

By Akram Ghauri

As we all bide our time in a nationwide Covid-19 enforced lockdown, there’s definitely a case for encouraging people to try something new. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) instructed members of his own community to “make an effort to learn Arabic little by little”[1]. So why not use this time to start?

Admittedly, Arabic is viewed by some as being both mysterious and even inaccessible. However, it is a language of great importance, as it is not only intriguing linguistically, but also central to the rise of Islam and the history of the Arab world.

Firstly, Arabic is very precise and intricate, which can understandably make a translator’s life difficult. For example, when it comes to talking about camels, you need to be fairly exact. Whether your camel is obese, thirsty, weak or bad-tempered, there’s a specific term to use for each.

Arabic also employs an intriguing root system, in which words revolving around a certain concept are derived from the same three letters. For instance, a kitaab is a “book”, a maktaba is a “library” and a maktuub is a “letter”, yet all three words contain the letters “k”, “t” and “b”.

In fact, the more you think about this system, the more you realise its profound logic. Say an Arab was to stumble across a word they’d never seen before – by delving into their vocabulary and plucking out words with the same consonants, they would most likely be able to figure out its rough meaning.

Additionally, the Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) writes how Arabic has the ability to express “the most delicate and deep things[2]. This eloquence made Arabic the perfect language for the Quran. Since the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), many Muslims have been able to memorise the entire holy book. This is a testament to the Quran’s succinct, poetic nature and its preservation in its original form.

Compare this to the Bible – written in a less memorable prosaic style and almost ten times longer than the Quran, this would be much more susceptible to being altered, or even forgotten, over time. Besides, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) even declares how other languages appear “lame, maimed, blind, deaf” [3] in comparison to Arabic.

Arabic was also important in creating a sense of unity among Muslims during Islam’s infancy. As Islam united the Persians and Arabs, the cultural barrier softened as the former began using Arabic as the language of religious and legal learning. Outside of Islam, some Eastern churches even started using Arabic, as well as the Jews living in Spain under the Umayyads.

Furthermore, many intellectuals and academics ought to be grateful to the Arabs because, without them, we would not be so well-acquainted with the works of Plato, Aristotle and Hippocrates. Many medical and scientific texts were sent from Byzantium for translation into Arabic. Syrian Christians converted the Greek texts into Arabic, often using their native Syriac as an intermediary. Centres were set up in Umayyad Spain where the Arabic translations were rendered into Latin form. These works, along with other works and developments by Muslim philosophers and scientists were ultimately availed by the rest of Europe, enlightening them with some of the most profound philosophical ideas.

If you didn’t enjoy maths at school, your love for Arabic might start to dwindle! As the Persian mathematician, al Khwarizmi, is often called the “father of algebra” and from his own name, “algorithm” is derived. Next time you see someone doing a Rubik’s Cube, they are actually doing a Rubik’s Ka’ab, and always remember a right angle originally had ninety daraja before it had ninety degrees. However, the most crucial part of Arab mathematics was arguably Arabic numerals.

Originally invented in India but developed further by the Arabs and Persians, this numeral system was to almost completely replace the Roman one in Europe by the fifteenth century. The main reason for this was the rise of the printing press: no-one wanted to waste ink writing LXXXVIII when you could just say 88.

Some of the world’s best folk tales also came from the Arabs. “One Thousand and One Nights” is a collection of Middle Eastern tales and gave us the likes of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.

Finally, Arabic is still really important in today’s society. Globally, there are over 300 million Arabic speakers, making it the fifth most spoken language. Of course, to the 1.8 billion Muslims out there, the exposure to the Quran and prayer from a young age has instilled within them the idea of Arabic as a higher form of communication. Ultimately, as stated by the Promised Messiah (peace be upon him), a person cannot enjoy the Holy Quran without knowing Arabic well[4].

Akram will be starting a Bachelor’s Degree in ‘Arabic and Islamic Studies’ at the University of Oxford later this year


[1] Malfoozaat, Part II, Page 17

[2] ‘Arabic Mother of all languages’ by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadianas, page 17

[3] Dia-ul-Haq, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 9, pp. 250

[4] Malfoozaat, Part II, Page 17

Looking for something to do in Lockdown? How about learning Arabic?