Wednesday, May 11, 2011
On Everyone's Tongue
In light of my successive failures in learning how to speak Arabic, I sometimes feel guilty being a language nazi around our house.
With me censoring English at home (Say it again but in Urdu!), fixing Quranic mispronunciations (Utter it from the throat!) and staving off Southern drawl (It's "bye," not "baaa"!), my kids often can't get a word in edgewise before I'm there to correct them.
I wish I had shown half this diligence during the slew of Arabic classes my parents enrolled me in while growing up. Unfortunately, learning the language wasn't a priority for me like it should have been.
God revealed his final book to humankind in Arabic and to properly understand the message we need to know the language, which is known for its eloquence and rich vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Indeed, God specifically describes his book as being in the Arabic language eleven times in the Quran. Among them:
"The tongue of the man they [polytheists and pagans] refer to is foreign, while this [the Quran] is a clear Arabic tongue." (Quran 16:103)
And, "Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may understand." (12:2)
"All articulation is from God," says Nouman Ali Khan of the Bayyinah Institute, which offers Arabic intensive courses. "God just took one language and honored it above others by giving it an extraordinary amount of clarity. This is important because the worst thing that can happen to a religion is misinterpretation."
Througout time scholars have emphasized the need to learn proper Arabic, even if it is one's native language.
Hussain, the son of Fatima (one of the four perfect women), said: "Learn the Arabic language for it is the language of God in which He will address the people on the Day of Judgment."
Fatima's daughter Zainab held mastery over it. She taught women with such clarity of thought and eloquence of speech that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent).
With Arabic-learning resources abundant these days, there's no excuse not to teach the language--the fifth most widely-spoken in the world--to our kids and give it another go ourselves. (Mastering Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar is considered an excellent book for adults.)
I attend a mosque of mostly Arabic speakers and often regret my unproficiency for practical reasons: language can be a huge barrier in communication and community building.
Indeed, those who belong to the global community of God (Ummah in Arabic) and are serious about their responsibility to lead humanity towards peace and justice must have a way to network. Arabic is the lingua operandi.
The other day while approaching the kitchen table for lunch one of my daughters said something to the other in Arabic. (Both attend an Arabic preschool.)
"What did you say?" I asked excitedly.
"I said, 'I'm not sitting with you,'" was the reply.
You win some, you lose some, I guess.