Arabic: The Language of Islam

ist2_882327-ahlan-wasahlanHow many people who study Arabic now realize its importance in the Muslim worldview and the complexity of the language situation in the Muslim community worldwide? Arabic, the classical form of the language, is the language of the Qur’an. When Muslims from all over the world recite the Qur’an, they do it in Arabic. Since the classical form of Arabic is a liturgical language, many Muslims will study it on some level in order to pray and read the Qur’an itself and other Islamic texts. In the Arabic-speaking countries of the world, in addition to the religious realm, the standard form of the language continues to be the language of poetry, much of the literature, news, and basically anything formal. While there are spoken forms of Arabic that are specific to each country and even city, many people hold the standard form of Arabic in high esteem because of its connection to the Qur’an. In some Arab countries, writers who push to use the colloquial form of Arabic in the place of standard Arabic face a challenge because of the connection that the latter has to the Qur’an.

Many people are unaware of the complex language situation in the Middle East and in the Muslim communities the world over.  The fact is that not all Muslims connect to Arabic in the same way. In fact, the majority of Muslims reside in countries outside of the Arabic-speaking Middle East. For these people, Arabic is relegated to prayer and reading the Qur’an and Islamic texts. They do not need Arabic to communicate and many times do not learn a spoken form of the language. Unlike other languages, the standard form of Arabic is not a mother tongue to anyone yet it is kept very much alive with its connection to the Qur’an.

When I started studying Arabic over 11 years ago, there were very few people interested in the language. Since 9/11, the number of students of Arabic has surged with the MLA suggesting that it has doubled. Coming from an Arab background (my parents were from Egypt), I was exposed to the language; but it was my formal study of the language in college that helped set my path. Before 9/11, students who were studying Arabic were many times “heritage learners” and Muslims like me who just wanted to be able to read Arabic–many times in order to read the Qur’an–and to communicate more effectively with family. Some students were graduate students who had studied or worked in the Middle East and their specific projects required knowledge of the language (like farming practices in Morocco). Now, however, the situation has changed with more job opportunities encouraging students to opt to study Arabic over other more commonly taught languages. Moreover, students now find themselves studying abroad in the Middle East. The experience of being immersed in the language and interacting with the people and culture many times give the students a new outlook on the region and the people. It is important that students of Arabic, though, understand the rich history of Arabic and the complexity of the language situation not only in the Arabic-speaking Middle East but in Muslim communities worldwide.

Interest in both Islam and Arabic is rising. Whether someone is studying Arabic for work, personal interest, religious reasons, or because they want to understand a part of their identity, it is important to understand the richness of Arabic and the complexity of the worldwide Muslim community even when it comes to language.

Have you studied Arabic? What was your experience? Are there other liturgical languages that are still used? Do you think its important to learn Arabic to study about Islam? Why? Please share your comments below.

10 thoughts on “Arabic: The Language of Islam

  1. i’m still in the learning process. its been difficult though cos most people around me dont speak arabic. i, basically started learning so i could understand what is being recited on salaat, understand hadith and stuff like that.

  2. I am a moslim born in Indonesia and I am working now in Egypt as a math teacher in a language school.
    when I came to Egypt it was necessary to learn Arabic language to use it in the communication with my students in Arabic instead of English which is easier to them.
    leaning Arabic helps me a lot in my study of Islam”feel the real meaning of quaran “.
    I learned Arabic online from home through a site called learn Arabic language online they offer me step by step interesting materials to start my learning journey. you can find this materials in
    http://www.arabacademy.com/en/downloads
    they have kind teachers who learn me how to speak right Arabic
    they answers all my questions.
    they have quran and tagwid and hadith courses
    good luck all

  3. Put simply, translation is the process of rendering the content and meaning of one language into another language. Translation relates specifically to the written word, unlike interpreting which is the conversion of the spoken word from one language to another.

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  4. I lived in Oman for 9 years, and Arabic class was mandatory in the school I was at (I’m not Arab). It was a fun experience, but sadly I have forgotten most of it =(

  5. I’m from Malaysia and I learned the Arabic script of the local Malay language.
    Interestingly, learning the Arabic script helped me understand Judaism and the Old Testament because the Semitic connection.
    Learning to write from right to left was difficult as first but got the hang of it eventually.

  6. I’m currently trying to learn Arabic for fun and to experience a different culture. I think culture and language are inseparable, so to understand one is to understand the other.
    I hope to go to Lebanon next summer to further my studies.

  7. its very intreted arttcle,lack of arabic language with muslims and also some student of islamic studies(who study it in orther languages apart from arabic) are more prone in lerning arabic language is worring me,that is why i am writing my degree projet,titled “the impact of arabic languege in islamic studies” showing the importance of arabic to muslim ummah,without arabic you wiil never understand the message of islam proper understanding. may Allah help us.

  8. I like to learn foreign languages, Arabic is one of them and I would like to learn it eventually. It’s very useful to know other languages because you can learn a lot about others cultures. And the arab culture is very interesting.

    Thank you Ahmed for the links, I am going to check them carefully,

    Cheers,

    Annette.

  9. From what I know, despite their celebrated differences, nearly all religions have a sacred or liturgical language. A distinguishing feature of nearly all sacred languages is that they are no longer spoken (or at least not in their classical form).
    Classic Arabic has been the liturgical language of Islam since the 7th century. During the Middle Ages, it was a major vehicle for scientific and philosophical culture. As a result, many European languages have borrowed words from Arabic. The influence of the Arabic language is especially strong in Spanish and Portuguese.
    Another liturgical language which survives, but not in its classical form, is Sanskrit: The ancestor of several languages of India, Sanskrit is a sacred, or liturgical, language of Hinduism, Jainism and Mahayana Buddhism. Now, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand.

  10. I was taught that Arabic is the original language…maybe that is why it is so difficult for me to learn. Learning Spanish was much easier.