The Purpose of Arabic Language Studies
"Alif Lam Ra. These are the verses of the Clear Book. We (Allah) have sent it (to you) as an Arabic Qur'an so you can learn wisdom." (12: 1-2)
The goal of any Arabic language program is that the skills and patterns of the language are imbibed within the students and they make it a part of their life, thus enabling them to read and ponder upon Allah's revelation in its original language. Arabic, after all, was the vehicle Allah chose to reveal His last message in. With this in mind, then, I am calling for a revolutionary change in the contemporary way Arabic is taught and in the current assumptions underlying its purpose.
I propose that we should not teach Arabic as a "language" on the same footing as other languages. The Middle East is just not very popular these days so you can't expect kids to want to speak the language associated with that region or to be enamored of things that have bored them for so long. If we teach Arabic as a mundane language then it just can't compete with Japanese, Korean, Spanish or German. (See Soundvision's fascinating article on the current crisis in Arabic Studies: Quranic Arabic Crisis in Muslim Schools.)
Indeed, teaching a kid how to say lemon, handkerchief or bus in Arabic serves no Islamic purpose. (Read this sentence one more time please.) Instead, we must have as our goal that people should learn to read the Qur'an (and ahadith) with comprehension. In pursuit of this goal, the Qur'an should be included as the main practice text in the Arabic program. Vocabulary lists should be drawn mainly from words used in the Qur'an and ahadith. Homework exercises will be drawn from the Qur'anic text whenever possible (identifying words in their different forms in a passage, translating simple ayat as the words are learned, etc...)
New materials must be produced which not only follow the style of modern secular textbooks, but which use the focus of Qur'anic Arabic grammar as their basis. (No more useless mundane words to be memorized.) And teachers must be raised and educated in these techniques as well as in class management and in instructional methods.
How long would it take to put such a program into place? I'm estimating about two years or so, but anyone can do it and any community can implement it. Wouldn't you rather have your children listening to a Khutba and understanding all of the Arabic phrases in the ayat, ahadith and du'as, rather than coming home and saying, "I hate Arabic class" after a long test on vocabulary words like radio, cantaloupe or paper clip?
As you can see, I'm proposing a radical shift. Students should learn only what will give them mastery of Qur'anic Arabic- not what would enable them to speak to a taxi driver in Cairo. They will find learning the Qur'an fun because it has meaning (and they can get cross-curriculum benefits related to Islamic Studies class). They have already demonstrated that they reject the mundane Arabic approach, as well as mindless memorization!
After the kids know how to understand the meaning of the Qur'an, then Arabic will have more importance and immediacy for them. Reading practice of Qur'anic ayat will open for them the world of Allah's revelation and they will enjoy it! Then, whoever is interested, can study mundane, everyday Arabic words in order to communicate in everyday speech in a conversational or business related manner. And they'll learn it with more enthusiasm!
Trained teachers, appropriate materials and most importantly, a new approach based on Qur'anic vocabulary and grammar exclusively. This is how we will produce a generation of Muslims who speak Arabic- the Arabic that matters. Take these words to heart and think about them. Then, take action or at least, support those who are taking action. It'll be the best thing that has happened to Arabic teaching since the great scholars codified the rules of grammar a thousand years ago.
Examples of Innovative Methods
1. Students will write simple stories or descriptions of events in their lives (using Arabic only) and then read them to the class. The class has to write down in their notebooks what they think is being said. Afterwards, the student will read the English translation of what he or she wrote and the listening student that comes the closest to translating the actual meaning on their own paper will get a small prize or bonus points. The vice-versa of this procedure can also be done. Read a few paragraphs in English and the students must translate into Arabic as best they can.
2. Use the stories from the Qur'an in a similar way. Prepare the students for a week with vocabulary words from a particular story in the Qur'an, but don't tell them which story you will be doing. Then read the story one day to them and follow the same method as outlined in the previous point.
3. For younger grades, cut out large foam shapes of the Arabic letters and teach them to arrange them into words. Every student can have a set of them at his or her desk and when the teacher spells a word on the board, the students have to put the correct letters in order on their desk. Later on, the teacher will no longer draw the words on the board, but will say them out loud slowly with enunciation.
4. Make sure there are posters with Arabic cartoons, letters, etc all around. Kids especially will be motivated to try and figure out what's being said in a cartoon.
5. Show a popular Islamic movie or cartoon in English one week. Then show an Arabic language version the next week. Kids will love to see if they remember what the dialogue was. Have the students write down any phrases they hear that they can remember or translate. (Movies such as "Al Fatih", "Salam's Journey", "Ashbal", "The Message", "Lion of the Desert", etc.. come in either English or Arabic versions.
6. Bring in photos of famous Muslim places or buildings in which ornate calligraphy was carved or painted. Have a contest to see which students can translate the fancy writing.
7. Bring in examples of different script styles such as Kufic, Medinan, Osmani, etc... for advance students and teach them to write in those styles. They will look upon it as a fun, art-style activity.
8. Let them design or trace over existing designs of Arabic calligraphy. Then take those patterns and put them on T-Shirts through either heat-transfer or outlines.
9. For advanced students, play audio tapes of different recitors periodically and see who can translate the ayat they hear.
10. Let the kids write their own cartoon scripts entirely with Arabic dialogue.
11. Divide the class up into partners of two. The first partner will read an ayah from an assigned Surah (in which many recent vocabulary words were studied). The partner will then have to write it in Arabic, from hearing it only, as best as they can, and then translate it or give the basic meaning.
After 2-3 ayat, then they switch. If there ever comes a point where 2/3 of the class gets almost everything right, then give them a pizza party the following week. With that reward you will see them work very hard. (Until that level of proficiency is reached, use the same ayat over and over each contest day. Do one contest day every two or three weeks.)
12. Give this type of a test or activity once in a while. Select
passages from the Qur'an which contain vocabulary words your class studied. Then photo
copy those ayat onto a single sheet of paper, but don't put the ayah number or Surah. Also
leave off any translation. Give the papers to the students and have them translate the
meaning, as best they can.
13. Net resorces. Online Arabic education is now available at www.arabacademy.com It's worth checking out for supplemental learning. Also www.arabicteacher.com has wonderful computer resources for learning Arabic.
Guidelines for Using the Qur'an in the Classroom
1. All the students in the class should use the same translation of the Qur'an. For the sake of convenience, it is preferable, at the present time, for students to use either a Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Malik, Muhammad Asad or a one volume Maududi Qur'an translation, given that these are the only ones that come with useful indexes, contents and tafseer.
2. Students must be taught how to handle the Qur'an properly. (Wudu, saying the Ta'awudhz, Tasmiyah, and saying "Sadaqallahul owdhzeem," etc...)
3. Even though Yusuf Ali is in old English, it is entirely possible to get the students used to that style of language. You, yourself, have to know what "Doth," "Wast" "Thou" and other terms mean so you can teach the students about them. When our own translation is ready, Insha'llah, you will have no more issues to worry about
4. Students must always bring their Qur'ans to class. They must feel it is an important textbook that should always be ready close at hand. The teacher must consult it and have the students look something up in it at least once a day. At least two to three homework assignments a week should come from using the Qur'an. (Memorizing Surahs does not count as an assignment.)
5. Do not, I repeat, do not give long or boring assignments which involve the Qur'an. You will only succeed in turning the students off from it. No writing out fifty ayat or translating twenty five ayat. Assignments should be short, pleasant and meaningful. No more than five to ten ayat at a time should be dealt with.
About Our Syllabi
There is not currently any Arabic language syllabus available for
non-native speakers of Arabic. Until some brilliant and dedicated Muslims duplicate
the format, substance and style of modern language instruction from KG to 12th grade, we
will continue to have to make due with whatever is available at the moment.
There are some well-known books that we have decided not to include due to their lack of true usefulness in the Qur'anic Arabic sense.
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