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Classical Arabic via the Internet

By RS Staff (

Parents know one day their child will have homework they can??t solve. But this shouldn??t occur until at least junior high, right?

For Wayne Mohammed however, it started in KG.

??I remember correcting Aniyah??s reading of Al-Kawthar (a Qur??anic chapter)." laughs Wayne, recalling that embarrassing moment.

??Ab-tar (without offspring)"pronounced five-year old Aniyah hesitatingly.

??Ab-ba-tar."corrected Wayne gently.

But this only confused his daughter who wondered aloud if her tutor was correct or her dad. Or was this one of ten acceptable ways of reciting the Qur??an?

Another instance when Wayne realized his kids were outpacing him in Arabic occurred when his pre-schooler, Imran, was saying Arabic words such as ??Asad (lion)?that Wayne didn??t know. Both Wayne and his wife are first generation Canadians raised in an English household and thus had no exposure to Arabic.

??I have to start learning now."said Wayne ??before they get too far ahead for me to be able to help."
For busy Microsoft employees such as Wayne, the challenge is finding time to attend classes. A problem the Shariah program in Toronto, Canada hopes to solve by offering interactive web-classes.

Live Web-Casts

Students who physically attended the Toronto classes described it as comparable to courses offered at universities in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

Even Zaid Shakir, the Syrian educated scholar from California and well-known friend of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, personally paid the fledgling school a compliment, by praising its teaching methodology.
??They teach books in this curriculum that they don??t teach in Arab countries."
Yusuf Mullan, one of six instructors at the school, however cautions the online class does not emphasize tajweed (literally, to make better), the science of Qur??anic recitation (Yusuf adds, Mohammed was correct in using an echo (qalqalah) to pronounce ab-ba-tar).

Tajweed, while one of the 12 Islamic sciences comprising the Dars-Nizami curriculum used by the school, will only be mentioned briefly online.

??When people are reciting verb tables, that would come up."
Neither does the class focus exclusively on Wayne??s other problem, vocabulary.

??Vocabulary is the least important aspect in learning Arabic."

But quickly clarifies that knowing vocabulary comes with time and involves memorization of root meanings. In order to maximize student development, what then should a structured curriculum focus on. According to Mullan, it??s all in understanding the logic behind sentence structure and verb derivation.

??In Arabic, grammar is most important. Someone knows two-thirds of the [Arabic] language if they know grammar (nahw) & morphology (sarf)."Grammar involves sentence structure while morphology involves different verb types.

More than a language

As languages go, Arabic ranks sixth most spoken out of nearly 6800 known languages. Chinese ranks first at nearly 1.1 billion, English and Urdu/Hindi are next at nearly 500 million, followed by Spanish, Russian and finally Arabic at 256 million speakers.

But for over one billion Muslims, it is not the language??s popularity that drives them to learn Arabic: every Muslim must know the minimum Arabic needed to read the Qur??an and to pray, the keys to Paradise without a detour in Hell.

But attaining fluency, as opposed to parrot-like recitation, sufficient to understand the Qur??an and hadith is only fard kifayah (a communal obligation). A communal obligation demands that a small group fulfill that obligation. Failure to do so means an entire community is sinful while upholding it means a small group is rewarded by Allah.

In Western Washington for example, Arabic mastery is maintained, not just by nearly half a dozen religious scholars and individuals offering free and paid classes at mosques, but by universities.

Yusuf, who has a Masters from Dar-ul-Uloom in Karachi, Pakistan, stresses most teaching methodologies at the university level either attempt premature emersion with extreme beginners, or lack constant practical application of grammatical constructs. In contrast to this, the teaching methodology employed in his institute is a traditional one aiming to get the students understanding classical Arabic texts in a matter of months. Conversational fluency is not a purpose of this curriculum, but can be easily attained later, with enough practice speaking to Natives, adds Yusuf.

Besides understanding the beauty of the Qur??an without translations, ??there is a huge religious reward (for learning Arabic)."

Imam Shaheed Coovadia, imam of a Richmond, Virginia mosque and who holds a PhD in Arabic, adds that people who know Arabic, such as an Asian-Indian like Yusuf Mullan, also become Arab just by knowing Arabic: Arabs are mixture of ethnic Arabs such as Yemenis and linguistic Arabs (musta??rib) such as Lebanese, Moroccans and Algerians who became Arabs by adopting the language and not by blood.
Moreover, a computer programmer studying Arabic would need to have the heavily rule-driven language described to him like a powerful programming language.

Dr. Coovadia explains Arabic is an extremely sophisticated language, easily outclassing a several hundred year-old language like English in its richness. One story for its richness is that Ismail (pbuh), son of Abraham, when he married into the Arab tribe of Jurhum in Mecca, was inspired by Allah to perfect the language.

Despite its complexity, the online curriculum is so well-honed that university students majoring in Arabic studies say that the school covers in the third month what they studied in the third year at university.
??Our students catch sarf (morphological) mistakes even from those who studied in Arab countries."said a pleased Yusuf.

Surprisingly, even new converts to Islam can take the class. The pre-requisites are that one be able to recognize Arabic letters and be able to read at a slow pace.

So, does this mean that after taking a two-month online class, one could start talking and understanding Arabic fluently?

??No."says Yusuf firmly. ??After completing our course, they can spend minimum time in the Muslim world and learn that very easily with enough practice."
??But (with our class) you can pick up a text written 1000 years ago, and with the help of a dictionary understand it.?


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