Friday, June 6, 2008

Learning Arabic from a non-English speaker

classof72] Learning Arabic from a non-English speaker‏
From:zahid aziz (
Sent:Friday, May 25, 2007 5:12:50 PM

Assalamu 'Alaikum,
It was Saiful, the Mobily expat who started the initiative. We got wind he was going to register for Arabic evening classes at the local Imam Mohammad Saud University. Awakening the latent desire in most Muslim expats in Saudi Arabia we rushed to join him to register ourselves for the twice a week ba’da maghrib classes at the local Muttawwa University. What’s Mutawwa?
Well it’s the local reference to the indisputably enlightened but much maligned amar maaruf nahi mungkar section of the ummah which is probably the subject of a future piece from this scribe. The Classes are every Saturday and Monday evening roughly between 7pm and 9pm and we’re not sacrificing any weekends either, Saturday being the first day of the working week. Not familiar with Jamiah Imam campus we parked what seemed 25 km away on that cool February night. But somehow we radar’d our way to the Ma'ahad Kulliah Loghatul ‘Arabia keen to register and learn the language of the Prophets, and what any salt of the earth Makkah taxi driver will tell you, language of Jannah. The registration itself was quite an experience. The normally quiet Faculty corridor at that time of day was bustling with expats from most corners of the world. We obtained a registration form each and were relieved to find it was simple and very important at this point, in English! Then it was rushed to the next room to make payment and collect some Kitab. Everybody made it to class except for Azhar and me. The classes are full Ustaz Ahmed said woefully. Come back next week I’ll fixed it with the Mudir he said. However Azhar and I did not have to loiter long, soon after, the class teacher took pity on us and invited us in, he’ll solve the overcrowding next week. Azhar by the way is one of my Malaysian colleagues at work.

I have never attended a language class before apart from Miss Vimala Devi’s Standard One English class many, many, and many more moons ago. Now somehow I sort of assumed the teacher will help out by explaining things in English. Wrong, the Mudarris not only does not speak English, whatever English he knows he makes a solemn oath not to utter to us. I have never focused so much attention on what the teacher is saying as what I did for my Arabic Class teacher. He probably started by welcoming and laying down some ground rules but it sounded to me like Arabic high poetry. It was not unlike starting Elementary Arithmetic with complex Algebra. I looked around the room and felt much pity for Kim, the sole Korean representative in our class. The two Mat Sallehs, Chris and the other guy displayed their best British upper lip face and took it in the jaw like a man. But sooner or later with body language and all from the teacher and full concentration from yours truly, the coins began to drop. Grace be to Allah I began to understand what he’s saying and what he wants the class to do. I quietly hoped Kim and company will follow suit next class.
The next week they split the class into two. As the owner of the vehicle we came in Wan Ghazni was transferred to Class B, in true Musketeer spirit we all walked up and requested the Mudarris to join him. Now this new Mudarris was like a breathe of fresh air compared to the previous one. His English was probably not much better, but he had no qualms using it whenever he sees any of us drowning. We were fortunate this time to have Fawaz in our class. Of Syrian descent Fawaz is an American teenager whose parents sent him to class to learn, in his words, classical Arabic. The Mudarris leant on him a lot to give the class meanings of words or phrases in English whenever the entire class is stumped. Fawaz was absent one evening and it was a true exhibition of body language by the Mudarris to explain to us the meaning of the Arabic word for mist. In class this time were also four Pinoys who eventually turned out to be the top students in our class. Not only were they already speaking unhesitant Arabic, they were also helping Fawaz to explain the English meaning of words to the poor Malaysians, Pakistanis, Indians and Turks.
Everybody knows Arabic is complex, many knows it has masculine and feminine words but how many knows each Arabic word have 14 permutations of nahu or grammar. A word can be either muannath (female) or muzakkar (male). Haqibah or bag is muannath, Kursiyyun or chair is muzakkar, I won’t explain why, you wouldn’t understand. If in English you will say this is a bag or this is a chair, in Arabic because they are of different sex you say hazihi haqibah and haza kursiyyun. However that is if the bag or chair is near, if you are unfortunate enough for the bag or chair to be far away, be sure to use huna haqibah and hunaka kurssiyun. In English a friend is a friend male or female ; in Arabic your buddy Ahmed is a Sadiq but your colleague Fatimah is a Sadiqah. And if Ahmed and Hussein arrives they are your Sadiqqin but if they came with Kassim and more they are your Asdiqah. Just to confuse you further, Fatimah and Aisyah would be Sadiqqatin but Fatimah, Aishah and Ruqayah would also be Asdiqah.
If you think that’s confusing you don’t know the half of it. Want to learn about lam syamsiah and lam kamariah? Or harafal jarr and kalimatul maadzi? Come to Riyadh and learn Arabic cold turkey. Joking aside Arabic is a beautiful, beautiful language, you don’t know beautiful until you begin to learn Arabic. If you are entranced by the Arabic speaker spinning sentences like beautiful laces in embroidered fabric you will be enthralled by the beauty of the Quranic sentence. No wonder God says (mafhum) gather all men and jinns for they can’t craft one sentence like in the Quran.
This week its Ihtibarr or exam time! One thing I tell you about Arabic exams is that the answers are easy; it’s the questions most students have problems with. In other words understanding what the questions wants you to do. Once you’ve figured that out the answers should be plain sailing, if your vocabulary is up to the mark that is. Masmuka by now should no longer be answered, no thank you I don’t smoke. The correct answer is Ismi Muhammad Zahid Abdulaziz. And majinnsiatuka is no longer a referral to a jeans sale, the correct answer is Ana min Malayzie. And mamihnatuka is no referral to a female Malaysian factory worker, the correct answer is ana mustasyar au thobib au mudarris.
Actually the exams are not over yet. After Muhaddis and Kitabat last week, tomorrow is Qara’ah. I’m so lucky to have a UIA graduate for a personal tutor; at other times she’s of course my wife.
Ilaliqo. Maassalamah. Biltawfiq MinnAllah


  1. Assalamu'alaikum wr. wb

    I am reading your blog while resting at this place...

  2. hi

    i happened to read your post on learning arabic. I am an expatriate arrived in riyadh couple of weeks back and interested in learning arabic.

    Could you please advise me on this? i have been trying to call the imam university without success.
    or do you yourself teach arabic.
    I am serious in learning this language and would very much appreciate your help / advise on this.

  3. Khalil,
    Hi I'm no longer in Saudi. You need to go to Imam U to get a response. gimme an email where I can contact you. Write to me direct at