In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

A Case for Qur'anic Arabic - Arabic as a Second Language

Akhtar H. Emon
Rancho Palos Verdes, California, USA

Muharram 1, 1418
May 7, 1997


I. Introduction

II. Understanding Shari'ah and Fiqh

III. Teaching Methodology for Qur'anic Arabic

IV. Qur'anic Arabic as a Second Language for all Muslims

V. Standardization of Qur'anic Arabic - Script, and Pronunciation

VI. Qur'anic Arabic in High Schools, Colleges, and Universities

VII. Malaysian Qur'anic Arabic Curriculum - A Model:

A. Historical Background
B. Malaysian Educational System

VIII. Conclusion


This is an attempt to present a case for Arabic from the Qur'anic point of view. Most languages, if they do not change with time, they either become obsolete, or extinct in terms of their usage. It is as if their very survival depends on how these languages respond to the dynamic forces of change in the contemporary societies.

This could make one wonder how the Qur'anic Arabic language has been preserved over so many centuries. The obvious connection between the Holy Qur'an, and the language in which it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explains the preservation of Qur'an, and the Qur'anic Arabic. This is borne out by the following verses (Ayah) from the Qur'an:

" We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption). "
( Surah 15 Al Hijr; Ayah 9 ).

" We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an, in order that ye may learn wisdom" ( Surah 12 Yusuf; Ayah 2 ).

Qur'anic Arabic belongs to the Semitic group of languages. By the third century (C.E.), Arabic had developed into a full - fledged language.

In the present time most of the Semitic languages have disappeared. In addition to Arabic, the only living Semitic languages are modern Hebrew, Amheric, and a dialect of Aramaic. As for Arabic, it remains not only a fully living language but also enjoys a unique importance. It alone can serve as the source of knowledge for all Semitic languages. Whenever the Grammarians (experts) of these languages are faced with intricate grammatical problems, they refer to, or consult parallel grammatical rules in Qur'anic Arabic.

These rules are exemplified in the Qur'an. Besides grammar, enormous changes have taken place in the vocabulary of all Semitic languages.
The present versions of these languages have little resemblance with their origin. The only exception is the Qur'anic Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, which retains its original grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

Approximately one billion Muslims of the world recite the Qur'an in its original language. However, most of them cherish the desire to comprehend the Qur'an directly without having to read a translated version in their native language.


Shari'ah (Islamic Law) refers to the Qur'an and Sunnah, pointing to the direction, and forming the basic general rules; while Fiqh refers to the effort of human beings to interpret Qur'an and Sunnah in search of happiness in this life, and in the hereafter. Since the language of the Qur'an and Sunnah is Arabic, it is the main source of communication about Islam. The importance of Arabic Language has always been been known for the above reasons.

The implementation of Shari'ah and Fiqh throughout the regions wherever Muslims lived made the Arabic Language a de facto part of the court languages. Today we are witnessing the absorption of key Shari'ah Arabic words in Western, as well as Chinese and Japanese dictionaries. In 1980, when Webster's third International Dictionary was released, its major update was the inclusion of many such Arabic words. A close study of the Ottomans, the Persians, and the Mughals in India will also confirm that their court languages, and official communications had a major influence from Arabic.

During, and after the O.J. Simpson double murder trial in Los Angeles, California, in 1995 / 96, there has been a lot of interest in Western Academic and Legal circles to compare notes with the Islamic Law. How a case like O.J. Simpson's would have been handled under Islamic Law ? This was natural for the Law Professors to ask when they saw the applicants to Law Schools dropping by 30 % due to the student's disappointment with the Legal / Justice system.

Some Universities such as University of Texas at Austin (UTA), Princeton, and Harvard have recently established Islamic Jurisprudence Departments, and teaching courses in Islamic Law. However, These Universities do require knowledge of Arabic Language as a prerequisite.

Further, there are a large number of individuals around the globe who wish to learn Arabic because of its political importance. It is an official language of the twenty-one (21) member states of the Arab League. Gradually the need of knowing Arabic has also been enhanced because of the overwhelming importance of the Arabic - speaking countries in international commerce, finance and sources of energy.


In North India, in the year 1942 Professor Abdus Salam Kidwai pioneered a method for teaching Qur'anic Arabic. His main idea was to make the Qur'an the prime source of teaching Arabic. He compiled a book consisting of ten primary lessons for this purpose, and it proved very useful in learning Arabic.

In 1984 there was an international survey taken to determine which country has the best Qur'anic Arabic teaching methodology. This survey was sponsored by Rabita - al 'Alam - al 'Islami of Saudi Arabia. It was found, to much surprise, that a school in a poor neighborhood of Northern India had the most well-versed graduating class in Qur'anic Arabic in the world. It was found that this school followed Professor Kidwai's curriculum. There, the Principal came to school on a bicycle everyday, and each month he would
circulate a basket to raise enough money to pay the teachers. Even the teachers were so dedicated that they would wait for their salaries up to six months if there was no money in the school treasury.

There is a lesson to learn from the above mentioned international survey. Muslims, and Non-Muslims now living in most parts of the world are so fortunate to have access to audio, video, Computer - aided instructions, elaborate campus facilities etc. Al-Hamdu Lillah. We can do it, only if we
set our minds to learn Qur'anic Arabic. Learn it for nothing else, but to understand the Qur'an in the language it was revealed.


For a Muslim, there is always a need to balance between the spiritual and material life. The material aspect of human life has to respond to the dynamic forces of change resulting from current research and development (R&D). Science and Technology are constantly pushing the frontiers of material knowledge for human beings. As a result, the contemporary languages have to evolve and adopt themselves in response to these forces. On the other hand, the Message from Allah (SWT) to guide our spiritual life has always remained basically the same. Therefore, for the acquisition of spiritual knowledge, in order to lead a balanced life requires a stable language. In this case the static power of the language is an asset, rather than a liability. There is no time dependency in the definition of the codes of conduct , and moral operating procedures for the benefit of human spirit.

It is hard to conceive how a single language can satisfy both the stable, and dynamic needs from the moral, and material viewpoints, respectively. Even in the 21 Arabic - speaking countries, the natives still need to refer to the Arabic Tafseer of Qur'an such as by Ibn Katheer, Al Tabari, etc. to fully comprehend Qur'an. They will readily admit that their colloquial Arabic has over the years changed, and adapted to the extent that, for example, a Syrian speaking in his native Arabic may not be able to fully comprehend Moroccan Arabic.

This may be of some consolation to those Muslims who come from " Non - Arabic - speaking" countries in the west, or the East. It is a myth that the residents of Arabic - speaking countries know "the Message of Arabic Qur'an by default", by virtue of the fact that they speak native Arabic. No one is therefore exempt from putting in an extra effort to learn Qur'anic Arabic language, if they would like to succeed here, and in the hereafter. So, for a Muslim living in any part of the world, his / her second language after their native language is always the Qur'anic Arabic.


As discussed above, Qur'anic Arabic as a second language, becomes a common denominator for all Muslims. However, the preservation of Qur'anic Arabic means more than the language, the grammar, and the vocabulary. The standardized script, and pronunciation should also be maintained in order to facilitate the full comprehension of Qur'an, Hadith, and other scholarly writings of the past, present, and future scholars of Islam.

This is a monumental task. However, with the advent of modern technology such as Satellites, Communication Super Highways, Networking, Electronic Mail, Bulletin Boards etc. the task of maintaining international standard for Qur'anic Arabic script, and pronunciation should become easier.

As an example, let us look at the communication via Internet. It has quickly become the fastest growing application at homes, businesses, and schools. A survey by Nielson estimates Internet access to be 40 million by end of 1996 (was 6 Million in 1994, and 12 million in 1995). The combination of Internet with the new Digital Satellite Transmission technology, can enable the user to receive live or taped video / audio instructions on demand, and instantaneously retrieve any educational / reference document. This technology is currently being used by the Entertainment and News Media industry.

Compared with entertainment oriented programming, educational programming is very inexpensive to produce. Finding the best teachers is the biggest constraint. The new software being developed along these lines will provide live broadcast instructions, and on-line student interactivity. Teaching of Qur'anic Arabic including script and pronunciation will be possible through a huge support network Insha-Allah soon. Other side benefits of this technology will be eg, the downloading of prepared tests and quizzes.

The technological developments discussed above will also facilitate voucher education, as and when it becomes available. It will impact not only the teaching of languages such as Arabic, but Muslim parents will be able to use tax money from public education funds to run private full-time Islamic Schools. The shortage of accredited Muslim teachers will no longer be a constraint, thanks to DirectPC (Multimedia) Satellite services, and networking software.

An organization, HADI, of Hermosa Beach, California has taken an initiative to teach Islamic subjects, and immediately broadcast important Friday Khutbas on-line using internet. They can be accessed at " HTTP: / / ISLAMICITY.ORG" . They have digitized Qur'anic recitation on a native server, and also provide the translation of Qur'an in French, German, Spanish and English. Their future plans include Qur'anic Arabic lessons via internet.

Another effort to establish an early presence in providing Islamic educational programming is from Baltimore, Maryland, by GCN (Global Communications Network, Inc.). GCN is devolving a network of Satellite users for "Piping - in" quality education to Islamic Institutions, and schools. GCN is headed by Br. Omar McConnell. Per Br. Omar, GCN's market also includes many parents who opt for Home schooling, as well as numerous other parents who permit their children to attend Public Schools, and would welcome an "Islamic Supplement" to their children's education.


As a taxpayer, Muslims living in USA, Canada, Europe, or anywhere North, South, or East, have the right to demand equal treatment for their revered language Qur'anic Arabic. If Spanish, Latin, German, French, Italian, Hebrew, Russian, etc. are taught as a second language in public places
of learning, then why not Qur'anic Arabic ?

This may be easier said than done. In order to phase - in Qur'anic Arabic in public High Schools, Colleges, and Universities, it will require a coordinated effort between many organizations. One of those organizations who can help in this cause is the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (IAIS) in Acton, California, in working with As-Sunnah Foundation of America (ASFA).

The Islamic education curriculum proposed by IAIS (Br. Faysal Burhan), was well received at the Islamic Unity Conference held in Aug. 1996, at Los Angeles, California. This curriculum is based on Al-Kitab (Qur'an), Al-Hikmah, and At-Tazkiah. Some other organizations who can help IAIS and ASFA in this cause are proposed in the following list:

1. Council On Islamic Education (CIE), Fountain Valley, California

2. Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Los Angeles, California.

3. American Muslim Council (AMC), Washington D.C.

4. United Muslims of America (UMA), Sunnyvale, California.

5. Multimedia Vera International (MVI), Los Angeles, California.

6. Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA), Fairfax, Virginia.

7. International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), Reston, Virginia.

8. International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations ( IIFSO ), Washington, D.C.

9. Islamic Society of North America ( ISNA ), Plainfield, Indiana.

10. Islamic Circle of North America ( ICNA ), Jamaica, New York.

11. Islamic Assembly of North America ( IANA ), Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin.

12. National Council on Islamic Affairs ( NCIA ), New York, N.Y.

13. Sound Vision, Chicago, Illinois.

14. Iqra' Foundation, Chicago, Ill.

15. The Institute of Islamic Information and Education ( IIIE ), Chicago, Ill.

16. The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, U.K.

17. Islamic Propagation Center International ( IPCI ), Durban, South Africa / New York.

18. Muslim World League, Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

19. Rabita Alam al - Islami, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

20. Tanzeem-e-Islami, North America (TINA), Radio city Station, New York. ( Representing Markazi Anjuman Khuddam-ul-Qur'an, The Qur'an Academy, Lahore, Pakistan.)

21. Islamic Thought Foundation, Tehran, Iran.

22. Jamia Al-Azhar, and American University of Cairo (AUC), Cairo, Egypt.

23. Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.

24. Abu Nour Islamic Foundation, Damascus, Syria

As a start, a representative from each of the above organizations could meet at a central location on an yearly basis, as coordinated by a host organization. In a period of two to four years a short term, and a long range plan could be established for the implementation of Qur'anic Arabic as a second language in all public places of learning in Non - Arabic speaking countries.



The circumstances of the spread of Islam in Malaysia are similar to those in Africa. Islam came to Malaysia soon after its advent in Arabia, due to contacts with Arab traders. These trade routes preexisted Islam. However, the establishment of Qur'anic Arabic as a second language did not occur until 1915, when the Sultan of Kelantan State set up a Council of Islamic Religion (Majlis Agma Islam). Later, other states too set up similar councils. These Councils had sweeping administrative authority. The Councils also defined Islamic doctrines, practice, and education curriculum. Thus, the Malaysian States began to play an important role in religion. The Majlis Agma was greatly influenced by the ideas of the Egyptian thinker Muhammed Abduh, which were spread by the Journal "Al - Iman", published from Singapore, since 1906. Al - Iman Journal was widely read all over Malaysia.


The Malaysian school system is divided into three (3) stages: Six years at Primary School between the ages of 6 to 11 where basic Arabic is taught along with the Malay language; then 3 years in comprehensive Lower Secondary School, where the curriculum includes Qur'anic Arabic as a compulsory Second Language. The third stage is two years at Upper Secondary School (or High School), where the students are divided into Arts, Science, Technical, and Vocational streams. Inspite of the four different majors, Advance Qur'anic Arabic is the common link for all Muslim students in the High School. Here, the Qur'an is used as a text book in order to teach the Qur'anic Arabic, similar to the approach taken by Prof. Kidwai in India.

At the last census in 1990, Malaysia had about 800 Lower Secondary (Jr. High) Schools, and 600 High Schools. Educationally, Malaysia is a very advanced country with the adult illiteracy being less than 10 %. Education for females is also emphasized in Malaysia, as a result their enrollment is 49 % of the total student population in Junior High, 47 % in High Schools, and 43 % in College and Universities. These females learn Qur'anic Arabic in the school system as part of the general curriculum. Later on, they teach the preschoolers at home, as mothers; thus forming a complete close-loop system, when their youngsters join the elementary school.

Malaysian Muslim students, whether males or females, can not afford to forget the Qur'anic Arabic language once they leave the High School, since they have the inherent desire to understand the Qur'anic message in the language it was revealed. For them the Qur'an, and the Qur'anic Arabic are a permanent companion, no matter what Major field they specialize in.


In conclusion, it may be noted that Malaysia has been very successful in implementing Qur'anic Arabic as a second language after Malay being their official language.

When you visit Malaysia, you can easily get by even if you do not know the Malay language, as long as you know some Arabic. Malaysian model would be an excellent one to emulate for other countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Bosnia, etc.

Author: Akhtar H. Emon, Rancho Palos Verdes, California, USA

All praise be to Allah - Subhanahu wa Ta'ala,
Glorified and Exalted

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