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Arabic Education for Our Children

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ottoman_alphabet.jpgMore and more Muslim parents in the west are now voicing their desire to give their kids a quality Arabic education; something they themselves didn’t have. I am one such parent. I want my kids to have sound knowledge of the language so that there is no language barrier between themselves and their Book, the sunnah of their prophet and their own prayers.

Islamic schools all over the country are doing their best to address the issue of Arabic studies. Having visited nearly fifty of them, I’ve come to some conclusions about how things are and how they should be in this area of study for our full time and weekend/ after school institutions. This series will be an attempt to organize these thoughts in a coherent and hopefully beneficial fashion. In the spirit of pragmatism, expect no radical changes at your local Islamic school because of these articles. It is my hope that at the very least (a) this will serve as food for thought at the local level in your community and (b) bring like minds together for a robust collaborative effort in bringing together a powerful, new and innovative curriculum with realistic, scalable goals.

PART 1: Do our kids want to learn Arabic?

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Generally, why do adults learn a new language? Most often because the goal is to communicate in that language. Generally speaking then, why do children learn a new language? Most often because their teacher told them to. It isn’t curiosity that drives a child’s Arabic learning, it is an academic obligation. Arabic education isn’t only aimed at achieving certain academic milestones, but also injecting enthusiasm, curiosity and a love of learning the language into children. I never get tired of saying that the most important thing you’re going to need to study Arabic is motivation and the first thing to fade away into nothingness when you embark upon Arabic studies is also motivation. This is a major concern even for adults so we shouldn’t overlook its paramount importance in the context of our children.

My personal vision for installing this motivation as a fixture in our children’s lives is the connection we can build between them and the Qur’an, more precisely Qur’anic stories. At early grade levels, we have to devise an educational strategy not just made up of illustrated books that tell them what the people said to their messenger and what the messenger said to his people. I’m talking about a training program for our Arabic and Islamic studies teachers where they learn to turn into animated, imaginative characters making stories jump off the page in the class room giving our children the feeling that they’re standing at the edge of a cliff watching water part as they can hear enemy horses charging towards them and a cloud of dust rising behind them! The teacher tells this AMAAAAZING story, builds this incredible suspense and then says, “and you know what happened next….”. At this point the children have their eyes bulging out of their sockets, the look of concern and curiosity invading their facial expressions. Some can’t help themselves and cry out “tell us teacher!” The teacher recites the ayah in an animated fashion bringing its words to life in the classroom without translating. “The End.” “What?” the children exclaim. “What does that mean?” “You mean you guys don’t know what that means? OHOHOHHHO…Let me tell you!” The teacher takes a word from the ayah and builds a story around it and every few seconds asks, “What was that word again?” The class screams out the answer making the principal nervous about what’s going on in the class.

Animating the story is a great way to spark curiosity and a fantastic covert method of vocabulary introduction. Word lists on a page are boring and students only remember them as long as they are studying for a test. Words, even phrases that are given a meaningful, memorable context embed themselves in the student’s mind. This, mind you, is an alternative approach to the early years of Arabic learning, say 2nd grade. This is just one means of building excitement around the subject. In a later part of this series, I’ll talk a little bit more about the grade level by grade level academic targets we should look to achieve.

PART 2: Children should know Arabic, but which Arabic? (coming soon)

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Nouman Ali Khan is the director of the Bayyinah Institute. He is well known for his contributions in the fields of Arabic and Quranic studies - most recently starting a full time on-campus institute for this purpose in Dallas, TX.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    February 2, 2009 at 2:15 AM

    bismillah. easy solution: unlimited clones of Nouman, sent out to volunteer in masajid the world over… :D

    • Noor

      December 8, 2017 at 1:51 PM

      That,indeed,is the BEST solution!!

  2. mofw

    February 2, 2009 at 5:20 AM

    Mashallah, this approach is very creative and has great potential. However, it needs much, much more.

    This is more of the content side to studying Arabic. However, the framework and environment is even more important I think.

  3. MM Associates

    February 2, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    Jazaakum Allahu khayran! This is great.
    Amatullah

  4. bintwadee3

    February 2, 2009 at 2:38 PM

    I find myself looking back and trying to recall the 8 years or so I spent in Arabic class, learning mufrad, jam3, mudaara3, ahruf shamsiya and qamariya. The thing is, at that age, I didn’t care to learn about proper arabic grammar. The point of arabic class was to speak arabic, and I knew (my broken up) arabic so I was good to go. What was I going to do with “Limaadha ta7zani yaa ukhtil habeeba?” when I had “Shu ishbik? Shu hasal?” But now that I need it, the knowledge is buried deep under a load of everyday junk and I can’t even remember what “min, ila, 3an, 3ala, fi, bi, li, kaf” stood for. It was a creative way to teach us something, I know that. The only problem is I don’t remember what that something WAS!

    Another thing that really needs t obe stressed is informing the parents that anything learned, especially a language, HAS to be reinforced at home. Parents expect teachers to do all the work – “after all, what am I paying them for?”. They don’t seem to understand that their child will not retain that information if it isn’t drilled into their heads. Also, I believe we (whoever we is – you, me, teachers, principals, kids) should persuade bilingual/multilingual parents (Arab/Pakistani/Indian/Persian mother and Hungarian/Kenyan/Moroccan father) to speak both languages at home so their child will have some sort of knowledge about it. Its kind of sad when you see someone say “My father is from Turkey and my mother is Swedish, but I don’t know a single word of either of those languages.”

    Got off onto a bit of a tangent, but jazaakAllaahu Khayran for bringing this up. I’m going to start teaching a 5 year old Qur’an and I’ll have to incorporate arabic lessons into it, so I look forward to your articles, bi idhnillaah. Don’t keep us waiting too long! Especially for the grade level academic target article.

  5. Nouman

    February 2, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    Thanks bintwadee3 … It is experiences precisely like yours that need addressing. more coming up very soon insha Allah.

  6. AnonyMouse

    February 2, 2009 at 3:28 PM

    Aaahhhh, masha’Allah, this is amazing! I wish I had that kind of experience :(
    As it is, I had attended volunteer-run Arabic classes using the Medinah University Arabic books, but it was an adult class and I was a fidgety 13 year old… 5 years later, I still have the books but barely remember any of it!

  7. midatlantic

    February 2, 2009 at 4:11 PM

    This post actually reminded me of Br Nouman’s classes. Quite a number of attendees I know sit through the classes just to hear the Quranic gems he gives…those moments were you are just dumbstruck by the magnificence of the Holy Book.

  8. TheLadyoftheHouse

    February 2, 2009 at 5:14 PM

    as-salaamu `alaykum. I’m curious to know if Br. Nouman is connected to this series of articles on “Qur’anic Arabic” or not.

    http://www.islamicedfoundation.com/arabic/newpage1.htm

  9. shirien

    February 2, 2009 at 5:33 PM

    “This post actually reminded me of Br Nouman’s classes. Quite a number of attendees I know sit through the classes just to hear the Quranic gems he gives…those moments were you are just dumbstruck by the magnificence of the Holy Book.”

    Subhanallah, this was actually one of the “problems” I had when taking the arabic classes. I was so engulfed with the gem, that I wanted to write it down, but was afraid of missing out on the moment and maybe missing some points while writing, that I decided to listen to it instead.

    I only wished i had written them down so i can go back and look at them! Alhamdulillah for that being the “problem” :)

  10. Umm Reem

    February 2, 2009 at 5:50 PM

    JazakAllah khair for addressing this issue br Nouman…

    Some enthusiasm are instilled at home by parents, and I believe this is one of them, although extra help from teachers always come in handy!
    Also, reading Qur’an with meanings is another way of arousing this enthusiasm amongst young children. I noticed many parents just concentrate on thier children reading Qur’an without knowing what they are reading. If parents start telling them the meaning too and just focus on a few words’ meanings at a time, the children end up learning these words. And by the time they are done reading the entire Quran with meanings they build up a good amount of vocabulary. In fact, after some time they understand the verse without the parent having to explain the meanings…

    They listen attentively even the meaning of the verses that we think will be hard for them to understand. Their little minds are quite imaginative.

  11. Nirgaz

    February 2, 2009 at 7:56 PM

    I love these methods…they are what will inspire this generation to be EmanRushed:) for the deen once more.
    I have used similar methods in my youth group…telling stories of the Sahabah like it was about someone today and by the end of the story everyone is dying to know who it is and I reveal that it was a Sahabah and they are so wowed by this…it is awesome cause you get them excited about it and plus its fun to tell the stories this way and to creatively teach.
    For a class one time I also told the story of Hajar….telling them to imagine that their father (representing Ibrahim AS) and them were out driving and then their dad just ups and leaves them without saying a word in the middle of nowhere with their little brother (representing Isma’il). Then I ask them what would be their reaction and most say they would get angry or demand their father not to leave or something to that effect…then I say that this person only asked if this was the will of Allah…and the answer was yes,….and they were fine with that….I then say would we have the faith to leave it at that? Then I relate who this story is really about…Ibrahim, Hajar, and Isma’il and we discuss how faith led all of them .
    Most of my students react well to this story…and they always remember how these people had incredible faith and unwavering dedication to Allah.
    Umsalih

  12. Raniah

    February 3, 2009 at 10:22 AM

    A very much needed article. Jazak Allah khair for taking the time out to write this (and future ones insha’allah)!

    A suggestion that I would like to make…is as you are writing your future articles, it would be nice if you could continue to give practical examples and even resources for those of us who would like to teach our children arabic (in the correct manner), but don’t have the experience with attending islamic schools, or even studying the language formally.
    Where does one start? What is, in your opinion, the most successful way to teach the language so that it is retained and even in a way that is “fun” to the children?
    This may seem like a lot to cover, but I am not aware of any good resources out there for dealing with this issue. Your suggestions would be appreciated.

  13. Iftikhar

    February 3, 2009 at 12:08 PM

    The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos.Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won’t feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith.
    Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities. There is a belief among ethnic minority parens that the British schooling does not adequatly address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response.

    State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

    Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslims have the right to educate their children in an environment that suits their culture. This notion of “integration”, actually means “assimilation”, by which people generally really mean “be more like me”. That is not multiculturalism. In Sydney, Muslims were refused to build a Muslim school, because of a protest by the residents. Yet a year later, permission was given for the building of a Catholic school and no protests from the residents. This clrearly shows the blatant hypocrisy, double standards and racism. Christians oppose Muslim schools in western countries yet build their own religious schools.

    British schooling and the British society is the home of institutional racism. The result is that Muslim children are unable to develop
    self-confidence and self-esteem, therefore, majority of them leave schools with low grades. Racism is deeply rooted in British society. Every native child is born with a gene or virus of racism, therefore, no law could change the attitudes of racism towards those who are different. It is not only the common man, even member of the royal family is involved in racism. The father of a Pakistani office cadet who was called a “Paki” by Prince Harry
    has profoundly condemned his actions. He had felt proud when he met the Queen and the Prince of Wales at his son’s passing out parade at Sandhurst in 2006 but now felt upset after learning about the Prince’s comments. Queen Victoria invited an Imam from India to teach her Urdu language. He was highly respected by the Queen but other members of the royal family had no respect for him. He was forced to go back to India. His protrait is still in one of the royal places.

    There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.
    Iftikhar Ahmad
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  14. Pingback: Arabic for Children Part 2: The Three Kinds of Arabic | MuslimMatters.org

  15. Jinanne

    February 23, 2009 at 3:13 PM

    Nouman,

    Very insightful! I’m excited to read part 2 of this article and will be checking back for part 3 of the series. I learned Arabic attending weekend ‘arabic school’ in the UK. I dreaded every weekend. Learning Arabic was boring and uninspiring! I completely agree with you that the solution to this problem is to create and distribute books and materials that are engaging and fun, and to encourage teachers and parents to build excitement around the Arabic language.

    Several months ago, I launched an online startup to do just that. ARABOH.com is an online bookstore that provides Arabic educational resources to people all over the world. I would love for you and other visitors to this blog to visit our website and provide any feedback you may have.

    Thanks again for another great read.

    Jinanne Tabra
    – ARABOH.com

  16. Mouloud Alouane

    June 21, 2009 at 1:47 PM

    Thank you for your article

    Human / social communication, interaction and cooperation would be very difficult, if not even impossible altogether, without (civilized) human language. Language has a very important role to perform in human society. One of its very meaningful tasks is to educate and civilize human beings so that they can be reasonably responsible world citizens, useful to themselves, their families and communities, as well as human civilization, in general. All human languages, and particularly those with a potential (and history) to make significant contributions to human knowledge and civilization, assume and must assume such responsibility. Human language must be allowed to get on with the purposes of its “raison-d’être” and the work it is supposed to undertake to serve humanity everywhere. It must not become a tool of human exploitation, deprivation and injustice. Some communities transform their own languages into instruments of their own gradual destruction and prevention of healthy civilized development. This is very unfortunate indeed !

    The Arabic language has a number of roles and objectives to fulfill : linguistic, cultural, educational, societal, civilizational, etc. On the linguistic level, for instance, it demonstrates a linguistic need on the group level within the specific context of the Muslim Minority Community in the British Irish Isles just like other parts of Europe, etc. (a) It is the first language of a great many Muslim people, (b) it is the second language of others, (c) and definitely the third / foreign / community language of quite a few, several of whom belong to one or other groups that constitute the British Irish Muslim Community in the European continent.

    These three groups all need the Arabic Language for a wide range of reasons, the most meaningful of which are the socio-educational, the linguistic, the epistemological, and the cultural – including the religious, the ideological, where they apply, and the civilizational (in the true universal sense of the term).

    Thus, we may ask if Arabic language is a religious or linguistic need? and whose responsibility it is to provide and facilitate the teaching of Arabic.?

    Relevant academic and other studies carried out in different circles in Great Britain and elsewhere indicate that Muslims and others want the Arabic language to become taught in schools as a “modern language” like German, French and Spanish, not just as a second / community language taught in private and community or denominational schools and colleges. In Muslim schools, for instance, it is taught alongside the first language of non-Arabic speaking children and often in addition to a compulsory modern language such as German, French or Spanish. If Arabic were justly classified as a MODERN LANGUAGE (in educational terms, only, since ‘MODERN’ can simply imply A HIGHLY SOPHISTICATED DIALECTICAL DEVELOPMENT in certain contexts), the Muslim children would all opt for Arabic and would all have to learn it besides their first language, if it happens to be different, and the English language that is the majority language and language of the future for international communication and dissemination of a healthy useful knowledge and civilization. That is just one of the most meaningful reasons why it is taught initially everywhere in the Muslim World, in more than seventy countries, throughout the Planet, and in most cases, at the expense of Muslim universities, ministries and departments of education, from setting up the schools (throughout all stages of education) to the training of teachers and production of teaching and learning materials. In sharp contrast, Muslims in minority communities in the West and elsewhere, even when they struggle to remain self-reliant in every possible respect, the Arabic language remains deliberately marginalized (by those in charge of making decisions on behalf of others), even though it is a very well-known fact at least in intellectual circles, that the language is a very important language of civilization and classed as a world language, of the UN, and one of science, technology, and human / social development on all fronts.

    Thus, Arabic language, as a religious need is arguably the responsiblity of Muslim communities within Eropean Union(EU), for instance to organise language schools, Arabic language programmes delivered and taught by qulaified teachers and linguistics in this field. French and Spanish languages are taught in most schools across EU, and Muslim children learn, and speak them fluently before leaving the secondary education. Arabic language should be taught in an academic, appropriate and happy learning environment, and by competent trained teachers. Unless they enjoy learning it, they will not deliver , as their parents may expect then to do. This is our responsibility. if they understand , speak and write Arabic, this will put them in an advantageous position: this will benefit their Islmic knowledge, research, and could be the future teachers, bilingual educators. for their own children.

    Islamic centres should also contribute to such teaching and introduce relevant material, resources (Qur’an, Hadith and an appropriate learning learning environment., and according to chuildren’s level of understanding of Arabic language.

    In conclusion, Muslim children will learn better if the teaching of Arabic language is deliverd in a very happy, learning, educational and academic environment (Islamic of course)., an dwill contribute to the development of their religious and linguistic identity.

    Thank you
    Mouloud Alouane

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  18. Nazib

    December 10, 2017 at 4:11 AM

    I read this and it reminded me of this video where Ustadh Nouman animated the incident of Musa AS in firaun’s court.While listening,it felt like I was present there!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyBjiztXgE8

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