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Israel’s U. Haifa study concludes: Arabic is hard to read [especially when it’s written wrong]


A study by the University of Haifa has asserted that Arabic is ‘hard to read,’ with the conclusion supported by data from thirty seven university students who, when flashed words in Arabic, were unable to read them as quickly as they could words in English and in Hebrew. All students were native Arabic speakers who were also able to read English and Hebrew, and Professor Zohar Eviatar, who led the study, implicated the visual complexity of Arabic as being the culprit.

“The particular characteristics of Arabic make it hard for the right hemisphere to be involved. When you are starting something new, there is a lot of [right hemisphere] involvement… The particular characteristics of Arabic make it hard for the right hemisphere to be involved.” – Source from BBC News

This study pokes a small but ‘scientific’ pin into the voodoo doll of Islam’s world image. Because apparently it’s not enough that we smell bad, beat all four of our wives, threaten people with grammatically incorrect protest placards or terrorize the world, now our language is hard to read, too.

Also, hummus tastes funny.

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As Muslims, we greet each other in Arabic, we read the Qur’an in Arabic, we memorize pages of it and copy out lines from it.  We have children completing the memorization of the entire Qur’an- 114 surahs in 30 sections – before they’re out of grade school, and on top of that we believe that God said:

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ ﴿القمر: ٤٠﴾

“And We have indeed made the Qur’an easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition?” (Quran 54:17)

So how should we feel about this study?  Warily amused, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.  It would seem that the study was fraught with many major errors, a few of which were very kindly pointed out in a recent article by Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD, published by the Oxford Cross-Cultural Research Institute. The biggest of errors, it would seem, is the lack Arabic literacy of those conducting the study.

The preceding image is a sample stimuli sheet from the study itself, and anyone literate in Arabic, regardless of their fluency level, would have a hard time reading it.  Why?  Because it’s been written wrong.  Arabic script flows in the way that cursive does in English – with the letters of a word joining together according to set rules and forms that make it very clear which word each letter belongs in.  The joining is similar to the use of spaces that separates two words from another.  It also helps determine whether certain letters, like ‘Ya’, will act as consonants or vowels.

A ‘Ya’ in its initial form is a consonant. A ‘Ya’ in the middle of the word can make one of two vowel sounds – ‘ee’ or ‘ai’, and a ‘Ya’ at the end of a word most often makes the sound ‘ah’.  Even if you don’t read Arabic, a simple comparison between the following two words yield some very obvious differences.

The image on the right shows how the word is supposed to look, and the image on the left shows how it was displayed.  Given a few seconds, you could easily work out the word intended, but the students in the study were shown each incorrectly written word for only one-fifth of a second.

And if you still don’t get what the problem with the study is, then try writing out a few words in English, in all capital letters, removing the spaces and a majority of the vowels, and when university students can’t understand what you’ve written when flashed for less than a fifth of a second, tell them that English is hard.  And also, that beans on toast give people gas.

Linguists and university professors attacking our language can get in line behind the politicians, playwrights, journalists and news anchors attacking everything else about Islam.  And the whole lot of them should relax and work on something more useful like finding common ground.

Arabic is left-hemisphere specific?  How nice, so are German, Spanish, Urdu, and a minor language known as English.

People find Arabic difficult to learn? Well, they also struggle with math, chemistry, and tap dancing.

The publicity this study is receiving might be justified if it were a slow news day for the world.  After all, when was the last time the BBC talked about the distinctive right-brained approach used by people reading Kanji Japanese?  However, the prominence it’s receiving right now, when political issues are being heated to boiling point in the US about the Park 51 Mosque and Jesus-Loving Christians are advocating ‘Burn a Qur’an Day,’ this is simply in poor taste.

Finding long-term peace is contingent upon finding similarities instead of digging up differences, and common ground instead of bright new battlefields.  An academically unsound study conducted by a university located in a country locked in a bloody, 50+ year land-battle with Arabs that takes a linguistic jab at the language their holy book is written in – is not international news.  It’s bad science and bad journalism.

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Zeba Khan is the Editor at Large - Special Needs for, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.



  1. HassanAdnan

    September 16, 2010 at 2:07 AM

    Wow. interesting, Praise be to the Lord who sustains truth, no matter what !. JazakAllah for the article, even though I dont know much about neurology but I do feel my mind stimulated when I read the Quran, which definitely means great activity goes in the brain, and it refreshes the mind, brings peace. And the visual effects of the Arabic does stimulate the right hemisphere, like any other visual stimuli. The premise that I have come up with is that: The visual pattern difficulty in case when Arabic is written wrong is an analytical problem and that is why it simulated the left hemisphere (Left Hemisphere: Analytical Problems). In case it had been written wrong it would have definitely stimulated the right hemisphere. The BBC statement itself is a clear proof of the error they committed in their experiments “The particular characteristics of Arabic make it hard for the right hemisphere to be involved. When you are starting something new, there is a lot of [right hemisphere] involvement… The particular characteristics of Arabic make it hard for the right hemisphere to be involved.” . Had they written it right, they results would have manifested clear involvement of the right hemisphere.

  2. Justin

    September 16, 2010 at 2:35 AM

    Typos and difficult script do make learning Arabic harder. FOr those who want to learn Arabic from hadith, I recommend Daily Hadith Online in English and Arabic.

  3. Ray

    September 16, 2010 at 3:18 AM

    Thank you for this excellent article and for introducing me to Sh Riyad Nadwi’s amazing articles. He is a real polymath. I leant Arabic five years ago and it gets easier everyday especially when I read Quran. I think the Israelis will now think twice before they embark on any more underhand tactics to criticise the language. Masha Allah. Well done!

    • barbiee

      April 14, 2011 at 4:28 PM

      I Agree with you. :)

  4. M

    September 16, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    If Arabic is really that hard, then how do they explain the thousands of Pakistanis and other people who read Arabic fluently, though its not their first language?

  5. Andrew Purcell

    September 16, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    Translation: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

    I like the way you made your point.

  6. jimmy

    September 16, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    That’s sound great. Arabic is a language of Holy Quran. How is it possible that reading Arabic is hard. As an Arabic Teacher, my experience observes that Arabic is too easy to learn if one devotes its time with consistency.
    It would be never acceptable that this language is hard to read or understand.

    • barbiee

      April 14, 2011 at 4:29 PM

      Absolutely… :)

  7. m

    September 16, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    I have been reading all the above comments and the initial topic written. i am myself a language therapist and have been working with children on reading and writing dificulties for over 10 years now, in 3 languages french, english and arabic. I am a native arabic speaker and live in an arabic speaking country. My experience tells me that Arabic is really harder to learn than the above mentioned languages due to it’s specificities that are in two areas: visual specificities and auditory ones as well. I must tell you that children find it very hard to master the relationship between the written scripts and their vocalization, not because “arabic is hard for the brain” but because of the way this language is being introduced to these little ones. Let us be honest for once and realize that this great and beautiful language that is the Arabic language has never (or almost never) been the object of scientific research that aims for a better understanding of its specificities. What makes it hard to learn is the lack of appropriate methodologies to teach Arabic, methodologies which should be backed up by neurolinguistic researches and studies.
    We all do use our brain to learn languages but each type of a language uses or needs to activate specific areas in the brain. These areas differ wether the language is alphabetical such as french or English, logographic, such as chinese…. This is indeed backed up by thousands of researches. But where is the neurological RESEARCH that indicates the actual areas that are activated while learning to read Arabic and while reading it?

    Arabic is a beautiful, great language that is the core source and the identity of all arabic native speakers, WETHER THEY ARE MUSLIMS OR NOT.
    i, myself am christian and love and respect Arabic because “”اللغة ØŒ ليست هي فقط وسيلة للتواصل انّما هي أساس هويّة الانسان”
    you are what your native language is. It makes you …

    • Yaser Birjas

      September 17, 2010 at 12:30 PM

      Regardless of the purpose of the original research, I have to agree with your comment on this crucial point:

      “What makes it hard to learn is the lack of appropriate methodologies to teach Arabic, methodologies which should be backed up by neurolinguistic researches and studies.”

      Being a native Arabic speaker, I never had any problem reading or loving the Arabic language and its literature. But being a father of children who were born and raised in the US, who had to struggle for learning the Arabic language as an ASL, in terms of competing with their, English language as their most spoken in the US, I have to testify to the fact that we do lack the proper curriculum that is based on long term and profound research and designed for the purpose of teaching Arabic as a second language.

      There are so many books in the market, and so many initiatives run by many different organizations and individuals but what is available is not mature enough and does not stand a chance in comparison to the books made for teaching other languages. Of course funding is a main problem, but finding a specialized institute and the human resources who are trained in the field is the biggest issue. With all the experts in the filed, I have not yet seen them all, if its possible at all, working together on one particular project.

      Having most teachers of Arabic mainly trained in teaching Arabic for the purpose of learning how to read the Qur’an, which is the most noble cause for Muslims, and having most teachers of Arabic who got their training to teach Arabic as a first language, make learning Arabic somehow difficult, but not impossible.

      Grown ups who take their time learning the Arabic, especially morphology, enjoy the logic behind the structure of the words. The semitic tri-literal root system of the Arabic language is one of the most enjoyable aspect of learning Arabic, its a brilliant system and mental and logical entertainment, if you got the right teacher to explain it to you. For younger learners, it will definitely be difficult.

      I taught ASL for both children and grown ups for many years, and I learned to read and speak three languages myself, and now working on my fourth, and it is definitely the methodology before anything else that makes a big difference in finding it hard or easy to learn any foreign language.

      PS: Shouldn’t the Israelis be more concerned today with Sabra and Shatila, and make a serious research on their true involvement with the massacre that took place this day, 28 years ago?

  8. Mohammed

    September 16, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    LOL…Jazakallah sister for this article…i had read this article when it was put and i was confused as to what the article was published for……as my learning experience says that it is indeed easy to learn Arabic…but now Alhamdulillah I’m convinced after looking at the image you posted that the research was a fake.

  9. Mezba

    September 16, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    You shouldn’t take it too personally if someone is saying Arabic is hard (and Arabic is not MY language despite me being Muslim – it is only the language of the Quran).

    Personally I find Arabic easy to read and write because it follows its rules and there are hardly exceptions. But imagine if this was the time before Hajjaj bin Yousuf. He was the one who introduced the dots that differentiate the Arabic letters b,t,c etc. If I didn’t have the dots Arabic would have been really hard a language to master.

    • someone

      September 16, 2010 at 5:11 PM

      hahah when i first heard of it in BBC i thought the article was dodgy and poorly written i completely blamed it on BBC and the journalist who cant summarize a research paper to save his life. In my opinion i though BBC made up some conclusions to fit the title. I gave those researchers at Haifa university my benefit of the doubt,boy was I wrong. One of prof of linguists once said that even in linguistics some research facilities get massive amount of funding to do research that are per say relevant or revolutionary to the field but to fit a certain groups agenda/interest . Since this came from Israel’s U. of Haifa are we that surprised.

      If were talking about difficult language English and French are probably the worst, the orthographic representation of the both of these spoken language are pretty illogical , to a point some debated “written language reform“.In English, there is nothing rational about GH. In French both these words are pronounced exactly the same but have different orthographic representation.

      Ex: GHost mÈre
      lauGH mAIre

      Most other language`s are pretty straight forward and i never encountered any illogical orthographic representation of Arabic `s spoken language.

    • someone

      September 16, 2010 at 5:25 PM

      What is written language anyway I see it something aesthetic to language. Some linguist dont even see it as a subject of concern or even relevant o the field. Some languages in the world don`t even have a written language does that make the language meaningless or incomplete, written language is static , its language codified. So what if Arabic is hard to read that does not mean its hard to learn.

    • someone

      September 16, 2010 at 5:26 PM

      What is written language anyway I see it something aesthetic to language. Some linguist dont even see it as a subject of concern or even relevant o the field. Some languages in the world don`t even have a written language does that make the language meaningless or incomplete, written language is static , its language codified. So what if Arabic is hard to read that does not mean its hard to learn.

  10. Sayf

    September 16, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Very interesting and very well written.

    I think hard and easy might just be over-simplifications of how the brain works. Even if let’s say for the sake of argument it did take more effort to learn, my understanding of how neuroplasticity works (or hypothesis) is that it would increase brain development – especially for children – and eventually make the language and a lot of things connected to those neurons a lot easier too. A bit like working out a muscle – eventually jogging a few km gets really easy, and all related things as well like basketball/swimming/praying taraweh.

    Again, even my blurb is over-simplified. Our understanding of the brain is very limited to just a handful of techniques (fMRI / PET) and there’s a whole lot more that we don’t know than what we do know – and even what we do know is recent and immature stuff. Sometimes reporters incorrectly speak about scientific work in definite terms like in the article (I guess it makes things more fun?), when really there’s a ton more research and counter-research available and necessary.

    My only criticism of your article would be don’t worry too much about politics and “jabs” I think that might be taking things a little more defensively than what’s necessary. Even if their work was biased – there’s no need to become biased in the opposite direction (you aren’t, but it’s a predictable reaction people would have) and end up confounding proper understanding of the science behind the brains in our head.

    For anyone interested in more reading, check this out:

    • Elham

      September 17, 2010 at 10:04 PM

      MashAllah,interesting site-thought it would be boring journals on neuroscience.Jak

  11. m

    September 16, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    I really want to thank you for the reccent post you displayed.
    We indeed are underestimating the power of the brain and we do indeed have very few knowledge about how the brain works in general but even less about how it works specifically when learning the Arabic language. As a researcher i do strongly believe that we need to better understand the activities the brain does when learning to read Arabic and when reading it. We need to do the appropriate researches in our arabic communities and not rely on others to do this for us. The evolution of the teaching methods for the arabic language won’t come unless it is tightly linked to scientific research.
    Although many learn arabic very easily still lots of children struggle when learning this language and tend to avoid it at school, especially when having the opportunity to learn another language, if they’re living in a bilingual country. I personnaly find it a shame that so many little ones have difficulties learning the arabic language, not because the language is hard, cause it is true that Arabic is a transparent language with very few exeptions, but only because methodologies for teaching this language are still very old and didn’t evolve much.
    If you really want to understand the struggle of students to learn a language, try to research the term “DYSLEXIA” and you’ll have an idea about the main cognitive functions that are essential to learn to read. However, it is very important to point out that all or almost all studies to understand the brain functions while reading have been made in foreign countries on foreign languages which might not apply to the Arabic language.
    The initial article that have been displayed about the arabic being hard for the brain is most probably politicized. Nevertheless, i find it a trigger to move forward towards more ethical researches about the Arabic language (brain functions, methodologies, explain dyslexia in arabic……).


    September 16, 2010 at 4:02 PM


    I was a little sad after this article because one of the main criticism of the paper is the orthographical issue (Arabic characters being separately written). The issue about Arabic characters is a well knows issue with Microsoft Word on Macs. I was embarrassed once where I had a sentence in Arabic written in MS word, and the printing company used a mac to print the document – the result was that the characters were not joined. To experiment, open up on a PC and on a Mac, you will see the difference. I like macs, but this software issue is most annoying.

    I am not in the medical field, but I am sure there could be some fun debates about how the mind learns. After reading the article, I could not imagine that someone could commit a huge blunder – if you are a PhD and you did write a paper based on that experiment, you would be a laughing stock of the community. So I emailed Rafiq Ibrahim – he did confirm the issue with macs, and he is getting it fixed with the publishers :).

    At the end, I think it makes us Muslims a little silly for jumping to conclusions on the orthography issue.

    • MW_M

      September 16, 2010 at 7:49 PM

      I have a mac, it displayed it fine…

  13. Ray

    September 16, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    @ NonProfitMuslim, I think if you serve the Israelis an excuse on a plate they will certainly grab because this substandard research has costed them a lot of credibility. The point you make is addressed by the Sh Nadwi in his article. He explains that this is unlikely to be a printing error because it was an image. Also when the MAC printer corrupts the Arabic texts is does not print the letters in the correct (left-to-right ) order as it is in the Israeli research. The MAC error reverses the order of the text to righ-to-left because it treats it as if it was English. So I don’t buy it that this was just a printing error.

  14. Ray

    September 16, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    Also the publication was reviewed and revised by the authors twice before publication. The Journal article says that the paper was:

    Received January 15, 2008
    Revision received August 26, 2008
    Accepted September 8, 2008

    (see page 254)

    Which means they had ample chance to correct any printing errors but because it was intended to be separated letter strings they left it as it was. Think about if, if you printed something off from your MAC and it corrupted the text would you still use it? They approved it because that was the idea.

    NonProfitMuslim, I think it is silly and naive to buy into this argument about MAC printing error.

    Note: In my previous post I meant

  15. Olivia

    September 16, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    the people conducting the study didn’t even write the words correctly?

    my dad used to have a saying about being that dumb, but i can’t say it here. I’ll initialize it: S.F.B. The “F.B.” stands for “for brains.” I’m sure you can figure out the “S,” as long as you weren’t one of the people conducting this study. =)

  16. amir mia

    September 16, 2010 at 8:27 PM

    I have a mac, and below is the print out of the .doc file that was posted earlier and it certainly looks messed up. Looked up this issue on google, and apparently it is a well known problem… look up “mac word arabic” etc…

    Below is an much older paper from the same author and the pdf shows no problems.

    Ray, not sure if you ever published a paper or have a PhD (I have both, but not in the medical field), but review is *not* done on the printed copy. For this very reason, I stick with Latex which is a typesetting language. It is *possible* that the problem lies with the publisher. I am not concerned about supporting or creating excuses for our distant cousins, but am very concerned that as Muslims, we display critical thinking skills without getting emotional :)

    • Ray

      September 17, 2010 at 1:21 AM

      Amir, you have inadvertently provided definitive proof that the rebuttal was spot on. Their earlier research that you circulated proves (a) the Jounal printing process is perfectly capable of printing Arabic correctly and (b) when it’s done correctly the results of the experiments were completely opposite to what they claimed in the BBC episode. In the abstract of this one they wrote: “In Hebrew and Arabic, both hemispheres are sensitive to morphological structure“!!!

      They know this was so in 2006 so they decided to manipulate the experiment so that the Arabs would find it more difficult so that they could claim that we did not use our right hemisphere. It’s very clear now.

      • Asaf

        September 17, 2010 at 9:22 AM

        Wait, “when it’s done correctly the results of the experiments were completely opposite to what they claimed in the BBC episode”? The paper from 2007, in which the words were printed correctly, says “We have shown that native Arabic readers respond equivalently to Hebrew and to Arabic when letters are presented in the right visual field (RVF) but make selectively more errors in Arabic than in Hebrew when letters are presented in the left visual field (LVF). In fact, they make as many errors as participants who cannot read Arabic.”

        The whole piece by Sheykh Nadwi is strange: for instance, it refers to “Kanji speakers.” You can’t speak kanji — it’s a writing system.

      • Asaf

        September 17, 2010 at 9:35 AM

        With respect to the sentence from the abstract you quote, you’re confusing the two separate results they arrived at: one has to do with orthography, and the other has to do with morphology. Both the 2007 paper and the 2010 paper that Shaykh Nadwi’s article is criticizing conclude that Hebrew and Arabic speakers, unlike English speakers, display bihemispheric sensitivity to complex morphology. As the abstract for the 2010 paper says: “Both hemispheres revealed sensitivity to morphological complexity, a pattern similar to that of native Hebrew readers and different from that of native English readers.”

        Both papers also concluded that Arabic orthography is more left-hemisphere intensive than Hebrew or English. And they never claimed that Arabic is especially hard to read for native Arabic learners, or people who’ve been exposed to Arabic and related scripts from a young age. Most of the criticism of the Ibrahim & Eviatar article seems to be either misunderstanding (both on the part of Sh. Nadwi and the BBC), distortion, or paranoia.

        • Ray

          September 17, 2010 at 10:13 AM

          What 2010 paper are you talking about – there is no such thing! If what you say about the morphology findings is true then why did Ebrahim and Avitar not issue a verdict of deficit on English speakers? Why did they only issue it on Arabic in the 2009 paper? Also I noticed you have avoided to comment on the printing issue. Are you suggesting that the this peer review journal published erroneous text?

          As for you Kanji point in Sh Nadwi article- it is clearly a typological error. You are suggesting the he did not know that Kanji is a writing system which is absurd because in the previous paragraph he wrote “such as the Japanese Kanji pictographic system”. If he did not know it was writing system they why would be describe it as a pictographic system? You are clearly clutching at straws here. I think you need to deal with central issues in this attack on Arabic, why did Avitar give an interview to the BBC to help them with their news report if they were misrepresenting their research? And why did the researches issue a verdict of deficit on Arabic and not on other languages?

  17. m

    September 16, 2010 at 11:49 PM

    i really don’t understand why you’re so eager to try to criticise or support the conducted research. Even though they think they found out that the arabic is hard for the brain, the only way to prove somebody wrong is to start thinking scientifically and conduct a conterresearch. Ya Allah how silly we could be sometimes, most of the times really. Wake up!

  18. A.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:04 AM

    MashaAllah. Very enlightening. Jazak Allah Khayr =)

  19. Ibn Masood

    September 17, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    LOL nice.

    As soon as I saw that ridiculous news report, I knew there was an agenda behind the researchers and the reporter who tried to make it a news headline.

    Epic FAIL in my books.

  20. Ray

    September 17, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    I don’t want to accuse anybody of insincerity but I wonder if anyone on this forum knows the people running the organisation called I could not find any names or addresses and the reason I have become interested in this is because they have tried to defend the Israeli research in this thread. There may be a perfectly innocent explanation why they thought it was a good idea to leap to the defence of the Israelis but given my experience with mysterious fund-raisers based in Canada who robbed many mosques and Muslim schools in Europe and North America through elaborate scams I think it is quite important that we scrutinise the credentials and track records of all such individuals and organisations. If they are fund-raising for mosques and schools then we should know their full identities with references and have complete transparency with their accounts. Anything less should be considered dodgy and be avoided.

  21. Middle Ground

    September 17, 2010 at 9:12 AM


    Well to be honest (and leaving politics out of this), I – being a native English reader – have been trying to read Quran all my life, have gone through the mushaf many times, yet I still struggle to recite fluently from it after all these years. For me at least, I don’t think I can ever get fluency in Arabic like I have in English.

    • Ray

      September 17, 2010 at 9:24 AM

      If you are leaving “politics aside” as you claim, they why call yourself Middle Ground? Where is that ground? Is that the ground between the Israelis and Muslims?

      Anyway your difficulty with reading is a common problem with people who do not spend enough time with Quran. It’s all down to practice, if you practice it enough then you will be able to read it fluently like most Muslims around the world. It all comes down to practice. Spend an hour everyday reading the Quran for six months and you will see how your fluency will develop.

      • Middle Ground

        September 17, 2010 at 1:48 PM

        Ok I’m out of this thread. Looks like some people need a lesson in adab.

  22. Jeremiah

    September 17, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    As salamu alaikum,

    Jazakillahu khairan to the author and may Allah accept your du’a for your son and mother. I really appreciated this article because the comments really showed the expertise available in our ummah, mashAllah. Wherever you fall on this debate it is good to see that we have people that contribute intellectually.


    • abez

      September 17, 2010 at 10:07 AM

      JazakAllahukheiran for the duas. :) They are much appreciated, brother.

  23. abdulhaq

    September 17, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    There is an over-reaction to this little report.

    It’s sad that now that someone is honest and says they find reading arabic difficult (as ‘Middle Ground’ did) so they get attacked as being pro-Israeli. Unbelievable really.

    Whether or not reading arabic is difficult (and now I teach arabic after learning it in the west), many things in Islam are difficult and alhamdulillaah, it’s a challenge and not a problem. Praying fajr every day on time can be difficult, alhamdulillaah. Fasting for 16 hours on a really hot day is difficult, alhamdulillaah. Improving our character is difficult, alhamdullillaah. Dealing with some awkward people without getting angry can be difficult, alhamdulillaah. Memorising the entire qur’an is difficult. So many great things in Islam are difficult and this is a blessing, nothing to get uptight about. If it was all so easy then everyone would be a great muslim. How different the world would be then!

    Some people will find reading arabic difficult, some will find it easy. That says nothing about our din. How do we behave with each other, that’s what speaks volumes.

    By the way, arabic is really neglected in the ummah so if you want to get worked up over something, take a look at the level of classical arabic in muslim countries.


    • Ray

      September 17, 2010 at 11:21 AM

      I understand where you are coming and I agree that we must be sensitive to the difficulties of our brothers and sisters. However, I think it is also important that Muslims realise that when we are facing an attack from the Israelis on our language and the BBC is claiming that Arabic is hard for the brain, it highly unwise to jump into the middle of this fierce debate to speak about difficulties with Arabic, especially when the causes of our difficulties with Arabic are more to do with our negligence and lack of practice. The discussion is not about negligence and lack of practice etc. It’s about the language itself. In any case I sorry if I offended anyone with my responses. It was not my intention. May Allah make it easy, as He said in the Quran, for us all.

      • abdulhaq

        September 17, 2010 at 11:58 AM

        assalaamu `alaykum Ray

        I think that I feel disappointed that we have all this energy when an Israeli says that reading arabic is more difficult than e.g. reading english (so what? being my primary reaction), when all around us the ummah is totally incapable of understanding the arabic they are reading.

        Many great scholars say that learning arabic (learning it, not just how to read the writing) is fard `ayn, and yet probably 99% of the ummah is totally incapable of that and their 5 times prayers are not understood by themselves. Nobody gets concerned about that, yet when some inconsequential report comes out that maybe reading arabic is a bit difficult (again, so what, lots of great things are difficult) everyone is jumping up and down blaming ‘the others’ for everything again.

        wassalaam, nothing personal intended,

        • Ahmad Magdi

          September 17, 2010 at 1:44 PM


          I agree that we need more effort in the community to teach Arabic and if that is our concern then I think we should all thank Sh Nadawi and Sr Abez for their rebuttal of this biased Israeli research because if they did not do it then lots of Muslim parents would have read the BBC article abour Arabic being hard for the brain and then decide to avoid sending their children to learn Arabic and to read the Quran. I know at least five parents who became quite anxious after reading the BBC news report. As one them told me “now I know why it’s impossible”.

          I have been teaching Arabic (GCSE and A-Level) for nearly 15 years and the biggest obstacle I find to children learning Arabic properly is lack of time dedication and consistency. The ones who persists and give it the necessary time do become quite fluent. The problem for our second and third generation children is that most their time after school is spent on computer games and other pursuits. If we want them to learn the language we have to make sure they invest the time needed for it.

          As for resources I think there is always room for improvement but as things stand at the moment there are quite a lot of highly effective programmes available in communities and on the net. We should not generalise and dismiss the efforts of lots of sincere people out there working night and day to teach Arabic in our communities. They deserve our recognition and gratitude not dismissal and criticisms.


          • abdulhaq

            September 17, 2010 at 2:50 PM

            assalaamu `alaykum

            I agree with all that you said. I do feel some dismay when I hear of people saying things like ‘now I know why it’s impossible’. Despite the fact that almost every Pakistani child I know who is 10 yrs or over can read arabic fairly well, people read the headline of a BBC article and make sweeping and, frankly, silly statements about learning to read arabic now being something really difficult.

            Now, reaching fluency in fushaa certainly does fall into the ‘hard’ category but if taken with the same seriousness as we took maths and english it could be quite a reasonable expectation that non-arab children could understand arabic to a fair level (if not speak it).

            Regarding teachers of arabic, as one myself (who doesn’t charge anything) my main observation, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, is that there are more teachers offering their services than there are students wanting to put in the effort to learn (in the world of adult students, anyway).


  24. Wael -

    September 17, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Abez, thanks very much for this. I read that report in the BBC recently, and at the time I found it a little annoying, but couldn’t say why. Dr. Riyadh has exposed the “study” for the fraud that it is, and you brought the point home in a way that made me laugh.

    Jazak Allah khayr.


  25. Elham

    September 17, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    Lol,its quite funny but sad at the same time-the desperation some people have.

    I’m fluent in Arabic,but I would never be able to read those ugly, disjointed, funny-looking ”words” in half a second! They look so abnormal,like they underwent mutation.

    Wallahi,its easy to learn Arabic,even understanding it-all it needs is time,time and more time with people who speak it naturally.You can ask them how to say words,what they mean,name things etc..most people would like to help out when it comes to language.

    Believe it or not,as a kid my Arabic education stems from two main sources:my Sudanese neighbours(I’d ask loads of questions+practice) and Arabic cartoons :D, so learning Arabic at school was just supplementary + boring.

  26. Elham

    September 17, 2010 at 10:01 PM

    Oh and I forgot to add, thats its not so bad learning it when you’re much older,my Mom did not know a word(ok maybe a couple) before moving to the MiddleEast and yet she can now speak fairly fluently (the writing practice comes from the Qur’an).All she did was practice on anyone who looked remotely Arab and forced them to converse with her,politely of course lol.

  27. Mostapha S.

    September 21, 2010 at 8:24 AM

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu,

    Even if the findings of this dubious study were true, they wouldn’t be necessarily bad; we could say that knowing Arabic makes you more intelligent (and I believe that there is a statement from ‘Umar, r.a.r, to this effect), and that intelligence is still available to all since no one claims that Arabic is impossible to learn, just difficult.



  28. ummousama

    September 29, 2010 at 2:38 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Arabic is hard to read? Let’s take the illiteracy rates at the end of Year 1, 2 and 3. Which language has the lowest illiteracy rate? In which language is dyslexia most prevalent? Can people who don’t know one word of English read English? No, because they won’t know how to read the word “read” or, if they are given some spelling, if they should write “red” or “read”. Complex English words are not introduced in reading till much later but kids who don’t know Arabic can read the whole Qur’an.

    Yes, the way they wrote the words are very important. Even if they chose cursive, they would need to choose a popular way of writing. On top of that, they would need to use words that make sense. It is very hard to read “English names” transliterated in Arabic because they don’t make sense and because the “reading rules” are not present anymore.

    Arabic IS easy to read, much easier than English, at the very least for a beginner. There is also a famous English text where most letters are misplaced and one can still read the text. Do that with Arabic and you will be unable to read anything because علم is not عمل even though they have the same vowels. Even those words without vowels could have different meanings!

    BTW, I learnt to read English in my teenage years and Arabic in my adulthood. I still make mistakes in English but no mistakes in Arabic!

  29. refutation

    October 8, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    did ya’ll read this most excellent refutation on the original article by shaykh nadwi from the UK?


  30. ansse

    October 17, 2010 at 12:42 AM

    could you be fair and check if the stimuli you built a thesis arround it are realy what the authors use?
    It seems that it was a conversion fault of the producer (it happend to me with arabic fonts with a journal)

    Please publish

  31. Ibn Mikdad

    December 27, 2010 at 4:07 AM

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu,

    A study by a group of Princeton scholar concludes that if a font of letters is more difficult to read, learning is improved:

    One wonders what that finding implies for letters and scripts that may or may not be difficult to read; I suppose something along the lines of ‘Umars remark I mentioned above.



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