Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Learning Arabic is Fun

“Worm-like writings, how could you read such a difficult script?’ exclaimed my Filipino friend.

It’s easy.

First have the passion to learn.
Dedicate some time, not your spare time.
Daily set a targeted plan.
Learn it for a purpose.

I have been working in the Middle East for almost 10 years now and most of the people I encountered were expats speaking in English. There were Arabs but they too were speaking in a language we all understand—it’s English.

Outside the office, English is not the language being spoken by local people. It’s Arabic. When you buy simple stuffs, you need to speak Arabic. When you ask for a receipt, it’s all written in Arabic. When someone asks a question, how could I politely reply if I don’t understand the language they’re speaking?

Just a simple answer to a simple question what my name was, I couldn’t even answer. The usual gesture, ignore and turn your back and pretend as if you didn’t hear any. But in my opinion, that’s rude. Of course, our inability to understand their language is inexcusable but failure to learn their own language is a gross laxity on our part.

I was challenged. I had the passion. So it all started by learning the basic A-B-C (although they do not have the A-B-C alphabets just as we use the Roman letters). Arabic script is heavily depended to phonetics, not the spelling (See Arabic Alphabet)

Let’s say for example, the name of Islam’s prophet (pbuh)*, محمد. The equivalent letters we can extract from this Arabic script are ‘mhmd’ which is read to be the name of their prophet. That’s the reason why you can read lots of Muslim names spelled differently such as Muhammad, Muhammed, Mohamed, Muhamad but when it’s written in Arabic, they are all the same محمد.

Our own ignorance of the Arabic culture hinders us from learning the Arabic script. Our own prejudices prevent us from giving a try. For most of us, the Arabic script is equated to Muslims and Islam since their Holy Book called Qu’ran is written in classical Arabic. We forget that before the advent of Islam, Arab Christians and Jews lived in the present Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Egypt etc. and they speak Arabic The expansion of Arabic script was introduced widely altogether with the Muslim conquest of the present Arab countries. However, Arab Christians do write Arabic, pray in Arabic, read the Bible in Arabic. They call God “Allah” just as our Muslim brethren calls God “Allah”. In other words, I can learn Arabic without surrendering my Christian faith. I can speak Arabic, yet a Christian. My Arab Muslim friends respect that—and they show much amount of support if they see in you the enthusiasm learning what they love to do.

Now, I can write and read Arabic script. Although I can read, I still need more time understanding what I am reading. Of course, I am not aiming to perfect it but at least I have proven something to myself that no matter how difficult learning the Arabic script could be, it’s fun and it’s worth it. This is inculturation which means appreciating, learning, loving the Arabic language, its script and its entire culture.

Here’s a simple translation of my birthplace.

My country: Philippines = الفلبين
My Province: Batanes = بتانيس
My town: Ivana = إفانا (note: in Arabic script, they do not have the equivalent letter “v” instead they use the letter /f/ sound. The same is used instead of the sound /p/, such as “Papa (Pope), they say al-Baba البابا.)
My barangay: Radiwan = رديون

أنا أرنستو. أنا من بتانيس و الفلبين. زيارة مكاني هل هي موضع ترحيب.

Thanks to all those Arabic speaking friends who contributed to my learning.

Mohammed Elmasry (Palestinian - London, UK)
Hamza Al-Zyadat (Jordanian - Dubai, UAE)
Hashim Ali Hashim (Saudi - London, UK)
Randa & Tamara (Saudi – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Hisham Rababa’h (Jordanian – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Abedlrhman Al-Ghanem (Jordanian - Amman, Jordan)
Mohammad Samara (Jordanian - Dubai, UAE)
Tariq Amin (Pakistani - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia) father of Hassan
Mohammad Saggaf (Yemeni – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Abdullah Al-Ghamdi (Yemeni - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Abdelghany Eisa (Egyptian – Alexandria, Egypt)
Mahmoud Nassar (Egyptian – Cairo, Egypt)
Mohammad Goma (Egyptian - Alexandria, Egypt)
Mohammad Gaber (Egyptian - Alexandria, Egypt)

And the rest of my Arab friends whom I’ve conversed daily. Thanks to you.

(*PBUH is an abbreviated Peace be upon him—usually said right after Muslim mentions the name of their prophet or any other prophet in that respect. Learning its Islamic culture fosters respect in their belief. See here for more information.)

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