Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
I’m a student in the UK and have learnt enough nahu to read irab etc. But I find it hard to understand – vocab, meanings etc. What advice or methods (time-saving) would you give so I can read Arabic books with understanding? What Arabic literature would you recommend for beginners?
Reply by Shaykh Suhayb Webb (Shukran jazilan!):
I. This is the language of Revelation.
Understand that his is the language of Revelation. Thus, its study should be taken very seriously. The signs of this understanding are the following:
1. A checked intention. Meaning, constantly observe your inner state. I’ve seen a lot of Western students show off their latest understanding of Tamyeez, Haal and ‘Alam. Beware of this quality because the Prophet said about this person, “The Fire! The Fire.”
2. Have a lot of Sabar. Ibnu Malik (rad.ia-LLahu `anhu), the great scholar of grammar, began his famous Alfiyah with the line, “Kalamun Lafthun Mufedun Kastaqim.”
“Kastaqim” means to be firm and upright. He opened his blessed poem with that line to say to the student, “Istaqim [Straighten yourself] upon the learning of this language.” In other words Arabic, if you really want to grasp its secrets, is not hard, but takes time. The Ulema used to say, “The entrance to Arabic is hard and its exit is easy.” Thus, don’t try and overdo things. Once a man had studied for 19 years. He said, “I’ve failed to become a scholar? What have I learned?” Finally, he decided to leave being a student of knowledge and went back to his village. He sat on a stone well and noticed the rope that held the bucket had worn its way through the stone well. Suddenly he realized something and said to himself, “Seeking knowledge is like this rope. It takes time, but with sabar and focus, a rope can rub through stone.”
3. A lot of supplication: Allah says, “(Allah) He taught men expression.” Thus, you must beg Allah to give you this language. Remember that learning this language is a means of improving your servitude to Allah. Thus, implore Allah to give it to you.
II. Learning Arabic has a few components:
1. Nahu, Balagh and Sarf (these are the internal organs of the language), however, know, may Allah have mercy on you, that learning these sciences will give you a technical understanding of the language. Especially if you learn from the Mutuun in the beginning. Thus, most teachers advise a student to start with more basic books, which are current in content, and then later move on to the Mutun.
2. Speaking, writing and expression: This is usally the last thing to come. But, once one has it, they should praise Allah in abundance because they are expressing themselves in the language of the Qur’an, the language of the Prophet and the language of Ahl-Janna.
I would advise our brother to begin and communicate with others as often as possible. Although you’ll make mistakes, and we all do, keep trying. Once, I was sitting with a group of Malaysian students from Al-Azhar. They were very strong in the Arabic and I noticed that they only spoke Arabic. I asked one of them, “Mashallah, what is going on with you brothers?” He told me, “We love to make mistakes in Arabic more than speaking our own language correctly.” Thus, you must practice practice practice. What you fail to use, will fail you when you need it.
III. As for your study I would do the following:
1. Leave the classical books until you can understand them and read them with a teacher. The best books I’ve found for learning how to talk are, believe it or not, children’s books. Their language is always great and there are a lot of conversations which will serve as great assistance for you in the future.
2. Use a common text book that teaches Arabic such as Kitabul Asassi, the University of Madina series and many others.
3. Try to study in a center in an Arab country. It is very important to remember that a language is a culture. Thus, while living in the culture you will learn the expression of the language in its natural state.
4. Work hard.
Finally, I would try and memorize some Qur’an and Hadith. Both, and the Qur’an more so, are a means of giving you Fasaha.
Allah knows best.
SDW June 11, 2005
Comments by GFH: The last statement echoes Dr. Sa`id al-Buti’s reply when asked how come he spoke Arabic with such clarity although he never studied it formally. He replied: by reading the Qur’an. The statement by the Malaysian students: “We love to make mistakes in Arabic more than speaking our own language correctly” is `Ibada and Ikhlas. (It beats what Yahya ibn Ma`in said to Imam Ahmad after one of their teachers, al-Fadl ibn Dukayn, tripped Yahya to the ground to teach him adab. Yahya said: “That he tripped me was lovelier to me than our entire visit to him.”) Add to this that `Ajams may get more reward for making mistakes in Arabic (and indeed Qur’an-recitation) than Arabs in speaking it correctly – depending, of course, on Intention.
By Shaykh Suhayb Webb