Call to protect the Arabic language

As the world marks World Arabic Language Day, Khaleej Times looks at the state of Arabic here and talks to native speakers about their thoughts.

Though considered for centuries the predominant language for science, literature and arts, Arabic is now falling prey to negligence and cultural invasion.

Despite being the language of the Holy Quran, Arabic has turned into a kind of deformed mixture of words coined from other languages.

The Semitic language, which basically started to spread to the Middle East by the 7th Century AD, is now the sixth most spoken language in the world, the official language of 26 states, spoken by more than 422 million people worldwide.

During the middle ages, Arabic was a major vehicle of culture in Europe, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy. Thus, many European languages have borrowed many Arabic words.

As the world marks World Arabic Language Day, Khaleej Times looks at the state of Arabic here and talks to native speakers about their thoughts.

Coordinator General of the International Council for Arabic language Ali Musa, says there is an urgent need to amend the process of Arabic language education. “We have to adopt extensive projects to translate as many foreign international books and encyclopedias into standard Arabic.”

Director of the Arabic Language Protection Society in Sharjah Dr Redwan Al Dibsi, says the UAE society is suffering a kind of linguistic overlapping because of the many foreigners staying here (over 200 nationalities), let alone the diverse Arabic dialects used.

“It is our duty to protect and speak Arabic in every nook and corner of the country; at home, on the street, and in the shopping centres and academic institutions, hold regular Arabic courses for non-Arabic speakers, and make it compulsory for signboards, and recruitment of foreigners.”

There is an urgent need to develop and update Arabic syllabuses, provide schools and colleges with veteran Arabic experts and the latest technologies and equipment.

Fuad Zaidan, who works in the media, says the population imbalance and dominance of English — widely spoken in the labour market — poses a grave risk to Arabic. “We are in need for more associations to protect Arabic language which is undoubtedly a national security issue for being a critical pillar to protect the society, ensure its identity, and sustain citizens’ loyalty.”

He says most families are now giving more attention to English than Arabic in the hopes of better careers. “However, studies and research have confirmed that proper academic performance is all stages of education may only be achieved through national Arabic language with enough attention to English.”

Chairman of the Arabic Language Protection Association in the UAE, Abdullah Ibrahim, said Arabic, the language of the Holy Quran, has fulfilled society’s needs over decades, better contain and cope with modern civilisation.

“We should all protect standard Arabic language, boost its use in all academic institutions, and review learning and teaching techniques and methods, to meet the needs of the age,” he said, urging all the officials concerned to strictly process all government transactions in Arabic as instructed by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

Dubai Municipality’s Assistant Director-General Obeid Al Shamsy, says they have carried out various awareness activities to deepen the basic ideas of the language and create Arabic words for the ever-emerging technical needs.

“We are now publishing an online monthly bulletin for DM employees. It is also conducting training sessions in Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art for the municipality employees as well as for other government departments.

Egyptian businessman, Sherif Al Wakeel, who graduated from Al Azhar University, says he is proud of Arabic as it is very rich and clear both in wording and meaning.

Syrian, Rania Mohammed, says she likes Arabic because it is the language of Islam, Quran, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), and angels. “It is to be spoken in Paradise, and therefore I am training myself to speak standard terms.”

Columnist KM Zubair told Khaleej Times that 90 per cent of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic as their native language. Yet, when reading the Quran Arabic rolls off any Muslim’s tongue readily. “Regardless of Muslims’ linguistic, cultural, and racial differences, they form one community of believers, among whom Arabic serves as a common language.”

Today marks the first ‘World Arabic Language Day’ aimed at bringing about shared values and strengthening the ideas, ambition, culture, and values of the Arab world and amalgamating it to promote mutual cooperation. Such a move coincides with the strategy announced by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to establish Dubai as the centre of excellence for the Arabic language, protect and promote the language in the UAE.

Shaikh Mohammed announced wide-ranging initiatives to promote the use of Arabic, including the setting up of an Arabic Language Charter and the formation of an international committee of experts to promote Arabic as the language of science and technology.

An educational facility is to be set up at Zayed University to promote Arabic education for non-Arabic speakers, and a faculty of translation is to be established at the Mohammed bin Rashid Media College. There are also plans to enhance Arabic content online, and run poetry, writing, calligraphy and reading competitions for school students.

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