Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdy
Language helps human beings communicate with one another. The well-known saying, “Learning the language of other people will protect you from their intrigues,” calls upon foreigners to learn the language most widely spoken in the country where they live. Furthermore, learning a foreign language is advisable in Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ordered Zaid Bin Haritha to learn the language of Jews in Madinah. Zaid learned their language and became the interpreter and translator of the Prophet. This proves that Islam encourages Muslims to learn the language spoken in the country where they go to live, work, or study.
Non-Arab expatriates living, studying, or working in Arab countries have a good opportunity to learn Arabic. One feels sad seeing some expatriates who do not speak Arabic even though they have children born and raised in an Arab country or have spent a great deal of their life there. Perhaps at most they know how to speak a few sentences in Arabic. When asked why they have not seized the opportunity to learn the language, they claim that their work environment requires them to speak English, French, or other foreign languages.
When I tried to speak with some expatriate children the other day, I was surprised to discover that they could not express themselves in Arabic although they were born and raised in the Kingdom. Yet, I am sure that if they would only exert a little effort, they would learn the language fast.
I believe that these children have missed a unique opportunity to learn Arabic for free. I also believe that we, Arabs, are equally responsible for failing in our duty toward the Arabic language. We have not promoted it, and on the contrary, if a non-Arab expatriate attempts to converse with us in Arabic, we often respond to them in English.
Moreover, we do not encourage our children to intermingle with expatriate children who do not speak Arabic. Some expatriate parents do not realize the importance of having their children learn Arabic at an early age. When non-Arab children learn the language at an early age, they can learn the language with near native fluency. Learning Arabic would help them make friends and interact with people from different nationalities.
To conclude, I believe memorization societies for the Holy Qur’an should focus on teaching Arabic to non-Arabs.
Arabic, like English and French, has become an official language at international forums and organizations. It is an official language in the United Nations, G7, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdy is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.