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A beginner's guide to the Language of Arabic
Original article By Abu Umar al-Jurjani

Rawdah at-Talibin

A beginner’s guide to the Language of Arabic

Original Article: Abu Umar al-Jurjani

» Introduction
» Learning Arabic. Where do I start?
» The approach to Arabic
    » Morpholog - 'Sarf'
    » Grammar - 'Nahu'
    » Memory Techniques
    » Listening and Reading

Duration and Expectations
» Useful text in Arabic 'Sarf & Nahu'



Many brothers have asked me about learning the Arabic language and the best way to arrive at an understanding of the Quran and Sunnah. In response to these brothers I put this small essay together. May Allah grant us 'ikhlaas' and sucsess in our efforts.

Some of the salaf used to say, “man dakhala fil ilm jumlatan, kharaja minhu jumlatan.” “Whoever entered into knowledge all at once, it shall leave him all at once.” It is binding upon the student of any subject to gain an understanding and basic conception of what exactly he/she is studying. In Arabic this is called ‘tasawwur’.

The lack of a proper ‘tasawwur’ concerning the method of learning Arabic is perhaps the biggest problem facing those that attempt to learn Arabic in the west. One simply has to look at the many numerous books on the Arabic language that are currently on the market in the west. With all of these books available, it would seem like everyone in the Muslim community would know Arabic by now but that is not the case. The reason for this lack of learning despite the presence of many decent books is built upon my previous statement about the lack of ‘tasawwur’.

There is no doubt that seeking knowledge is from the most virtuous acts of worship. And it is from the causes that bring about the success of Paradise and honor for those who act on it. From the most important of matters, is that one have sincerity in his search for knowledge, and this is by making his studying for the sake of Allaah and not for any other objective. This is because this is the way for one to derive benefit from it and a means for successfully attaining the highest of positions in this world and the next.

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Learning Arabic. Where do I start?

This depends on you. What do you wish to do with your knowledge of Arabic? A boxer will do a workout of a boxer to prepare for a fight. A runner will do a workout that enables him to win his race. If a runner does the workout of a boxer he will not achieve his goal of winning a race. And likewise the boxer who does the workout of a runner will not have the strength to win his fight.

So looking at it with this view you must ask yourself, what do I want to do with Arabic? If you wish to read the paper only perhaps the advice listed here will not be a big benefit to you. And likewise the same for the one who only wishes to become a doctor or chemist in an Arabic speaking country. If your reason for learning Arabic is to understand the words of your creator and words of your prophet (saw) and the knowledge that comes from the books and tongues of the ulema then this advice should be of some benefit insh’Allah.

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The approach to Arabic

Listed below are some concepts to ponder upon.

• You must understand Arabic in Arabic being a self-translator is not the goal ·

• There is no 'one book' that will teach you all of what you need to know of Arabic.

• Non-Arabs have been learning Arabic for over 1,400 years from Africa to Indonesia so it is incorrect to assume that we cant learn as they did in the past.

• The traditional method of learning Arabic is tried and true and we are in no need of new ways to learn the language. That involves complex systems and tests.

• You will not learn Arabic by simply taking one part of the plan. What I mean is that if you learn grammar only you will not know Arabic. And if you learn new vocabulary only you will not really know Arabic. Rather you must take all of it.

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Morphology - 'Sarf'

Note: We have additional advice on useful Arabic text books under the ‘Useful Resources’ section.

Learning 'sarf' in the beginning is the best thing for non-Arabs. In fact this is way Arabic is still taught in Turkey, India, and Pakistan and other non Arab Muslim countries. Learning basic sarf will assist the person in utilizing his dictionary properly, which in this time of learning he will have as his constant companion.

Note: In my opinion the best dictionary in Arabic to English is Hans Wehr.

The student should learn the basic verb patterns and basic skills in using the dictionary. After this, he will be ready to learn more and look up words with relative ease.

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Grammar - 'Nahu'

Note: We have additional advice on useful Arabic text books under the ‘Useful Resources’ section.

The student should now learn basic grammar. The best book in this area for beginners is the book ‘al-Ajrumiyyah’. It is a small book outlining the fundamentals of grammar that are indispensable in understanding Arabic.

There are some brothers that have learned ‘al-Ajrumiyyah’ and grasped concepts that the 3rd year college student studying Arabic couldn’t. One should study this book with a good teacher who will make him understand the fundamentals of the book without going into detailed discussions of grammar issues. This part is the most time consuming, sometimes taking years to develop.

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Memory Techniques

Note: We have additional advice on memory techniques under the ‘Personal and Health’ section.

You must read as much as you can. Start by reading small books on different issues in Arabic. Take a notepad and write the new words down. When you look up a word in the dictionary, underline it with a pencil.

If you look up the word again in the future and see that you marked it with your pencil, you must memorize that word, as you will more than likely see it again and again. Don’t write the meanings of the words in English down in your book that you are reading. That is because you only read the meaning and not the actual word in Arabic this way.

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Listening and Reading

You must also learn through listening. In this way you learn how Arabic is spoken and how certain ideas are conveyed. The best thing is to listen and act as if you understand everything you hear. If you can't find a speaker giving a talk then buy some tapes of the ulema and students of knowledge.

Some of the clearest speakers are:

Shaykh Muhammad al-Uthaymin
Shaykh al-Albani
Shaykh Muhammad Mukhtar ash-Shinqiti
Shaykh Saalih aal ash-Shaykh

And don't forget the most important objective, listen to the quran attempting to understand.

Talk as much as you can to those Arabs who will correct you and help you in learning. The most important thing is to always read. If you don’t read you will not gain mastery over the language. You must read even if you don’t want to. Reading will give you a glimpse into the various sciences of the deen and increase your vocabulary.

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Duration and Expectations

This section will be updated soon. (Dated: April 2005)

Useful text in Arabic grammar

In 'Nahu' - Start with the book:

‘at-Tuhfah as-sanniyyah bi sharhil-muqqadimatil- ajrumiyyah’.

This book is perhaps the best explanation of 'al-Ajrumiyyah'. After this book, learn the book:

'Sharh qatr an-nada’ by ibn hishaam.

After that if one likes he may study 'alfiyyah ibn maalik'. Another good book to read is ‘jaami’ duroos al arabiyyah’

In 'Sarf' - Start with the book:

‘binaa’ al af’aal’. After that, move on to the book, ‘al maqsood’. For more advanced study, learn the poem in sarf entitled, ‘laamiyah al af’aal’by ibn maalik.

In balaghah - Start with the book ‘al-balaghah al-waadihah’. After that one may study ‘uqood az-zimaam’ by as-suyooti. Perhaps the best books to read after the book of Allah - to gain strength in the language are the books of ibn al qayyim and ibn Rajab al hambali.

Don’t rely on any one book to learn Arabic. The madinah books are not enough in my opinion. Take this advice and seek the tawfeeq of Allah, you should see some progress in sha Allah. Allah knows Best

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Original Article: Rawdah at-Talibin

» Arabic Dictionaries
» Text books for Arabic


Arabic Dictionaries

If you are serious about learning Arabic then a suitable dictionary is a must. Currently the best one on the market is the Hans Wehr Modern Arabic Dictionary. It is arranged according to roots and will give you good practice when eventually you transfer to an all Arabic dictionary. It also includes points on usage and common phrases. If you do your research it can be bought at a reasonable price. It can be bought at about £10.00 - I know one brother who bought the dictionary for £40.00 from a mainstream English bookstore (Foyles) !! The other main dictionary is available is the Mawrid. If you are lazy then this is for you. Arranged alphabetically it takes the hassle away from knowing your derivations. However, I personally haven't used it much and am not really a fan of it, so thats why I won't say anything more. There are other dictionaries available but for the most part you are better sticking with the two big guns. My Arabic teacher once advised us as follows;

"Each Student should have three dictionaries: Arabic-Arabic, Arabic-English & English-Arabic. Upon difficulties he should first go to the Arabic-Arabic and then use the others in case of difficulty"

If you feel you are up to it and want an all-Arabic dictionary then Do Not go for the classical dictionaries that you find in Islamic bookshops, they are far too hard. Instead be humble and go for the more easier al-Mu'jam al-Wasit. Excellent stuff, and where possible it gives examples (shawahid) from the Quran and sunnah. If you are lucky then you might be able to get hold of the two volume version as the print is bigger and much less of an eye-sore!

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Text books for Arabic

As far as what books to study, then you are spoilt for choice !! By far the most popular is the set produced from Madinah university, Saudia Arabia. I think it is a decent starting point but one thing that many students complain of is that it is a bit disjointed i.e. although most topics are covered it does appear at times to be quite haphazard !? This is compunded by the fact that students in Medina study many other subjects to complement this set, e.g. in imlaa, sarf, ta'bir etc. Your vocab will become reasonably varied but some of the dialogues are just so boring ! -all set in the classroom ! Nevertheless the books do introduce Arabic in a very digestible fashion.

Its main competitor is Kitaab al-asasi (3 series book produced in Tunisia). Grammar-wise it is not as strong as Medina books although its texts are much more varied and contemporary (and SECULAR - well what do you expect from Tunisia?). This however, has its drawbacks in that some constructions are NOT pure Arabic but modern day corruptions. Books one and two cover contemporary Arabic while the last tackles older texts like Ibn Kathir.

Another method to steer clear of are these books which teach Arabic using an English medium. I'll be quite blunt and say that in most cases you have to learn English grammar before even going near these books. I mean who knows what nominative and genitive cases are ?! To me these books make a simple language VERY, VERY difficult to understand. This is sadly one of the main drawbacks of Dr.Bilal Philips recent attempt - although when compared to others it is not so bad. As you will probably have noticed these books are not my thing and I caution against these books.

For those who are financially able then travelling to one of the Arabic countries is recommended. Enrolling in an Arabic institute is cheap and the benefits are profound. Two countries known for good Arabic are Syria and Egypt.

N.B. ARABIC can only ever be learnt from a teacher, self-study is very difficult and often produces sub-standard results, so get hold of a teacher while he's still alive !!

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