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Articles
Preparing Strategy to Teach Arabic to Muslims in the West

Interview with Professor-Dr. Saad al-Rashid By Dr. Mozammel Haque

A regional meeting, organized by Rabat-based Islamic Social Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in cooperation with the official representative of the Muslim Community of Austria, the Islamic Commission of Austria, was held recently in Vienna, Austria. The purpose of this meeting was to put forward a draft strategy for developing teaching Arabic language for the Muslim community living in the West. Many educationalists, scholars and experts in this field were invited from different countries to discuss and exchange views on the strategy to be adopted.

What is the objective and aim of this meeting? Why this meeting was invited? This is the natural question which will come up in the minds of many people. The ISESCO and other experts of the Islamic Commission of Austria think that the Muslim community needs to devote more and more attention to education and cultural activities in the West. They think that the Muslim communities have different challenges in the field of education. One of these challenges is, of course, teaching of Arabic language. We know Arabic as a language is the key to the understanding the meaning of the Qur'an, is the key of the whole Islamic civilization and culture. Without the knowledge of the Arabic language, it would be difficult to understand lot of aspects of Islam and Islamic civilization.

"We believe that language itself is something like an identity. When we talk about identity, language is very important. We do not want that Muslim neglect Arabic language. That will take him away from their Holy Book and from their religion. We still think that the interest of the Muslim communities in Arabic language is still very high. But the parents, schools, mosques, Muslim centres and organizations are really in need of new strategies, new methodology how to teach this language in the West. When we talk about the teaching of Arabic language, we find this lack of strategy in the Muslim communities. Once this strategy is adopted, it will take care of other things," said Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, one of the participants at this regional meeting at Vienna and hoped, "Once we finalized the preparation of some strategy we are going to move forward to the next stage of preparing the programme to implement the strategy. In the programme itself, there will be some productions, like materials, books etc."

The topic of the paper read out by Dr. al-Dubayan at the meeting was "Teaching Arabic language in London as experienced by the Islamic Cultural Centre." Dr. Al-Dubayan spoke about his experience in the field of teaching Arabic language and also talked about his experience in the weekend schools. He mentioned some of the difficulties he faced and pointed out some of the needs for teaching Arabic language in the West. While mentioning about the difficulties, Dr. al-Dubayan referred to, for example, lack of qualified teachers.

"If we have some qualified teachers to teach Arabic language to the Arabs, but we do not have qualified Arabic language teachers to teach Arabic as a foreign language. They are very few. We have problems of materials, books etc. There are many books written by many scholars, teachers and many organizations in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco and Syria," Dr. al-Dubayan wrote in his paper and also acknowledged the efforts made by the Makkah-based Rabita al-Alam al-Islami, the Islamic University in Madina and Ummul Qura University in Makkah.

But Dr. al-Dubayan lamented, "In spite of all these efforts, we still consider and study them to see which one is better. We like to have a curriculum for this subject that meets our needs and solve the problems of our students. We lack materials. For example, we don't have dictionary designed for the young students; we don't have story books or we don't have books to teach Arabic as a foreign language specially designed for non-Arab students. There is no enough supporting material for teaching Arabic as a foreign language for children in the West. We need more."

Dr. al-Dubayan also talked in his paper about the varieties of interest among the students. "Not all of them have same interest in learning Arabic language. Some of them would like to learn Arabic in order to read the Qur'an only. But they do not want to use Arabic as a communication language; other Arab communities would like their children to use Arabic as a communication language besides mastering the language as the language of the Qur'an. Different methodology for teaching Arabic language should be adopted to satisfy different interests. This is something we do not pay attention. This is one of the challenges," Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned some of these points in his paper.

The educationalists and experts of Arabic language put their inputs to prepare the draft strategy. The strategy was prepared and there was lively discussion over the strategy. The Islamic Cultural Centre is going to host the second meeting in London to discuss the strategy further, either in December this year or January next year. The exact date has not been finalized. "This strategy would, of course, be given to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to implement this in other places of the world."