How to Study Quranic Arabic (Part 1)
Learn and study Quranic Arabic to enhance your engagement with, and experience of, the Book of Allah s.w.t.
Are you one of those non-Arab Muslims who grew up in a non-Arab community, made to learn Arabic alphabets and to perfect the sounds and intonations of the Quranic text, but never actually learned the language itself?
Do you feel disconnected from the sacred text of your religion, only able to recite it, but unable to understand it, or enjoy it?
Have you ever envied the people in the prayer congregation who were able to follow the recitations of the Imam, who heard more than just foreign gibberish, who sobbed as their hearts were touched by the message they were hearing, while you stood stone-faced, uncomprehending and completely left out of the spiritual experience?
Have you tried to learn Arabic for years, went through a mountain of books, attended all sorts of classes but never seemed to progress very much?
I was all of the above.
I grew up in a Muslim family and a mainly Muslim community, and was taught to read the Quran from a young age. I learned my Alif, Baa, Taa along with my ABCs, and in my teens, could read the Quran as fluently as I read the Fear Street Series and the teenage Malay cerpen. The big difference was, I understood my English and Malay text - I cowered at the scary bits and cried at the dramatic sad bits. The Quran? Not so much.
The preoccupation then was to get my recitation right – that I elongate the sound at all the right places for the right amount of seconds, that I pronounce my ‘Kaf’ versus my ‘Qaf’ correctly and that I try to sound as melodious as possible, instead of sounding like a droning bumblebee.
I wasn’t reading the Quran as much as I was making appropriate sounds out loud with it. I didn’t understand what I was (hopefully melodiously) muttering about – and for a long time, I didn’t particularly care.
One day, I found out a fellow Christian friend attends church on Sundays where the sermons are given in Latin, of which he understands very little. I thought it was the silliest thing ever, sitting through something you don’t comprehend, much less appreciate. Then I realized I too was doing the exact same thing, not just once a week, but 5 times a day!
How different would my prayers be if the words coming out of the Imam’s mouth actually meant something to me? How amazing would it be if I too could appreciate what the verses are telling me, and be sincerely touched instead of distractedly daydreaming about lunch?
I decided to find out. It took me 5-6 years of attempting to take on the language that is consistently ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn. Triumphs were few, failures were abundant, despite my head-start in already mastering the Arabic script and my ability to fluently say the words out loud (but not much else).
After several trial-and-errors, I found a way to learn the language that has allowed me to improve in leaps and bounds - way more in the past one year compared to the 5 previous years I struggled through. All I did was compile all the right tools, and worked on forming one habit that I consistently maintained, with little disruption or effort on my part.
My methodology is explained in Part 2 – maybe you will find it useful and effective too.
Side note: Quranic Arabic versus Conversational Arabic
The aim here is not to be able to converse and speak Arabic – instead, the aim is to be able to understand the Quran when you read it. In other words, you want to graduate from reciting to actual comprehension. Therefore the focus is very much on the Quran as the sole textbook. The vocabulary only pertains to the words that appear in the Quran. So do not expect to be able to talk to native Arabs about ice cream, laptops and globalization. Do, however, expect to be able to know what the Imam is talking about when he recites verses during prayers.
NOTE: This guide presumes that you are proficient in deciphering the Arabic alphabets and text and that you were also subject to a flawed education of only learning how to recite the text, but not to understand what you are reciting.
If you are unable to decipher Arabic text, you will first need to master the Arabic alphabet and pronunciation.