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Reading Corner: Learning the Arabic, Finding the Meaning

Carissa D. Lamkahouan discusses the challenges faced when Arabic doesn’t come naturally.

As a non-Arabic-speaking Muslim, I am keenly aware that I am missing out on a lot in my reading of Qur’an, but just what I’m missing I can’t say. Funny, isn’t it?


There have been countless times I’ve asked my Arab husband to translate something only to be given a helpless look and be told, “It won’t translate into English very well. The meaning will be different.”


I’ve seen grown women and men so moved by their recitations that they weep openly, their tears flowing freely as the impact of the language penetrates their soul and brings them to their knees. How I would love to experience that for myself!


For a convert, this lack of understanding is frustrating to say the least, but it hasn’t yet motivated me to learn classical Arabic, which is a failing all my own. I know this and accept it, but it doesn’t solve my immediate problem. And it’s a problem I suspect many other non-Arabic-speaking converts or even born Muslims have, as well. My temporary solution? I read the transliteration. I’m sure this is no big revelation for most of you, who have probably done the same at one time or another. I’m only here to encourage you to do more of the reading when you can and remember that with every struggle we have to pronounce the Arabic our rewards with Allah (SWT) increase.


But what about our own personal rewards? Are there any when simply reading something you can’t understand? I believe there are. If you can find a quiet space and time to sit with your transliterated Qur’an and let the language – no matter how butchered your pronunciation – wash over you then I believe there is something to be gained. If nothing else you will begin to pick up some translations as so many words and phrases are repeated continuously throughout our holy book. And, as I mentioned before, our struggle to do anything pleasing to Allah (SWT) is worth the effort.


That being said, I can’t stress enough the importance of ensuring our children learn to read, write and understand classical Arabic. If you are lucky enough to be living in a Muslim country then this will likely be taken care of through the school system. However, if like me you don’t have that geographical luxury then you will have to take pains to make sure they learn. In my family, my children attend an Arabic/Islamic school each Saturday and their father speaks to them only in his native Darija, Moroccan Arabic. We also lived in Morocco for a year where they attended school and picked up more of the language.  However, I still worry it’s not enough and fear my children will fall into the same sad situation I suffer from – a lack of understanding of the true and deep meaning of the Qur’an.


With this in mind I have begun to seek out Arabic-language tutors who can work with my children on a one-on-one basis. I am hoping to find someone who not only enhances their Arabic language reading and understanding skills, but who also helps them to grow in their love for the religion. I feel that this ultimate goal cannot be fully reached until my children have a complete grasp of the beautiful, strong and penetrating language of the Qur’an. After all, I only want for my children what I want for myself – and more.


Carissa D. Lamkahouan is a career writer and journalist and mom of two children, a son and a daughter. She enjoys fitness, reading and travelling to Morocco, the homeland of her husband. She has been a Muslim since 2005 and lives in Houston, Texas.