Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How would you say stupid in Arabic?

Members of Pakistan's Upper House demanded on Monday that the government implement Arabic language and Quranic studies as a compulsory part of the curriculum and include a "uniform system based on Quran and Sunnah for all institutions, whether in the public or private sector." Considering the current education crisis (Pakistan receives the "lowest" score on education index score of any country outside of Africa, has an adult literacy rate of 55% and a dismal net primacy school enrollment of 56%), it is heartening to see interest in national education. However, discussion surrounding the implementation of mandatory Arabic and Quran studies is not only irrelevant, but also disingenuous to the issues at hand.

Firstly, installing Arabic language for Islamic purposes is faulty logic at best. Given that no significant portion of the Pakistani population considers Arabic as a mother tongue, it is plain stupid to teach it at a national scale. The conflation of Arabic language and Islam only demonstrates the dominance of Wahabism in Pakistani political and cultural thought. In the minds of the Upper House politicians, if the birth of Islam occurred within the context of the Arabic language, then Arabic is the religiously mandated language of Islam. This is not the case. Islam was not based in the Arabic language because it was religiously significant, but rather as it was a part of the cultural reality of the Arabian Peninsula. If Islam had emerged from China, the Quran would be in Mandarin. Calling for the adoption of the Arabic is nothing more than a "mine is bigger than yours" contest. In this case, what is being measured is personal religiosity. After all, by simply invoking Islam political leaders can gain and maintain popular support, never mind their obvious incompetency.

Secondly, don't we already have enough Islamic education? Considering the religion classes in public and private schools and the prevalence of madressas (some good, some bad) across the country, when is it enough? Do we really need more of this?

(Image Credit: Rupee News)

Let's face the facts. The forced inclusion of religion into the Pakistani public sphere is directly responsible for most (if not all) of the problems we face today. Islamizing our society has made us more ignorant, less tolerant. We are not willing to listen to those who do not share our religious beliefs, yet feel no guilt in impressing our religion upon others.


Anyone who challenges or contradicts our belief is threatened and demonized.

And this is not only limited to those outside our belief system.


The responsibility of the public (and private) education is to equip students with the skills needed to be successful in the outside world. Given the staggering level of national illiteracy, it is clear that our current education model has failed. Instead of focusing on instilling religious values, the state should focus on providing basic public education to all. Considering that an educated and aware populace is important in improving national development, the focus on personal religiosity instead of other more pertinent issues only highlights the disconnect between our elected elite and the public.

Some would call this Schizophrenia.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Nice Article. Honest and Lovely.

  3. Very true. and very good points. Great image discovery. You should also send this letter to editors of local newspapers.

  4. the only way to understand the real meaning of the quran is to understand it in the language it was written in [when you translate languages sometimes the meaning get misinterpreted]
    also that could prevent idiotic militants who think they are fighting in the name of islam when their actions actually contradict it. If arabic is known to them they can know what real islam is for themselves

  5. @Captain

    Simply learning the Arabic language does not allow for accessibility to the Quran for several reasons

    1)Quranic Arabic does not equal Modern Standard Arabic. Assuming that if someone knows Arabic, they will be able to understand the Quran is like assuming that an English speaker will be able to understand Shakespearean plays without any problems. The Quran is written in Classical Arabic which differs significantly in its grammar and vocabulary from modern Arabic

    2)Unlike other holy texts, the Quran relies heavily on metaphors and allegories to convey its meaning. Due to this, there exist many interpretations of the same verse, some of which are used to support violence and terrorism. Therefore solely relying on Arabic instruction is not going to deter would be terrorists anytime soon.

    3)If knowledge of the Arabic language was all that was needed to prevent terrorism, why do Arabic speaking terrorists exist. By your logic, there should be no such thing as Arab terrorists. But that is not the case. In fact the majority of Muslim terrorist organizations around the world have a significant number of Arab speaking members.

  6. you logical argument is based plainly wrong. When you learn the Quranic Arabic which is known as CLassical Arabic, you speak professional Arabic and Arabs then respect you!!!!

    Try it and see it for your self!!

    They right now make fun of Pakistanis becoz of Pakistanis butchering the Language of Allah.

    In fact we can't even pronounce Urdu correct.

    Classical Arabic should be made compulsory in all the Schools from grade 1 with Urdu. This way our young generation will not only speak proper Urdu by the time they graduate from High School, but they will also speak good Arabic.

    Moreover, With Arabic Classes, starting from Secondary schools basic Islamic sciences should be taught to Muslims.

    The Educational system should be uniform and should make good Muslims, and Pakistani citizen!!!

    And there is no such thing as Wahabism. No Muslim on Earth calls oneself Wahabi!!! You are Muslim (i am assuming) you should know better.

  7. @mao

    Thanks for the suggestion! But I'm not really interested in scoping out newspapers just yet...I'll keep it in mind though.


    I will have to disagree with you on a number of points.

    1)Firstly, there is a difference between Classical and professional (or modern standard Arabic). As a student of the language, I assure you that if you start spouting Classical Arabic in professional setting it will be considered strange.

    2)Your statement about Arabs making fun of Pakistanis is untrue. Not all Arabs look down on Pakistanis and those that do are often doing it for nationalist or ethnocentric reasons

    3)I'm not sure how your assertion that we can't even pronounce Urdu correctly is relevant to my post

    4)There is no relationship between Arabic instruction and Urdu pronunciation. While Arabic and Urdu (and Persian) share the majority of the alphabet, in Urdu the pronunciation differs significantly from Arabic. Consider the letter Zuad, in Urdu the sound that is produced is Zaa but in Arabic the sound that is produced is Daw.

    5)Islamic sciences are actually not science and equip students with skills that are only limited to religious scholarship.

    6)I agree with your assertion that we should have a uniform education system. However, considering that 5% of Pakistan's population is non-Muslim, it would be unfair to teach Islam in public school as not all students are Muslim.

    7) In Islamic studies scholarship, Wahabism refers to a puritan interpretation of Islam brought in the 18th century by Abd-al-Wahab which considers only the Quran and Hadith as the true doctrine of god and condemns any practices which do not adhere to Islam in the days of the Prophet (in their view). The official religion of Saudi Arabia is Islam based on the interpretations of Abd-al-Wahab.

  8. @ roti fan:
    well i guess we are going to put the old arabic in then, no matter what we still need that in our nation. if you look at Christianity history, the people turned away from religion as the only people who understood the language of the bible took advantaged of them which is happening or is about to happen in pakistan. In order to prevent that we need to educate the masses so they can find out the real meaning of religion for themselves rather than relying on a corrupt source.

  9. if they must teach other languages, why not all the regional ones? along with english and urdu, get kids to learn sindhi, punjabi, pushto, seraiki, hindko, balochi (i am not sure if that is the correct name for it) and any others that i am missing out. in the context of what's good for us, i think that learning at least one regional language would go a lot further in promoting harmony and pride across Pakistan than Arabic ever could.

    its ironic that people who talk about learning Arabic as a source of pride never realise that their calls reveal more about their own insecurities as the converted flock, and their desire to somehow feel more authentically Muslim by learning Arabic.

    of course, linguistic chauvinism is not new to us. just recently, when i made a similar point to a blogger about why urdu should not be considered as the primary language of the country since 80% of pakistan does not speak it as a mother tongue, the reply i received was that all other languages in Pakistan are mere dialects of urdu!

    love the use of the pictures for this post by the way.

  10. @ karachi khatmal
    arabic [the quranic one] and urdu are the languages that unite us that's why they should be taught all over the country

  11. @karachi khatmal
    I couldn't agree with you more. The inposition of Arabic language or Urdu at a national level reveals a very exitsential problem with our society: How do we define ourselves?

    When Pakistan was formed, it was done under the auspices of a muslim majority country. Religion was seen as a common way to unite people from different ethnic backgorunds that had nothing in common other than their faith. If instead of imposing only Urdu as a national language, Sindhi,Punjabi, Balochi and Pashto were also recognized there would not be a rise in ethnic nationalism that we see today. In order to be unified we need to accept the diversity that exists in our country and celebrate it.

    I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but consider this: Canada has two official languages English and French. All government business is conducted in these two languages. The parliament is run in these two langauges. Even our national anthem has an English and French version. Though one could argue that there is significant French nationalism existing even today, it is not comparable to the level of friction that exists between the five major ethnicities in Paksitan.


    I respect your point of view, but I will have to disagree with you once again. Languages are an important part of ethnic identity. The absence of regional languages (Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi, Pashto) at a national level sends the message that the government does not care about these people. This creates resentment and friction between different ethnic groups. As I stated to Karachi Khatmal earlier, we should be focusing on unity through the recognition of national diversity rather than forcing a unified culture, language and religion.