Friday, July 27, 2012

All about 3rabee: Learning Arabic and Quranic Recitation (tajweed)

Starting this Ramadan, LFFM will be featuring new posts dedicated to Arabic language learning called All about 3rabee. I realized several of my friends both Muslim and Non-Muslim continually express their desire to learn the Arabic language. Even with so many programs, language institutes, and books dedicated to this language, Arabic still remains an elusive and complex language to learn for the English speaker.

In my opinion, language learning in general can be difficult, not just because of all the repetition, pronunciation, grammar, and cultural elements, but rather because of how humbling it is....

Language learning makes most people feel self-conscious.

You know what I am talking about....

It is like reverting back to a childhood and relearning colors, numbers, basic letter writing and sounds. You feel like you are learning to function all over again! And everyone else (your teacher/other native speakers/maybe even your family) know better than you. Not many people are willing to put themselves at the intellectual mercy of others, and that is why many people are never successful at learning languages.

My language background

I am not a native speaker of Arabic. Being half Indian I grew up with my family speaking Gujarati, Urdu, and Swahili, yet I speak neither of these languages. I was however, fortunate enough to develop a rudimentary ability to understand and recognize different languages at an early age because of the exposure. I learned Spanish to fluency in high school, became a tutor and translated for ESL parents and high school staff. But it was always my dream to learn Arabic. By attending uni and studyng abroad overseas I learned basic fus7a (modern standard Arabic) and Egyptian colloquial to fluency.

I am in no way an expert, but I understand the struggles and processes of language acquisition and what it takes to get to the "a ha" moment.

When ever someone tells me they want to learn Arabic, I always respond "WHat for?"
Unlike English, Arabic is a less direct Semitic language which today, has nearly evolved into three main groupings.

Group 1-Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) also known as Fus7a/FosHa

Newspapers, business transactions, formal meetings and communications, also including the language of journalists and such....this is Fus7a. This is also the Arabic you usually learn in school unless other wise noted. It is the child of Classical Arabic for the modern day. It has lots of additional words to accommodate modern language and terms like "industrialization" and "factory" and "telephone." It is the proper language, a language of the educated. It is taught in schools to children at a young age. We learned phonics and proper grammar and sentence structure, they learned Fus7a.

Fus7a literally means "most eloquent" and amongst Arab speakers, is used to denote the language of the Quran as well.

Group 2-Classical Arabic aka Quranic Arabic (known to Arab speakers as Fus7a as well)

This is the Mother of modern day Arabic. We Muslim folk consider it a beautiful sacred language chosen by ALlah when it was transmitted and revealed to Muhammad saws. It is very similar to MSA/Fus7a except for lexical, stylistic, and other differences.

Indeed, one can not expect that a person learning Modern Standard or Fus7a to be able to interpret, analyze, understand, or even properly recite Quran, which is the very reason that those wishing to learn Arabic for religious purposes should intentionally learn Quranic Arabic/Classical Arabic rather than attending a standard Arabic course that only addresses MSA as a spoken and modern tongue.

Group 3-Colloquial dialects also known as 3miyya/Aamiyya

Colloquial Arabic is Arabic of the streets, of the people. It is how Arabs talk to one another.

Now we then have to break it down in many region specific, country specific, even city specific! The differences that occur between a New Yorker and a Southerner's accent in the states doesn't even come close to the differences in spoken Arabic from different countries.

When I explain regional differences to folks I break it down by el Maghreb (North African Arabic), Levantine (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon...etc), Khaleeji (Saudi, Yemen, UAE, Qatar, ...etc) and Egyptian which deserves its own category.

If you are not familiar with Arab culture, it would be important to note that the Egyptian dialect is certainly more widely known and understood as a result of the dissemination of media, TV, music...etc from Egypt all around the Arab world. Its not unheard of to go to Tunisia, or Saudi and have someone fully understand you if you speak Egyptian Arabic because they grew up watching Egyptian TV programs. However you very unlikely to understand another dialect unless you learn that dialect directly or are aware of the differences. I am biased and so I also will state that I believe Egyptian is also quite easy to learn as well. If you desire to be able to understand Arabic speakers and chat with them then learn the most relevant dialect. If you don't know where to start, I say start with Egyptian.

Now we come down to Tajweed.

"Whoever has been given the blessing of the reading the Quran and thinks that some one has been given a thing which is greater than that which as been given him diinishes that which God Most High holds dear."- Hadeeth of the Prophet saws

Tajweed is the science of properly reciting the Qur'an. The Prophet saws received the Qur'an in this form from the Angel Jibril. Some scholars believe that reciting Qur'an incorrectly (without applying the rules and proper conduct etc) amounts to sin.

Knowing Arabic, even for Arabic speakers does not equate to also reciting it correctly. When I first started taking Tajweed, I had to relearn to pronounce the letters in their exact true essence which greatly differs from the way we chat or speak today. After being exposed to it, I was even able to correct an Arabic speakers recitation (who had not learne tajweed). Properly reciting Qur'an means learning the rules for proper pronounciation, stopping, pausing, combining sounds, the expulsion of the breath and manner for conduct when reciting Quran.

If you want to learn tajweed, I can not it stress more that you should learn it face to face from someone who has learned it themselves such as a teacher or one who has received ijaza. The reason why being, that you can not self-correct at the level and exactness as one who has learned it properly.

I remember my teacher could close her eyes and pinpoint the exact moments when the students were not pronouncing correctly, vowel for vowel and disect who had their tongue or whatnot in the correct position.

yep...its a science!


After some serious online perusing I found a superb tajweed webinar free to view on youtube. The reason I love these video-courses is how thorough and exact the lessons are. They also resemble western teaching methods of giving you a background, methods, examples...etc. My only criticism would be that I greatly disagree that Arabic speakers, by virtue of knowing Arabic, know tajweed which is something I think the instructor failed to mention. (I think he is of a different opinion) This is incorrect, non-Arabic speakers certainly can strive to recite Qur'an in its true essence despite the difficulties that occur when learning Arabic pronunciation in the beginning. You can follow the course on youtube starting with lesson 1 here:

Also here is an absolutely awesome resource for those folks who are serious about learning classical Arabic. It is the best site in my opinion for reading about grammer, verb structure..etc when it comes to classical Arabic. This site also may be easiar to understand and navigate if you either have learned a foreign language before or have a rudimentary understanding of Arabic. Check here.

I hope you enjoyed this post! More on Arabic soon to come! Let me know what you guys think!


  1. Great topic to blog on. What you mentioned about reverting back to childhood, is totally true, except I think a child doesn't have the self-consciousness that adults do when picking up a language. They end up picking up a given language without as many barriers.

    Also, how much do you think grammar, rote, and book work plays a role in detering people from learning a language?

  2. I agree great topic, looking forward to the rest of the Arabic posts.

  3. Assalamu Alaykum sis ! :)
    MashaAllah, you have a nice blog, good to meet you over here
    I'm your new follower
    Feel free to drop by:

  4. Looking forward to the next post ! loved this post and I am also working on improving my Qur'anic arabic - i'm only just beginning to realise the depth of tajweed subhan'Allah. Increased respect for the hafiz and teachers.


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