Bismillah arRahman arRahim
Madrasas Do not Teach Arabic as a Living Language
Mr. Muqith Mujtaba Ali met this distinguished scholar in Madras (Chennai, India) in July 1997 and interviewed him for Islamic Voice.(This interview was published in August 1997 issue of the Islamic Voice, a popular Islamic Monthly published from Bangalore, India)
Muqith: What led you to Arabic language scholarship?
V. AbdurRahim: Arabic as the language of the Holy Qur’an had fascinated me. When I was young, my father took me to a ‘Maulana’. The way he taught me was totally disgusting. Ha failed to tell me the Arabic word for ‘flower’. I deserted this ‘teacher’ and purchased books to learn Arabic through English. From then on, it was entirely my own effort that kept propelling me.
Muqith: Muslims consider Arabic a sacred language. Don’t you think that this fosters a complex among them which keeps them from serious learning of the language?
V. AbdurRahim: This should be rather the precise reason for which Muslims must learn the language of the Holy Qur’an. It is the method of teaching that keeps them away from the language.
Arabic is taught more or less in a traditional way. We don’t have the modern methods and aids to teach the Arabic language. We don’t have language laboratories with audio-visual aids. Here in the Islamic University at Madinah, we have full-fledged laboratories and we have produced about 100 video films and a lot of charts.
But in Indian Madrassas it will be considered a sacrilege to allow television sets.
Muqith: What best Audio-visual aids would you suggest?
V. AbdurRahim: The simplest aid is the blackboard with chalkpieces in different colours. These can create a very good effect. Unfortunately, even this aid is not put to use in madrassas.
Charts, slides, skits, language games, all these could be very effective tools for Arabic teaching.
Muqith: What does your rich experience suggest about the approach to Arabic language teaching?
V. AbdurRahim: The best approach is the Direct Method. From the very first lesson you start speaking Arabic. The teacher has to guide the students. In language class, the students have to work more. The teachers need not lecture. Lecturing in language has no meaning.
Muqith: How do you see the ‘Translation Method’ adopted in the deeni Madaris?
V. AbdurRahim: By translation you cannot learn a language. Arabic is a living language. Unfortunately, it is approached as if it is a dead language. The teacher and the taught don’t use Arabic as a vehicle of communication.
Muqith: What about the ‘Grammar Method’?
V. AbdurRahim: Grammar is the basis. Without grammar one can’t learn any language. But, then, grammar should be taught according to the student’s need. The problem is that the whole grammar is taught in the beginning itself. Without application! without thought!
Through this method, the students know only one example. And that too old-fashioned. We need to teach diction which is used today.
Muqith: In literature too, the students are taught things which do not bear any relevance to Islam, e.g. Diwan -e- Mutanabbi?
V. AbdurRahim: In Islamic schools we want students to learn the language plus Islam. Diwan-e-Mutanabbi is neither relevant to Islam nor is its language a hujjah (authoritative source), Mutanabbi comes after the period of Hujjah. For me teaching this book in Islamic schools is a sinful act.
Students are not taught what they need today. Instead of teaching what Islam and Muslims need, we teach something which is of no use. Take the case of Kalila Dimna. It’s a translation of Panch Tantra written by a person whose ideology clashes with Islamic ideology. I don’t know why we teach such cock and bull stories in Madrassas where we need to mould the character and mind of the students.
Muqith: In addition to classical language, there is a need to teach Arabic as a modern language.
V. AbdurRahim: Yes, modern language is nothing but the usage of modern terminology along with classical language. We want the students to learn current language, to speak and write relevant Arabic. We also need people who can write for Islam, send rejoinders to anti-Islamic writings etc. Such combined talents of Muslims knowing Islam and Journalism is rarely found in our midst.
May Allah preserve Dr. V. Abdur Rahim and have Mercy on him!