The UN Arabic Language Day passed recently. I don’t think many Arabs paid attention to it, as they are engaged in issues other than their language, although this is what truly represents one of the most significant reasons for their survival as a nation and a solid foundation on which to restore their glory, civilisational and cultural role for the present and future of humanity.
Some may consider my proposal as hopeless and outdated when everyone seems to have lost the enthusiasm and hope for reviving the Arabic language. Many attempts have been made to restore the glory of our language, including the establishment of Arabic language complexes in many Arab countries and Arabisation efforts in North African Arab countries which, for decades existed under French colonialism. In addition, efforts have been made to Arabise curricula and media, down to drama and TV series, but these attempts, unfortunately, didn’t succeed.
The Arabic language, according to the UN itself, is one of the pillars of the cultural diversity of humankind. It is one of the most widely spoken and used languages in the world, spoken daily by more than 400 million people in the world.
Arabic speakers are distributed between the Arab region and many other countries around such as Turkey, Chad, Mali, Senegal, and Eritrea.
The significance of the Arabic language goes beyond the borders of the Arab world wherever Muslims live. It is the language of the Holy Quran, and prayer is only valid in it. Arabic is also the major ritual language of several Christian churches in the Arab region. In the Middle Ages, many of the most important religious and intellectual works of Judaism were written in Arabic.
I have a deep interest in pictures, and I am proud of the fact that the inventor of photography is the Arab scientist Ibn Al Haytham, who noticed how light that passes through a small hole in the wall of a dark room reflects a beautiful picture of an external scene. Based on this observation, he was able to invent what he called at the time “Qumra”, that is, the dark box. This was the first imaging device known to mankind. Based on his discoveries, the modern world invented cameras.
Language is a product of the reality of scientific, intellectual, and cultural progress of nations. When the Arab and Islamic nation was at its height, other nations copied science from it, including the terms and labels that the Arabs used in their innovations and theories. The other nations’ interest in learning and studying Arabic increased at that time because it was the language of science and progress, just as these days it is the English language. It is wrong to think that the Arabic language is only a language of literature, poetry, imagination, and emotion; and to remember that it was also once the language of science, and an example of this can be found in the contributions of Arab scholars in mathematics, algebra, and algorithms, in addition to medicine, chemistry, optics, and others.
To focus on the Arabic language doesn’t mean neglecting the study of other languages. In fact, I would encourage our children to learn even the Chinese language, and my father used to tell me: “Whenever you learn another language, you add another person to yourself.”
Despite my proficiency in English and French, I have been keen throughout my life to deal in Arabic as much as possible, so that I mainly think in Arabic, and then translate my thoughts into English whenever I have to speak it.
The Arabic language unites us regardless of our diverse races, religions, and sects. And it will remain as long as it is alive with the eternity of the Holy Quran, as it is the carrier of our civilisation and our history and the bridge to cross over to our future.
As Mustafa Sadiq Al Rafi’i said: “The nation lives as long as its language lives.”
So, we shouldn’t be ashamed of our language, and we should not look at it with sadness and compassion. Instead, we must make serious attempts to save it, each according to his status and capabilities.