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A Chat With An Arabic Learner

لَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ ﴿

And We have indeed made the Qur’ân easy to understand and remember, then is there any one who will remember (or receive admonition)? (54:17)

Is it too late to start learning Arabic? The answer to this question is in the chat I had with Aunty Hamida who has started learning at the age of 76. It was an honour to have a chat with her about her Arabic learning journey.

Give us some background information about yourself.
Asalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah, My name is Hamida and I am 76 years old. I am a widow. I was married at 17. I was a Christian at that time. Then my husband died when I was 35 years old. I converted or should I say reverted to Islam when I was 36. I was educated in the USA then worked as licensed clinical psychologist. I didn’t give much attention to my deen until I retired at 60. At the age of 61 I realized that time was running out on me and needed to re-focus my attention. All my energy went on my profession, it was time to understand and live my deen.

Reading Quran

How did you start learning Arabic?
Before I was a muslim I was part of a small close Christian community. However, when I reverted to Islam I became all alone. So to begin with I was praying in English as I didn’t find anyone to teach me then. I was concerned and very troubled that I was praying in English and not Arabic. Then when I was a councilor in a school in Carlifornia, Mr Rashid, an elderly man, may Allah have mercy on him as he died, taught me to pray over the phone using transliteration. I was reading using transliteration for many years. Then Just under a year ago I joined an online class to learn Arabic but when I realized it was conversational Arabic I asked for private tutoring as I wanted to be able to read and understand the Quran in its entirety. My teacher helped me to read and now I am reading. I am so happy, alhamdulliah. She had to correct my pronunciations.

Why did you start learning Arabic?
The chief purpose was to learn to read the Quran. I strongly believe that Allah sent us that Quran and that He gave it to us in Arabic and I feel He wants us to recite the Quran in Arabic. I often hear Arabic speakers say that when you read the Quran in English it is like eating dried food and when you read it in Arabic it is like eating fresh
fruit and I kept thinking to myself I want to eat the fresh fruit.

How long have you been learning Arabic?
When I first became a Muslim I prayed in English then I learnt to read Arabic using transliteration and continued with my transliteration for many years. However, just under a year ago I joined one to one online lessons and had to start from learning the alphabet and I am now already reading.

What difficulties do you or did you encounter in learning Arabic?
As I learnt to read using transliteration, I realized, as time went by, that my pronunciation was not correct which was very disappointing and disheartening. My journey in learning Arabic was a lonely one but I was determined to carry on. The most difficult bit I found was learning the alphabet, but once I concord that, I started to actually read and recognize the words in Arabic and begin to join the words and the letters together. Also, the sounding I learnt from transliteration was not accurate so I had to leave it and re-learn the correct pronunciation. I am actually now reading the Quran in Arabic, alhamdulliah. It is the most rewarding, it makes me happy when I am reading the Quran.

Are you still learning Arabic?
Yes, I am still learning. I am attending one to one lessons online. I have 3 lessons a week and I look forward to these lessons. I read Quran, memorise duas as well as study the meaning of the Quran.

How fluent would you say you are in Arabic?
I understand words from the Quran and I am reading fluently now. I am much better than when I properly started 7 or 8 months ago.

Have you used transliteration in your Arabic learning journey? If so, What do you think of it?
I first learnt to read using transliteration. I learnt how to read the Quran with the wrong pronunciation, which I am still trying to undo now. Also, I found with transliteration you can’t learn how to join the words and you can’t learn how to read phonetically especially as Arabic is a phonetical language. I found learning with transliteration very disappointing and disheartening. To me, it is sad that anyone would spend so many hours learning to read the Quran like that. It is sad because it is not Arabic and Allah sent the Quran in Arabic and He said that it is easy to memorize it. Our Lord is saying, just go for it and you will get it.

What advice would you give to those who are embarking on the Arabic learning journey?
I would say to a beginner like myself, do not waste time on transliteration. It is a really waste of time. I am so glad I reverted and took the time to learn the alphabet and I am reading, I am reading Arabic. When I sometimes go back to have a look at the transliteration I find the pronunciation wrong. As a new beginner, take the time to learn the alphabet. It will be much more rewarding in the long term.

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