My story with the Arabic language

Asilah, Morocco, August 2017.


I went to a bookshop, looking for old Arabic books, always searching for some rare gems when I’m in Morocco. I grabbed  a compilation of Gibran Khalil Gibran’s complete works and asked for the price. Then the shopkeeper told me (and he’s not the only one here in Morocco, I often get that kind of remark):

“You were born and raised in Europe (they can tell it by my accent I guess) and you can read and speak Arabic. How come!?”

Let me share with you my story with the Arabic language:

During my childhood, I didn’t attend any Arabic class at the mosque or any cultural centers like many of my Belgian/Moroccan/Muslim friends did. But at the age of 15, I felt the need to learn the language of the quran, in order to understand it. The translations left me disappointed to be honest.

How did I start?

It all started with surat al fatiha.

The 15-year-old autodidact I was had to start somewhere. Here’s how:

I knew surat al fatiha (the 1st chapter of the quran) by heart so I wrote the transliteration on a sheet of paper and put it next to the quran page and started observing the shapes of the letters, the diachritic points, the signs on the letters (I learned later that those were the short vowels – al harakat). I got an overall picture but, of course, it wasn’t enough: I asked my mother to write all the letters down. I hung them on a wall and started exercising, writing the letters in all their forms (ashkal al huruf), namely the initial-medial-final forms.

I managed to read the letters and the short vowels (‘a’, ‘u’, ‘i’), then words, then sentences… It really was an epiphany: a new life had started for me: I fell in love with the Arabic language.

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to start an in-depth study of the Arabic language and literature at uni. It inspired me in the way my education path and career have gone, without any doubt. I studied the Arabic (and English) philology, before starting translation studies. A choice I’ll never regret. On the reverse, I feel blessed. And you know what? You never stop learning.

Learning Arabic made me discover a totally new world. It’s such a deep language: one single word has the power of setting a whole atmosphere, just one word, and bringing you to places you would never expect to explore.

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