Sheikh Sultan Al Qasmy: “Plant love of the mother tongue in the hearts of Arabic speakers” Part 2

The marking of the UNESCO mother language day and the speech Al Qasmy gave was part of the ongoing effort in the UAE to foster an Arab identity which began in early 2008. The article reports that Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum (ruler of Dubai) presented a legal working document dedicated to the Arabic language. Notably the paper emphasises its aims and objectives:

“…to restore the Arabic language to its [rightful] place as a language that is dynamic and full of life. A language that is used in all spheres of life and through it the Islamic and Arabic values are presented and the Emirates (UAE) will become a centre of excellence for the Arabic language”.

This recent effort to raise awareness about Arabic language is in line with the current parliament’s ruling (in 2008) that Arabic become the language of the UAE and the law emphasised that in all official organizations the language of communication should be Arabic-  in meetings, in minutes in memos, in emails in everything. I know you are probably surprised that Arabic was made the official language of the UAE as late as 2008[I myself had to re-read the article twice and then go back to the original Arabic source to make sure I had not misunderstood the issue!]; you are probably wondering ‘well what was it before’? Well, I don’t know either, but at least one thing is for sure it IS Arabic now!  The writer of the article goes on to emphasise that:

“Al Qasmy played a huge role in the passing and supporting of that law [Arabic as the official language in 2008] and has always supported these groups that want to work towards restoring Arabic language to its rightful status among the Arabs. He has been a patron of this organization, the Association for the Protection of Arabic language, since its inception in the UAE and this shows his care, worry and involvement in this issue”.

Al Badur (one of the members of this organization) said: “Arabic language is threatened on many fronts in all the Arab countries and what is happening here on the ground needs no evidence [basically clear for all to see]. You all know to what extent Arabic language is suffering on the one hand from the regional dialects, the pidgin varieties and on the other hand the foreign languages.  We are not against the learning of other languages especially because these will assist us to access information and knowledge from their source. But we fear that our [future] generations will be distanced from the Arabic language; and that way they will be cut off from the Arabic and Islamic heritage. Due to all these reasons we are committed to taking the necessary decisions to ensure the safety of the Arabic language, and make it a language of knowledge, to be used in seminars [speeches] and communication in official organizations; especially in offices, banks and shops. This can only be achieved through teaching [Arabic] at different levels and to make people aware of this, we know that this will cost a lot of money or that we may lose a lot of money, but [at least] we will be recorded [in history] as those who protected our identity”.

I will end the post now with the final report on another prominent speaker during this event.  Mr. Farouq Hamadah (advisor at the office of the deputy leader of the UAE, Abu Dhabi) outlined in his speech the strong link between Arabic language and Islam – the religion of the UAE and its natives.  He gives a brief summary of the history of the Arabic language [his description is quite detailed but I have omitted it here] as an important language; that it was once a language of religion, commerce, information and knowledge. The history of Arabic in other than the Arab world is very well documented and one of the most clear evidences is the knowledge the African slaves had of Arabic and how they continued to use it even after being taken to America (see Sylviane Diouf (1998), Bryan Edwards (1966), and the current issue of Saudi Aramco if you can’t get a hard copy here is the link: it does make for an interesting read!).  He explains that it has lost it role in everything except religion and perhaps that too may soon be lost too. He passionately remarks: “…Arabic influenced many languages that it came into contact with, in an unprecedented way and it became [in those days] the language of expression…and [for Arabs] an aspect of identity that defined them as a people. Without Arabic language the Arab has no defined identity and it is through language that he/she finds their true belonging”. He says “Allah [God] has preserved the Arabic language through the preservation of the Qur’an [this might provide an answer to my previous post on the secret behind the preservation of Arabic language!  Not sure what the Qur’an is you can read here: and today it is [still] applicable in our lives and still engages our minds”.

He continues to show the importance of Arabic for Arabs and how without understanding it they may one day not understand the message of Islam and so on. But once again, the significance of this article/speech is in the manifestation of the fear that Arabs currently have for their language. I emphasise again these are high-profile people and they are making remarks such as these and dedicating days in which they promise to protect their language.  This is a true representation of how Arabic is being used today, [or rather being lost?] there are those who reside outside the Arab world and understand Arabic better than those who claim Arabic as their mother tongue. I recently read on a UAE blog, the disgust some contributors had about the loss of their Arabic and they added that even if the law of Arabic is enforced people will still use the language of their choice. So I guess we just have to wait and see how this recent paper will be translated into action and whether the speeches of lament will continue or not. It is an issue of interest because it gives us (as researchers in the language) a window into how the Arabs use their language, feel about it and the current issues surrounding Arabic.