In my opinion, learning Arabic is FARD `AYN (an individual obligation) for those seeking to acquire more knowledge in religious education or seeking to gain a firm intellectual footing in Humanities and social sciences scholarship.
An engineer who is NOT interested in learning the nitty-gritty of Islamic theology or humanistic and social sciences scholarship and only want to contribute his knowledge of the Engineering field in the public sphere does not need to learn Arabic even though learning Arabic would benefit him in gaining access to reading directly the writings of scholars such as Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham, the author of the famous book of optics كتاب المناظر and his treatise on light رسالة في ضو. Arabic will also aid this Engineer to read the book of Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī, the author of التفهيم لصناعة التنجيم. His knowledge of physics will be enriched and it will transcend the books of Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Hans Bethe, Nikola Tesla or Stephen Hawking.
Similarly, a psychiatrist who is NOT interested in learning the various Islamic sciences and does not seek to pursue humanistic scholarship does not need Arabic even though learning Arabic will give him the linguistic pass to be able to directly study the first encyclopedia of medicine written by Abū al-Ḥasan Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Ṭabari فردوس الحكمة and the القانون في الطب of Abū Alī Sīnā. His knowledge of psychiatry will be enriched and it transcend the works of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Simon Wessely and Ian Brockington.
Similarly, a mathematician who is NOT interested in acquiring the paraphernalia of a Muslim Intellectual and only want to discuss Mathematics in the public sphere does not need to learn Arabic even though learning Arabic will help him to obtain a linguistic pass to directly study the works of Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (the father of Algebra) including his most famous book الكتاب المختصر في حساب الجبر والمقابلة and the works of Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. al-ḥasan al-Tūsī كتاب الشاكل القطاعي (one of the first work on Trigonometry). The knowledge of this mathematician will be enriched and it will transcend the works of Archimedes, John Napier, Bertrand Russell, and Sophie Germain.
Beyond the use of Arabic to decode text, Arabic is extremely important for understanding the anthropology and sociology of Muslim societies. Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, Clifford Geertz and Edward Said have made this point clear even though they all opposed the orientalist fixation on philology. How can I understand why Muslim scholars read the same scriptural text but interpret it differently for their followers in the public sphere without knowing Arabic? Without Arabic how can I understand the psychology of what prompted Muhammad Yusuf to adopt his ideational preference for Dawah and Jihad within the Salafi canon and not the preference of Tasfiya and Tarbiya supported by the Jaafar school of Salafism? Without Arabic how can I understand why the Izala scholars limit their strict rules of censuring Bid’a on Sufi practices alone and even went as far doing Takfīr of Sufis but do not extend the same Takfīr parlance to the secular political leaders that completely abandon the Shari’a in favor of British-model secular constitution? There is a reason why Arabic language training for 2yrs is a mandatory requirement for PhD students studying the Muslim societies.
Learning Arabic should be one of your top priorities in 2020. Apart from the plethora theological utility of Arabic, learning Arabic gives you the linguistic pass to read rare materials that can aid you to explore historical and contemporary issues beyond the imperial narratives.
Trust me, if you are DISCIPLINED and FOCUSED you can do it.
Set a Goal for yourself and religiously stick to your time plan. You will be surprised how much you will achieve within a short period of time.
By Scholar Abdubasit Kassim
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