Thursday, 30 December 2021

Resources for learning and practicing Arabic

In this post, I have put together Book and Video resources for anybody who wants to study Arabic at their own pace as opposed to joining a class. Note that I have ordered the resources in this post alphabetically and not in an order of recommendation. If you prefer to study at the pace of a class as opposed to studying alone at your own pace, then see this post instead.

Books

  • Arabic Reader (Published by Lund Humphries) – This is a fantastic resource to practice your reading once you know the basic rules of grammar. It provides comprehensive vocabulary and footnotes so you don't have to keep digging into the dictionary. However, note that it is advanced so not a good book to start with.
  • Mastering Arabic (Published by Palgrave Macmillan) – There are four books in the series: 'Mastering Arabic Script', 'Mastering Arabic', 'Mastering Arabic 2' and 'Mastering Arabic Grammar'. This is a good series to have in your library but I wouldn't say it is sufficient to learn Arabic. It is a little sparse in detail and in repeating concepts so you'll need other resources to hand in order to solidify the concepts that you learn in these books.

Videos

Bayyinah TV

Paying $11 (£8-ish) per month to get access to the full library of content on the Bayyinah TV platform is well worth it if you're going to spend a few hours on there per week. Otherwise, the following YouTube playlists are a good starting point:

FC LangMedia (YouTube Playlists)

The Arabic grammar videos in the following playlists are as clear and as concise as you will find. I'll be very surprised if anyone can point me to a set of videos which can match these for clarity and conciseness.

Hidaya Center (YouTube channel)

The videos on this channel have an animated and repetitive style. I find that this helps to learn and remember new vocabulary. Sort the videos by date added, oldest to newest, to start from easier topics and work through to harder topics.

Monday, 11 January 2021

Arabic grammar terms

Below are the names and definitions of some Arabic grammar terms which I sometimes struggle to recall:
  • Ajwaf (أَجْوَف) – a root verb which has an alif, waw or yaa as its second letter, e.g. قَالَ.
  • Lafeef Mafrooq (لَفِيف مَفْرُوق) – a root verb which has an alif, waw or yaa as its first and third letter, e.g. وَلَى.
  • Lafeef Maqroon (لَفِيف مَقْرُون) – a root verb which has an alif, waw or yaa as its second and third letter, e.g. طَوَى.
  • Mithaal (مِثال) – a root verb which has an alif, waw or yaa as its first letter, e.g. وَعَدَ.
  • Mudhaa'af (مُضَاعَف) – a root verb which has the same letter in two positions, e.g. سَبَّ.
  • Naaqis (ناقِص) – a root verb which has an alif, waw or yaa as its third letter, e.g. رَمَى.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Book Review: Women in the Quran, by Asma Lamrabet

This book is at its best when it's recounting the stories of the women mentioned in the Quran and the stories of the female companions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to whom the Quran was revealed. The stories told are stories we are familiar with as Muslims but they're told with a feminine voice that is both strong and refreshing.

In my opinion, the author really should have stuck to these stories and the lessons of courage, endurance and sacrifice extracted from them. Instead, she continues and closes off by opening up and trying to take on some contentious issues like polygamy and women's inheritance and testimony. The problem is that she raises questions in this domain but doesn't really offer substantiated, convincing answers. It comes across a little ill-conceived and rushed, and it's a classic case of less is more.

My other problem with the book is that the translator seems to have taken to the thesaurus to pick the most difficult word on offer whenever there was a choice. It hurts the readability of the book. Expect words like anachronism, ethnocentric, hegemony and preponderance... and that's just in the first three pages of the introduction. It would be great in future editions of this book if the choice of words was revisited and simpler words chosen wherever possible.

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

This is a popular novel which has thousands of reviews already so doing a general review isn't going to add much value to the world. Instead, I want to focus on a small gripe I have with the book: its title.

You'd imagine from the title that the protagonist is to go on a journey from being not very fundamental to becoming somewhat fundamental. What's implied by the word "fundamentalist" of course is "fundamentalist Muslim". Now here's my gripe. At no point in the story does the protagonist become more observant of the fundamentals of his faith; at no point does he become more observant of God or of the basic things a Muslim is expected to do and to refrain from. He becomes increasingly political and anti-American in his views but nowhere is there mention of him becoming more "Muslim". And there's my gripe. Sadly, what's implied by the title is, firstly, not in tune with what's in the novel and, secondly, it's just cashing in on the mainstream Western narrative that "fundamentalist" is synonymous with "anti-American".

That gripe aside: it's a good, tense, well-told story. Just set your expectations right: expect plenty of references to alcohol, extramarital relations and global politics, and none in the way of religion.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Film Review: Islam and the Future of Tolerance, by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

I only watched this documentary film because a colleague at work asked my opinion on Maajid Nawaz after he had watched it. Like 99.99% of the Muslim community in the UK I'd struggle to say anything positive about Maajid Nawaz but I thought it would be unfair to comment on him and the film without watching it and so I proceeded to do so. It was a struggle to get past the first five minutes. It was a struggle to get to the end.

I got the impression from the film's trailer and description that it would be an exchange of conflicting ideas between the two protagonists. But no, from start to end, the two continued to agree with other. In fact you'd struggle to find two individuals who agree with each other anymore than these two! Even with five minutes remaining I was certain that the two of them would disagree somewhere and give us something to think about. But no, it never came. So basically if you're a fanboy/fangirl of Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz and like to see the two of them agreeing with each other then you'll like this film.

The film tries desperately to create a narrative where there is no narrative. It tries to convey this idea that – by the two protagonists conversing with each other – they're bringing about some major change. But, again, to repeat the point, when two people who agree with each other converse, nothing changes! Both started off agreeing with each other and both ended agreeing with each other. It's simple maths.

In terms of the actual content of the film it's basically the two protagonists throwing out labels, defining boxes and agreeing to put people into them: this is a traditionalist, that's an Islamist and that's a traditionalist on the way to becoming an Islamist! Basically creating over-simplified representations of the people and world around them. A bit like the very "dogmatists" who they've made it their life mission to fight against if you ask me. Put your seatbelt on and expect a lot of labels: "Jihadist", "literalist", "Islamist theocrat", "conservative Muslim", "moderate Muslim", "secular Muslim", "reformist Muslim", "secular apologist", "pluralist liberalist", etc, etc.

I promised myself I'd keep my review to three paragraphs maximum because this film deserves no more time than I've already given it and so I'll end here.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Book Review: Life of the Prophet in Makkah, by Zakaria Bashier

This is the first in a four-part series on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) by the author and, funnily, the last in the series that I read. Like the other books in the series the author's intent is not to provide a comprehensive narrative of events in the period under discussion but to pick and discuss just a few events and themes. The period covered in this book is the early years of the Prophet's life right up to the migration of the Muslims from Makkah to Madinah. Within this period the author focuses on the following themes:
  • The characteristics of the pre-Islamic Arabs.
  • The personality of the Prophet (ﷺ) before the revelation of the Qur'an.
  • The beauty and profound nature of the Qur'an.
  • The names, characteristics and achievements of the first converts to Islam.
  • The names and the motivation of the Arabs of Yathrib who stepped up and pledged unconditionally to support and protected the Prophet (ﷺ).
Consistent with the author's approach in the other books in the series it's a slightly more academic read than other Seerah books. So, if you're already familiar with the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) and don't mind a slightly more academic read, get this book. If, however, you're looking for a narrative of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) then this book probably isn't for you.

Below are some quotes from the book that stood out for me.
"If the Qur'an is to be shown to be a product of human endeavours, then something comparable to its charm, nobility and the elegance and gloriousness of its style, must be produced or shown to have existed before." 
"We have already quoted Sir William Muir's remark that 'it is strongly corroborative of Muhammad's sincerity that the earliest converts to Islam were not only of upright character but his own bosom friends and people of his household.' Sir William's remark represents a sound insight into human relations, because even if someone could deceive outsiders concerning his aims and character, it is very difficult, indeed next to impossible, for him to do so with respect to his intimates and members of his family for an unlimited time." 
"... the strongest proof of the sincerity of Muhammad's belief in the Divine nature of his mission is the Qur'an itself. Its noble language and teachings, its lofty moral directives, the exciting and revealing accounts which it conveys of former nations, their Prophets and anti-Prophets, their fates and their fortunes, the information which it contains about things to come and the fore-knowledge which it conveys about a diversity of subjects – these are some of the considerations which make it extremely unrealistic to pronounce it a product and an outcome of a hallucinatory and illusory vision. The purity, sweetness, rare force and beauty which characterise the Qur'anic language and literary style, render any suggestion to the effect that it is human-made untenable. Moreover, the world-view which the Qur'an incorporates, its elaborateness and internal consistency and cohesion, and the broad vision of life and human possibilities which it envisages compel reason and common sense to reject the suggestion that it is the mutterings and utterances of a visionary caught in the spell of hallucinatory dreams. Irrespective of whether he would eventually adopt the Qur'anic interpretation of Reality or reject it, an intelligent, unbiased reader cannot but admit that this interpretation, with its pure monotheism and its consummate integration of all aspects of life and reality is the result of a superior, authentic spiritual experience of the highest order." 
"To attain some understanding of the phenomenon of those very first Muslims, it is essential not to view them as rare individuals with inherently extraordinary personalities. Such an approach is not only superficial but fails to take into account the factors that moulded and enhanced their spiritual and moral force – that important inward force that controls the ultimate springs of action in every man. Such an understanding can be achieved if we view them as the cardinal sociological phenomenon of their time, and of all times. To characterise this phenomenon in a few words would be to say that they were a 'Qur'anic Generation' as Sayyid Qutb has put it. It was the Qur'an that exerted the primary educative influence upon the minds and souls of those early Muslims. Every time a set of verses were revealed to the Prophet he hurried to the Mosque; people were called to a special assembly, and the new verses read aloud by him. These Muslims then made it their urgent concern to understand the new revelation, memorising it by heart, if possible. Most importantly, it was their major characteristic that they strove to apply the Qur'anic guidance to their everyday affairs. They understood, better than any later generation, that following this guidance as closely as they could was the only way to procure God's pleasure and blessings and only by satisfying their Lord could they hope to succeed both in this life and in the Hereafter. Prompted by this understanding they sought to realise the Qur'anic vision in their daily lives." 
"In the early days, faced with the harsh opposition of the Quraysh idolators, they [the early Muslims] would resort to the House of al-Arqam b. al-Arqam. Huddled together they would, joyfully and serenely, embark on the reading of the Qur'an. The sound of it imparted calmness and peace to their agitated souls, and the explanation it rendered to them relieved and expanded their depressed and burdened hearts." 
"The first Muslims constituted a whole generation that was carefully and patiently nurtured on the Qur'anic revelations, and this nurturing continued throughout the Makkan phase (about thirteen years) and the Madinan phase (lasting for another ten years). The result was that they developed dispositions, attitudes and behavioural patterns which were superb examples of the guidance and the spirit of the glorious Qur'an – hence the description, the Qur'anic Generation." 
"[The Qur'anic guidance] is guidance which in both form (language) and content is precise and persuasive. It is not vague, cryptic or couched in unintelligible generalisations or metaphors. It is characterised by a sagacious admixture of common sense, based on the observed facts of Nature, and a rational metaphysical mysticism which never asserts anything that is demonstrably counter to reason."

Friday, 14 June 2019

Book Review: Revive Your Heart – Putting Life in Perspective, by Nouman Ali Khan

This is essentially a transcript of some sermons that Nouman Ali Khan has delivered. So if you're familiar with his talks and like them, you'll enjoy reading this book. Each chapter in the book is a transcript of a particular sermon and each sermon is an explanation of a small series of Ayahs of the Quran. The sermons included in the book are those that deal with the attitudes that we should adopt as Muslims, i.e. our attitude to prayer/supplication, our attitude to giving/receiving advice, our attitude to suspicion/assumption, our attitude to spending/charity, and so on and so forth! Overall a good read which will increase your appreciation of the Quran.