Saturday, November 16, 2013

Educating children in their mother tongue

For benefit of a wider readership, br. Ibrahim's Ali response in a conversation about educating children in their mother tongue and the importance of learning Arabic.
As Salamu'aleikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatuh,
My response is a bit long, but I will highly encourage every recipient to read it completely before reaching any conclusion and raise necessary questions. May Allah SWT accept all our efforts.
Dr. Irfan Hyder's article rightly stresses the need to educate the children in their mother tongue and I quote an excerpt from his article:
"Firstly from educational point of view, there is prevalent consensus among educationists that the best medium for early childhood education is the mother tongue. We see this practiced in all the developed world, whether it is France, Germany, Finland or any other country in Europe, or whether it is Japan, Korea or Taiwan, or whether it is China. Early education is given in the mother tongue to facilitate the process of articulation and comprehension because a child who is armed with the ability to articulate his thoughts and to comprehend complex ideas in his mother tongue can very easily learn a foreign language in few months later on
Early childhood is the period of time when a child is in the process of learning how to articulate complex concepts in to words and sentences and how to interpret complex ideas being articulated orally. This process is short-circuited by the imposition of the burden of negotiating through the maze of the foreign language with the result that the child becomes lost in the complexity of foreign words and in the effort of making sense out of them, and looses sight of the more important process of articulation of complex ideas and comprehension of complex ideas. Resultantly we get children who are unable to express themselves freely and to comprehend the complexity of oral tradition."
As an NLP expert, I second the idea that a child definitely has to learn in his mother tongue in his imprint years for developing an extremely confident personality. The very social fabric gets torn if his mother tongue is replaced by other tongue(s) in his/her imprint years, as the child gets disconnected from his surroundings and as result his cognitive development is also hampered. A language is not just utterance of words, rather it is a thought structure, which shapes a person's world view. And definitely English language superiority complex in our society has played havoc and made English culture & proficiency seem the yardstick for a person's status & success. So for children to be brought up as naturally as possible, they should be educated in the language of the masses/society to which they will insha'Allah feel connected and as a result will show some responsibility towards them as they will own them. Our contemporary passion for English over urdu has made children start feeling disconnected from their society as a whole and feeling connected with the English speaking world. As a result, these children start comparing their society with the West and take Western development and Western life style as a standard. Majority of them start turning their backs towards Pakistan blaming the society for the mess they themselves are equally responsible for, and easily get settled in lands of the disbelievers for mere economic benefits not doing any active Da'wah work.
However after developing proficiency in their mother tongue, after the age of 7, children should be taught Arabic language. As there is no doubt, and I second Sr. Arifa's opinion on Arabic being the language which Allah chose for Qur'an, His Messenger Muhammad ( Peace be Upon him) and Islam. If we are to consider ourselves people(nation/ummah) of our beloved prophet (Peace be upon him) we have to own his language as entire mankind whoever follows him will be his nation, as Allah says in Qur'an:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ ۖ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

"And We sent not a Messenger except with the language of HIS PEOPLE, in order that he might make (the Message) clear for them. Then Allah misleads whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise." 14:4

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:
The Prophet said, "I have been given five things which were not given to any one else before me.
1. Allah made me victorious by awe, (by His frightening my enemies) for a distance of one month's journey.
2. The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying and a thing to perform Tayammum, therefore anyone of my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due.
3. The booty has been made Halal (lawful) for me yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me.
4. I have been given the right of intercession (on the Day of Resurrection).
5. Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation ONLY but I have been sent to all mankind. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 7, Number 331)
Allah says:

إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ

"Indeed we have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may learn wisdom." 12:2
The point to be noted here is the Arabic structure قرآنًا عربيًّا which is the strongest kind of adjective bonding in Arabic language called مركب توصيفي in Arabic grammar. It means that Arabic is not only the medium through which Qur'an was communicated, rather it is the identity of Qur'an itself. And such a mention of Arabic and Qur'an has been made at least 11 times in different places in Qu'ran in different sentence structures. So Allah definitely wants mankind to notice this relationship, or we would have been allowed to offer our salah in our mother tongues. As Muslims we all believe that Qur'an is preserved in Louh Mahfooz in al Baytul Ma'moor from where Angel Jibraeel used to bring revelations to Rasulullah (Peace and blessing be upon him). Had Arabic been only the medium of communicating Quran to Arab nation, the above mentioned verse wouldn't have been considered part of Qur'an preserved in Louh Mahfooz. So it is clear that Qur'an's existence as a scripture is only possible in Arabic, and the guarantee given by Allah for its preservation till the day of judgement is for its Arabic text. There are tons of linguistic miracles in Qur'an which shook the earth beneath Sahabah's feet the moment they heard those verses being recited to them. Translations in mother tongues do not capture those miracles or beauties which Allah boasts about in Qur'an.
I am not denying the fact that Qur'an is sent to convey the message to humanity. And that message has to be understood in ones life time. Translation does communicate that message to a great extent alhamdulillah. And that is why even if our language is not Arabic, we must go over the meanings of Qur'an again and again to stay aligned with the direct expectations of our Creator from us until we master Arabic language. However we should not feel content that since we got the message through translation we need not strive to master the language to have Qur'an shape our perception the way it shaped Sahabas.
Sahabi Umer ( Allah be pleased with him) used to say often: تعلّموا العربية فإنها من دينكم "Learn Arabic for it is from your Religion."
The history tells us that when Islam reached the Babylonian 'Iraq and the Qibti speaking Egypt, the Sahabah preached those nations Islam by role modeling and teaching them Arabic and quoting to them Qur'anic verses.
And the history also tells us that when muslims got distant from Arabic language, they got distanced from Qur'an and started falling prey to innovations in deen. As a result Shah Waliullah had to translate Qu'ran very late even in the subcontinent.
Yes, tafseer is an asset, but it should be kept in mind that that is not Qur'an, but a commentary on it to develop depth in it. So even if tons of tafaseer on Qur'an are written in Urdu, it doesn't and cannot replace Qur'anic text for which Allah has guaranteed. It is absolutely wrong to compare translations and commentaries of Qur'an to Qur'an itself , no matter how eloquent they may sound, as the challenge put forward by Allah to mankind is to produce something like its linguistic structure which even mesmerized and still mesmerizes native Arabic speakers. Some people put forward this argument that knowledge of Arabic is no guarantee to Qur'anic understand and impact by quoting examples of the eloquence of Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl. Kindly note that, only when knowledge of Arabic combined with sincerity and Taqwa of Allah SWT leads to Qur'anic impact. Qur'an is speech of Allah and not a piece of literature, and speech cannot be perceived as speech fully if its conveyed in a different language. Arabic is not just a language, it is a paradigm, a thinking structure which according to researched enables a person to use both the sides of the brain.
Now the question is not whether Arabic should be learnt or not. It should be that what is the right time/stage to teach it to a child. The answer is simple, if parents don't have command over it, society doesn't have command over it, don't teach it as a first language to the child as he/she would become cognitively misfit not only in the family but also in the society. Use mother tongue to educate the child in imprint years. One he/she has command over the language, within a few months only he/she can acquire proficiency in Arabic. More important than young children being immersed into Arabic, its their parents who should race to master Arabic language and then at the same time engage the child in the process. Practice with the child whatever they learn of Arabic. Give instruction to children in Arabic & Speak short sentences and then switching to longer ones. As Classical Arabic conversation fluency does wonders to Qur'anic understanding since it makes the entire scripture sound as direct word of Allah with personal touch.
Even though parents maybe extremely sincere in wanting to have their kids starting learning Arabic from a very young age, it does have very harmful effects on that young mind, until parents them selves have started to learn it and mastered it.
Last but not the least, our first language was chosen by Allah so He sent us in different cultures, by His choice and every language is His creation and a community's identity, He will not hold us accountable for the mother tongue, but He will definitely hold each one of us accountable for whatever we decide to learn beyond our given first language. And if we developed proficiency in any other discipline/language at the cost of learning the language of Qur'an first, we should be ready to face the consequences, as Salah(five daily prayers) are not just obligatory for anything. They are to be understood in full spirit by the time they are fardh on the child at the age of ten as his/her accountability begins. In my experience of teaching Arabic language and developing effective Arabic teaching strategies I have concluded that between the age of seven & ten, Arabic should be learnt and not before that in Non Arabic scenarios.And it can start much earlier given that parents and extended family members have command over the language.
And Allah knows the best.


  1. Children should be taught in their mother tongue as all the developed countries use this technique. Medium of instruction in our education
    institutions should be Urdu or regional languages at least in primary classes.

  2. Totally agree with your thoughts, we have to use our mother tongue or national tongue to educate our child there are so many books, in the internet that how we educate our child