A bill introduced by PML-N MNA, Naeema Kishwar Khan, resulted in discussions about whether lack of Arabic teaching has caused increase in terrorism cases. PHOTO: REUTERS

Can learning Arabic really prevent terrorist attacks? PML-N surely thinks so

Why don’t you start learning and speaking in Arabic? You'll find out if it can prevent you from terrorising people.

Shakir Lakhani February 17, 2017
I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the men and women in our National Assembly are mentally fit - people who think and act rationally. We elect them every five years, hoping that they will solve our problems and make us proud of being citizens of Pakistan. But then, one of them says something completely absurd which makes me want to bang my head against the nearest wall and regret not going abroad after I graduated (those were the days when it was very easy to get a US visa).

I am referring to a female member of the National Assembly who claimed that the increase in terrorism is directly related to our children learning English and not Arabic in schools.

A bill moved by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA, Naeema Kishwar Khan, resulted in discussions about whether the lack of Arabic teaching has caused an increase in terrorism cases. To further substantiate this notion, another PML-N MNA, Parveen Masood Bhatti, supported the bill, stating that terrorism was increasing because students were not studying Arabic. According to her,
“We have started focusing on the English language, and parents put their children in English-medium schools and do not bother teaching their children the Arabic language. It is because of this attitude that terrorism is increasing.”

I do not know whether the ladies think that not learning Arabic has caused a rise in terrorism cases or if learning English is responsible for it. I do think that our children need to learn to read, interpret and speak Arabic as it will prevent them from being brainwashed by virtually illiterate clerics and their interpretations, but it cannot be done for the simple reason that we don’t have enough teachers fluent in Arabic in the country, and the ones we could employ from abroad are most likely not fluent in Urdu. In fact, they would probably be able to teach only in English, which means that our children would first have to learn English before learning Arabic.

Furthermore, it is not as simple as it seems. If speaking Arabic really prevents terrorism, how do you explain the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks were Arabs and spoke Arabic fluently, not to mention that the al Qaeda founder, Osama Bin Laden was an Arab and spoke Arabic fluently as well. Moreover, there are only a few to zero terrorism cases in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where no one speaks Arabic and English is the preferred language by most people. Hence, speaking or teaching English does not cause terrorism. In fact, English has been the preferred medium of language in Pakistan since before its inception, and there was no terrorism until the 1990s.

As for Arabic, all madrassa students have to learn it, and some of the arrested terrorists reportedly belonged to such madrassas – madrassas where they would learn and understand Arabic, interpreted by clerics and their understanding of the Holy Quran.

Hence, it is safe to conclude that speaking and learning Arabic, as taught in many madrassas, is where the problem arises. Since they lack translation and interpretation skills, the students believe whatever they are being taught and are brainwashed to believe that they are serving a higher purpose.

Did it ever occur to the ladies to do some research and find out which is the preferred and common language for suicide bombers and terrorists? Is it English? Yes, they do understand and speak English, but have they ever heard any suicide bomber screaming “God is great” instead of “Allahu Akbar” before blowing themselves up?

So, think again, ladies, it is not language that causes men, women and children to indulge in terrorism, but the environment in which they have been raised. Furthermore, I have a suggestion for you, honourable ladies: why don’t you start learning and speaking in Arabic? You will soon find out if it can prevent you from terrorising those whom you come in contact with every day.
Shakir Lakhani Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (https://twitter.com/shakirlakhani)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Nisar | 7 years ago | Reply Knowing to read, write and speak in Arabic in a way can prevent religious terrorism because what can prevent it, for sure, would be an effective counter narrative to the ideology of the extremists. Much awaited that counter narrative, in whole or in part, cannot come from an intellectual not familiar with Arabic. By intellectual is not meant a simple scholar. Intellectuals are not born every day. It takes centuries to give birth to a genuine intellectual. How many of us study science and how many of us become Einsteins or Newtons? What madrassas produce at the most are Muftis who can be termed as learned and knowledgeable but not intellectuals. The desired counter narrative would be effective only if it will be made with reference to the Quranic verses. To correctly reinterpret these verses the knowledge of Arabic is a must. The menace of religious extremism we face today is because approach to Quran is made not with a rational mind. If one has basic knowledge of Arabic and applies rational approach to Quran one will find how some verses and some words have been misinterpreted. Here is an example to prove this contention: (1) In V2:2 of Quran there has come a word “Muttaqeen” which is the genitive plural form of what we call in Urdu Muttaqi derived from the word Taqwa. According to the meaning of “Muttaqeen” given in translations and tafasir (explanations)of Quran, a believer (in Allah and in His oneness), even if he is a great sinner, will be considered a Muttaqi, though, of course, of the lowest degree but a non-believer, however righteous he may be, cannot be called a Muttaqi. If this meaning be accepted it means that this word Allah has specifically devised for the believers and it has been for the first time introduced through Quran. But if one may rationally think he would conclude that this word would have been common in use even prior to Islam. If so it can’t be Muslim specific. It means that even prior to Islam people could differentiate between Muttaqeen and Non-Muttaqeen. Now the question arises as to what could be a quality that renders even non-believers to be Muttaqeen. The plausible answer to this question could be that by Muttaqeen is meant people who are rational and thus have the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong whenever any matter comes across them. These are people who can take guidance from Quran. Therefore, the word “Muttaqeen” used in this verse refers to such people whether they are Muslims or not. This way even a non believer could be Muttaqi while a believer could be a non Muttaqi. At other places this word may have the traditional meanings. To cite an example of a non-believer Muttaqi take the case of Hazrat Umer (RA) who became Muslim when he heard some verse/verses of Quran from his sister. So when Allah demands Taqwa from people He demands from people to be first Rational. (Part of this passage is an abstract from my unpublished article in Urdu titled /subtitled “Taqwa/Inherent and Acquired. Limited space does not permit me to elaborate further on this point). Is this example sufficient to prove how know-how of Arabic is important in correctly interpreting Quran? Remember the author of this passage does not claim he has full command over Arabic. He can’t even talk in Arabic nor can he understand what one talks yet he is fairly well acquainted with Arabic Grammar which helps him understand written Arabic text with the help of dictionaries. The drawback, if it is, in him is that he hardly takes for granted the interpretations offered to him. He applies his own mind.
Sane | 7 years ago | Reply Learning Arabic would not help in curbing terrorism.
Sane | 7 years ago ET: You wiped out the other sentence of my comment. How many terrorist nabbed so far were able to speak Arabic. Yes, they were fluent in Hindi, like Kulbhoshan Singh.
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