Part 43

A person whose first language was not Arabic has a harder time acquiring the sciences

January 31, 2022

This is because all scientific research deals with ideas of the mind and the imagination.

This applies to the religious sciences in which research is mostly concerned with words and the substance of which is the laws derived from the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the language used in (both the Qur’an and the Sunnah) that leads to (the formulation of) these (laws). These are all matters of the imagination.

The same fact also applies to the intellectual sciences, which are matters of the mind. Linguistic expression is merely the interpreter of ideas that are in the mind.

One (person) conveys them to another in oral discussion, instruction, and constant scientific research. His purpose is to obtain the (various) habits of (all these things 1255a ) through constant application. Words and expressions are media and veils between the ideas.

They constitute the bonds between them and give them their final imprint. The student of ideas must extract them from the words that express them. For this he needs a knowledge of their linguistic meaning and a good (linguistic) habit. Otherwise, it is difficult for him to get (the ideas), apart from the (usual) difficulties inherent in mental investigation of them.

When he has a firmly rooted habit as far as semantics is concerned, so that the (correct) ideas present themselves to his mind when he (hears) certain words used, spontaneously and naturally, the veil between the ideas and the understanding is either totally removed, or becomes less heavy, and the only task that remains is to investigate the problems inherent in the ideas.

All this applies to instruction by personal contact in the form of oral address and explanation. But when the student has to rely upon the study of books and written material and must understand scientific problems from the forms of written letters in books, 1226 he is confronted with another veil, (namely, the veil) that separates handwriting and the form of letters (found) in writing from the spoken words (found) in the imagination.

The written letters have their own way of indicating the spoken words. As long as that way is not known, it is impossible to know what they express. If it is known imperfectly, (the meaning) expressed (by the letters) is known imperfectly. Thus, the student is confronted with another veil standing between him and his objective of attaining scientific habits, one that is more difficult to cope with than the first one.

(Now,) if his habit, as far as the meaning of words and writing goes, is firmly established, the veils between him and the ideas are lifted. He has merely to occupy himself with understanding the problems inherent in the (ideas).

The same relationship of ideas with words and writing exists in every language. The habits of students who learn these things while they are young, are more firmly established (than those of other people).

Furthermore, the Muslim realm was far-flung and included many nations.

The sciences of the ancients were wiped out through the prophecy of (Islam) and its (holy) book. Illiteracy was the proper thing and symbol (of Islam). Islam then gained royal authority and power. (Foreign) nations served the (Muslims) with their sedentary culture and refinement. The religious sciences, which had been traditional, were turned by the (Muslims) into crafts. Thus, (scholarly) habits originated amongthem. Many systematic works and books were written. (The Muslims) desired to learn the sciences of the (foreign) nations. They made them their own through translations.

They pressed them into the mold of their own views. They took them over into their own language from the non-Arab languages and surpassed the achievements of (the non-Arabs) in them. The manuscripts in the non-Arabic language were forgotten, abandoned, and scattered. 1227 All the sciences came to exist in Arabic. The systematic works on them were written in (Arabic) writing.

Thus, students of the sciences needed a knowledge of the meaning of (Arabic) words and (Arabic) writing. They could dispense with all other languages, because they had been wiped out and there was no longer any interest in them.

Language is a habit of the tongue. Likewise, handwriting is a craft, the habit of which is located in the hand. 1229

The tongue which had at first the habit of speaking another language than Arabic, becomes deficient in (its mastery of) Arabic, because, as we have mentioned before, 1230 the person whose habit has advanced to a certain point in a particular craft is rarely able to master another one. This is obvious. (Now,) if (a person) is deficient in (his mastery of) Arabic, in (his knowledge of) the meaning of its words and its writing, it is difficult for him to derive the ideas from (Arabic words and Arabic writing), as has been mentioned before. Only if the early habit of speaking a nonArab language is not yet firmly established in a person when he makes the transition from it to Arabic, as is the case with small non-Arab children who grow up with Arabs before their (habit) of speaking a non-Arab language is firmly es- tablished, only then does the Arabic language come to be like a first (native) language, and his ability to derive the ideas from (the words of) the Arabic language is not deficient. 1231 The same applies to persons who learned non-Arabic writing before Arabic writing.

This is why we find that most non-Arab scholars in their research and classes do not copy comments (directly) from books but read them aloud. In this way they are less disturbed by the veils (between words and ideas), so that they can get more easily at the ideas. When a person possesses the perfect habit as far as verbal and written expression is concerned, he does not have to (read aloud). For him, it has become like a firmly ingrained natural disposition to derive an understanding of words from writing and of ideas from words. The veils between him and the ideas are lifted.

Intensive study and constant practice of the language and of writing may lead a person to a firmly rooted habit, as we find in most non-Arab scholars.

However, this occurs rarely. When one compares such a person with an Arabic scholar of equal merit, the latter is the more efficient, and his habit the stronger.

The non-Arab has trouble because his early use of a non-Arab language necessarily makes him inferior.

This is not in contradiction with the afore-mentioned fact 1232 that most Muslim scholars are non-Arabs. In that connection, “non-Arab” meant non-Arab by descent. Such non-Arabs had a long (history of) sedentary culture which, as we have established, causes cultivation of the crafts and habits, including the sciences. Being non-Arab in language is something quite different, and this is what is meant here.

It is also not in contradiction with the fact that the Greeks were highly accomplished scholars. They learned their sciences in their own first (native) language and in their own writing, such as was customarily used among them.

The nonArab Muslim who studies to become a scholar learns his subject in a language other than his first (native) one and from a writing other than the one whose habit he has mastered.

This, then, becomes a veil for him, as we have stated.This applies quite generally to all kinds of speakers of non-Arab languages, such as the Persians, the Turks, the Berbers, the European Christians, and all others whose language is not Arabic.