So claims Akhtar H. Emon, president of an outfit called the Arabic Language Institute Foundation (or ALIF, which is the name of the first letter of the Arabic alphabet), based in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. His interesting argument can be found on a webpage from September 2002, "Bringing Arabic to U.S. / Canadian High Schools," that begins by making the case for Arabic instruction for purely materialistic reasons:
The necessity for a greater number of Arabic speakers is obvious, given the amount of trade the United States does with countries in the Middle East and that region's growing economic importance in world trade. Many big companies have business over there, and all this requires knowledge of Arabic. …
As Arab nations gain more of a global presence, especially in non-oil related economic areas, knowing Arabic and understanding the Arab culture will be more valuable for American businesses seeking to tap that growing market. … Knowledge of Arabic will promote investments here since there are a lot of revenues from oil. The lack of knowledge has stagnated investments into this country.
This is a bit over the top, especially when one recalls that the entire GDP of the Arabic-speaking countries is less than that of Spain, but at least it's an argument that an American or Canadian can relate to.
The final paragraph then presents a quite different – and arguably more sincere – reason for wanting Arabic taught in North American high schools:
Arabic is the language of the Qur'an. In order to convey the message of Qur'an in North America and Europe, we have to first deliver its language. Knowledge of Arabic can then help the Western countries recover from the present moral decay. Shootings of the likes in Columbine High School, and San Diego schools are the symptoms and the signs (Ayah) from Allah. High School students in North America deserve better than the metal detectors to protect them. The whole system of education needs a moral shake-up. The Arabic Language Institute Foundation (ALIF), a Los Angeles-based organization is committed to this goal.
So there you have it – "Knowledge of Arabic can then help the Western countries recover from the present moral decay."
And what makes this statement even odder is that Emon himself admits to not knowing Arabic.
Comments: (1) Even innocuous-looking groups like ALIF (a project partially sponsored, wouldn't you know it, by the Council on American-Islamic Relations) has an intent to transform the United States into a majority Muslim country. (2) It appears that Arabic has a ways to go. One listing of most commonly studied foreign languages in the U.S. in institutions of higher education finds Arabic not among the top eleven languages in 2002. (November 26, 2004)
Nov. 28, 2004 update: Iftikhar Ahmad of the London School of Islamics goes much further (as one would expect, he working in a British environment) in an e-mail message he sent out today:
To deprive a Muslim child from his/her culture and language is a crime against Humanity. Children of minority communities have the right to enjoy their own culture and to practice their own religion and language. British Muslims have been denying such rights in the field of education.
As this passage suggests ("have been denying") and the rest of his screed confirms, Iftikhar Ahmad himself could use some remedial English-language instruction. But never mind, the subject here is the benefits of learning Arabic and other Muslim-majority languages.
Ahmad catalogues the woes of British Muslims, concludes that the solution is "state-funded Muslim schools," and finally returns to the subject of languages, rising to a crescendo:
The first wave of Muslims used English as an economic language and still it is not used as a social and emotional language. English could become social and emotional language if Muslims start moving in and around pubs, indulge in binge drinking, visiting night clubs and frequently changing partners. This is what the British establishment want them to be an integral part of the British society. Islam is a maker of Identity and belonging rather than a system of belief. The Imams from the sub-continent are well versed in Urdu, Arabic, and Persian on top of their mother tongue: Punjabi, Bengali or Gujrati and other regional languages. They come here to serve the spiritual, social and emotional needs of the Muslim community in their own languages. Urdu is a literary, social and emotional language of the Muslims from the sub-continent, Arabic is their religious language and English is for economic activity and prosperity.
Comment: One of the benefits of keeping tabs of the UK scene is to hear out loud what the American groups dare not express. Here we see it in the raw: English suffices for utilitarian purposes, but being the language of alcoholism and promiscuity, it must not be the mother tongue of British Muslims. The long term implication of Iftikhar Ahmad's views is to change the language of the British Isles from English to a medley of Urdu, Arabic, and (thirdly) English.