Classical Arabic, sometimes referred to as Quranic Arabic or Koranic Arabic has the key to understanding Islamic scriptures as well as centuries of beautiful poetry and litterature. This intricate language is still studied by thousands of students and religious scholars around the world.
Fundamentals of Classical Quranic Arabic
Featured mainly in the Islamic holy book - the Quran - and old Arabic literature, Classical Arabic is no longer a living language. Its influence, though, is one so great that it has stood the test of time. It is the foundation not only for Modern Standard Arabic - the language used by all Arabic-speaking governments and media outlets - but also for every Arabic dialect used in the modern world.
Learning about Classical Arabic at Qalam wa Lawh gives students the opportunity to really understand the fundamentals of Classical Quranic Arabic and just how broad its influence has been since its development. The course provides not only a solid comprehension of the Classical Arabic language but will also use a variety of texts to examine these linguistic details.
History of the Classical Arabic Language
While Classical Arabic did not truly become a standardized language until well into the 8th century, early traces of Classical Arabic can be found before the development of Islam, in the period called Jahiliyyah. Much of the Classical Arabic poetry (sha’er or الشعر) studied today is Jahili poetry and is considered one of the main resources for many Classical Arabic scholars.
The first encyclopedic collection of the Arabic language was created by Sibawayh, a linguistic scholar, in the 8th century. The collection was called Al-Kitab, or “The Book.” Over the centuries, Classical Arabic changed and developed, becoming more modern and standardized, until Modern Standard Arabic became commonplace in the 19th century. Today, Classical Arabic is used almost exclusively to read the Quran, as well as by scholars and studies who study Classical Arabic all over the world.
The Quran is the holy book of Islam, believed by Muslims to be
the word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th
century. While all the revelations were not written down immediately,
followers of Islam compiled all the revelations into written form
soon after Muhammad’s death. The hadith is a record of the
sayings, actions, and approved actions of the Prophet Muhammad
that help shape the Islamic tradition, as well.
Today, the Quran has been translated to most of the world’s languages, despite some difficulties in translating from the original Classical Arabic. At Qalam wa Lawh, the Quran and hadith are both used as sources for understanding and learning Classical Arabic.
Classical Arabic poetry
The tradition of Arabic poetry dates back well before the days of Islam, starting as an oral tradition that was eventually written down. While poetry is still a well-respected art throughout the Arab world, Classical Arabic poetry is often viewed with a special reverence. Even within Classical Arabic poetry, though, there are differences. Pre-Islamic poetry, the Jahili tradition, focused on specific wording that lent strong vocabulary and eloquence to the poems of the time. Arabic poetry that came after Islam often detailed life and important elements of Islam, making it an important source for future Classical Arabic study.
Classical Arabic literature
Scholars often point to the Quran and Arabic poetry as the most important examples of Arabic literature, although there was much literature being created around the same time. Many writers wrote biographies of important persons and historical accounts of events in history, but there was also much room for early Arabic fiction, as well. From great epics to love stories to theatre pieces and even elements of fantasy, Classical Arabic literature provides a wealth of information that helps students and scholars alike examine the full picture of Classical Arabic writing.
Differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic
Used in modern media, literature, and governmental proceedings, Modern Standard Arabic is the standardized literary Arabic understood throughout the Arab speaking world. The linguistic and grammatical differences between the two types are mainly related to the three categories of linguistics: grammar, terminology, and acoustics (meaning configuration of the mouth and throat and the sound of the language). Acoustic differences between the two languages include two things used in Classical Arabic: first, the use of some sounds in Classical Arabic that are completely foreign to the Modern Standard Arabic used today, and second, the use of accents to denote different vowel sounds within the text.
The writing style of the two languages is also vastly different. Some letters have different accents or demarcations in Classical Arabic that make it impossible to differentiate from other letters. (For example, ق in Modern Standard Arabic is marked with two dots above it. In Classical Arabic, writers only used one dot, which makes the letter difficult to distinguish from ف .) For this reason, Classical Arabic scholars must have a good understanding of the context of a text in order to read it correctly.
Classical Arabic Course Highlights
Classical Arabic courses at Qalam wa Lawh introduce intermediate and advanced Arabic learners to the beauty of Classical Arabic through a multitude of texts, grammar lessons, and discussion.
A study in language and culture
Classical Arabic is the key to unlocking a wealth of Arabic music, poetry, and literature – not to mention a better understanding of one of the world’s largest religions. Because so much of the materials for Classical Arabic study are important both historically and religiously, the study of language and of culture go hand in hand in Qalam’s Classical Arabic course. Through the exploration of Quranic Arabic grammar, vocabulary, and even the construction of specific phrases, students gain insight into one of the most influential languages in the world.
Small courses provide an in-depth look at Classical Arabic
As a rule, Qalam wa Lawh language classes do not have more than ten students. This rule is to ensure that students have a small, communicative setting in which to study and practice their language of choice. In the Classical Arabic course, this type of environment allows students to take a closer look at the intricacies of Classical Arabic without the stress of a large class size.
Learn with Arabic language scholars
All Qalam wa Lawh teachers are highly-trained in Arabic instruction, and many of them also have advanced degrees in education and Arabic language study. Studying Classical or Quranic Arabic with this skilled team of Arabic teachers will provide students with the support and academic atmosphere they need to successfully comprehend this iteration of the Arabic language.
Classical Arabic Courses
Classical Arabic is offered as an elective through the Academic Study Abroad programs or can be included in faculty-led and custom Arabic programs. Each course takes 80 hours to complete. As a part of one of these programs, once you have enrolled for your language course – either Modern Standard Arabic or Moroccan Arabic – you may select your elective and Area Study courses.
CLA 201: Introduction to Classical Arabic: Historical Beginnings and Conceptual Limitations
CLA 202: Manifestations of the Classical Arabic Language
CLA 301: Formal and Technical Textual Heritage Forms
CLA 302: Classical Language Mechanisms Heritage Texts
CLA 401: General Philology Study
CLA 402: Introduction to Linguistics and Language Research Methods
Course placement is based on prior study of classical arabic. An intermediate level in Standard Arabic is required in order to enroll in Classical Arabic courses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Because Classical Arabic is such a fascinating subject, deemed worthy of study for the last dozen or so centuries, Qalam wa Lawh is happy to offer it as a course. Before you decide whether the course is right for you, feel free to take a look at some frequently asked questions about Classical Arabic at Qalam, as well as the language on the whole.
Is this a religion course? Do I need to be Muslim to take this course?
No. Classical Arabic at Qalam wa Lawh is a linguistic course that, by nature of its subject, discusses historical and religious implications. First and foremost, however, Classical Arabic is a language course. All intermediate to advanced students who wish to learn Classical Arabic alongside their MSA or Moroccan Darija study are able to do so.
What is the difference between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic?
Classical Arabic is the base from which Modern Standard Arabic developed. While Modern Standard Arabic is full of new and modern words and phrases, Classical Arabic is mostly a historical language, only used in the Qur’an and Arabic poetry, literature, and music. Modern Standard Arabic is used throughout the world today.
Can Arabic language beginners learn Quranic Arabic?
Probably not. Classical Arabic is more complex than Modern Standard Arabic, and it’s advisable for students who want to learn Classical Arabic to at least have completed some Intermediate level Arabic courses first.
If I can already read Modern Standard Arabic, how much of Classical Arabic will I understand?
Not very much. While the base is there, Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic are different enough that some MSA students can only understand about 10% of Classical Arabic.
What are some of the materials used to learn Classical Arabic?
Qalam wa Lawh courses use passages from religious and secular texts. These materials include the Qur’an, from old Arabic poetry and literature, and from hadith (the recorded sayings, actions, and approved actions of the Prophet Muhammad). Classical Arabic dictionaries will also be used.
What if I want to take Classical Arabic without taking part in the Academic Semester program?
Because the Classical Arabic course is typically part of the Academic Semester Program, taking the course may not work for the schedules of most Qalam students who register for Intensive Arabic courses. However, students whose time with Qalam lines up with the 14-week course, or who are interested in beginning the course even if they are unable to complete it, are welcome to add it to their course load while at Qalam.