Learning Arabic

Confessions of a Revert

Confessions of a Revert

Assalamu Alaykum!

My name is Ameena [Editor’s Note: the author’s name has been changed to retain anonymity]. I was raised a Catholic and reverted to Islam in my early 20s. I had many well-meaning friends who assured me that I could ask them anything should I need help or clarification with something. But do you know what the problem was? I didn’t even know what I did not know. So most of the time, I must confess that I didn’t even know what questions to ask.

​I was grossly mistaken in thinking that the process of learning how to read the Quran is just like learning how to read in English. I thought that by learning the Arabic alphabet and the sounds they made with the tiny mark that’s either on top or at the bottom, or like a large comma on top, I could already read the Quran!

​I also thought that I could easily pick ANY Arabic class in order to understand the Quran. That was how naive 20-something me ended up registering for an evening class that turned out to be a conversational Arabic class. Just imagine how confused I felt when, during the first lesson, the teacher taught us ‘this is a pen’ and ‘that is a pen,’ without explaining how it could help me understand the Quran. I thought of continuing anyway until I realized that I was expected to take notes– in Arabic! Remember, I was new to Islam — I was practically still struggling with my alif’s and baa’s…and suddenly I was expected to write in Arabic? Suffice it to say that was my first and last class ever in that language center.

​You know what else I was mistaken about? I thought I would be just fine with an English translation of the Quran. I thought to myself — there may be many translations out there, but they’re all based on the same original Arabic text so it shouldn’t make that much of a difference. But then I struggled with translations that used archaic English. So I explored other translations but it did not really solve my problem. Over time, the process made me realize that, sometimes, an ayah can get translated slightly differently by various translations. And, thus, began my ‘enlightenment phase,’ when I came to appreciate how unique the Arabic language is, such that a single English term can have several Arabic equivalents, depending on the context or the degrees of severity or type. Among other things, I learned how subtle nuances and multifaceted layers can lie hidden, at times, in just a single Arabic word.

​It took a long time for me to get to this point but, Alhamdulillah, I finally understood that, in order for me to truly connect with the Quran, I needed to understand the language in which it was revealed in — Quranic Arabic.

​Today, I know so much more than I did 20-odd years ago, alhamdulillah. Today, I am still a bit slow when it comes to reading in Arabic but, alhamdulillah, I have already gained enough vocabulary and knowledge to be able to pause and ponder on the Arabic text and the English translation whenever I read the Quran, and, sometimes, I find that tiny sliver of difference simply made by the switching of the order of words, or the use of a present tense action versus an adjective. Whenever that happens, my heart swells with gratitude at how far I’ve come, fueling my desire to continue with my journey towards understanding the Quran so that, one day, InshaAllah, I shall also be able to teach others — especially reverts who do not know what they do not know. What little I do know, as I am acutely aware that the more I study, the more I realize how much more I do not know. As I continue on this beautiful journey, I make dua’ that Allah make it easy for me and put barakah in all my efforts. And, you, the reader too!  Allahumma Ameen.