UNESCO celebrates World Arabic Language Day on Dec 18. It is the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution No. 3190 in December 1973, which recognised Arabic as one of the official languages and working languages of the United Nations, on a request submitted by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Following a suggestion presented by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the 190th session of the Executive Council of UNESCO in October 2012 and the decision taken by the 190th session of the Executive Council of UNESCO to devote Dec 18 to World Arabic Language Day, UNESCO celebrated the day for the first time in that year.
On Oct 23, 2013, the UNESCO Advisory Board on International Strategy for the Growth of Arab Culture (Arabia) voted to introduce International Day for the Arab Language as one of the key activities in its annual work programme.
The two kingdoms wanted the Arabic language to become an official global language. Arabic was more of a universal language before that day.
The Arabic Language
Arabic is one of the oldest Semitic languages, the most spoken, and one of the most commonly spoken in the world. Its speakers are more than 467 million people distributed throughout the Arab world, in addition to many other regions, as it is one of the four most commonly used languages.
On the Internet and the media, as well as being one of the most advanced languages, superior to the French and Russian languages, the Arabic language is of considerable interest to the Muslims, as it is the language of the Qur'an. Prayers in Islam are not done without learning some of its words.
Arabic is also the primary ritual language of a number of Christian churches in the Arab world and, furthermore, many of the most important religious and intellectual works of Judaism in the Middle Ages have been written in it, such as the works of Donash Benn Lerat and Ibn Hayuj in Grammar, Saeed al-Fayyoumi.
The Arabic Language has displayed remarkable creativity in its various styles, oral and writing, reading and expression, poetry and fiction. According to international records, Arabic has prevailed for many centuries as a language of politics, science and literature.
It has had a clear impact on many other languages throughout the Islamic world, such as Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, Urdu, Malay, Indonesian, Albanian, and several African languages such as Swahili, and has also contributed to the transition of science and philosophical knowledge of the Greeks and Romans to Europe in the Renaissance, and has opened up channels of cultural dialogue between nations and civilisations.
Creativity in celebration
Perhaps one of the most beautiful experiences of celebrating Arabic is what I have seen in Malaysia in general and on the Arabic Language Day in particular. In Malaysia, the interest in Arabic does not depend on a day or a date. Rather, I saw in Malaysia creativity in the celebration of the Arabic language.
They have introduced it into their culture, where some of Malaysia's cultural practices have some Arabic variants. Malaysians have “Arabised” it, and it has become an Arabic-language activity in their schools, and often also in their social celebrations, in addition to the pure Malaysian-style singing heritage known as Dikir Barat, which has an Arabic version of it launched.
Arabic words with rhythms and Malay dances in harmony that capture the spirit, called Dikir Arab, are not hidden from anyone interested in Arabic activity in Malaysia. These are presented to the people in a wonderful Malaysian spirit that you won’t find except in Malaysians.
Perhaps one of the things that made me happy and proud on the day I was new in Malaysia was that the one who is fluent in Arabic is called a Ustaz or Ustazah as a sign of respect.
The English Language is valued among the Malays but the Ustaz has a status that only the Ustaz can attain. I learned that day that between these people and the Arabic language exists a story of love and respect that has no time or season. So, you find their seniors competing with juniors to learn even a little of the Arabic language. It has become something that brings pleasure to someone who knows a new word and he or she pronounces the word correctly.
For Malaysians, the World Arabic Language Day is an opportunity to renew allegiance and affirm love, not a celebration of a moment that soon ends with the setting of the sun that day.
For Malaysians, the Arabic Language does not have a season when it blossoms and then becomes desolate. There is no day when the sun rises, then it soon sets, because Arabic has a spirit that is akin to honey passing through the veins.
Dr Abdel Rahman Ibrahim Suleiman Islieh of Jordan is a lecturer at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.