Saturday, June 7, 2008

Arabic 101

qatar guest center

Something that I had been looking forward to for quite some time has finally come to fruition. A few weeks ago I received a call from the Qatar Guest Center, a non profit organization for the propagation of Islam, the Arabic language and culture. Both Muslims and non Muslims are welcome to join or take the many classes that are offered.

I had called a few months ago inquiring about language classes, and at the time they were not offering them for women. Now that A is in pre-school, I can afford to spend a few hours for self melioration.

Classes in Arabic will start in a few days, I was told. If interested I should come by on such and such date and take a test to see what my level is.

Like the vast majority of Muslims of non-Arab origin (only 15-18 % of Muslims are of Arab origin, out of an estimated 1.84 billion Muslims worldwide) I had learned to read and write Arabic as a child, but never learned to speak. So it has since been a dream of mine to learn spoken Arabic, mainly in hopes of understanding the Quran when I read it. The Quran however is written in a more complex form of Arabic but speakers of the language do procure the essence of it.

The evening before the test K and I went to look for the center. The wonderful folks at a web forum called Qatar Living gave me directions on how to get there. We found it without much difficulty, only to be told that this is the men’s section, the women’s section has recently moved to a new location.

Now before I proceed I must tell you that finding addresses here or giving someone directions is an art form of its own. Forget Mapquest. Often the streets are unnamed, but even if they are no one bothers to know or refer to them.

Turn left at such and such roundabout, after going 2 kilometers you will find a Masjid (grocery store, laundry, palm tree, whatever), make a right turn. You will then see some construction on the left hand side (directions here almost always involve construction), turn left. After this much distance the blank (fill this with destination) will be on your right hand side. And so on and so forth. Having said this however, today’s landmarks may be gone tomorrow, victims of ongoing construction. It is just short of a miracle if you get there without getting lost the first time.

The gentleman at the men’s center told K that the women’s building is near the Immigration Center. Where near the Immigration Center? He tossed his hand in the air meaning of course, ‘near the Immigration Center'. You can not miss it; it is a villa with a white board. Ok, we knew where the Immigration Center was, it is not far from where we live so we headed that way. After wasting ½ an hour mindlessly meandering through every street and alley, we gave up and came back home.

The next morning I called in the hopes of getting better directions. A man picked up. I asked him where the women’s center was. Ok, make right at Immigration Center and left. It is there. Make right where, before or after? You know Dasman center (a department store)? It is next to it. We saw Dasman center in our fruitless expedition the night before, it was not there. Where near Dasman center I dared to ask. By this time the voice on the other side was becoming agitated. No no, not next to it across form it. Umm… can you please give me the number for the women’s center?

A woman (surprise) picked up, who did not know much English. She passed the phone to someone else who then passed the phone to yet another person. Yes we are near a small Masjid near a housing compound. I am of course recapitulating the condensed version of the conversation.

Equipped with this much information, I headed out on my quest. After 15 minutes of blindly driving around, I saw the compound. So, the mosque must be nearby, I thought. It was, one block over on the next street surrounded by construction. Once again I proceeded to drive through every single street and alley. Eureka!

But having said all this, I also want to add that most people who work at the Qatar Guest Center are volunteering their precious time for the betterment of people like myself.

Classes began a week ago, w'ana sa'id jiddan.


Mohammad said...

Assalamu Alaikum,

I was wondering how intense the Arabic course is at the Centre? What level would one achieve if they were to study there for a year (if they applied themselves of course).

Also is there a structured course there or is it all over the place?

Jazzak Allahu Khayran

Sacagawea said...

Alaikum Salaam,

Please accept my apologies for the late reply. The language courses at the QGC are in various levels - beginner, intermediate etc. They are pretty well planned out as well. But of course it is up to the individual on how much they get out of it. Practicing with a native Arabic speaker certainly speeds up the process.

Kairouanese said...