United Nations Arabic Language day

The United Nations (UN) Arabic Language Day for this year comes up next week Tuesday, December 18, 2018. The event was established by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010 with a view to promoting cultural diversity and the equal use of its six official working languages throughout the organization. December 18 was chosen as the date for the annual celebration of Arabic Language as it was “the day in 1973 when the General Assembly approved Arabic as an official UN Language”. The day is also called World Arabic Language Day (WALD). Other official languages of the UN General Assembly are English, French, Russian, Spanish and Chinese.

As a popular practice in this part of the world, most UNESCO-related days of the UN are marked by schools and organizations with literary and cultural activities including seminars, plays, short stories or poetry competitions. Such activities are equally expected in observing WALD in order to showcase the history and richness of Arabic Language. Unfortunately, eight years after the WALD was instituted by the UN, it has remained unknown to many Nigerian speakers and users of the language including some of its scholars and students.


Arabic is a language with rich history that is spoken by 422 million native speakers and used by about 1.5 billion Muslims around the world including UNESCO’s 22-member states. Although not many people and nations including technologically advanced countries nowadays associate Arabic language or Arab scholars with the early beginnings of science, probably due to arabophobia or Islamophobia; the contribution of Arab philosophers made mainly through Arabic language to the development of science, medicine, mathematics and literature through ages cannot be disowned.

We are prompted to insinuate phobia on the part of UN leadership across decades because of the long time it took them to recognize a day as WALD.  The failure by the UN, which had reserved days for matters as trivial as International Day of Friendship (marked every June 30), to set aside a day for Arabic language that is today spoken and used by at least one quarter of the world’s population until about 40 years after the same language became one the world body’s six official languages qualifies for a fantastic inaction. Arab leaders and organizations including the Arab League as well as the Cooperation Council for Arab States of the Gulf are to collectively share in the blame for the suppressions suffered by Arabic language at the UN.


No historical account of modern science and technology would be complete without duly acknowledging the important role played by Arabic language. Greek ideas and philosophy couldn’t have reached Europe without the translation works of Arabic scholars and philosophers who rendered the works of Plato and Aristotle into Arabic. This, by extension, also means that the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries couldn’t have happened if Greek works had not been translated into Arabic.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, under the Abbasid Caliphs, Muslim civilization entered its golden age; reaching its apogee under Caliph Ma’mun, who in 830AD, established his famous Baytul Hikmah (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad. The House, which was a combination of a library, an academy and a translation bureau, became world’s treasure-garden of knowledge at a time when learning was at its lowest ebb in Western Europe. Arab scholars had to first rely on translations made by Syrian Nosterians. These Syrian translators who rendered Greek works into Syriac and then from Syriac into Arabic became the strongest link between Hellenism and Islam in the same way Arabic translators became the prime link between Hellenism and European scientists. The Abbasid era of translation lasted about a century after 750AD.

Arabic which in pre-Islamic days was only a language of poetry and later a language of revelation and religion after the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had in the 10th century metamorphosed into what Philip K. Hitti describes as “a pliant medium for expressing scientific thoughts and conveying philosophic ideas of the highest order”. Regrettably, the decline of Muslim rule in Spain in the 13th century occasioned by crusaders in the West and Mongols from the East led to a rebirth of learning that transformed western civilization. The fall of Bagdad in 1258AD into the hands of Mongols who killed over fifty thousand people including the caliph, burned schools and also devastated libraries marked the beginning of today’s backwardness of not only the Arabs but also of the Muslim world.

The space provided for this column is grossly inadequate to exhaustively discuss Arabic language and its local, regional and global challenges. It may suffice for the purpose of this column to assert that there are more challenges confronting Arabic as a language in the Arab world than it is threatened locally in the non-Arab world including Nigeria. While wrong public perception which sees Arabic as a foreign language is one of the local problems facing it in Nigeria, its challenges in the Arab world include the anglomaniac tendency of contemporary Arabs in their preference for English over Arabic language as their medium of communication when they meet English speakers of Arabic. The inconsequential use of Arabic in the study and application of modern science and technology is even a huger risk to which the future of Arabic is exposed. May Allah (SWT) guide native and non-native speakers of Arabic to strive with their tongues and pen to preserve world’s richest language, amin. Long live Arabic Language!!


With a heavy heart, we condole with HRH, the Emir of Zazzau Alhaji (Dr) Shehu Idris and the Etsu of Agaie in Niger State Alhaji Yusuf Nuhu, over the death of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani AbdulQadir Zaria which sad event occurred on Wednesday December 12, 2018. We were together exactly a week before his death and he was well and hearty. May Allah (SWT) grant him eternal forgiveness and mercy, amin.


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