After a 12-year hiatus, I’m finally taking formal Arabic lessons again. It meets once a week at night in the “basement” of the ustaz’s house who gave the talk at our surau last week. Not a basement really but a room built on the ground floor, underneath his house on stilts.

The last classes I took were two semesters of Modern Standard Arabic at the U. I stopped after two sems for a couple of reasons, but one was the atmosphere of the course. The Arabic class was using the textbook that had been adopted by the US State Department. Students of the course were majoring in International Policy with minors in Subverting Popularly Elected Governments. All the vocabulary and drills were totally secular in nature. We would learn “office” as in “Take me to the office of your director”. We would learn “to travel” as in the sentence “I am traveling to the oil fields now”. Now I am taking a course where the students arrive after isha’ prayers, still wearing their sarongs and kufis and sit cross-legged on the floor. Now we learn “to leave” as in “The muslims left the masjid” and “to do” as in “What did you do after the salat?” The ustaz will explain grammatical constructions by reciting a verse of Quran or hadith where it occurs. It is highly motivating.

The only catch is the class is in Malay. My Malay skills are only a notch or two over my Arabic skills, and that’s not saying much. The most difficult part is when I have to speak the meaning of an arabic sentence in Malay. I would spit and sputter getting it out in English, what to speak of Malay. Still, even if I lag behind the class in Arabic, it should at least help me improve my Malay. I had looked around for adult Bahasa Malaysia classes in Kuching, but couldn’t find any. The ethnic minorities here get BM in school as kids, and there must not be enough immigrants like me to make a class viable.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

Join the Conversation


  1. Do not waste your time learning arabic through a medium that you are not fluent in. Try and find an arab ex-pat that nows enough english to help you in your venture.

    I recommend that you use Dr. Vasim Abd raheem 3 volume arabic course that is available from…and go throught he text 1 section at a time….do not go to next section until you masterd the dialouge with instructor..

    piece of my mind your brother abu-sumaya

  2. If u r committed enough to take a leave off ur job and stay in the peninsula for 5 days, perhaps u could try learning it via the kauthar method.
    try calling them: 019 3040133

  3. You wrote: “The only catch is the class is in Malay. My Malay skills are only a notch or two over my Arabic skills, and that’s not saying much.”

    Heh, I know exactly how you feel (having married a Malay woman down here in S’pore, and getting a glazed-over look when the conversation continues for too long in a language other than English). šŸ˜‰

  4. Arabic lover wrote: “Do not waste your time learning arabic through a medium that you are not fluent in.”

    Actually, an ex-colleague of mine did just that (learned a second language while taking the class in a third language-language environment – and he didn’t know the third language; I forget which two languages he referred to – this was a few years ago when he mentioned this – but the two other languages were Asian and he was from Ireland). He felt the method was helpful.

  5. Thanks, JD. It’s been like that for me so far. The Arabic class has been so enjoyable. If anything was a waste of time, it was the last ten years that I spent *not* studying. Something about being in the class where no English is being spoken gives it an immersion-like quality, even though it’s not all Arabic. I find myself “translating” in my head less and just speaking off the cuff more. I don’t know, I may hit some kind of ceiling where I can’t progress any further in Arabic due to my poor Malay, but for now, it’s great.

  6. Salam,

    How is your Arabic after more than a year?
    Is it improving? What have you learned until now?
    I used to join the kauthar class once and it was pretty good. If it was not money that constraint, if might have been able to converse in Arabic now. I have been learning Arabic on my own since last month. I am learning it from a book I used to use as the text book for Arabic lesson during my 5th year in a state parochial school. If only my teacher had used the book effectively.

    The book was written by a religious teacher about 6 decades ago. So, besides the explanation in classical Malay (which probably sounds really Greek to you) and the text were printed in Jawi (using the old Zaaba system), plus the printing quality was really bad (the printed letters were not sharp you can hardly tell it’s a ‘nun’ or ‘ta’), I doubt the book will be useful for you.
    The contents are superb, never had I seen a book for learning Arabic that was so well written like this one. I tried to rewrite the book using simple Malay (and English) language. Well, when you try to do a good thing, sometimes the challenges can be harsh. After writing three chapters explaining the grammar with many exercises, my old Pentium MMX 233Mhz computer suddenly went kaput. So I can only write it manually. I planned to share what I am learning with the people who having the same interest online. Now I have to wait until I get a new computer, which only God knows when.

    I have some requests though. If you want to learn it with me, I need:
    i) seven trays full of mosquitoes’ hearts
    ii) a silver bridge from Mount Ophyr (Gunung Ledang) to Mount Santubong, with a monorail train on it.
    iii) a golden bridge from Mount Ophyr to Mount Sejinjang with bullet train on it.
    iv) a full ‘tempayan’ of virgins’ tears, and
    v) a ‘bowlful’ of your son’s blood…

    Possible? I must be kidding… how about
    i) an apple G4 powerbook or iMac 4, and
    ii) a cheap but good digital camera?

  7. I tried learning Arabic using the Quranic verses as the reference. No native Arab can ever make sentences like God’s words. The book I talked about uses neither American nor Quranic approach. It is more to standard Arabic as conversed by the native speakers, though it still includes some short verses from the Quran.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply