Muslims have always identified with Arabic as a language of religion. However, research suggests that Arabic teaching remains challenged by a lack of resources, poor teaching approaches and a diminishing supply of suitably trained teachers.
Academicians have brought these issues to the attention of educators through various conferences and workshops without effecting any significant change, both within Australia and without. It is as if we are locked in a vicious cycle.
For instance, as far back as 1984 a workshop held in the South African district of KwaZulu-Natal, emphasized that inadequate teaching methods had been in use in secondary school Arabic classrooms since their inception and that because of this students were abandoning their study of Arabic and that it was necessary to rebuild love for Arabic.
In the following year, this workshop was followed by another attempt to orientate teachers at a local school. Moreover, the Association of Muslim Schools conducted numerous seminars successively.
Unfortunately, in 2002 two South African researchers (Mall and Nieman) found that teaching methods had not changed to any significant degree and concluded that problems were not tackled genuinely and that action plans were not actualized.
In the Australian context, in 1993, researchers issued a report on the status quo of Arabic in Australia, and their research suggested that resources, teacher training and student attrition needed attention. Moreover, they emphasized the need to develop programs for genuine second language learners, i.e. non-Arabs.
However, as recently as 2013, Peter Jones reported that Australian Muslim students of non-Arab backgrounds were quite dissatisfied with their Arabic learning at Islamic schools.
We are certainly aware of the issues anecdotally as well. Many non-Arab Muslims will speak of their failed attempts to acquire proficiency in the language or moan about their children’s dissatisfaction with their Arabic courses.
So what is the problem? Why, do we choose to turn a blind eye? Why are Muslim educators not championing change?
This can only mean one thing. As Muslims, we speak of the special relationship we have with Arabic but we do not translate this into work and effort.
In my view, the persistence of these problems has its roots in indifference. An indifference to the purpose of Arabic in our lives as Muslims, an indifference to our role as educators, an indifference to striving for excellence, and indifference to each other as educators and most unfortunately an indifference to our responsibility of delivering the key of the Quran and Sunnah successfully to future generations.
The pressing question is, as Muslims, are we going to remain indifferent?