Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Is it Possible to Learn Arabic?



I am foregoing a blog post on my Karachi trip (for now) to address a question repeatedly posed to me: is it feasible to learn Arabic through online programs, given our preoccupation with the standard family and work responsibilities? I get this question often because I am currently enrolled in an online Arabic program.


I have already introduced the notion of ownership of one’s goals in relation to achieving goals.  There is another ingredient closely related to ownership that is foundational to success, and that is commitment.

People always want to do things. They want to create lasting relationships. They want to become scholars of Islam. They want to add titles to their names. They want to help, give, learn, teach, etc. But wanting to do something is often synonymous to having an interest in something, which is very different than being committed to something. There is a big difference between commitment and interest. Those that have an interest in a goal but lack commitment either never pursue that goal, or if they do, the pursuit is usually short-lived. In short, interest without commitment breeds inaction or unsustainable action.

On the other hand, people who are committed to a goal have their life revolve around that goal. They don’t make excuses, and obstacles and failures on their path are not interpreted as signs to quit, but rather as opportunities to learn, develop, and adapt. They persevere through the ups and downs. They are prepared to make sacrifices to achieve their goal. They take action.

I was introduced to the distinction between commitment and interest during Anthony Robbins' interview of Ken Blanchard, author of  The One Minute Manager. He said that one of the greatest realizations he came across was making the distinction between commitment and interest. Also, Harv Eker, in his Secrets of a Millionaire Mind, when distinguishing between rich and poor people, said, “Rich people are committed to being rich. Poor people want to be rich”, again making the distinction between commitment and interest. Even Tim Ferris, who promotes a work-less / live-more lifestyle, mentioned in his Four Hour Workweek blog, “I have a lot of projects and do not preach idleness. I am VERY active.” The core assertion being made by these individuals is that successful people aren’t just interested in success, they are committed to it.

So now, getting back to the question on learning Arabic online while upholding all of life’s other responsibilities, one has to ask him/her self: Is Arabic a necessary component of my life purpose, which I am prepared to commit to, or is Arabic merely an interest, a type of luxury that would be nice to have as long as it doesn’t interfere with my life?

I understand that commitment is but one of many factors to consider when assessing the feasibility of pursuing some goal. In the case of learning Arabic, one may also have to consider the quality of the program, physical limitations, presence of prerequisites for learning Arabic, etc. And even if one is committed and believes the attainment of the goal to be feasible, there are other ingredients necessary to reach goals. What I want to highlight is that no matter how favorable the circumstances are, the ability to succeed still largely depends on the commitment level of the individual.

Take marriage, for example, which is often associated with the term ‘commitment’. Everyone wants to get married, but not everyone anticipates the level of commitment required in marriage. Marriage involves a whole new set of responsibilities that don’t exist during bachelorhood. Unfortunately, an individual’s preparedness to commit to the responsibilities of a marriage is a quality that is often overlooked, especially during ‘love’ marriages, as well as arranged marriages where the parents are focused on tribal affiliation, skin colour, or income. Serious marital problems ensue as a consequence.

Another source of marital problems is the lack of knowledge/understanding concerning one’s responsibilities as a spouse, but I’ll leave this issue for another occasion.
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The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) would seek commitment from his companions through having them pledge allegiance to Him (peace and blessings be upon Him).  One well-known pledge is the the second pledge of ‘Aqabah, which occurred with the leaders of the ‘Aws and Khazraj, the two prominent clans of Yathrib (Madinah) who later came to be known as the Ansar (“Helpers”). There, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) said: "I make with you this pact on condition that the allegiance you pledge me shall bind you to protect me even as you protect your women and your children",  to which the clan leaders wholeheartedly agreed. This pledge played a pivotal role in preparations for the battle of Badr, and highlighted the commitment that the companions, specifically the Ansar, had with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him). Martin Lings narrates in his Muhammad:

“… when the Helpers had pledged allegiance to him in 'Aqabah, they had said that they were not responsible for his safety until he had entered their territory, but that when he was with them they would protect him as they protected their wives and their children. Would they be prepared to help him against an enemy now that he was no longer in Yathrib? "Men, give me your advice," he said, expressing himself in general but meaning the Helpers, some of whom had already divined his thoughts, though none of them had yet spoken. But now Sa'd ibn Mu'adh rose to his feet. "It would seem," he said, "that we are the men thou meanest, 0 Messenger of God." And when the Prophet assented he went on: "We have faith in thee and we believe what thou hast told us, and we testify that what thou hast brought us is the truth, and we have given thee our binding oaths to hear and obey. So do what thou wilt, and we are with thee. By Him who hath sent thee with the truth, if thou shouldst bid us cross yonder sea and didst plunge into it thyself, we would plunge into it with thee. Not one man of us would stay behind. Neither are we averse from meeting our enemy tomorrow. We are well tried in war, trusty in combat. It may be that God will show thee prowess of ours such as shall bring coolness to thine eyes. So lead us on with the blessing of God."

May Allah gives us the tawfiq to have the same level of commitment to the Prophet (peace and blessings be Upon Him) that His companions (may Allah shower his blessings upon them) had for Him (peace and blessings  be upon Him). May Allah give us the tawfiq to be committed to our goals and to succeed in them. Salutations and blessings be upon my Beloved.

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