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COMMENTARY: Arabic can help create better communication

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Language is important to communicate our thoughts, ideas, inspire actions and more. We have the responsibility to choose our words as we choose our actions, a lesson that President Donald J. Trump has yet to learn. Despite the freedoms bestowed upon us by the First Amendment, our words have consequences. The phrase "Language Matters" is something we have heard throughout our lives to remind ourselves that the words we use are important during our interactions. For this reason, it is crucial for us to learn languages other than English to communicate with different people in our globalized world. One such language is Arabic.

Our elected officials and media use Arabic words without knowing their meaning or their importance to their communities. A few examples include Arabic words like “Muslim," “Islam” and “jihad”. The word Muslim is an Arabic word that means "the one who peacefully submits to One Creator Worthy of Worship (God)." So, if someone is Muslim, they believe they are  "one who peacefully submits to One Creator Worthy of Worship (God)." Islam is an Arabic word that means "peaceful submission to One Creator Worthy of Worship (God)" and is the name of the religion that the Muslim community adheres to. The term Islamist, while widely used to refer to people who believe Islam should take a dominant role in social, political, economic and cultural aspects of their lives, is linguistically problematic as it means "an extreme peaceful submission to One Creator Worthy of Worship (God)," which does not articulate the violent extremism, falsely, in the name of Islam that the term Islamist refers to. Furthermore, jihad is an Arabic word that means "to strive" or "to struggle" and this can take in many forms, from a personal struggle to defending a nation or a just cause. As you may have noticed, I chose Arabic terms that are religious in nature due to the way they are used inaccurately to paint communities negatively.

Learning and using Arabic can be challenging but it is one of the best languages in the world, as almost half the world speaks it. Arabic is useful for people in all fields such as in business, political science, linguistics, medicine and law. The growing population of Arab people in the United States is another important reason to learn Arabic and its many dialects.

The Arabic language is one of the most logical languages in existence. Its words are based off three-letter root words — in some cases, two-letter root words that dictate the meaning of the words. Root letters make it easier to learn its vocabulary and to form sentences. In the language, there are a variety of words for one meaning of a single word. Arabic has more than 10 words for the word “love” measuring the level of one’s love to their state of mind. Its rich history as an oral language gives it an edge in its poetry and beauty from most languages. Throughout history, cultural exchanges and natural flow of languages have led many Arabic words to be adopted into other languages such as English. We even have scientific research that encourages us to learn new languages such as Arabic. Bilingualism helps improve our cognitive skills, opening our minds and new concepts to use in analyzing our world is a consequence of learning new languages.

While learning the Arabic language has its benefits, it is a tough language to learn and grasp. While the process of learning Arabic can be exhausting, it is worth it to be able to communicate with more people. In my ongoing process to master the Arabic language, I have taken Arabic classes within the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL) with the intention of fulfilling my requirements as a Middle Eastern Studies major. As I progressed through Arabic with the instructions of a great Arabic professor, I realized that with determination and hard work, I was learning a tough language that I had previously thought to be impossible to learn. Learning Arabic opened me to new ways of communication and analyses that not only benefited me in appreciating an elegant language, but in understanding how one can overcome obstacles through hard work and dedication. My jihad in learning Arabic led me to understand that the meaning of our words inspires our thoughts and actions, and that the words we choose have consequences — a lesson for us all and our president. We all should open doors to communicate with as many people, and Arabic is one of the greatest languages to start today.

Mazhar Syed is a Class of 2014 alumn from Rutgers University.

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