In recent years, Muslim teachers and learners of Arabic, have become focused almost solely on the Holy Qur’an as a source of language learning. However, in doing so, rather than become more faithful to Islamic educational thought we seem to have strayed from the positions of well-known scholars such as Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406).

Ibn Khaldun explained in the Muqaddimah that the Arabic of the Qur’an, being divine and inimitable, cannot be emulated by learners or indeed anyone else. Therefore, the increased focus on it as a means of acquiring language ability is impractical.

Ibn Khaldun, having conducted ethnographic research on Arabic teaching and learning in the Islamic empire went onto explain that the Moroccan peoples (Maghreb) focused on the Qur’an alone and as a result could not develop a good command of the Arabic language, whereas the Spanish (Andalusia) grasp of the language was far superior because of their inclusion of other readings.

He qualified this with a statement that the religious knowledge of the Spaniards was not as advanced but was sufficiently supported by their knowledge of Arabic, which gifted those who wished to pursue their religious study with the tools they needed to do so.

In fact, Ibn Khaldun highlights that the Judge Ibn al-‘Araby preferred the Spanish (Andalusian) position which prioritized Arabic and poetry as he lamented the fact that many children were reading texts without comprehension.

To learn more about the ground-breaking thought of Ibn Khaldun in the space of language learning, you can read a recently published academic paper that compiles and encapsulates his arguments entitled: Arabic, Grammar and Teaching: An Islamic Historical Perspective.