Place of Arabic Language in Nigeria’s Curriculum

‘As a historian myself, I have taken the keenest interest in this development, for it is through the aid of these Arabic documents and those written in African languages in Arabic scripts

that the scholar will be aided. It had been a revelation to the whole world of scholarship to realize for the first time that Africa before the European penetration far from being a “dark continent” was in fact a continent where the light of scholarship shone brightly as the Arabic works now being discovered bear testimony….’ – Prof. Kenneth Dike

In 1965, pioneer Nigerian historian and first indigenous Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan – Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike – gave opening remarks in Prof. Hunwick’s report of a seminar on the teaching of Arabic in Nigeria and stated thus: ‘As a historian myself, I have taken the keenest interest in this development, for it is through the aid of these Arabic documents and those written in African languages in Arabic scripts that the scholar will be aided. It had been a revelation to the whole world of scholarship to realize for the first time that Africa before the European penetration far from being a “dark continent” was, in fact, a continent where the light of scholarship shone brightly as the Arabic works now being discovered bear testimony….’.

This historical facts largely underscore the place of Arabic language in Nigerian history and the inability of highly esteemed and respected Dr Samson Ayokunle in his capacity as the leader of Christian Association of Nigeria in understudying this aspect of history before placing complaint to Presidency on National Curriculum and “Islamic Arabic Studies” as an optional course alongside French, describing it as biased require critical reconstruction.

Arabic languages are Central Semitic languages, most closely related to Aramaic, Hebrew, Ugaritic and Phoenician. Semitic languages are the socio-linguistic medium of expression of earlier human creatures. For instance, Moses spoke Hebrew, Jesus spoke Aramaic and Prophet Muhammed spoke Arabic (peace and blessing of Allah be upon them all). This explains why the word “Peace” in the English Language translated to “Shalom” in Hebrew, “Salem” in Aramaic and “Salam” in Arabic.

With the subsequent adoption of colonialists’ Latin language which later metamorphosed to English, French among others by Christianity, Aramaic and Hebrew become less common in patronage while Aramaic, the original language of Jesus Christ (peace of Allah be upon him), is near extinction now.

On the other hand, Arabic enjoys the official patronage of more than 300 million speakers and over 1.5 billion unofficial speakers both among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It is noteworthy to state that Arabic is the second official language in Israel today apart from Hebrew and it is widely and officially spoken by both Christians and Muslims in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem for religious and other mundane activities. No wonder, Coptic Christians’ (including Christians in Nazareth, Syria, Jordan) Bibles are written in the Arabic language.

Today, the Arabic language is one of the official languages of United Nation (UN) as well as UNESCO. On 18 December 1973, General Assembly UN resolution 3190 (XXVIII) decided to include Arabic as an official language and a working language of the General Assembly and its Main Committees. Other official languages of UN are Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Again, in 1948, the 3rd General Conference of UNESCO held in Beirut (Lebanon), declared that Arabic, in addition to English and French, will become the third working language of the governing bodies meeting in an Arabic-speaking country. From that moment, the desire to provide visibility for the other four languages is expressed by assuring the translation, as well as printing and distribution of documents, books and other UNESCO publications deemed particularly important for this purpose. At the 7th session of the Executive Council, the participants concede that Arabic could be used to provide interpretation at meetings and translation of periodicals and major working documents since the Arabic language is shared by a large number of Member States.

What is remarkable, for instance, is that for over 700 years the international language of science, technology, and civilization was Arabic. More surprising, maybe, is the fact that one of the most fertile periods of scholarship and scientific progress in history would not have taken place without the spread of Islam (and subsequently Arabic Language) across the Middle East, Persia, North Africa and Spain. Many of the achievements of Arabic science often come as a surprise.

For instance, while no one can doubt the genius of Copernicus and his heliocentric model of the solar system in heralding the age of modern astronomy, it is not commonly known that he relied on work carried out by Arab astronomers many centuries earlier. Many of his diagrams and calculations were taken from manuscripts of the 14th-century Syrian astronomer Ibn al-Shatir. Why is he never mentioned in our textbooks? Likewise, we were taught that English physician William Harvey was the first to correctly describe blood circulation in 1616. He was not. The first to give the correct description was the 13th-century Andalucian physician Ibn al-Nafees. One wonders what the world would look like without “algorithm”, “algebra” and “alkali” among other pioneering legacies of Arabic scholarship?

Obviously, Arabic is a universal language and the first and only language of literacy in Yorubaland before the arrival of Christianity in the nineteenth century as argued by Emeritus Prof. Ade Ajayi. No wonder, Arabic remains the language of scholarship that propels foremost Nigerian Scholar, Prof. Isaac Ogunbiyi, as the globally-acclaimed academic colossus.

It is, therefore, time to accept the place of Arabic language alongside French as optional course in National Curriculum.

Engr. Dauda Ayanda (MNSE); former Executive Member, Nigerian Society of Engineers (Ibadan Branch); Member of Prestigious Eta Kappa Nu (Mu Eta Chapter, South Africa) and IEEE P1903 Working Group Consultant (USA) writes from Ibadan.


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