Anyone who speaks Arabic is an Arab: Saudi literary critic Abdullah Al-Ghathami

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Saudi literary and academic critic Abdullah Al-Ghathami stressed that language creates a state of harmony and whenever we learn a language we learn about its speakers. Transcending boundaries of nationalism and religion, Arabic language connects its speakers, who share a common identity. This identity does not reflect an aggressive racial dimension that separates, but on the contrary, it is the link that unites and brings people together. It is the only constant in the many differences we see, and everyone who speaks Arabic is an Arab.

Al-Ghathami was speaking during his participation in a cultural session entitled “Arabic Language and Identity,” on the first day of the Arabic Language Summit on Tuesday organized by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth in cooperation with the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.

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The two-day Summit is being held at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, with over 30 Intellectuals, writers and academics from around the world participating to share insights on a wide range of issues facing the language.

Speaking during the session which was moderated by Samah Al Abbar, Al Ghathami highlighted the theme of this year’s summit: “Language and Identity Formation.”

He spoke extensively about the relationship between language and identity and its importance in shaping social identities of the Arab region and the role it plays as an incubator for many civilizational achievements.

Al Ghathami said: “Before elaborating on the term identity, we have to establish the term itself. Identity has an ancient Arabic meaning which means the deep well. A clear indication of depth and rootedness, and whenever the Arabic language progresses, we see it attracting with it its past, memory, connotations, and conscience. It carries within us the ideas of its predecessors, the words are embedded in our minds, and when we say that language is a well, we also see it as a flowing river, we are wells moving in the language itself, meaning it is a river and a deep well that flows.”

Al Ghathami added: “Our language is beautiful and flawless. It should be encouraged as a language of choice for more non-native speakers as well. Two centuries ago, the United States of America chose English as their language, had they chosen Arabic, today it would have been the language of the world.”

He added: “The adoption of the English language by a great country that possesses technology and communication resources resulted in English becoming a universal language. There was a need for it, and it played a key role in facilitating communication, job opportunities, and so on. This is something that we must adopt if we want to spread the Arabic language, no one will accept to learn our language just because it is beautiful. Language has to be a necessity, and only then will it spread.”

Opening session

In a presentation during the opening session, Noura bint Mohammad Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, said that various cultural authorities in the UAE are focused on the protection and advancement of the Arabic language and treat it as a national priority. This approach reflects the vision of the country’s leadership, who believe that the Arabic language is a treasure of human knowledge and thought.

Noura bint Mohammad Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, delivering her opening address on Tuesday at  the Arabic Language Summit. (Supplied)
Noura bint Mohammad Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, delivering her opening address on Tuesday at the Arabic Language Summit. (Supplied)

“The UAE is working towards becoming a center of excellence for the Arabic language, which led to the Arabic Language Charter. The advisory board for advancing the Arabic language was established in 2012. The report on the Status and Future of the Arabic Language was released in 2021, and our country also held the inaugural edition of the Arabic Language Summit at Expo 2020 Dubai in December last year. The summit was attended by the representatives and Ministers of Culture from 22 Arab League states that constituted the first official inter-governmental event in the Arab world and internationally.”

“The UAE witnessed the launch of the ‘UAE Declaration for the Arabic Language’ during the inaugural edition of the summit which took place at EXPO 2020 Dubai, with 21 scientific recommendations that formed a mandate to achieve its objectives and followed-up on the feedback to foster joint Arab action in empowering the language, culture and identity. ”

She continued: “Our achievements reflect our focus on Arabic, our love for its aesthetics, and a need to ensure its presence and use as a language for the present and the future. It is the language of our civilization and science. An example of our efforts in forging partnership with other cultural institutions for the growth of the Arabic language is the launch of the Zai Centre at Zayed University, a first-of-its-kind research center focused on Arabic teaching and learning, the first academic institution in the UAE to look at how Arabic is taught around the world.”

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