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How to Learn Arabic
© Saqib Hussain
2 Reading Arabic
You cannot of course become proficient in Arabic, or any other language for that matter, without reading Arabic a lot. After about Chapter 30 of our Arabic Grammar course or Chapter 23 of Haywood and Nahmad, you should be able to start reading easy Arabic texts (with some difficulty at first, and with the help of a dictionary - see the next Section), such as stories for children.
Abul Ḥasan 'Ali Nadwī has a number of books in this genre, such as Qiṣaṣ al-Nabiyyīn and al-Qirā`at al-Rāshidah; both series are written especially for foreigners learning Arabic by someone who was an expert of the language.
As your reading becomes more fluent, continue working through your grammar book. Once you have a sound understanding of weak verbs, you should start reading as many modern and classical authors as you can. Try various authors. It’s vital at this stage not to pick someone who’s style you find too difficult, as that can be off-putting. It’s also important to vary what you read, as it’ll increase your vocabulary. Most importantly (and most obviously), read books that interest you!
For instance, students who are particularly interested in the Islamic Sciences may wish to try books by Muḥammad al-Ghazālī or Wahbah al-Zuhaylī. Both have a lot of literature on a wide range of subjects, and, though one might not necessarily agree with all of the ideas expressed in their works, the topics they address are contemporary and interesting, and trying to understand them and engage with them and think about them will certainly help you learn Arabic.
For non-Islamic modern literature, Ṭāhā Ḥussayn's autobiography al-Ayyām is an absolute must - a fine example of how classical Arabic can be deployed with wit and emotion in modern writing. Other modern authors often recommended include Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm and Maḥmūd Taymūr.
If you want to read something more classical at this stage, then don't go for the well known literary figures like Jāḥiẓ or Ibn Qutaybah - they're writings are just too opaque for the beginner. Instead, find readable works on subjects you're interested in. For example, anyone with an interest in Islamic Spirituality should definitely read the books of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī; he was not only an influential figure in that discipline, but wrote in a very readable and enjoyable prose.
Similarly, students interested in Qur`ānic exegesis (tafsīr) should try Ibn Kathīr (indeed, reading Quranic Arabic is a must); students interested in travel writing might enjoy Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. Just experiment with well known works in your area of interest, until you find something both enjoyable and challenging - but not so challenging as to be off-putting. It's a fine balance!