SRINAGAR, Aug. 6: Arabic is catching the fancy of Kashmir ‘ so much so that some are expecting the language of the Islamic scriptures to close the gap with Urdu in a decade.
Thousands of undergraduate students are taking Arabic as a subject, driven probably by something as spiritual as religiosity and as temporal as better job prospects in West Asia.
“You never had so many students in Kashmir showing interest in Arabic as they are showing now,” said Abdul Rahman War, head of the department of Arabic at the government-run Amar Singh College.
“Because of such a surge in interest, Arabic is now taught in 32 colleges in the state (27 out of the 39 in the Valley) besides three (out of the five) universities in the state. The interest has trickled down to school level where a large number of students also study the language.”
The numbers speak for themselves. Of the 27,980 students who appeared in the final year of graduation in the Valley last year, 4,320 ‘ or more than 15 per cent ‘ had Arabic as one of the subjects.
“The number of Arabic studying students who took the exam doubled in just two years between 2009 and 2011,” a Kashmir University official said.
Abdul Rahman Wani, who teaches Arabic at the university, said his department had just 15 seats at the postgraduate level a decade back.
“The number of candidates applying for these seats was around the same. So anybody who applied for admission would get it. But the number of seats available has now risen to 65 and the number of candidates applying is 10 times more,” he said.
War said two decades ago, around 70 to 80 per cent of the students interested in languages would opt for Urdu, the official language of the state.
“The rest 20 to 30 per cent would study all other languages available in colleges. Urdu is still the most preferred choice but Arabic is gradually closing the gap. In 10 years or so, we will catch up with Urdu,” he said.
But why the surge in interest in Arabic?
War believes one reason is that many students are turning to religion in Kashmir.
“For understanding Islam better, they think they should have knowledge of Arabic. They (Kashmiri Muslims) encounter this language daily in mosques or during prayers but don’t really understand it. So they want to learn it,” he said.
A material reason could also be one of the factors. Sajjad Ahmad, a student, said proficiency in the language could help them land a job at Arab embassies or even in the Gulf.
“Arabic is the language of our scriptures like the Quran or the books of Hadiths (traditions of the Prophet). That is the primary motivation for many,” he said.
“We can also get recruited as teachers in government schools here or land a job in the Gulf.”
Ahmad is a student of Degree College, Pulwama, which has the highest number of students ‘ 1,800 out of the around 5,000 ‘ studying the language in the Valley.
Many study Arabic privately at institutions like the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Soura, Srinagar, where doctors, engineers or retired government employees familiarise themselves with the language.
Qazi Izhan, an engineering student at the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, also studies Arabic at Soura. “The knowledge of Arabic helps me better understand my religion and that motivated me to join a course in Arabic,” he said.
War said Islamic television channels were also helping spur the interest in the language.
(The author is correspondent with The Telegraph)