Can learning Arabic really prevent terrorist attacks? PML-N surely thinks so

Published: February 17, 2017

A bill introduced by PML-N MNA, Naeema Kishwar Khan, resulted in discussions about whether lack of Arabic teaching has caused increase in terrorism cases. PHOTO: REUTERS

I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the men and women in our National Assembly are mentally fit – people who think and act rationally. We elect them every five years, hoping that they will solve our problems and make us proud of being citizens of Pakistan. But then, one of them says something completely absurd which makes me want to bang my head against the nearest wall and regret not going abroad after I graduated (those were the days when it was very easy to get a US visa).

I am referring to a female member of the National Assembly who claimed that the increase in terrorism is directly related to our children learning English and not Arabic in schools.

A bill moved by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA, Naeema Kishwar Khan, resulted in discussions about whether the lack of Arabic teaching has caused an increase in terrorism cases. To further substantiate this notion, another PML-N MNA, Parveen Masood Bhatti, supported the bill, stating that terrorism was increasing because students were not studying Arabic. According to her,

“We have started focusing on the English language, and parents put their children in English-medium schools and do not bother teaching their children the Arabic language. It is because of this attitude that terrorism is increasing.”

I do not know whether the ladies think that not learning Arabic has caused a rise in terrorism cases or if learning English is responsible for it. I do think that our children need to learn to read, interpret and speak Arabic as it will prevent them from being brainwashed by virtually illiterate clerics and their interpretations, but it cannot be done for the simple reason that we don’t have enough teachers fluent in Arabic in the country, and the ones we could employ from abroad are most likely not fluent in Urdu. In fact, they would probably be able to teach only in English, which means that our children would first have to learn English before learning Arabic.

Furthermore, it is not as simple as it seems. If speaking Arabic really prevents terrorism, how do you explain the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks were Arabs and spoke Arabic fluently, not to mention that the al Qaeda founder, Osama Bin Laden was an Arab and spoke Arabic fluently as well. Moreover, there are only a few to zero terrorism cases in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where no one speaks Arabic and English is the preferred language by most people. Hence, speaking or teaching English does not cause terrorism. In fact, English has been the preferred medium of language in Pakistan since before its inception, and there was no terrorism until the 1990s.

As for Arabic, all madrassa students have to learn it, and some of the arrested terrorists reportedly belonged to such madrassas – madrassas where they would learn and understand Arabic, interpreted by clerics and their understanding of the Holy Quran.

Hence, it is safe to conclude that speaking and learning Arabic, as taught in many madrassas, is where the problem arises. Since they lack translation and interpretation skills, the students believe whatever they are being taught and are brainwashed to believe that they are serving a higher purpose.

Did it ever occur to the ladies to do some research and find out which is the preferred and common language for suicide bombers and terrorists? Is it English? Yes, they do understand and speak English, but have they ever heard any suicide bomber screaming “God is great” instead of “Allahu Akbar” before blowing themselves up?

So, think again, ladies, it is not language that causes men, women and children to indulge in terrorism, but the environment in which they have been raised. Furthermore, I have a suggestion for you, honourable ladies: why don’t you start learning and speaking in Arabic? You will soon find out if it can prevent you from terrorising those whom you come in contact with every day.

Shakir Lakhani

Shakir Lakhani

Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Irony is that the Arabs consider Pakistanis as “impure Muslims,” despite the fact that they call themselves from the Land of the Pure.

    An Arab and an non-Arab Muslim can never be equal. That is the major reason, why the Turks and the Persians have always been fighting the Arabs to gain control over Mecca.

    As for the South Asians, well, they have always been treated like slaves or blind followers.

    The rest of the world laughs, while Pakistanis kill each other on whose version of Arab-imported religion is better.Recommend

  • Furrukh Rao

    Amazingly 80 % of Pakistani Muslims think they are Arabs specially if he Hold Shah or Syed you cant offer him for a simple DNA test to prove his Arab Origin. Arabs are shocked their whole population is only 25 Million while in India-Pakistan we have 150 Millions who claim to be of Arab Origin I don’t have any Idea how many Arabs came with Central Asian Rulers that’s why we surpassed the Arab world in Arab Population and not a single person is denying his Arab origin even not a volunteer ;)Recommend

  • Furrukh Rao

    An Arab and Non Arab cant be equal definitely a Bengali and a Tamil cant be equal they are different religion is a different matter than ethnicity. You don’t need to kill each other just because religion you can even kill for jealousy.Recommend

  • AmericanMuse

    Speak Arabic? Why that dying language?

    Chinese or English is the future!Recommend

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    Speaking or learning Arabic may not prevent but Understanding Arabic may (may) prevent. If they can read proper message of holy book and deduce contextual meaning of permit able violence. But best thing that can prevent terrorism is to keep religion and life style on different path. Religion is path to connect to God, and is a matter of personal life. While Culture, language, rituals are matter of region. Message of God is universal, if it is applicable in Arabia then it is applicable in Pakistan , India, USA too. While copying life style and culture copying has nothing to relate with Religion (like clothes, caps, language etc). One thing that is appropriate in desert is not applicable in AC offices of USA.Recommend

  • Joking Justice

    Nonsense. Same nonsense as thinking metro bus changes life of country masses. Majority of so called Islamic state fighters (terrorists) destroying graves etc know not just basic Arabic language but is their mother language. Apart from nationalists or separatists, bigger faction of Jehadis all over the world are religious minded. They, at least their ring leaders know arabic well. In Bahrain last week about a dozen schools were vandalised, Arabic is the mother language of these people.Recommend

  • Humza

    I don’t know what Metrobus has to do with this argument of yours. Just so you know, Metrobus has transformed the lives of masses of working people who have affordable reliable and efficient mass transport which allows them to travel in dignity and safe time. That’s why it’s a United Nations imperative for developing nations to include such transit schemes for working class citizens. It has transformed the lives of our household helpers who love it although it hasn’t changed life for my family who use the car and driver. On the other hand, learning Arabic isn’t going to change the state of Muslim nations if you were to examine the state of those countries whose mother tongue is Arabic. Whether Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt or Libya,most Arab speaking states have proven that understanding Arabic hardly guarantees a better society. In fact the most stable and successful Muslim societies are those that are not Arabic speaking nowadays – whether Malaysia, Turkey or Pakistan. Applying the knowledge of any text whether Arabic or any other language is more important than just learning to read or understand another language. A good translation will suffice for the pearls found in any text in any language.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Speaking or learning Arabic may not prevent but Understanding Arabic may
    (may) prevent. If they can read proper message of holy book and deduce
    contextual meaning of permit able violence.

    Very well said ! And until then one should keep religion and life style on different paths. You Sir in my view are an enlightened individual who is very near the truth about a human soul. The message of God almighty God is universal indeed. Bravo!.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ahmar

    Yes and change “Pakistan” to “AlBakistan” as there is no P in Arabic as well. Make it mandatory for men to wear Jubba and keffiyah, while women must wear Burqa at all times. Baba ganoush, Falafel and Hummus must be declared national foods. Pizza, burgers must be banned while Biryani, Qorma should be relegated to secondary class foods.

    Oh and hand over all political and military power to TTP and Mullahs. That will definitely end all terrorist attacks.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Amazingly 80 % of Pakistani Muslims think they are Arabs specially if he
    Hold Shah or Syed you cant offer him for a simple DNA test to prove his
    Arab Origin.

    Regardless of the names, all homo sapiens arriving from the middle east ( the cradle of civilisation) carry a varyfiable DNA matching that of an arab as well as the neandathaler.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Furrukh Rao

    The DNA of Arabs and Iranians doesn’t Match with Pakistani/Indian People nor its possible Arabia is very less Population and Indian Pakistani Arabs are populated like Rabbits.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Your theory is not science. It is worth learning about the human genome which is the complete set of nucleic acid sequence for humans (Homo sapiens), encoded as DNA within the 23 chromosome pairs in cell nuclei and in a small DNA molecule found within individual mitochondria.

    Against a payment of approx. 300 dollars one can easily get the information from a laboratory wheather his DNA deviates from that of an arab? I surely would be interested to kno if there is one human specie who has not.

    Rex Minor.Recommend

  • Furrukh Rao

    If we talk about science than today we have not even 1% of Arab Genes in Indian Pakistani Population. Research available on the Internet to confirm that Arabs / Iranians/ Pakistani-Indian DNA are different but this is not a easy thing as most of the people in Pakistan-India think that being an Arab/Iranian or Turkic will make him special among the society and claiming to be a Seyyed or Arab Spring will give him respect this is an Identity Crises among them for God knows what reason. Science and DNA Verification will make things better not Immediately but Ultimately. Arabs/Iranians/Turks don’t own the Land as they don’t allow Indian-Pakistani to claim their Land as their own doing Vice Versa will make thing better we as a Pakistani must Kick out all Arab/Iranian/Turks out of our country and allow them to come for business and work only like they do in their respective countries.Recommend

  • Sane

    Learning Arabic would not help in curbing terrorism. Recommend

  • Sane

    Very correct. Recommend

  • Sane

    ET: You wiped out the other sentence of my comment. How many terrorist nabbed so far were able to speak Arabic. Yes, they were fluent in Hindi, like Kulbhoshan Singh.Recommend

  • Nisar

    Knowing to read, write and speak in Arabic in a way can prevent religious terrorism because what can prevent it, for sure, would be an effective counter narrative to the ideology of the extremists. Much awaited that counter narrative, in whole or in part, cannot come from an intellectual not familiar with Arabic.

    By intellectual is not meant a simple scholar. Intellectuals are not born every day. It takes centuries to give birth to a genuine intellectual. How many of us study science and how many of us become Einsteins or Newtons? What madrassas produce at the most are Muftis who can be termed as learned and knowledgeable but not intellectuals. The desired counter narrative would be effective only if it will be made with reference to the Quranic verses. To correctly reinterpret these verses the knowledge of Arabic is a must. The menace of religious extremism we face today is because approach to Quran is made not with a rational mind. If one has basic knowledge of Arabic and applies rational approach to Quran one will find how some verses and some words have been misinterpreted. Here is an example to prove this contention:

    (1) In V2:2 of Quran there has come a word “Muttaqeen” which is the genitive plural form of what we call in Urdu Muttaqi derived from the word Taqwa. According to the meaning of “Muttaqeen” given in translations and tafasir (explanations)of Quran, a believer (in Allah and in His oneness), even if he is a great sinner, will be considered a Muttaqi, though, of course, of the lowest degree but a non-believer, however righteous he may be, cannot be called a Muttaqi. If this meaning be accepted it means that this word Allah has specifically devised for the believers and it has been for the first time introduced through Quran. But if one may rationally think he would conclude that this word would have been common in use even prior to Islam. If so it can’t be Muslim specific. It means that even prior to Islam people could differentiate between Muttaqeen and Non-Muttaqeen.

    Now the question arises as to what could be a quality that renders even non-believers to be Muttaqeen. The plausible answer to this question could be that by Muttaqeen is meant people who are rational and thus have the ability to judge what is right and what is wrong whenever any matter comes across them. These are people who can take guidance from Quran. Therefore, the word “Muttaqeen” used in this verse refers to such people whether they are Muslims or not. This way even a non believer could be Muttaqi while a believer could be a non Muttaqi. At other places this word may have the traditional meanings.

    To cite an example of a non-believer Muttaqi take the case of Hazrat Umer (RA) who became Muslim when he heard some verse/verses of Quran from his sister. So when Allah demands Taqwa from people He demands from people to be first Rational. (Part of this passage is an abstract from my unpublished article in Urdu titled /subtitled “Taqwa/Inherent and Acquired. Limited space does not permit me to elaborate further on this point).

    Is this example sufficient to prove how know-how of Arabic is important in correctly interpreting Quran?
    Remember the author of this passage does not claim he has full command over Arabic. He can’t even talk in Arabic nor can he understand what one talks yet he is fairly well acquainted with Arabic Grammar which helps him understand written Arabic text with the help of dictionaries. The drawback, if it is, in him is that he hardly takes for granted the interpretations offered to him. He applies his own mind.Recommend