I am not a linguist, and I can’t even claim that I have a good command of language. In fact, I am very poor and clumsy when it comes to language. I made all sorts of grammatical errors and always try to remain within a small number of vocabularies as possible. But I can’t help to recognize that language is critically important, when it comes to knowledge. It is the paramount tools of knowledge. Language is the medium of how knowledge is disseminated, passed down from the past to the future. And in this case, Arabic (the Standard Arabic), was the most important language that had played prominent role, as the language of science, knowledge, culture for at least 1000 years of our human history, before the advance of English and other European language, from the Renaissance period onwards.
Despite its fall from prominence, Arabic, however remains among the most advance language, that even English can’t match it till today. It is the most efficient language, and it has amongst the largest terminologies in its vocabulary. English language came only second, when we judge it from these categories.
Let us just take a short digression on the history of knowledge and science. The first known organized thinking was the Greeks (Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, etc.), followed by the Romans. The decline of the Romans was displaced by the rise of Islam, and Arabic language came along with it. And it was during the period of Al Ma’amun of the Abbasid (the Darul Hikmah project) that saw massive translation movement of all classical text of the Greeks as well as other ancient classics into Arabic. This in turns started another revolution in the advancement of knowledge and thoughts among the Muslims –with the rise of Ibnu Sina, Al Ghazali, and numerous other scholars of knowledge and science. The explosion of knowledge and science started in the Persian speaking regions of Islamic empire, and later on it was spread to North Africa (Egypt until Morocco), and then to Al Andalusia (Spain, today). This was possible because of the common denominator – Arabic language as medium of transmission of knowledge and science. In fact, history has confirmed that this expansion was not related to the expansion of Islam as religion, but rather it could be credited mainly to the Arabic language.
Arabic was already a “matured” and “efficient” language, and hence, many people who are well versed in Persian language (such as Ibnu Sina, Omar Khayyam, Al Ghazali, etc.), would use Arabic as the main medium of knowledge (and note that we are not talking about Islamic text and Islamic knowledge, but pure science and advancement of knowledge, of which Arabic is a must, since it is the language of the Al Quran and Hadith). Arabic was the choice because the richness in the language allows many things could be described and explains in clear and concise terms. Arabic was off course the language of Islamic knowledge. But it was not confined to realms of knowledge and science, but it was the language of commerce and culture as well. It dominates almost a third of the human population at the time.
Today, when we deal with knowledge, science and communication, English is the main medium used. English today is almost as efficient and matured as Arabic language. It is perfectly used in technical matters, such as pure science, mathematics, engineering and applied science. However when comes to philosophy and religion, it could not match German language, and I would claim, even German language could not match Arabic language. This is the domain that even today, Arabic remain superior.
Just take a subject: about self; in Arabic the descriptions came in many forms: Ar-Ruh, An Nafs, Al Aql, Al Hawa, etc..etc. And in fact, there are no exact and concise terms that we could use in English language to describe the meaning carried by these terms. For this, Arabic had a major advantage, the language of Al Quran and Al Hadith (traditions of the Prophet), which remains in the same exact form and text from the beginning until today, and would remain the same way in perpetuity. Al Quran, Al Hadith, and the Islamic classical texts (of Islam and Science), preserved the purity of the language, and became the pillar of the standards of the language. This is despite the growth of colloquial Arabic among the native Arabic speaking people.
I have discovered this while doing my readings on Islamic and classical Arabic texts and on philosophy in general. For example, when I read Spinoza on “Idea”, I can’t help but rely back on trying to match it to Arabic terminology that suits it. The best term is “al Aql” or generally in English the “intellect”. Even then, al Aql has far greater meaning and definitions when we study the works of Ibnu Qayyim, Ibnu Al Jawzi, Ibnu Sina, Al Ghazali, Ibnu Arabi, and Ibnu Rushd. In fact, the western philosophy, as we know it today, depended and derived lots of its source from the Islamic and Muslim philosophers to a very large degree. And for that, Arabic was the main and original source.
I do not glorify Arabic language here for the sake of Muslims, who always take for granted that it is the language of Islam (due to the original source of Islam); but for the sake of knowledge and human development. The thoughts, ideas and elaboration of Muslim scholars – in the areas of philosophy and humanity, and even science (such as in the area of cosmology) – has not been fully explored. Take for example, the magnum opus of Ibnu Arabi, Futuhat Al Makkiyyah – even a chapter of it is already too much. His concept of “al Khayaal” (imaginary) and “al Barzakh” (isthmus) could not even be fathomed by modern day philosophers. And all of these could only be studied through Arabic language as the main medium. This is the point that I am trying to make: Arabic is a superior language of knowledge.