The Arabic language is known for its depth and strength, which allowed its speakers to create legendary fantasies such as “One Thousand and One Nights” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” as well as classic characters like Aladdin and Sinbad.
Literature in all forms constitutes an essential part of any culture, but short stories are the best way to get a quick yet in-depth glance at the thought behind the language you’re learning.
In your case, since you’re learning Arabic, there’s a multitude of wonderful short stories you can explore.
Why Is It Important for an Arabic Learner to Read Short Stories?
Many famous authors in the Arab world wrote short stories. In fact, the greatest Arabic writers of all time almost always made sure they had something written in the form of a short story.
A short story is a window into a theme or idea within a culture. While the writing is concise, the theme that prevails in the text allows you to dive into a different world with strong characters and atmosphere. You’ll come out of the stories with both lessons and controversies.
It has been said that short stories are the most efficient way to change minds within a nation, as they arouse many questions and debates never contemplated before by critics, analysts or general readers.
Reading of any type of Arabic text is an essential part of learning Arabic, for as we know the two divergent forms of the language, Al- Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) and Al-Ammiyah (local, regional Arabic), can be quite different at times. While a learner may be more used to interacting with people casually using their Ammiyah, it might be challenging to get into reading in Al-Fusha. Doing this reading means that you’re on the verge of mastering your Arabic, and short stories are a more approachable way to get started with reading.
Beyond this, to become a fluent Arabic speaker you should be culturally intelligent, meaning that you’re aware of the culture you’re encountering. The schools of thought they share and adapt vary quite a lot, this is why short stories are the stable pole in your Fusha learning path. Besides, nothing gives you the substantial cultural familiarity and realization you need better than a book with an authentically fertile background.
The short stories in this article are some of the most famous in the Arab world. After reading and comprehending these stories for adults and advanced learners, you can reasonably say that you’re well acquainted with the culture and the language. Each one of the authors is considered to be a fundamental fraction of the heritage in their country of origin, and it was these authors that coherently unified the Arabic readership and gave rise to the liberation of thought and the unrestraint of ink in their regions of the world.
Learning Arabic, the fifth most spoken language on earth and one of six official UN dialects, can be an extremely smart career move. Studying Arabic in Israel, in addition to offering a secure environment, has the added dimensions of providing countless real-world opportunities to practice the language and putting students in a position to make a meaningful, first-hand contribution to the Jews-Arabs conflict. Hence, the Arabic language programs put forth by the Givat Haviva Institute for advanced Arabic studies and Peace Education, offer the perfect setting for achieving all of the above.
Studying Arabic in Israel, the Best of All Worlds
There are countless good reasons to study Arabic, such as gaining access to a broad-range of job opportunities, and acquiring a basis for cultivating relationships with an astoundingly diverse set of people spread across the planet, and there is no better place to study the language, than Israel. Here’s why:
Arabic at Givat Haviva
The programs offered by the Givat Haviva Institute for advanced Arabic studies and Peace Education stand out in stark contrast to other courses for a variety of reasons, including:
- 6-week program – an opportunity for beginners to become enamored with the language or, for advanced students to perfect their skills.
- Host families
- Volunteering in local towns and villages
- Projects in Arab-speaking communities
by LAURA CATHEY
What are you reading in Arabic?
The news? Classic literature? “100% قطن” (cotton) on the inside of your jeans?
“Real” Arabic texts can seem at opposite ends of the spectrum—either requiring full fluency (and a BA or PhD in linguistics) or being pointlessly simple.
What about the middle?
Plenty of your online reading for your hobbies besides studying Arabic(remember those?) takes place on blogs. You may have thought Arabic blogs are too hard for a learner, but not all blogs are equally forbidding. Some of them contain keys that allow you to access meaning—from helpful hints all the way to full translations in English.
Reading Arabic blogs is a chance to learn about topics you love from perspectives you won’t often hear in English.
Not to mention, you’ll be honing lots of key language skills while reading blogs, too!
The Best Reasons to Read Arabic Blogs
There’s always an interesting story to tell about Intensive Arabic Semester participants both during and after the Semester, but what about their teachers?
Yisrael Ne’eman is a historian specialising in Middle East conflict, Jewish history, and Israel. A lecturer at the University of Haifa International School since 1991 and licensed national tour guide, Yisrael has also been teaching courses on the history and politics of the Middle East as well as Jewish history to IAS groups since the programme’s inception.
Yisrael has recently completed his first book, entitled Hamas Jihad: Antisemiticsm, Islamic World Conquest and Manipulation of Palestinian Nationalism. IAS 2016 participant, Natasha Pein, spoke with Yisrael to find out more about the book.
What is the main point that the book makes?
The rise of Islamic Jihadism is posing an ever greater threat to Israel and the West. Through an analysis of the Hamas Covenant, Palestinian National Charter, and the Koran, the book shows that there is “a non-violent solution to...stop the acts of terrorism carried out across the planet.”
What is the proposed solution?
The answer to a peaceful solution “lies in the Koran itself”. The Koran states: “If we abrogate (nullify) any verse or cause it is to be forgotten, we will replace it by a better one or one similar” (2:106). From this comes the idea of “reverse abrogation”. The Koran contains verses which express negative attitudes towards Jews as well as those which express positive attitudes. With textual support, Islamic leaders and jurists are able to make religious judgements. The idea is that these leaders and jurists can interpret Koranic clause 2:106 to promote a path for Islam that is based on peace and coexistence. In the past, “Islamic jurists nullified positive, peaceful comments about and towards others, demanding a universal Jihad for world conquest.” The solution put forward by the book is that this “same Islamic tool can be used today to nullify Jihad and the negative and discriminatory verses, while reinforcing positive statements and peaceful commentaries.”
How does this approach differ from others?
This approach recognises that the West “will not defeat Jihadi Islam by trying to impose secular liberal democratic understandings on Arab Muslims”. The book proposes a solution based on the Koran itself by showing that certain elements within the Koran are compatible with coexistence between Muslims and other groups. By using clause 2:106, clauses in support of such coexistence which were once abrogated, can now be brought to the forefront and emphasised.
By Anna Lamport, 2016
I participated in the 2016 Intensive Arabic Semester programme at Givat Haviva and would highly recommend the programme to anyone interested in studying Arabic though you will need to obtain your own medical and travel insurance. Over the course of five months, I learnt a mixture of Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha) as well as developing a deep understanding of local Ammiyya Arabic as it is spoken and used in the Wadi Ara area of Israel. I was also given exposure during the programme to the Bedouin, Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian dialects. Attending the Intensive Arabic Semester programme is an amazing experience for the following four main reasons:
Firstly the programme director and the teaching staff promote a holistic approach to education and care for the well-being and development of course participants as unique individuals. This means that within the course framework, studying is bespoke and tailored to you. Personally my greatest challenge learning Arabic is pronunciation so I received extra speaking help. Beyond the classroom, whenever we wanted something like an extra heater or more bowls to eat out of, everyone at Givat Haviva was extremely generous and helpful. On International Women’s Day, I and the other female students received carnations and we were all often treated to motivational cakes and sweets.
Secondly, the programme includes fascinating trips around Israel, which enables participants to meet local Arab speakers and to practice their language skills in real-life situations with the support of their teachers. Within our first few weeks in Israel, our group visited the Arabic village of Ba’arta, where our teacher introduced us to a local shop keeper. He kindly invited us into his general goods store and then gave us all free coffee. Since we were lacking a sharp kitchen knife to cut vegetables, we asked (in Arabic) if we could buy one from him. In the manner of true Arab hospitality, the store keeper gave us a knife and refused to take any payment for it. Instead he told us that our first ‘purchase’ was a present and encouraged us to return to his store in the future. My favourite trip was to Northern Israel to meet a variety of minority communities including Circassians, Druzes, Arab Christians and Ahamadiyya Muslims. The rich diversity and harmonious co-existence of so many different faiths and ethnic communities were inspirational.
Even in weeks when no trip is planned, the variety of the programme ensures that studying at Givat Haviva is always a stimulating experience. Interspersed with Arabic grammar, vocabulary and speaking classes, there are classes in the history of the Middle East, Jewish Studies and Hebrew. I had very little background knowledge of Israel and Palestine and not a word of Hebrew at the beginning of the programme. Thanks to the excellent teaching staff of Givat Haviva, I learnt a lot and was pleased to find that these additional classes both complimented and enhanced my understanding of Arabic. For instance, in one memorable history of the Middle East class we learnt the origins of the words ‘Right’ ( Yameen) and ‘Left’ (Shamal) in Arabic, which come from the countries of Yemen and Eastern Africa as ships travelling up the Red Sea passed Yemen on their right side.
Part of the uniqueness of the Intensive Arabic Semester programme comes from its location on the Givat Haviva campus in Northern Israel, approximately an hour away from Tel Aviv. Nestled close to the large Arab cities of Umm al-Fahim and Baqa al-Gharbiya and also close to smaller Arab communities such as Zemer, Ara’Ara and Kafr Qari’a, Givat Haviva’s location means that students can practice their Arabic when shopping or going to nearby cafes and restaurants. Regularly, I would practice my Arabic with locals in everyday situations and always received a friendly response in spite of making many mistakes. These everyday experiences enabled me to achieve a deeper insight into Arab culture: what is typical food for each meal, how the sounds of cockerels crowing and calls to prayer from mosques punctuate communities and how different age groups dress. Jeans are as popular in Israel as they are in Europe in spite of the hotter weather! Givat Haviva is also very close to the kibbutzim of Ein Shemer, with its large avocado fields, and Ma’anit, which both have swimming pools and convenience stores for students to use.
Givat Haviva itself is a beautiful and tranquil campus and is well-known locally as a beacon of safety within Israel. It is sufficiently far from both the troubled Gaza border and the Northern borders of Israel with Lebanon and Syria to be largely untroubled by potential rockets; it is a safe place to focus on studying Arabic within the turbulent and often violent world of the Middle East. Whilst Givat Haviva is tranquil, it is also a bustling hive of constructive activity, which students on the Intensive Arabic Semester programme are able to explore. Among other interesting projects and buildings is the Moreshet Holocaust and Research Centre, where a special ceremony is held annually on Yom Ha’Shoah that I found very moving.
Overall, I had an awesome time on the Intensive Arabic Semester programme and hope that you will too!
By Dore Faith, Summer Course student at Givat Haviva 2016
This week I visited Zachariah Mahamid and his family in their home in Muawiya, an Arab town of about four thousand nestled in the small slopes west of Umm al-Fahm. Zachariah teaches citizenship and civics in the local high school, and we met as part of my Arabic studies at Givat Haviva, where he directs Jewish-Arab coexistence programs throughout the year.
After I was greeted by Zachariah’s family with abundant candies and fruits, his eight-year old son enjoyed learning the English words of several animals. Pointing at their pictures, we came up with tricks to remember their names — dob ends in B, which is the first letter of its meaning, bear; nimr and tiger each end with an “–er” sound; qitt and cat have more or less the same consonants, just with a different internal vowel. I spent the rest of the evening chatting in Arabic and Hebrew with Zachariah and his wife, Laila, and their kids.
We discussed children’s movies and television, and also some politics, while sitting on his roof and watching the sun set over the town’s olive groves.
I returned home later that evening well-fed, eager to tell my friends about Zachariah and Laila’s demonstration of local hospitality.
IAS Student, Teacher and Lover of Semitic Languages, Elena, Reflects on her IAS experience
Very frequently IAS students, expecting to come study for one semester, find themselves brought into the Givat Haviva fold for much longer. The connections made on the semester with other students, teachers, host families and the surrounding environment often prove to be longstanding. Director Meirav Hofi’s kibbutz home often feels like Grand Central Station, with alumni frequently dropping by—either having stayed in Israel or having returned to further their adventures and understanding of this fascinating and complicated country.
One such story is that of Elena (not to be confused with IAS English Liason, Elana, whose own story was previously featured on this blog), a former IAS student who returned to IAS after her semester in order to assist student’s study time and teach Modern Standard Arabic.
Elena, who completed a Bachelors Degree in Arabic Literature and a Masters in Israeli Literature in her native Russia, and was working on her PhD in Arabic Literature during her IAS semester, came to Givat Haviva with an impressive knowledge of both Semitic languages. Her knowledge of Fusha was one of the most extensive longtime teacher Meirav had encountered. Her knowledge of spoken Arabic, however, was extremely limited.
Elena explains that the “breaking point” in deciding to improve her speaking/listening skills came after conversing with a visiting Palestinian professor. During their meeting she was barely able to understand what he was saying, despite that they had previously conversed extensively via email without any comprehension problems.
Having participated in two IAS semesters, Elena returned to Israel this fall to complete a degree in Consecutive and Simultaneous Translation at Bar Ilan University. Though she previously worked in written translation in Russia, the experience of simultaneous translation deepens her language experience, as it requires a very different set of skills such as fast reaction, good short-term memory, and concentration.
Asked about her experience of IAS, Elena explains it as “a total immersion into an international community…For me living in Givat Haviva was living with foreigners…and it was a great experience, I learned so much from people I studied with. I could see and feel how complex and multifaceted this place is, you can live here your whole life and never get bored. It’s fantastic.” Expanding further as to why she returned to teach, she says, “I think I just fell in love with the place [Givat Haviva] and its atmosphere, I feel like it attracts very special people and I wanted to experience and learn from it one more time.”
Returning as a teacher also provided new insight into the goings on of IAS, “I could see with my own eyes how much work Meirav and Galit [Director of IAS and of Givat Haviva’s Arabic department, respectively] put into the project, and also how flexible and dynamic it is, always evolving, expanding, open to the needs and desires of those who take part in it.”
Ultimately IAS was one stop in Elena’s long journey with languages. From her point of view, “The more languages you learn, the more lives you get to live.” The experience, however, was a defining one in that it “helped me connect to myself and discover my goals in life, it helped me see my passion for languages and a need to evolve it.” Certainly Elena’s enthusiasm also had a profound effect on the students she taught during last year’s programming!
After finishing the 2014 IAS and moving back to her hometown of Detroit, alumna Lindsay Acker took it upon herself to get to re-know the city, which she had been away from for several years. Immersing herself in the Jewish community where she grew up and starting to understand the landscape of interfaith relations, Lindsay also began to get to know the Detroit metro area’s Arab and Muslim community, one of the United State’s oldest, largest and most diverse. Lindsay, who came out of IAS program with full professional fluency of the Palestinian dialogue, was a surprising figure in the Arab community, there are few activate interfaith initiatives between Jews and Muslims in the area, and even fewer Jews who speak fluent Arabic! Through getting to know the community, Lindsay has even picked up knowledge of Lebanese and Syrian dialects; quite a setting to jump into after spending half a year really getting to know the language.
As her exploration of the two communities continued, Lindsay saw the importance of building bridges and starting conversation—especially in the context of a renewing Detroit, a city that is going through major transformation in many aspects. When Lindsay met Tarik, a Palestinian from Gaza and a fellow musician, the two instantly connected. Soon, after meeting several times over Jam sessions and shisha, a new interfaith group, Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit was born.
The group, now about half a year old, defines themselves as “an interfaith community of young, determined, and idealistic Muslims and Jews from, or living, in the Detroit area. We are a group intent on creating change and promoting understanding between our two communities and serving our city of Detroit through local service and educational initiatives.” In the last months, the group has participated in volunteer work with other local organizations doing social justice and community work as well as hosted several of their own events. The largest gathering to date was an interfaith Passover Seder, attended by young about 25 Detroiters. At the Seder, a first for many of the attendants, the group discussed the Passover story and shared different perspectives. The Forum is currently in development and growth phase, building their visionary and leadership board as well as new projects and initiatives. This month they will be hosting their first book club, hosting a dialogue on David Eggers Zeitoun. For more info and to get involved check out the Forum’s Facebook.
This semester, one IAS participant, Roman Dagesh, a certified swim coach with 14 years of experience as an international competitive swimmer has expanded his program experience by offering weekly swim lessons in Umm Al-Fahem. The students, ages 6-12, are taught basic swimming skills from bubbles and breathing to breath strokes and, most importantly, how to feel comfortable in the water—with the hope of preventing panic near deep water or at the sea.
Dagesh who grew up in Israel, was born to an Arab-Israeli father and Ukrainian mother, but did not grow up hearing or speaking Arabic at home. Through a former IAS participant, Dina, who he coached, Roman learned of the program and decided to take up study of his father’s mother tongue.
Partnering with Givat Haviva and Al Wahaa pool, Umm al Fahem’s first sports complex and recreation center, Roman teaches subsidized lessons to 3 groups of 6 swimmers every week. Each group has 10 lessons, with a total of about 100 children participating over the course of the project.
Envisioning the project, which he titled “Swim Against the Tide,” and his time in Wadi Ara, Roman hoped to address the scarcity of organized sports program in Arab-Israeli communities. This lack is especially seen with swimming, a missing skill that has lead to a disproportionate number of drowning accidents in the Arab-Israeli community. In working with the students and communicating with their parents (there was a special ceremony held for all participants and organizers several weeks ago), Roman has stressed the possibilities which swimming offers—becoming a part of a communities of athletes, cross-cultural exchange and opportunities like university scholarships.
This project, like the experience of language learning (especially a language as foreign to most of our students as Arabic), has not always been easy. Though Roman is not a stranger to Arab culture, having grown up with family in the Galilee, he was not entirely prepared for some of the challenges of the unknown. Al Wahaa’s pool culture is very different than that which Roman is used to. As is teaching when there is a large language barrier—discipline can be a difficult, which is of course extra nerve racking in a pool environment. Despite the challenges however, Roman has found the experience eye opening and complementary to the IAS experience. “It’s being a real immersive experience, which is unmediated, seeing a glimpse of Arab society, which is different than an organized trip [or even spending time with host families, who are of course making an active choice to connect with the foreigners who participate in IAS].” To read more about the program in Arabic (!), click here!
As part of IAS, all students receive two host families—one Arab from a nearby village, and one Jewish from a local Kibbutz. Students repeatedly describe their families as one of the highlights of the program. Unsurprisingly, family time is a profound experience for the hosts as well. Last semester this was especially true for student Miguels Barro’s families who had a much more expansive experience than they had imagined when joining the program. (And if you haven’t already, read about Miguel’s theater project in Baqa here!)
Ori and Adva, residents of Kibbutz Ein Shemer initially enrolled as a host family after their oldest son, Gali, read about the program in the kibbutz newspaper, thinking it would be a good way to improve his English and as a way for their other kids to meet someone from another culture. Ultimately, it proved much richer then they imagined: “It was a major experience for us as well, not just the kids, to teach him Hebrew and to learn Arabic. And learn about Portuguese. To have a guest for a long time, to consider other person’s needs, Miguel really took part of our family in this time. Things like helping Gali with homework and more.” Miguel truly became a part of the family, from smaller habits like changing dinner time to accommodate his schedule or teaching him their Shabbat traditions, to taking a Saturday day trip to Haifa when Miguel needed transportation help and making a stopover at the beach—something out of the ordinary for the family.
As Adva explains, “For our family it was meaningful, it brought us closer together. Opening the house, the various activities—Gali even did a school project on Portugal, becoming a part of our family in everyway. Before Miguel was here, I was afraid of a strange person in my house, but when it happened all the fears went away. Letting someone else be part of your family is an extreme psychological experience. He become a part of the family, he became part of our heart.”
Even more exciting, given the Israeli-Palestinian conflict orientation of the Intensive Arabic Semester, was Adva’s request part way through the semester to meet Miguel’s “other” family in Baqa, which she felt strongly would make the entire experience more meaningful, despite that it was initially scary for her to visit Baqa. During the second Intifada, Adva had had Molotov cocktails throw at her while driving near another Wadi Ara village, an event which obviously had lasting impact on her pysche.
Ori explained that this meeting was particularly important for the kids, “The meaning of this relationship is for [them], when you know the other side in a personal way, it doesn’t seem that big. To know he is a whole person, he is one of a group. And they are such an amazing family, nice and welcome. [It gave them] an idea, not just what’s seen on the news.”
Adva agrees about the significance of the exchange, adding: “It is important to see that we are people, they are people. The children see that they are people. [It is] something we can do to bring people together, to know that there are more similarities than disagreements, motherhood or parenting is something we share. That’s more bonding than any identity issue. It’s a small step when you do it with one family, they see a Jewish family and also we an Arab family, they see it’s not ‘the Israelis’ or ‘the Jewish family,’ they know our names. This is the real changing—you can know what the other people do. They want we want for our children. The project happens when they come to see the Jewish/Arab house. It changes everything. Maybe this is the real peace. To see the other in his house.”