It’s not as easy as it looks, I think that’s what I would tell students interested in studying Arabic abroad. Not to discourage them but to be real with them. A lot of people come abroad with this unreal expectation of what it means to study Arabic. Like me, they are in love, entranced by the opportunity to be able to understand God’s word. One should never let that feeling go, but they should also hold on to the reality of the struggle.
Studying Arabic for the purposes of Islamic studies is a bit like climbing a mountain. A month ago, I had the opportunity to visit the mountain of Moses in which Moses was gifted the 10 commandments, not far away is the location in which Christians say he was spoken to by God. I started climbing the mountain at about 2am in the morning. Some people on the trip didn’t even bother to leave the bus, they knew they didn’t want to make the trek and so they stayed behind. These are the people that represent those students who don’t feel it is worth it to make the trip abroad, many have good reasons. It is ultimately their choice.
When we got out of the bus, it was freezing and many of us were not properly prepared and so we went and purchased some coats to use for the hike. Our guide began and we followed. The beginning wasn’t too difficult, it was cold but we persevered. That’s how the beginning of Arabic studies is, or any studies for that matter. Once we got through the initial shock from the cold and made it a bit higher we started to warm up due to all of the hiking. The cold stopped bothering us and we began making progress. The only issue is the path was laden with rocks, and there was absolutely no light for us to see by. We had to use our cellphone flashlights to avoid tripping on stones, some of us just went without any light. You could say that this is also an example of the students in their studies, some need absolutely no assistance and they can climb and move effortlessly as though they themselves are the guides, while others struggle and need longer to get into the groove but once they get there they also begin to move.
I’d say maybe about 2 hours into the climb the change in oxygen began to affect us. Some people began to completely shut down. They began to lag behind and you could hear the occasional, “I think I’m done,” as someone sat down on a rock to catch their breath. The honest truth is that even after 2 hours of trekking we still couldn’t see the top, and that can influence one’s mind. Imagine after 2 hours of freezing cold, dangerous rocks, pitch black darkness, and now a lack of oxygen and you still cannot see the destination and your way back is closed off to you because going back down in the dark is more dangerous than going forward. It’s during times like these where you need a person(s) that will push you to keep moving forward. That group of people that will carry your load and help you push ahead because they know you can make it. Just like in your studies you’ll come to an impasse where you’ll feel as though you cannot move forward anymore and that you’ve done all that you can do. Some will give up here, I’ve seen them pack it all up and just head back down, forgetting it is more dangerous to go back down with no light than it is to push through the rest of the hike. Others will just leave you behind and keep moving, but you’ll always find those gems that will stand you up, take your bags and tell you to go in front of them as they watch your back and help you keep pace.
We never actually made it to the top. The sun caught up to us and it became scorching hot, but we did get to see where the summit was. I saw people coming down and realized they must have started much earlier than we did. We thought 3 am would have been fine but it turns out 12 am would have been better. That early start helped them reach their destination and now I’m reminded, sometimes I might feel tired during this journey and feel as though I want to give up, but I just have to keep moving. Eventually I’ll make it to my destination, next time I go to the mountain of Moses I will definitely leave earlier. But I know one thing for sure, I will make it to the top, whether it is this mountain or it is my studies. I just need to keep my eyes on the destination and call on God for His assistance.