Book Reviews

Note: This page is a work in progress. Insha’Allah, I will continue to update this page as I go.

There are many books available today, classical and contemporary, on the Arabic language.

Which one is right for you? That depends on your goals in learning the Arabic language. Are you trying to speak Arabic? Read? Write? Listen and understand? For what purpose are you learning Arabic? Or to prepare for travel or business in Arabic-speaking countries? Or for fun to build a mentally-stimulating hobby? Are you learning classical Arabic, MSA, or a particular dialect? Or are you learning for academic or religious reasons to read classical texts?

I recommend starting with classical Arabic (fusha) or MSA. Most folks recommend starting with a dialect, but I only recommend that if you plan on using a particular dialect. The grammar and vocabulary of dialects can be quite different, whereas learning fusha or MSA builds a strong-rooted foundation in Arabic that can then be a springboard for learning other dialects and seeing their similarities and roots in fusha. MSA can be generally used with many Arabic speakers worldwide, as well, as sort of a “universal Arabic,” though occasionally some street folks may be unable to communicate well in it.

Note that almost every book that covers Arabic grammar typically assumes the reader already has a certain fluency with the Arabic alphabet. For Muslims, learning how to recite the Qur’an with tajwid, and then making their first complete reading (khatim) is an important first step in the Arabic language. Once you’ve complete one or two complete readings of the Qur’an, your fluency with the alphabet typically will improve drastically. This can be accomplished anywhere from a matter of months to even a few years, depending on how much (or how how little) time you invest in it.

Also note that no program or book can replace quality, live instruction. Though you may be perusing this page to pick out a text to teach from, rather than for self-guided learning, know that each text has its pros and cons and no text is 100% comprehensive (not even close). However, through careful consideration, you may be able to find a text that is a “best match” for your goals, insha’Allah.

Important terms:

  • Sarf (صرف): Morphology of Arabic. Sort of like verb conjugations, but more encompassing since it includes nouns as well.
  • Fuṣḥā (اللغة العربية الفصحى التراثية) or (فصحى التراث): Classical Arabic. The Arabic of the early Islamic period and of classical texts. Though Arabic speakers may also refer to MSA as fusha.
  • MSA (اللغة العربية الفصحى الحديثة) or (فصحى العصر): Modern Standard Arabic. Developed from fusha with more modern vocabulary and some tweaks in usage of grammar, vocab, etc. A lot of print and media in the Arab world are in MSA, though Egyptian Arabic is popular as well. MSA was developed for disseminating print media with the introduction of the printing press in a more universal language.
  • ‘Amiyyah (عامية): Colloquial Arabic or dialectic Arabic unique to the various regions of the Arabic-speaking world.

Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic for English speakers is a growing field as Islamic studies has been growing academically and the religion has been flowering in the West.

Alan Jones is a a professor emeritus of classical Arabic at Oxford University. His book “Arabic Through the Qur’an” is one of the most well-known books for everyday students of the Arabic language who are building their first foundations with the language. The book is divided into forty lessons building on one another.

Pros: The lessons end with a vocabulary builder and several verses from the Qur’an to practice the lesson. An answer key is in the back. Some of the lessons are very helpful at explaining certain grammar concepts which can be a little complicated.

Cons: It can be hard to understand some of the sarf (morphology) lessons, and one would be hard-pressed to develop proficiency in sarf with this text alone. If the user uses another guide for mastering sarf, this book could be a great intro to various grammar concepts and serve as a useful reference for review.

No-Nonsense Arabic is a 3-part book set developed by two sisters who studied at Bayyinah. It’s one of the best contemporary textbooks to introduce yourself to classical Arabic, using Qur’anic verses as examples.

Pros: The textbook is very easy to understand and builds a framework for understanding the structure of Arabic. The practice book is excellent and quite necessary for practicing each concept.

Cons: Its sarf instruction is better than many out there, but still quite lacking. It would require another sarf text to build proficiency in sarf. The vocabulary book is helpful but wanty and has a lot more potential.