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Language Education Policies in the Muslim World

This page pertains to a religion that crosses many world regions. Language-in-education policies affect the resources allocated to Arabic, the language of Islam. This Classical Arabic in its entirety is not spoken (See Middle East.), although the grammar of literary or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the same. The spoken Arabic has many varieties but mutual intelligibility in and through the written MSA. Those who speak Arabic on a daily basis as a mother tongue represent only around 20%, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa, out of more than one-two billion in the Islamic world. However, the Arabic they speak has many forms, varieties, or dialects. (See Middle East, Variations.)


For Muslims, Islam is a complete way of life, rather than a ‘religion’ in the western sense. Arabic is the language of this way of life. After a few decades of memorization and oral recitation, the sacred or holy book- the Qur’an- was canonized and written in a form of Arabic that has not been changed in over 1400 years, and changes to the Qur’an are not allowed, not even punctuation. The Qur’anic Arabic is used for prayer and recitation wherever there are Muslims. The Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet, and books of Islamic jurisprudence were also preserved orally and written in this form of Arabic. This is literary or classical Arabic, a ‘static’ or unchanging language used by over one billion people whatever their native language is. (See Defining Language.)


The notion of Arabic as an imperialist language or lingua franca is distinct from the debate over English (See ELF, Linguistic Imperialism). The Islamic world for many centuries has had large languages such as Persian and Turkish, along with many local languages. The difference is that Arabic is the language of Islam, the way of life that people have accepted and live. Arabic has coexisted with local Indigenous languages, such as Berber in N. Africa, Turkic languages, all the languages of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia; and in a few places it is spoken by non-Muslims as well. Learning Arabic for communication and for religious purposes is not the same thing. For specific groups of Muslims, see the relevant country or region in which they reside. (See Arab World.)




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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K. M. (2013). Language Education Policies in the Muslim World. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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