Arabic is an official language of the UN. It is spoken natively by about 300 million people. In addition, it is the language of the Quran. About a billion Moslems around the world use Arabic in some capacity for religious purposes. In other words, Arabic performs two functions: communicative and religious. Many Americans today are interested in learning Arabic, as it opens up opportunities for work in 22 countries (the members of the Arab League). But, most importantly, young Americans learn Arabic (among other languages) because language is the key to any cultural exchange and understating. In addition, Arabic is a language of a civilization.
Arabic is one of a few languages which historically speaking spread as a medium of intellectual thought, as well as a lingua franca. The role of Arabic as a global language was formalized at three historic moments. First was the revelation of the Quran in the vernacular of Mecca in the seventh century. The Quran is considered by Moslems to be the word of God verbatim. Second, toward the end of the seventh century, Arabic became the administrative language of empire. The Moslem empire grew to include a territory ranging from Syria to North Africa, Spain and parts of the Mediterranean to the west, and pushing toward India to the east. Third, during the 8th and 9th centuries Arabic became a language of intellectual exchange and conceptual advance. Translations into Arabic were developed for important texts written originally in Greek, Syriac, Persian, Coptic and Sanskrit. During the middle ages, Arabic was spread around the Mediterranean, in Africa as far as the Sahara region, and in Asia toward India and the Moslem Chinese provinces. However, only in the Middle East and North Africa (and Spain for a time), it functioned as a first language. Because of the rich history of Arabic, its vocabulary found its way into many languages including Spanish and even English in Europe, Turkish, Persian, Urdu and many others.
Lastly, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Arabic was at the center of a cultural revivalism in the Arab World, ‘Nahda’. With the help of the print mass media, it became the center of a debate among Arabs, about “who are we in the modern age?”New genres and styles of writing in Arabic developed. The results were fascinating. Written Arabic today owes a great deal to the innovative writers of the Nahda.