Why I studied Arabic before medicine: Benefits of learning the mother of all languages


Usama Awan, Radiologist, USA

The first Ahmadi Muslim missionary to Russia, Hazrat Maulvi Zahoor Hussain, was immediately detained upon arrival as a suspected British spy. He subsequently spent two years in the most horrendous conditions while being mercilessly tortured. 

Despite these circumstances, he continued to win converts while being moved from jail to jail in foreign lands. Eventually, he was returned to India where he continued to serve the Jamaat. No doubt, he was an exemplary missionary and his sacrifices will forever live in history. 

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When he was younger, he was about to enroll in the newly opened Ahmadiyya School, Madrasa Ahmadiyya. He writes about an interesting encounter he had with Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira around that time: 

“Once, I accompanied Huzoorra [Hazrat Khalifatul Masih I] as he was walking to deliver a dars after Asr prayers at Masjid Aqsa. When Huzoorra climbed the final step, he placed one hand on my shoulder and another on his blessed beard and said to me: 

“‘Do you think that by studying the Arabic language, Allah will not provide you sustenance? I have studied the Arabic language and look at how Allah is providing for me.’”

“I hold Allah the Almighty as my witness, since that day, He has been my Guarantor and never has there been a need of mine that He has not Himself fulfilled out of His sheer grace.” (Mujahid-e-Rus-wa-Bukhara pp. 9-10)

I was in the final year of medical school when I read this incident. I was astonished. I re-read it a few times. I reflected over my own journey up to that point and realised how remarkably the words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira had come true almost exactly 100 years later in my own life. 

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Before I get into the details, I want to explain the American education system for those who are not aware. To become a medical doctor, one must first complete high school and then a bachelor’s degree. After completing a bachelor’s degree, one can apply to medical school.

Upon graduating from high school and starting a bachelor’s degree, all students must declare a specific field of study. Many students, aspiring to be physicians (also known as pre-medical students), usually choose to study biology, chemistry, microbiology or other science related subjects. However, medical schools do not require students to pick a specific field of study. In choosing a field, many people think, “I’ll pick Chemistry (or some other science field) in case medical school doesn’t work out I’ll have something to fall back on.” 

However, when it came time for me to decide, back in 2010, I could not help but take the advice of a senior member of Majlis Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya at the time, Dr Bilal Rana Sahib, who said to me, “Look, I studied Biology for four years and it doesn’t help me in being a doctor right now. You should study something that will help you and be useful after medical school.” My plan A was medical school. My “fall back plan,” plan B, was to go back to plan A.

I chose Arabic. 

People saw me as strange. Elders at the masjid would ask, “How are you going to become a doctor by studying Arabic?” My friends at school also found it strange, “Aren’t you hurting your chances of being accepted to medical school?” they would enquire. 

But I didn’t care. After having taken just one class, I was enamored with the Arabic language. No doubt it was love at first sight. The systematic nature of the verb measures, alawzan, as they are termed, amazed me. 

How can you take three letters, ب‭-‬ل‭-‬غ for instance, and derive tens of words from them? 

It seemed like an algebraic equation – but at the same time, it was poetic. 

What I didn’t know was that studying Arabic would also bring me tremendous blessings, both worldly and spiritual.

One day, after class, my teacher said to me, “You should apply for the FLAS scholarship, I’ll write your recommendation letter so you have a good chance of getting it.” 

FLAS scholarship, or Foreign Language and Areas Studies, was a scholarship offered by the US State Department to study critical languages and regions. Luckily, Arabic was considered a “critical” language. I was a little weary of my teacher’s claims at first. It was a large sum; $15,000. 10,000 for tuition and 5,000 for living expenses to study Arabic. Alhamdulillah, I received the scholarship three times in my college years. 

Moreover, studying Arabic was a blessing because I had more time and energy to devote to studying for my science prerequisites for medical school. I ended up finishing with a relatively high GPA,  mainly because I wasn’t stressed night and day about getting a degree in a scientific field. Rather, I would be busy studying for a physics or chemistry exam and to change up the pace, I would watch MTA Al-Arabiyya as a study break. 

Alhamdulillah, there is no doubt in my mind that studying Arabic was instrumental in receiving a full scholarship to Ohio State medical school as well.

Through studying Arabic, and of course out of the sheer mercy and grace of Allah, I received nearly $200,000 in scholarship money. I cannot thank Allah enough for these blessings! 

But this is the worldly sustenance. The spiritual sustenance is much richer.

The deeper I got into the study of Arabic, the easier reading and memorising the Quran and hadith became. I remember having the blessing of memorising Surah Yasin in the three days leading up to the start of medical school. 

Growing up primarily in the United States, I couldn’t read more than a simple sentence of Urdu. After one year of Arabic study, I independently read my first Urdu book. It was a book by Hafiz Muzaffar Ahmad Sahib covering the lives of a few companions of the Prophet Muhammadsa. I picked this book because he discussed the life of Hazrat Usamara, my namesake.

Arabic opened the door for me to study the Quran and the books of the Promised Messiahas, which are, in essence, a commentary of the Quran, with more depth. Many native Urdu speakers have trouble with the books of the Promised Messiahas. These difficult “Urdu” words are usually just Arabic words. Studying Arabic made it much easier for me to study the Urdu books of the Promised Messiahas.Of course, wisdom is the true wealth. The Quran itself states:

وَ‭ ‬مَنْ‭ ‬يُّؤْتَ‭ ‬الْحِكْمَةَ‭ ‬فَقَدْ‭ ‬أُوْتِيَ‭ ‬خَيْرًا‭ ‬كَثِيْرًا

“Whoever has been given wisdom, has been given tremendous wealth.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.270)

Arabic has been an enormous blessing in the realm of tabligh too. Of course, the various arguments regarding the death of Jesusas and the finality of Prophet Muhammadsa become much easier to understand, remember and explain. 

Moreover, it leaves a profound impact on the opposing party. They claim to follow the Quran and sunnah, but they have not read the primary sources for themselves. They rely on their scholars to spoon-feed them information. Showing them the Arabic of the primary text is powerful and empowering because they cannot just chalk it up to “an incorrect translation.” When you know the Arabic, they have no choice, but to accept or change the topic.

You must be thinking to yourself, “How can I study Arabic? It’s such a difficult language.” 

Of course, Arabic is an immensely rich language, but that’s not an excuse to avoid studying it. Nothing is easy initially. I remember my first CT scan of the face that I had to read on a patient with multiple facial fractures; I felt an extreme level of anxiety and thought to myself, “How will I learn all this?” Anyone who has studied anatomy will agree that head and neck anatomy is one of the most difficult to learn. But with time, and Allah’s help, it becomes easier and almost part of second nature. 

If you are in college or university, I challenge you to pick an Arabic course – you may be surprised how much you like it. Or if you are done with school, perhaps enroll in an online programme that teaches Arabic. 

Studying Arabic has brought me tremendous blessings and continues to do so – just as Khalifatul Masih Ira promised it would bring the young Maulvi Zahoor Hussain Sahib. It changed his life and the lives of his subsequent generations. 

The question now is, what blessings will Allah bestow upon you when you embark on your journey to study the language of the Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa

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