Purists alarmed at increasing popularity of Franco-Arabic

Updated 14 January 2015

Purists alarmed at increasing popularity of Franco-Arabic

Franco-Arabic, the popular language of communication for conversations and chats on social media sites, is increasingly being seen as a threat to the Arabic language, culture and identity.
While the language is commonly used in Egypt and several other Arab countries, it faces resistance from lovers of Arab identity and culture with campaigns such as "Write Arabic" and ‘Enough Franco."
A heady cocktail of Arabic and English written in the Latin script, Franco-Arabic or Franco has gained huge popularity among the youth who relate to it because of its symbols which they can adopt to Arabic. So for example, the symbol ‘3’ is used to represent the Arabic letter ‘Ayn,’ 5 for the letter ‘kha,’ 7 for ‘Ha’ and 8 for ‘Ghain’.
Discussing the reasons for the popularity of Franco-Arabic among the Arab youth, computer expert Ziyad Ata said the the youth who depend on the Latin script to learn computer techniques, become more familiar and feel at home with English keyboards which is one of the major reasons for Franco becoming popular on social media. Another reason is that in most private schools and universities English and European languages are used as the first language and the computer applications and other topics are also taught in those languages. A third reason is the availability of non-Arabic keypads which compels the students to use the Latin script even if they prefer the Arabic language.
A writer in Al-Riyadh Daily Mariam Al-Jaber warns of the risk to the Arabic language which stands in danger of large scale erosion if Franco continues to be widely used. She says that in the long run, Arabic may suffer the same plight as that of Hebrew and Persian.
She pointed out that boys and girls under 18 who are in their formative years, would find it hard to shake off the habit of using the foreign language instead of their mother tongue.
‘’There is hardly any justification for abandoning Arabic. If they find the literary language difficult, they have the option of adopting the slang which is far easier than Franco,’’ Mariam said.
Shedding more light on the issue, Family and Community Medicine Consultant and Vice president at King Khaled University Dr. Khaled Jalban said he noted with concern the increasing trend of writing Franco-Arabic or using the slang with Latin script as the means of quick communication on Facebook, SMS and mobile phones which is fast becoming popular among the young.
"Adopting Latin letters in the place of Arabic threatens our identity and culture. Using Arabic slang is a thousand times better than losing our cultural identity,’’ Jalban said, adding that a number of Muslim countries have replaced the Arabic script with Latin and even those who love to use Arabic are forced to use Latin script because they do not get keyboards with Arabic or because they communicate with people who do not like or are not familiar with the Arabic script.
He attributed the acceptance of Franco as the favorite language online because Latin is more user friendly on various computer systems than the Arabic script. Leading information technology companies such as Microsoft and Google provide translations of Franco texts into Arabic which helps the fast spread of Franco making it a threat to Arabic.
"The solution is to find ways to stop the influence of the Western culture on the youth who are weak in asserting their cultural identity. So the Arabic script should be incorporated on all computer systems and be made part of the curriculum,’’ he said.
Faculty member of Arabic Language at the King Khaled University Ahmed Al-Tihani said the use of Latin instead of Arabic is a threat to the Arab cultural identity. Arabic language is the incubator of values that developed the Muslim Ummah’s identity and it is one of the oldest living languages on earth.


Saudi Arabia’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex puts Arabic calligraphy under global spotlight

Saudi Arabia’s renowned Dar Al-Qalam Complex is home to hundereds of samples of calligraphy work. (Arab News)
Updated 19 February 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex puts Arabic calligraphy under global spotlight

  • Go behind the scenes at Saudi Arabia’s renowned Dar Al-Qalam Complex as we celebrate the Year of Arabic Calligraphy

MADINAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture declared 2020 the Year of Arabic Calligraphy and the Madinah-based Dar Al-Qalam Complex has revealed plans to become an international institute granting certificates of competence in Arabic calligraphy.

Ali Al-Mutairi, head of the cultural activity department at the General Directorate of Education in Madinah and supervisor of the Dar Al-Qalam Complex, spoke to Arab News about the institution’s key activities and aims.

The Dar Al-Qalam Complex at night. (Supplied)

Madinah’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex has become a magnet for culture vultures with its art gallery, educational images and documentation unit, historical theater and Ethar center for scouting and volunteer services. But the undoubted gem of the institution is its renowned calligraphy center.

Supervisor Ali Al-Mutairi said that the director general of education, Nasser Al-Abdulkareem, planned to turn the complex into an international calligraphy center.

Madinah-based Dar Al-Qalam Complex has revealed plans to become an international institute granting certificates of competence in Arabic calligraphy. (Supplied)

“With the support of Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman, we at the education department have plans to develop the Arabic calligraphy center to make it an institute that grants scientific licentiates in Arabic calligraphy. To do this, we are planning to attract top Islamic calligraphers from all over the world,” Al-Mutairi added.

And attracting talent from across the globe should not be too much of a challenge, considering the complex’s history.

The complex features an art gallery, educational images and documentation unit, historical theater and more. (Supplied)

Exploring the Dar Al-Qalam Complex’s storied past

According to Al-Mutairi, the history of the Dar Al-Qalam Complex is closely linked to the Taibah Secondary School, one of the first schools of its kind in Saudi Arabia.

“Taibah school was founded in 1942, and students were later transferred to the Dar Al-Qalam building, which has been serving as the school’s new location since its inauguration by the late King Saud bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud in 1962,” he told Arab News.

Al-Mutairi pointed out the role played by Prince Faisal and his deputy governor, Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, in the development of the complex.

The Dar Al-Qalam Complex is closely linked to the Taibah Secondary School, one of the first schools of its kind in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“Prince Faisal inaugurated the complex in its current style in 2013 at a ceremony attended by the former minister of education at the time, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al-Saud.

“Since then, the Ministry of Education, represented by the General Directorate of Education in Madinah, has attached great importance, care and support to the complex, turning it into a beacon for science and education in the Madinah region,” he said.

Raising awareness about Madani calligraphy

Authorities in the region have also declared a special focus on local culture and art, with the Madinah Development Authority launching an initiative in August 2015 to preserve the homegrown Madani form of calligraphy.

Well-known calligrapher and supervisor of the Arabic calligraphy committee at the Madinah branch of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA), Bandar Al-Amri, said: “Historically, the Madani script is an extension of the Makki form of writing, which the Quraish tribe first used in Makkah.

The Madinah Development Authority launched an initiative in 2015 to preserve the homegrown Madani form of calligraphy. (Supplied)

“Nowadays, there are copies of the Holy Qur’an that were written in the Madani style. These copies are kept in many libraries and museums, such as the national library of France, in Paris, and the Berlin library.

“The Madinah region is rich in early Islamic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of its mountains and water stream banks. The inscriptions were found along the caravan ways that used to go through the city. What distinguishes these from other inscriptions is that most of them are for the people of Madinah or those who have settled here,” Al-Amri added.

The Madinah region is rich in early Islamic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of its mountains and water stream banks. (Supplied)

“These inscriptions are not limited to men, there are also inscriptions for women. Some of them include Qur’anic verses, prayers, notes, poems and news inscriptions, and those engraved in Madani fonts are found on the rocks of the valleys of the Madinah area.”

Read more about Arabic calligraphy’s Madani script here.

Training a new generation

One of the complex’s primary aims is to train a new generation of calligraphers in a bid to keep the art form alive and engage with talented calligraphers.

Head of the male student activity department at Madinah’s General Directorate of Education, Abdullah Al-Zahrani, told Arab News that the aim was “to introduce the beauty of Arabic calligraphy to our teachers and students of both genders.”

One of the complex’s primary aims is to train a new generation of calligraphers. (Supplied)

His counterpart in the female student activity department, Layla Al-Amri, said: “The specialized calligraphers, their workshops and fully equipped training halls, all help our female students improve their hand lettering.”

Bassam Al-Sa’idy, an eighth-grade student, said calligraphy works at his school had caught his eye from when he first learned to read.

“The handwriting of the Qur’an by Uthman Taha (Syrian calligrapher) also attracted my attention. I was determined to learn Arabic calligraphy.

Various copybooks of renowned calligraphers for different scripts are used as part of the center’s curriculum. (Supplied)

“My school organized a handwriting training course and I joined that course, after which we received an invitation to visit the Dar Al-Qalam Complex. They welcomed us, and me and my colleagues began to learn Ruq’ah script and the Nuskh scripts,” added Al-Sa’idy.

“So far, I have nearly mastered the scripts of Ruq’ah and Nuskh, and I will soon begin studying the Ottoman script so that I can make my dream of becoming a Qur’an calligrapher come true.”

Calligrapher Adel Barri said that various copybooks of renowned calligraphers for different scripts were used as part of the center’s curriculum.

"Our main goal is to make them acquire the skills of this art," says calligrapher Adel Barri. (Supplied)

“We use the copybooks of the prominent Iraqi calligrapher Mohammed Ezzat in teaching the Diwani script. We also use the copybooks of the Turkish calligrapher Mehmed Shevki Efendi to teach Nuskh and Thuluth scripts. These two names are references in their field,” Barri added.

“We are here ready to provide them (the center’s students) with everything they need for free. Our main goal is to make them acquire the skills of this art.”