Professor Adnan Haydar (far left), founded the UA Arabic program in 1993 and worked with his wife and fellow professor Paula to turn the small language section into a major-granting program in 2019. Haydar teaches advanced courses.

A small community of UA students learning the basics of a foreign language not frequently studied in the South is rapidly expanding thanks to the devotion of students and faculty members who love the linguistic pursuit.

The UA undergraduate Arabic program expanded from a minor- to major-granting section in the 2019-20 school year. The first five Arabic majors graduated in fall 2019 and spring 2020. Another six students graduated with the major in May 2021.

Each semester there are between 50 and 75 students enrolled in Arabic classes, said Paula Haydar, who has taught Arabic at the UofA since 2006. Enrollment in the program peaked in 2019, following the launch of the major.

Adnan Haydar, the head of the Arabic program, founded it in 1993 when he joined the university as the director of the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies, a research section of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

“We consulted a number of universities with majors in Arabic,” Haydar said. “We looked at their offerings, and we benefited a great deal from that when we put together the major.”

Paula worked with her husband to create the major.

“It took a lot of time and effort,” Paula said. “That first group of graduates was a really special group. They really were the ones that pushed us into doing the major. It came out of the student desire to have more Arabic.”

The most unique part of the Arabic program is its strong sense of community, Paula said. Both the students and faculty are excited about the language. Many students meet with the professors and one another outside of class to practice speaking and to learn more about Arabic and Arab cultures.

Caroline Adkins, a junior Arabic major, said she and her classmates have formed a special bond after being in the same classes for years. She thinks the small-sized classes, which can have as few as six students, make learning more enjoyable.

“(Professors) get a whole lot more time to critique and help you learn as opposed to teaching 30 students from a textbook,” Adkins said. “It’s a much more one-on-one experience.”

Adkins began studying Arabic in high school and fell in love with it, she said. She chose to attend the UofA specifically so she could pursue the language.

“Arabic is a very poetic language,” Adkins said. “There are lots of simple everyday phrases with rich historical and poetic meanings. I really enjoy that.”

Samuel Mosher, a senior pursuing a double major in information systems and Arabic, believes learning the language is important because it helps break down cultural barriers, he said.

Mosher was in high school when Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and he remembers his classmates fearing that an Arab terrorist was behind the attack, he said.

“There was all this emphasis on anyone Arabic or Muslim being the universal ‘other,’” Mosher said. “I think learning Arabic helps us break down those barriers that we’ve put up, and it helps dispel and combat ignorance.”

Rania Mahmoud, who has taught Arabic at the UofA since 2017, said knowing the language is invaluable for students’ future professional lives. Knowing Arabic makes students stand out as they pursue jobs, and it allows them to understand some of the culture and history of Arabic-speaking countries, she said.

“Each country has a culturally specific context,” Mahmoud said. “Studying Arabic can give you insight and allow you to visit and observe and learn a lot from these cultures.”

Until 2017, the Haydars were the only two faculty members in the Arabic program, but major-granting programs must have at least three. The Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures hired Mahmoud in 2017 to help expand the program and make the major possible, Paula said.

The Arabic program received significant funding from the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies. The center was initially funded by a $20 million endowment from the Saudi government in 1993.

Adnan wishes more people knew how exciting learning Arabic can be, he said. Many people mistakenly believe it is too difficult to learn, but he thinks anyone can.

“There’s a whole lot of logic involved, but it’s also musical and exciting,” Adnan said. “It’s a learning experience every time you bring in a new grammatical function. I see the response in students, and that makes me, as a teacher, even more excited.”

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