Arabic at the University of Toronto
A South Asian language at least since the 8th century, Arabic has been closely associated with Muslim communities and Islam. It has been employed in the reading and writing of religious texts, particularly the Qu’rān and Ḥadīth, and more generally scholarly literature, in education through maktabs and madrasas, in poetry for diverse genres (qaṣīda, na’t, and munājāt), and in ritual, such as for litanies (tasbīḥ), prose prayers (du’ā’), and Sufi chants (dhikr). Comparable only to languages like Pali, Persian, and Sanskrit in its importance for the region, Arabic established itself historically through trading communities and royal courts sponsoring scholarship and religious institutions for centuries and helped place South Asia at the core of networks spanning regions as far apart as Persia, Central Asia, East India, the Indian Ocean islands, and Southeast Asia. The influence of Arabic on nomenclature, particularly personal names, as well as on the lexic of other South Asian languages, particularly Hindi/Urdu, has been massive and has made it an integral part of the South Asian linguistic fabric. The recent economic rise of some Muslim communities, growing ties between South Asia and the Gulf, and strong Islamic revivalist movements across South Asia have lead to a recent resurgence of Arabic throughout the region, making it a language indispensable for students of religion in South Asia past and present.
The UofT faculty working on South Asian Islamic sources in Arabic is Shafique Virani, who does research on Twelver and Ismaili Shi’ism, Sufism, and Bhakti.
At UofT, Arabic is taught at all levels (introductory, intermediate, and advanced) at the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations on the St. George campus and at the Department of Languages at the Mississauga campus. Shafique Virani teaches advanced students at the undergraduate level (through the course “Search and Research: A Journey in Muslim Civilizations”) and graduate students (through directed readings courses) who would like to deepen existing native or semi-native linguistic skills through studies of literature and manuscript traditions in Arabic.