Wushu ‘Ameeya?

This was my daughter’s question to her Arabic teacher when we were discussing “Ameeya” words vs. Fusha words. The teacher and I burst out laughing.

The sentence is the local way of saying ‘What is local Arabic?” At the time, my daughter only knew ‘Ameeya. She had been going to a Quran school here and had picked up a lot of the local dialect. I hadn’t started speaking much Fusha to her at home, so I didn’t realize that she had no idea that she wasn’t actually speaking Fusha Arabic.

Yesterday, I posted a video about the word خلاص on Instagram. Khalas means “finished” or “stop” or “ok” and a lot of other things. But Khalas is not Fusha. It’s ‘Ameeya. It’s a word that’s used and understood in most of the Arabic speaking world.

But most of the Arabic speaking world doesn’t speak Fusha on a daily basis.

I thought now would be a good time to explain the difference between ‘Ameeya and Fusha and also why students need to know the difference.

What is Fusha?

Fusha is classical Arabic. It’s the Arabic that the Quran and ahadith are written in. Many Arabs understand Fusha, but many don’t.

Fusha is not outdated.

Fusha is not spoken in most places in the Arab world, but it is extremely useful. Most obviously, it’s useful for understanding the Quran and sunnah.

Most Arabic programs for non-native speakers will use Fusha because it’s the mother language of ‘Ameeya. Many programs will mix in some ‘Ameeya because if you want to be understood by common people on the street, you need some ‘Ameeya.

Most of the Islamic studies lectures from the scholars of Islaam that you find online will be in Fusha, so if your goal is to understand those, you don’t need ‘Ameeya.

If you understand Fusha, you will also be able to understand most of the news and a good amount of modern literature in Arabic.

What is ‘Ameeya?

‘Ameeya is colloquial Arabic. I like to call it everyday Arabic. In Engish, we think of a colloquialism as something that only one region uses.

Think of the words “fell out.” If you’re from some parts of America, you might think this means someone literally fell out of somewhere. If you’re from other parts, you’ll think it means that someone fainted.

This is why I don’t like to use the term “colloquial” for ‘Ameeya. I also don’t like to use it because who uses the word colloquial?

‘Ameeya is the everyday Arabic spoken by most Arabs in their daily lives. Depending on what country you’re in, ‘Ameeya could be very close to Fusha or it could be a mix of Fusha with many other languages.

Here in Saudi, much of the ‘Ameeya is shortened forms of Fusha. In Morocco, for example, the ‘Ameeya is a mix of Arabic, French, and their native language.

‘Ameeya is not slang.

‘Ameeya is used throughout all levels of education. A local school principal actually rejected our application because my kids only knew Fusha and all the lessons were given in ‘Ameeya.

Even in the local Quran and Islamic Studies schools, the lessons are in ‘Ameeya if they are for locals. You can find lessons in Fusha at the Masjids, but if someone asks a question in ‘Ameeya, the Imam will answer in ‘Ameeya sometimes so that the questioner can understand.

Why Do I Need to Know the Difference?

Depending on where you learn Arabic, you may hear some ‘Ameeya words mixed in with Fusha. It’s important to know the difference for a number of reasons.

  1. Fusha is the language of Islaam. If we learn words in ‘Ameeya and don’t realize it, this can affect our understanding of Islaam. By keeping Fusha distinct from ‘Ameeya we are preserving the religion of Islaam.
  2. You can’t understand the Quran and Sunnah with ‘Ameeya. You won’t find the word Khalas in the Quran or in Hadith. If your goal is to eventually read those texts, you should focus your studies on those words.
  3. ‘Ameeya can confuse your understanding of Fusha. Words in Arabic have patterns. The first time I met a student with the name Ikhlas I was very confused as to why her parents would name her “stop.” I asked an Arab teacher in the school and she just kind of smiled and said “this is a different word.” You may know that the word Ikhlas is very important in Islaam and if we have a choice, it’s best to learn the Islamic meanings of words.

I hope my video wasn’t confusing, but I did put an update to explain that Khalas is not fusha. I will try to keep ‘Ameeya out of Fusha House in the future.

Speaking is funner with friends. Spread the word.

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