While most people know that Arabic is the written and spoken language of more than ~ million inhabitants of the Arab world, few realize that the Arabic script is also used by one-seventh of the world's population.
Millions of people in Africa and Asia write their languages in the Arabic alphabet. Farsi-the language of
lran- and Urdu-the language of Pakistan and some parts of India-are written in the Arabic script. The Turkish language employed Arabic characters until the 1920's. In addition, Arabic script is used today in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, sections of China and even in the Muslim areas of the Philippines and the USSR.
The reason for the extensive use of Arabic dates back to the emergence of the Islamic faith in 622 A.D. The Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and subsequently, recorded in Arabic. Thus, for the Muslim Arab of that time, as well as today, his language and the language of God (Allah) are identical. Arabic remains the primary vehicle for prayer in Islam.
As the new believers, or Muslims, spread out from the Arabian Peninsula to create a vast empire-first with its capital in Damascus and, later, in Baghdad-Arabic became the administrative language of vast sections of the civilized world. It drew upon Byzantine and Persian terms and its own immense inner resources of vocabulary and grammatical flexibility. By the eleventh century, A.D., this language was the common medium of expression from Persia to the Pyrenees-the language of kings and commoners, poets and princes, scholars and scientists. Arabic became the principal reservoir of human knowledge, including the repository for the accumulated wisdom of past ages, supplanting previous cultural languages, such as Greek and Latin.
  Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, of which Hebrew is also a member; thus, the term "Semite," referring to anyone who speaks a Semitic tongue. Arabic script reads from right to left and its alphabet contains twenty-eight characters. While it is universally written, read and understood in its classical form, spoken Arabic has undergone regional or dialectical variations.
The Arabic language developed through the early centuries in what is today Saudi Arabia until, in the era immediately preceding the appearance of Islam, it acquired the form in which it is known today. Arab poets of the pre-Islamic, or Jahiliyyah period, had developed a language of amazing richness and flexibility, despite the fact that many were desert bedouins (nomads) with little or no formal education. For the most part, their poetry was transmitted and preserved orally. The Arabic language was then, as it is now, easily capable of creating new words and terminology in order to adapt to the demands of new scientific and artistic discoveries.
As the Empire spread, the Arabic language-and, indeed, culture-was enriched by contacts with other civilizations: Greeks, Persians; Copts, Romans, Indians and Chinese. During the ninth and tenth centuries, a great translation movement, centered in Baghdad, was in force, in which many ancient scientific and philosophical tracts were transposed from ancient languages, especially Greek into Arabic. Many were enhanced by the new wisdom suggested by Arab thinkers; other texts were simply preserved; only to re-merge in Europe during the Renaissance.
Modern European languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and English owe a great debt to Arabic. The English language itself contains many words borrowed from Arabic: algebra, alchemy, admiral, genius, ghoul, mare, sherbet, soda and many others.
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