We met with Aslisho Qurboniev, from Tajikistan. Aslisho is a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge. In an interview with Aslisho, we asked him the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
I am Aslisho Qurboniev, from an Iranic origin. My name is actually from Arabic and Persian words (ʿaṣl, shāh, qurbānī), but written in Russian transliteration, a reminder of my Soviet legacy. I was born in Soviet Tajikistan. And this was probably a decisive factor in “my journey to Arabic” on which I will comment below. I am a current PhD student (Middle Eastern Studies) at the University of Cambridge (2019). I have an MPhil in Islamic Studies and History from the University of Oxford (2014, UK), and a Specialist Diploma in Oriental Studies from Khorog State University (2008, Tajikistan). I have also completed a two-year Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London (2012).
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I have been studying Arabic for 15 years and I have reached a level that allows me to work with manuscripts and Arabic documents more or less comfortably. Of course, most of these years I learned Arabic on my own, but the first years of my undergraduate course and my language training in London and Morocco were crucial.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
My first encounter with Arabic was through the chapters of the Qur’an that were published in newspapers and periodicals in the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Like other religious literature, Qur’ans were not available in bookstores and people were thirsty for religious knowledge. Nowadays you can find the Qur’an in all shapes and formats, but in those days we could get the revelation only piece by piece, every week, like in the early days of Islam. In any case, I could read the script because of my familiarity with Persian and could recognise some words. I could also read Arabic quotations in classical Persian works published in Cyrillic. This probably added to the mystifying effect that Arabic language had on me as a young boy and it grew in me. By the time I finished high school, I had already decided to study Arabic at university. But this was only the beginning of a long journey and exciting discoveries that kept me going.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
Yes, the major one was the lack of teaching and reading materials in the beginning. Internet was not as available as it is nowadays, and good textbooks were hard to come by. I began by using Persian and Russian, even classical textbooks. In advanced levels, when I switched to English textbooks, it caused confusions, but it had some advantages too. One of the major disappointments was the realisation that the knowledge of MSA or classical Arabic is almost useless for making conversations in the Arab world (Well, of course, I am exaggerating, but you know what I mean). However, it is important to learn Arabic dialects (at least one) alongside modern standard and classical Arabic. They complement each other and only by learning all of them one can appreciate the richness and beauty of Arabic fully.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
Academic career. I like researching and teaching and my current project focuses on medieval learning and knowledge transmission in the Islamic West.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
It takes a lot of hard work, genuine interest and passion. I would recommend reading classical literature, especially poetry, watching films and listening to Arabic news channels. I personally enjoyed reading classical works, but this is because I was interested in history. Someone else may enjoy reading newspapers or cartoons.
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
I like the word-letter “ʿayn” (عین) because it is so productive. Be like “ع”.
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
It is فيزا (fīzā). I dislike it first because it means “visa” and it means most probably I need it, but don’t have it. Secondly, I am not a big fan of modern European loanwords in Arabic, although I love words that infiltrated Arabic at least 500 years ago. Nothing personal.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
Ali b. Abi Talib. Inspired sense of justice, patience and forgiveness in me, when I was much younger.
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
Fez, Morocco. I have great memories from this beautiful old city.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
It is a saying attributed to the Berber Queen al-Kāhina. Can’t write it here.
What is your favourite book? Why?
Difficult to choose, but perhaps Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima has a good shot. It is a remarkable achievement of medieval Arabic thought.