We met with Prof. Hugh Goddard, Honorary Professorial Fellow & Former Director of the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre, University of Edinburgh. In our interview, we asked him the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
I was born and educated in the UK, and as an undergraduate elected to take a course on Islamic History. This involved about 20% of my time being spent on learning Arabic, alongside studying the history, politics and religion of the Middle East. I then worked in the region for a couple of years, in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, before returning to the UK to study for a PhD on Egyptian Muslim perceptions of Christianity. Since then I have taught Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations in different institutions around the UK, most recently in Edinburgh.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I began my studies of written Arabic in 1972, and then of colloquial/spoken Arabic in 1975. All of the sources which I used for my PhD were in Arabic, and I have taught Introductory Arabic at different stages of my academic career, but my current level is probably best described as ‘rusty’!
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
My studies of the Arabic language were very much motivated by my desire to develop a better understanding of Islam and its relationship to Christianity. Being able to read the Qur’an in its original language was therefore extremely important, especially because of the difficulties of interpreting some of its statements about different aspects of Christianity (e.g. 4:157-8), and so too was developing the skills to enable me to have discussions with Muslims today about how they view Christianity as a living religious tradition.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
The Arabic language is tough to learn, initially because of the script and then subsequently because of its wide range of vocabulary. The two most demoralising moments in my learning the language were (a) realising how different the written language, especially of the Qur’an, is from the spoken language of today, and (b) realising, when I moved from Jordan to Egypt, how different the dialects of the Arab world today are from each other. These should be taken as challenges, rather than insuperable difficulties, however.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
I have pursued an academic career in Islamic Studies, in the contexts of both Theology and Religious Studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, and in both of these disciplines knowledge of the Arabic language is hugely helpful, not to say indispensable.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
Al-sabra jamil الصبر الجميل (patience/perseverance is beautiful).