Studying Arabic at Oxford

Grand Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Grand Jumeriah Mosque, Dubai

Arabic is the main language of a band of countries running from Morocco to Iraq. It is the prime language of Islam, and is the essential key to an understanding of this great world religion, a fascinating and complex history, and a rich cultural achievement, not to speak of the obviously important role of the Arab world today. The objectives of the B.A. Honours course in Arabic are: to give students a thorough grounding in the written and spoken language, and to equip students with a knowledge of the history and culture of Arabs and Islam, partly through secondary literature, but mainly by exposing them to selected original writings, prose and poetry, ranging in date from pre-Islamic times to the present century. Within the course there are opportunities for the specialized study of fields such as history, literature, art and archaeology, medieval Islamic thought, and the Middle East in modern times.

Arabic is one of the main subjects taught within the Faculty of Oriental Studies. Undergraduates studying for a B.A. honours degree in Oriental Studies may choose Arabic with an additional language, or Arabic and Islamic Studies. In addition to these courses, Arabic may also be studied as an additional language as part of other degrees within the Faculty and wider University.

The course in Arabic is a four-year course, with the second year being spent on an approved course of study in the Middle East. It is necessary to pass a Preliminary Examination after two terms. For this examination, students concentrate on acquiring a basic knowledge of the written language, and studying the fundamentals of Islam as a religious and social system and the history of the Arabs and the Islamic community. Many students have recently spent their year abroad in Damascus, following the Arabic course at the French Institute. The syllabus concentrates on Modern Standard Arabic (both spoken and written) and modern literature. For more information on the Year Abroad, please refer to this webpage.

The Arabic course at Oxford is not narrow and vocational. It aims to place linguistic proficiency in its proper cultural and religious perspective. Graduates may obtain a variety of jobs in some way connected with the Middle East (e.g. diplomacy, journalism, broadcasting, banking and business) which tend to call on both their expertise in Arabic and their knowledge of the area.

Reading List

Before coming up to University, students are advised to read some of the books in the following reading list.
There is also an increasing number of works translated from modern Arabic literature now available.

  • Albert Hourani, A history of the Arab peoples (Faber)
  • Malise Ruthven, Islam in the world (Pelican)
  • Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic theology and law (Princeton University Press paperback)
  • Michael Cook, Muhammad (Oxford University Press, Past Masters paperback)
  • Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the age of the caliphates (Longman)
  • Roger Owen, State, power and politics in the making of the modern Middle East (Routledge)
  • H.A.R. Gibb, Arabic literature (Oxford University Press paperback)
  • M.M. Badawi, A critical introduction to modern Arabic poetry (Cambridge University Press paperback)
  • Margo Badran and Miriam Cooke (eds.),Opening the gates: a century of Arab feminist writing (Virago paperback)
  • Xavier de Planhol, The world of Islam (Cornell University Press paperback)
  • Dale Eickelman, The Middle East: an anthropological approach (2nd ed., Prentice-Hall paperback)
  • Richard Ettinghausen and Oleg Grabar, The art and architecture of Islam (Pelican History of Art).
  • T.F. Mitchell, Writing Arabic (Oxford University Press paperback) [for learning the script].

For further information please see the Course Handbook, available here as a downloadable pdf. The Course Handbook is a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of the study of Arabic at undergraduate level: