As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullaah
Many times, people ask “What is the best Institute in Cairo for learning Arabic?” and I always respond, “Well, it depends on you! What are you looking for?!”
Every institute and centre has something unique to offer. It may surpass others in a particular field for example,
– In finance (dead cheap!)
– In structure (excellent programs)
– In content covered (grammar specialisation or conversational?)
– In location (right in the centre of town! Or perhaps in your backyard..)
– Or simply in reputation (hey, everyone is talking about it so it must be good!)
If we look at how things were about 10-15 years ago, there was hardly a single centre in Cairo where students from abroad can attend and study Arabic well, then it all bloomed. In fact, Al-Fajr Institute which was established around about 1995 had only a handful of students, it now caters for 2000+ every year from 77 different countries. This is the same story for a lot of other places too and personally I believe it’s due to nothing more than the blessed revival happening around the world resulting in people flocking to the Deen of Allah and returning to studying and properly seeking knowledge (which begins with learning Arabic!)
Due to this, there are now about 7 or 8 institutes in Nasr City, Cairo alone with 3 or 4 them being big names (i.e. popular with students from the west). We have the likes of al-Fajr Center, al-Ibanah, al-Dewan Center and the newly established Cairo Institute to name a few.
What happened to Qortoba Institute?!
Those of you who’ve lived in Cairo know that originally there was al-Fajr, and then Qortoba was established by one of the Co-founders of al-Fajr. These 2 centers were brilliant mashaa’Allah, and well co-ordinated as they both offered something unique to the students e.g. I believe Qortaba had more flexibility in their timetable while al-Fajr had the rigidity for serious students. I don’t know the full story of what happened, but recently Qortoba Inst. in Cairo was shut down and only the Alexandria branch remains open. I pray for their success and the success of every beneficial inst.
Ok, so the question remains… how do the Institutes differ?
Most of the centers currently use al-Kitab al-Asasi (e.g. Cairo Inst. & al-Ibanah). Other Inst. have switched to using more ‘user-friendly’ books as I call them (i.e. they have more pictures, colours and other intuitive aspects) like al-Arabiyyatu Bayna Yadayk.
What is important for you as a student is to actually find out what exactly you wish to gain from your studies. By that I mean, are you grammar/sarf orientated? (i.e. do you wish to study the Sciences of the language from the word go?) Or do you want to boost your reading, writing and speaking first?
Method of teaching
All the centers incorporate aspects of reading, writing, speaking, listening etc into their courses. Some might focus on a particular aspect more-so than others.
Since switching their core syllabus from Kitab al-Asasi to Bayna Yadayk, the very teaching method of al-Fajr center changed. They now dedicate a lot of time to getting students to speak, and understand Arabic from the 1st step and as a result, grammar is introduced gradually (in Level 3 of their 11 levels). Al-Ibanah and Cairo Institute on the other hand have grammar taught from the 1st level which leaves conversational aspects as a gradual progress. Al-Ibanah is probably the most grammar-orientated institute out of the whole lot if I’m not mistaken.
Personally, I prefer the method taken by al-Fajr Center for a number of reasons:
1. Building your vocab, understanding text and being able to read and write efficiently is the very core of learning new languages (and becoming fluent).
2. It’s no use treading down the traditional route of just rolling off grammatical formulae e.g. fa’ala, fa’aloo, fa’altu, etc as this route was designed primarily for those that already understand Arabic – so they can grasp this without a problem. It makes no sense to learn the nitty gritty details of Arabic grammar from the get-go if the student can’t even understand the sentences they are reading! To be very strong in grammar, you have to fully understand the text. Sometimes, the grammatical function or position of a word cannot be found except with the meaning of the sentence. This is why Fajr center put the initial effort in building the students’ understanding of Arabic first (levels 1 & 2) before grammar immersion.
3. A lot of students, when bombarded with grammar are sadly put off continuing their Arabic (ask anyone who took this route and they dread grammar!). This is unfortunate because grammar opens up numerous doors of understanding – especially if one wishes to continue reading books in Fiqh, ‘uloom al-Qur’aan etc. However this disheartenment can be avoided if grammar/sarf/balagha are approached at a good pace and after some establishment of understanding and reading. Trust me; you do not want to fry your brain cells with rules upon rules before building some good foundation.
4. Learning how to speak re-enforces your usage of vocab and builds your application of the language.
And there more, but that’s the gist of it
So really think about what it is you want to improve on. If you have a good foundation in reading, writing and perhaps even understanding then you could do very well in any of the institutes, especially al-Ibanah and Cairo Inst. If you require building some good ground first and pick up on conversation then either al-Fajr or Dewan might be for you.
However, I must stress that whichever Center you go to and complete, you’ll end up learning the same amount of Arabic Sciences. Speaking-wise you might be more fluent in some institutes as opposed to others. But in all, each place has alhamdulillah very good systems in place.
The no.1 thing to avoid (and seriously, I can’t say this enough), is to avoid jumping from institute to institute and moving from center to center in an attempt to find the one that’s ‘just right for you’. This can have disastrous affects on your learning and you’ll fall behind a lot.
Why? Every school has a working system that takes you from point A to B, and it is ensured by the Administration that you cover all essential material along the way.
If you move from say al-Ibanah in Level 3 (because you found out they’re the most expensive) and try to join Dewan Level 3 (to think they all follow the same grading system is a big misconception anyway), they’ll assess you and may find you are lacking a certain criteria of their Level 2. So they put you back one level.
You get frustrated after a month and decide to move to al-Fajr. They assess you and find your speaking is not that good, so back you go to level 1!
You can’t take it anymore and decide to go back to al-Ibanah where they resume you to your Level 3 again – having wasted your money & precious time (and of course tired out those brain cells), and what for?! Imagine had you stayed with your primary center you’d have been perhaps on Level 6 by now.
I’ve seen this happen with so many people and the fact is, students always seem to return to their 1st center after having gone in circles. Avoid doing that. Try your best to choose the center/institute for you and then stick with it till the end insha’Allah (unless of course a meteorite hits it, or worse; it’s shut down).