Arabic for Beginners has been offered by the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Tel Aviv University for many years, with several dozen students interested in the Arabic language and Islamic culture enrolling each year.
But after an online version of the course had been developed last year, University President Prof. Ariel Porat decided to open it up, free of charge, to every employee and student at the University. His decision reflected a conviction that every citizen in Israel should have a basic command of the Arabic language. It also recognizes the special status of Arabic on campus.
According to Prof. Uriya Shavit, Head of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies and the initiator of the course, from the moment the registration opened up (and to everyone’s surprise), 907 people enrolled within two and a half hours, and hundreds more asked to enter the waiting lists. 20% of enrollees are members of the Administrative Staff, 20% are members of the Academic Faculty, and 60% are students.
The breakdown of enrollees indicates that they belong to all disciplines on campus, including Chemistry, Medicine, Theater, Computer Science, Literature, Biology, etc. Due to the huge demand, both University Management and the Humanities Faculty Management decided to expand the project and open up additional groups.
Along with studying the Arabic alphabet, a vocabulary of about 200 words, declensions, and expressions in spoken Arabic, the course also includes an introductory lecture on the foundations of Islam and the holidays in Islam.
Prof. Shavit said: “There is an across-the-board agreement in Israeli society that Arabic studies should be promoted. The huge demand is a pleasant surprise indicating a welcomed and in-depth change in the attitude to the language.”