(HOUSTON CHRONICLE) To describe the difference between modern standard Arabic and classical, or Quranic, Arabic, Ambereen Saleem tells the story of a renowned American scholar who tried to talk to a taxi driver in a Muslim country. The cabbie was amused by the scholar’s classical style of speech, which “inherently has a divine undertone,” as Saleem tells it.

“The cheeky taxi driver replied with a well-known phrase Muslims repeat when they are finished reading verses of the Quran: ‘Sadaq Allahu’l Adheem,’ or ‘God has spoken the truth!’” said Saleem, a junior at the University of Houston.

That historical and religious aspect of the language is precisely what has drawn Saleem and her friends. “My peers and I were primarily interested in studying Arabic for the purpose of understanding the Arabic of the holy Quran,” she said. “There is a beauty in the holy Quran that cannot be felt through the barriers of translation. … Every word is more like a color, and they all come together the way a painting does. That is why we often misunderstand our religion, because we are blind to seeing these Quranic truths when we read a translation.”

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