Arabic Greetings: What Language Taught Me About Acceptance

When I walked into the first day of Arabic my freshman year, my teacher looked up and greeted me with, “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” (written in Arabic as اهلا وسهلا).

I was obviously taken by surprise. As a freshman who had taken the Classical languages of Latin and Greek all throughout high school, I had no previous experience with modern languages—let alone Arabic. Flustered, I responded to my professor with a nonchalant “What’s up?” and sat down in an open seat. Professor Sam smiled at me and told me that the correct response to “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” was actually “Ahlan Biki.”

You might be wondering how a Classics fanatic like me ended up taking Arabic in college. The truth is, I really didn’t know. I followed a gut feeling, so to speak, and aspired to find some meaning in my studies. Perhaps subconsciously I always had a prevailing reason for studying the Middle East. Arabic simply felt right. Five months later, I’ve finally come to realize why I decided to pursue and focus my studies on Arabic.

In our modern age, Arabic has often been associated with an increasingly harmful stigma of terrorism and violence. The Arabic language itself suffers from a public perception that condemns proclamations of “Allahu ‘Akbar,” regardless of the phrase’s true meaning. This sweeping, negative association is indicative of a debilitating ignorance within our political climate. In reality, the Arab people are incredibly welcoming and their language is beautiful and accepting.

All the public must do to see the beauty of the Arabic language is translate it and actually try to understand, rather than impulsively react to it.

There are countless lessons we can learn from them and their language, and there is so much to learn from the values of the Arab people, and the acceptance that they practice in their daily lives.

Arabic greetings, in particular, taught me a lot about how to be more accepting. Let’s go back to my first interaction with Professor Sam. The casual observer might understand the phrase he greeted me with to be the Arabic equivalent of “Hello” or “Hi.” While it is certainly used in a similar fashion, the truth is that “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” or “اهلا و سهلا” means so much more.

Although it appears to be a simple and standard conversational greeting, the phrase is much more powerful than its normalized usage suggests. It essentially translates to “You are our family, and this is your land.”

We live in a world today where we can’t afford to make life difficult for one another. The political controversy and social circumstances that have defined the past years make that abundantly clear. We cannot be satisfied with the division that has characterized our modern political climate. The problems we face will continue to affect us all, and they must be solved collectively.

“You are our family, and this is your land.” Ahlan Wa Sahlan captures an attitude of reception and acceptance that has become increasingly rare in the discussions we as humans have, and the debates we hold.

If we truly want to make the world a better place, then we must first begin by taking what is often times the hardest step—looking at ourselves, making a change, and productively having the hard conversations.

The issue with our modern political sphere is that many of us have unknowingly bought into a culture that has normalized the ignorance of our own biases. This culture has allowed an unchecked perpetuation of unproductive discussion, in which both sides declare their points frantically—and, often times, controversially—without truly receiving and registering the arguments of the other.

The beauty of “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” is that it gives us a simple answer for an overtly complex issue. That said, fixing the problem of unproductive conversation is undeniably easier said than done. In no way am I calling for people to abandon their beliefs, or blindly accept other opinions. However, no matter how cliché the concept might seem, the reality is that our situation can only be improved by a truly collective effort.

We must start listening to each other if we want to make this world a better place.

There are undoubtedly many ways we, as humans, can support and nourish a more accepting and productive political sphere. I’m fortunate enough to have found a way to articulate this goal through Arabic. Hopefully, I can use my love for the language to help unite our world in our differences.

As most of my friends can probably tell you, I walk across Middlebury’s campus every day and greet friendly faces with ‘Ahlan Wa Sahlan’. The reason I do so is not just to keep my memory fresh, or to practice my basic greetings—Ahlan Wa Sahlan means so much more than just “Hello.” I greet others with my favorite Arabic phrase because it is a message of accepting goodwill that I can spread in the simplest of conversations. Creating positive change starts small, and can eventually make a big difference.

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I am a freshman at Middlebury College, where I aspire to major in International Studies and Arabic. In the future, I hope to pursue a career in journalism. I have travelled across the world, working with elephants in Burma and singing with elementary choral groups in Argentina. Because of my travels, I hope to someday represent and work with refugees domestically, as well as in Europe and the Middle East. In my spare time, I enjoy playing chess and singing.

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Arabic Greetings: What Language Taught Me About Acceptance

When I walked into the first day of Arabic my freshman year, my teacher looked up and greeted me with, “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” (written in Arabic as اهلا وسهلا).

I was obviously taken by surprise. As a freshman who had taken the Classical languages of Latin and Greek all throughout high school, I had no previous experience with modern languages—let alone Arabic. Flustered, I responded to my professor with a nonchalant “What’s up?” and sat down in an open seat. Professor Sam smiled at me and told me that the correct response to “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” was actually “Ahlan Biki.”

You might be wondering how a Classics fanatic like me ended up taking Arabic in college. The truth is, I really didn’t know. I followed a gut feeling, so to speak, and aspired to find some meaning in my studies. Perhaps subconsciously I always had a prevailing reason for studying the Middle East. Arabic simply felt right. Five months later, I’ve finally come to realize why I decided to pursue and focus my studies on Arabic.

In our modern age, Arabic has often been associated with an increasingly harmful stigma of terrorism and violence. The Arabic language itself suffers from a public perception that condemns proclamations of “Allahu ‘Akbar,” regardless of the phrase’s true meaning. This sweeping, negative association is indicative of a debilitating ignorance within our political climate. In reality, the Arab people are incredibly welcoming and their language is beautiful and accepting.

All the public must do to see the beauty of the Arabic language is translate it and actually try to understand, rather than impulsively react to it.

There are countless lessons we can learn from them and their language, and there is so much to learn from the values of the Arab people, and the acceptance that they practice in their daily lives.

Arabic greetings, in particular, taught me a lot about how to be more accepting. Let’s go back to my first interaction with Professor Sam. The casual observer might understand the phrase he greeted me with to be the Arabic equivalent of “Hello” or “Hi.” While it is certainly used in a similar fashion, the truth is that “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” or “اهلا و سهلا” means so much more.

Although it appears to be a simple and standard conversational greeting, the phrase is much more powerful than its normalized usage suggests. It essentially translates to “You are our family, and this is your land.”

We live in a world today where we can’t afford to make life difficult for one another. The political controversy and social circumstances that have defined the past years make that abundantly clear. We cannot be satisfied with the division that has characterized our modern political climate. The problems we face will continue to affect us all, and they must be solved collectively.

“You are our family, and this is your land.” Ahlan Wa Sahlan captures an attitude of reception and acceptance that has become increasingly rare in the discussions we as humans have, and the debates we hold.

If we truly want to make the world a better place, then we must first begin by taking what is often times the hardest step—looking at ourselves, making a change, and productively having the hard conversations.

The issue with our modern political sphere is that many of us have unknowingly bought into a culture that has normalized the ignorance of our own biases. This culture has allowed an unchecked perpetuation of unproductive discussion, in which both sides declare their points frantically—and, often times, controversially—without truly receiving and registering the arguments of the other.

The beauty of “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” is that it gives us a simple answer for an overtly complex issue. That said, fixing the problem of unproductive conversation is undeniably easier said than done. In no way am I calling for people to abandon their beliefs, or blindly accept other opinions. However, no matter how cliché the concept might seem, the reality is that our situation can only be improved by a truly collective effort.

We must start listening to each other if we want to make this world a better place.

There are undoubtedly many ways we, as humans, can support and nourish a more accepting and productive political sphere. I’m fortunate enough to have found a way to articulate this goal through Arabic. Hopefully, I can use my love for the language to help unite our world in our differences.

As most of my friends can probably tell you, I walk across Middlebury’s campus every day and greet friendly faces with ‘Ahlan Wa Sahlan’. The reason I do so is not just to keep my memory fresh, or to practice my basic greetings—Ahlan Wa Sahlan means so much more than just “Hello.” I greet others with my favorite Arabic phrase because it is a message of accepting goodwill that I can spread in the simplest of conversations. Creating positive change starts small, and can eventually make a big difference.

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