All Things Arabic

From Right to Left

From Right to Left

Studying Arabic comes with many new experiences for the Westerner – from learning new sounds that you’ve never pronounced before, to learning the interconnections of Arabic letters and roots – and even includes writing in a brand new direction… from right to left!

I never thought much about the significance of writing from right to left in Arabic until I heard scholar Sh. Hamza Yusuf make the following comment in one of his lectures:

“The heart is centered slightly to the left of our bodies. Arabic is written from right to left — towards the heart — which some have noted, mirrors the purpose of writing, namely to affect the heart.”

What a beautiful reflection on the actual method of writing, and a reminder for us as well: to make sure all of our studying, reading and writing is ‘towards the heart’ – done with the intention of renewing the heart spiritually, affecting the heart positively, and developing its connection with God.

On a lighter note, here is a joke someone shared with me recently about an unfortunate businessman who was not aware of the right-to-left nature of Arabic:


A disappointed salesman of Coca-Cola returned from his assignment to Saudi Arabia.
A friend asked,
“Why weren’t you successful with the Saudis?”
The salesman explained, “When I got posted, I was very confident that I would make a good sales pitch.
But I had a problem. I didn’t know how to speak Arabic.
So I planned to convey the message through three posters.


First poster: A man lying in the hot desert sand totally exhausted and fainting.
Second poster: The man is drinking Coca-Cola.
Third poster: Our man is now totally refreshed.
And then these posters were pasted all over the place.

“Terrific! That should have worked!” said the friend.
“The hell it should have!” said the salesman.
“No one told me they read from right to left!”


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