Arabic is the native language of approximately 70% of the total population of Kuwait. It is also the sacred language of the Muslim community, who form 80% of Kuwait population (Dresch 123). Moreover, it is the first official language of Kuwait followed by English. All government documents and notices are written in modern standard Arabic language. American English forms the second language for most educated Kuwaitis.
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This paper discusses the English language and the Islamic religion in the context of the country of Kuwait. It tries to explain whether being religious implies hating the English language; and whether supporting the English language in the country necessarily means a person being of little or no faith at all. It also lays down the fear Arabs have on the erosion of the Arabic language due to Westernization of most Arabs who embrace the English language. Lastly, the paper discusses the cultural influences of Arab expatriates to the spread of English in Kuwait; and spread of English language due to the need of Kuwaitis to pursue higher education abroad.
Islamic Religion and Attitude of Kuwaitis towards English Language
Majority of the Arabs in Kuwait profess the Islamic religion. They view the spread of English as an attack to Islam and its civilization. Islamic fundamentalists have always had a feeling that “Westerners” especially the US; have always wedged wars against Islam and its civilization by siding with Israel (Zionists) which was trying to humiliate Muslims and occupy their land and steal their wealth.
Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East depict the Western and American intrusion in the Arab world as a greater danger than Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. They have persistently vowed to resist the forces of the ‘Great Satan’ to expel them out of the region. Thus, any language, especially the English language is regarded as a language for ‘pagans’, that is, for people of little faith or no faith at all. They restrict the interpretation of the Koran, the Holy Islamic book to Arabic language only.
Over 200 million people speak Arabic language worldwide and is the official language of about 17 countries (Dresch 121). This language links the people of Kuwait to the rest of the Middle East and Northern Africa. There exist three main forms of Arabic: classical, the language of the Koran; the modern standard used for writing in all countries and for communication between Arabs from different regions; and spoken Arabic.
To the majority of Kuwaitis, Arabic is more than a mother tongue, it is a language in which God to Prophet Mohammed revealed the Koran. Koran refers to recitation in Arabic. For the many Muslims, the Koran should never be translated into other languages; but read only in Arabic, as it is perfect in its original form. All Muslims pray in Arabic irrespective of their mother tongues, and all of them aim to be able to recite the Koran.
Possibly, Arabic is the main cultural link binding the world’s one billion Muslims, of who only one-sixth are Arabs. This hampers the spread of the English language in Kuwait and the rest of the Muslim world. This informs the reason why English language is hated and viewed as un-Islamic. They fear that the spread of English may necessitate their Holy book being interpreted in English language, thus altering its original form.
The native Kuwaitis are a minority in their own country. They perpetually live with thoughts of being under siege permanently. It is not that the people of Kuwait fear the competition of foreigners in business, political power or social prestige; they perfectly know that, provided the given law, expatriates cannot compete with them on these accounts. Majority of the people of Kuwait worry about “cultural integrity”.
This is not peculiar for a society where the native Kuwaitis are in a minority; and which undergoes fast and extensive material transformations (Dresch 122). This has created the need for Kuwaitis to preserve Kuwait identity, a long with social values and principles. Over the years, the public discourse on cultural threats from the outside world sends an increasing note of urgency. The traditions of Kuwait and the way of life of Kuwaitis are under threat and these can be attributed to the expatriate. These expatriates are highly visible in all aspects of Kuwait’s social life and they perform critical functions in the country.
The majority of the people of Kuwait view expatriates as disturbing elements within their local context. The cultural damage Kuwaitis attribute to Arabs are viewed differently to that wrought by non-Arabic speakers. Arabic expatriates are viewed in terms of political character while the non-Arabs are viewed more in a moral nature. Several factors ground the perception of political threats posed by Arab expatriates: Kuwait society allows Arab expatriates to enjoy a special position in their midst. They are not viewed by nationals as foreigners, but rather non-Kuwaitis. Kuwaitis share with them the Arabic language and the majority professes the Islamic religion.
Interpretation of the Islamic Koran is strictly done in Arabic language. Since majority of Kuwaitis are widely influenced by Arab expatriates, the spread of English language can be viewed by many as an affront to their sacred faith. These Arabic expatriates come from all occupations, thus, some hold prestigious jobs while others are semi skilled or unskilled workers. They also dominate in education, media, and religious institutions.
This makes it hard to describe the population of Arab expatriates in Kuwait in general terms. Compared to non-Arabs, Arab expatriates have a unique opportunity to meet and perpetuate their ideas among a wide Kuwait audience. For instance, associating the spread of English language with detested imperial Western designs to perpetuate dominance in their territory. Indeed, Arabs have made extensive impact on Kuwait nationals at the cultural, intellectual and political levels. Moreover, Kuwaitis and Arab expatriates share many common concerns and interests in addition to the common medium of expression.
Arab expatriates who relocate to work in Kuwait carry with them their political opinions and ideologies, which have always troubled the authorities of Kuwait. Quite often, political alignments and conflicts that occur in expatriates’ countries are reproduced in Kuwait. This is further boosted by the flow in the opposite direction of Kuwaiti students, businessmen and other visitors to these countries.
It is also perpetuated by the wide distribution of Arab radio and T.V programs as well as articles and literature. The majority of Kuwaiti parents from the middle class prefer their children to learn the English language for the aim of preparing them to a brighter future. They are also informed by the uncertain volatile trends in the Middle East. Kuwaitis live in fear of possible invasions by Iran or again by Iraq in future where they would be forced to relocate.
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Many of them do not wish to relocate to regions with no future for their children like Lebanon, Yemen or Syria. In 1990, many parents in Kuwait relocated to these countries where future severely suffered when Iraq invaded. Many prefer to move them to the United States or the United Kingdom. These countries provide better opportunities of achieving excellence. They have even moved a head to make monthly savings to purchase a plot overseas incase the inevitable happens; they could shift easily. They are not certain of their country’s security.
Arab expatriates have the potential to impact on the native Kuwaitis hearts and minds. This is more threatening than the narrow political effects they bring on Kuwait. For instance, all teachers in Kuwait schools were practically Arab expatriates in the early decades of Kuwait development. Many of these Arab expatriates were Palestinians. Nevertheless, a number were replaced by Kuwait teachers in the 1980s onwards.
However, this program remains restricted to central neighborhoods inhabited by urban middle class Kuwaitis. Densely populated regions in the outlying areas still have Arab expatriates as teachers. This implies that despite the close monitoring of courses and syllabuses by Education Ministry, several generations of Kuwaitis have in effect taught and been influenced by non-Kuwaitis whose world views were nurtured elsewhere and whose loyalty, Kuwaitis fear, also lie elsewhere.
Cultural influences of Arab Expatriates to the Spread of English in Kuwait
Diversity grows in societies that are heterogeneous such as Kuwait’s. Moreover, it develops with pronounced degree of perceived cultural variation. Such variation is profound in Kuwait. The country has a population of about 1.9 million people with 800,000 Kuwaitis, the remaining 1.1 million being non-Kuwaitis of different kinds. 83% of the labor force forms the expatriate workers, while 92% of Kuwaitis who are in employment are concentrated in the public sector (Tibi 32). The private sector in Kuwait employs exclusively non-Kuwaitis. The expatriates consists of the Arabs and non-Arabs elements. Arabs come from all over the Middle East. Among the non-Arabs is also a minority of the Westerners.
Over the years, the political development of Kuwait is a reflection of political development elsewhere in the Arab world, for instance, the shift from Arab nationalism to Islamism. This is because not only the Middle East is a cultural or political unit, but also through their physical presence and the core functions, some of them undertake in Kuwait, Arab expatriates create a duplicate of the world they originate; and this replica finds support among Kuwaitis.
Therefore, the ideas and trends of Arab expatriates have made profound inroads to the lives of Kuwaitis in spite of the skepticism they harbor towards outsiders. For instance, since many Palestinians are Muslims and the religion of Islam has significantly played a rudimentary part in the lives of Palestinian society historically; most Kuwaitis find themselves sympathetic to Palestinian resistance ideologies (Tibi 32).
Consequently, the English language is associated with the Western world, which supports the cause of Israelis. Hence, any Westernized ideology is branded as foreign and a threat to Islamic character and Arab identity. This has politicized the spread of the English language in Kuwait. By embracing ideologies replicated throughout the Middle East, many Kuwaitis also view the conflict with Israel through an Islamic prism and an upfront to Arabic ideals. Both American and British foreign policies in the Middle East support the cause of Israelis, many Kuwaitis distaste their cultural values including the language. This import explains hostility to the spread of the English language in Kuwait.
Arab expatriates who relocate to work in Kuwait carry with them their political opinions and ideologies, which has always troubled the authorities of Kuwait. Quite often, political alignments and conflicts that occur in expatriates’ countries are reproduced in Kuwait. This is further boosted by the flow in the opposite direction of Kuwaiti students, executives and other visitors to these countries. It is also perpetuated by the wide distribution of Arab radio and T.V programs as well as articles and literature.
Arab expatriates have the potential to impact on the native Kuwaitis hearts and minds. This is more threatening than the narrowly political effects they bring on Kuwait. For instance, all teachers in Kuwait schools were practically Arab expatriates in the early decades of Kuwait development. Many of these Arab expatriates were Palestinians.
Nevertheless, a number were replaced by Kuwait teachers in the 1980s onwards. However, this program remains restricted to central neighborhoods inhabited by urban middle class Kuwaitis. Densely populated regions in the outlying areas still have Arab expatriates as teachers. This implies that despite the close monitoring of courses and syllabuses by Education Ministry, several generations of Kuwaitis have in effect taught and influenced by non-Kuwaitis whose world views were nurtured elsewhere and whose loyalty, Kuwaitis fear, also lie elsewhere (Dresch 123).
The US and Britain are viewed by communities in the Middle East as having vested interests in Kuwait’s political reform and democratization. The spread of English language is regarded as part of their strategy to perpetuate their hegemony in the region. The embrace of the English language especially American English has resulted to the country’s modernization and expanded democracy. This supports the aspirations of the US of having both a stable and inclusive government within the region. Kuwaitis have a democratic tradition they have tried to blend with the authority of the governing monarch, which dates way back 1750s.
These are key feature of Kuwaiti identity; democratic tradition and a ruling monarchy. Moreover, Kuwaitis have embraced the English language for maintaining their image abroad. This is because Kuwait continues to require international recognition and support against her enemies. Compared to other Arab states in the Arab world, Kuwait is the most democratic country. However, the country also has a number of Islamic elements that do not sympathize with the western ideologies such as enhancement of the spread of the English language.
Spread of English Language due to the Need of Kuwaitis to Pursue Higher Education abroad
Kuwaitis desire a lot from their education system. The parents require the children to be educated to a level that allows them to pursue higher studies a broad, often in Western institutions, or obtain well paying employment at home. At the same time, many parents are weary that an increasingly Western curricula and an influx of foreign institutions are eroding Kuwait’s traditional values. Whereas Kuwaitis strive to strike a compromise between the requirements of a global world and their desire to bequeath the unique culture to their children, the expanding expatriate population is also making its own demands and assisting to reshape the country’s education sector.
Kuwait private school sector has been growing with the expanding expatriate population. This has been boosted by an influx of native Kuwait children. However, an increasing number of Kuwait families choose to send their children elsewhere despite the provision of free education to Kuwait nationals. Usually, they send them to a school with Western-oriented curriculum. Before the Gulf war led by the US against Iraq in 1990-91, Kuwait had only 15 non-Arabic foreign schools.
There has been a dramatic increase in the demand for Western-style education since then. This has exposed Kuwaitis increasingly to global political, economic and social trends. Currently, around 670 state schools ranging from kindergarten to the secondary level are available. In addition, there are also around 500 private institutions (Dresch 120).
The perceived importance of English language education explains the shift from public sector towards public schools. English language education prepared learners well for further studies overseas or employment in the private sector. The majority of parents in Kuwait feel that the national school curricula system is not as advanced as the course of study at the non-Arabic private schools and are ready to pay for foreign education.
The curriculum used for the non-Arabic reflects the disparate nature of Kuwait’s expatriate population. Large numbers of applicants are attracted to French, Germany, Indian, and Pakistani schools. Nevertheless, schools that teach British and American curriculum tend to be the most popular because of the historical and present political cooperation. Most important, they use English as their mode of instruction (Dresch 121).
Many Kuwait students anticipate their government to overhaul the countries academic curriculum to meet the needs of the modern world. The English language helps integrate them into the global dynamics. Thus, the overhaul of the curriculum will lend focus in the teaching of analytical skills required by both public and private organizations. The government will also need to overcome the challenge to produce quality teachers and materials in public schools to upgrade the teaching standards to modern times. There is also a need for a greater level of investment in schooling facilities. In addition, there is a need for strong emphasis in the English language and information technology. The English language instruction provides private schools in Kuwait with power over their public counterparts.
Learning and speaking the English language in Kuwait enhances the chances of graduates to get lucrative jobs in the private sector. Many families in Kuwait send their children to private learning institutions in an effort to ensure that they get the best education, enabling them to qualify to study at foreign universities. According to Kuwait Bureau for Educational Services, 90% of students who attend private schools proceed to universities in the West (Dresch 120). There has been a rise in the number of Kuwait students in private schools from 3% in 1990-91 to 26% in 2007-2008. With this statistic therefore, the number of private schools in Kuwait have risen to 480 in the year 2007-2008. This amounts to 40% in ten years (Oxford Business Group 170).
In sum, the English language education prepared learners well for further studies overseas or employment in the private sector. The majority of parents in Kuwait feel that the national school curricula system is not as advanced as the course of study at the non-Arabic private schools and are ready to pay for foreign education. The curriculum used for the non-Arabic reflects the disparate nature of Kuwait’s expatriate population. Large numbers of applicants are attracted to French, Germany, Indian, and Pakistani schools. Nevertheless, schools that teach British and American curriculum tend to be the most popular because of the historical and present political cooperation. Most important, they use English as their mode of instruction.
Dresch, P. Monarchies and Nations. London: I.B Tauris Publishers, Oxford Business Group. Emerging Kuwait. Oxford :Oxford Business Group, 2006.
Tibi, B. Islam’s Predicament with Modernity. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2009.