The first US Universities Arabic Debating Championship, organized by QatarDebate and taking place at Harvard University, is designed to support greater use, understanding and appreciation of the Arabic language.
In the heart of one of the United States’ best universities, almost 100 young people have come together to debate some of the world’s key topics – in Arabic
Debating is a form of dialogue and discussion that has long been appreciated. However, the goal of QatarDebate – a member of Qatar Foundation – is to keep that art alive while promoting the Arabic language, both within its home nation and abroad.
In collaboration with the Harvard Society of Arab Students, QatarDebate invited participants from 24 universities across the States to the first ever US Universities Arabic Debating Championship at Harvard University. They discussed issues, such as the role of education, animal rights’ advocacy, ethical media use, and more.
“America is now waking up and understanding the need to learn critical languages –
and Arabic, an official language of the United Nations and widely spoken across various countries, is indeed a critical language,” said Dr. Ahmed Ferhadi, a Clinical Professor of Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies at New York University and one of the judges at the Championship.
One of the key aspects of the championship is that not all the participants are native Arabic speakers. Aliya Khan, a Pakistani-American student at the University of Utah has been studying Arabic for just five years. “I started learning Arabic because I find the language so beautiful,” she said. “Personally, in the future, I’d want to use what I’ve learned to aid me in connecting the West with the East.”
Debates like these rarely, if at all, happen in the States so, before this, I hadn’t really had the chance to have such dialogue in Arabic
Others, such as Omar Omer, an Italian native and student at the University of Texas at Dallas, found the Championship a unique opportunity to finetune his Arabic skills. “Debates like these rarely, if at all, happen in the States so, before this, I hadn’t really had the chance to have such dialogue in Arabic,” he said. “This has been a really exciting opportunity.”
Most non-native Arabic speakers pick up the language during their time at university in order to work in governmental roles, according to Salma Elkhaoudi, a graduate of University of Chicago and a member of QatarDebate’s Elite Academy – a program that prepares selective students to establish debate clubs in their relevant countries.
However, she said programs such as the debating championships, and a better effort to integrate the language into the curricula, would ensure that people aren’t “speaking to the Arabs, but rather with them and alongside them to tackle of our leading global issues.”
The art of debating should continue to be held in Arabic so we can promote critical thinking and dialogue in the Arab world.
While the event was particularly special for non-native speakers, first-language Arabic speakers were also proud to have participated in the event and saw it as an opportunity to amplify open-mindedness and discussion. “The art of debating should continue to be held in Arabic so we can promote critical thinking and dialogue in the Arab world,” said Nora Marzouqa, a Palestinian student at Harvard University.
Through global ambassadors in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Kuwait, Tunisia, and others, members of its Elite Academy, and its range of partnerships, QatarDebate is focused on ensuring that the Arabic language is celebrated, understood, and appreciated in the West, and that even in an age of fast-paced globalization, it remains relevant and widely-used.