For new professor of Arabic Erez Naaman, love of the Arabic language goes beyond its modern practicality and its importance in understanding historical texts. Growing up in Israel, Naaman occasionally heard his grandmother—who hailed from Yemen—speaking a Yemeni Arabic dialect at home. In addition, he was intrigued from a young age by the language’s elegant written appearance and sound.
“In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful languages,” he says. “The language is very rich and really unique in its depth of vocabulary, its architectonic syntax, and also its morphology. There’s no end to how much one can acquire and learn because there are so many aspects that you can always improve on.”
While at AU, Naaman hopes to continue his research on the pre-modern Islamic world. Recently, he completed a paper about taboos and euphemisms in medieval Arabic. His future book project will build on his dissertation, “Literature and Literary People at the Court of Al-Sahib Ibn ‘Abbad”. The dissertation examined the Court’s role in the production, performance, and evaluation of literature in medieval Islamic civilization. But Naaman also hopes to equip his students with the tools necessary to understand the past and present Arab-Islamic world.
Most of Naaman’s research thus far has concerned medieval Arabic-Islamic civilization—rulers and their protégés, courts and their cultural output. Part of his interest in this time period comes from his love for the texts written then. However, he is also interested in aspects of the pre-modern Islamic world that separate it from the Middle East’s complicated political climate today. “When I compare the Middle East today, with all the conflicts and problems that have to do with nationalism… we didn’t have those in the early days,” he says. “There were no real borders. It seems like a time when there was less suffering from a lot of the bad things that nationalism has brought to our lives.”
As a scholar of Arabic literature and culture, Naaman says that language is a vital key to understanding a culture. Fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, with reading knowledge of Persian, French, German, Spanish, and Latin, Naaman is able to read and comprehend primary and secondary sources from many cultures. “I don’t see how you can study [the Middle East] without knowing Arabic,” says Naaman. “You can rely on translations, but you’ll get a distorted point of view. Language is a key to any culture. If you don’t have this key, you’re going to get a secondary outlook. This is never sufficient to get deeper into the more serious vantage points in the culture and area.”
Language may be the key, but learning history is the foundation for studying a region or culture, according to Naaman—especially for those interested in studying the Middle East today. “To know something about the religions in the area—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, to understand the changes brought by Islam through fertile dialogues with other cultures and traditions, to be familiar with the way institutions were built and Arabic-Islamic civilization shaped, and to be acquainted with the major political developments, give you a better vantage point,” he says. “And of course, your insights will be more profound.”