Why Arabs Hate Reading

Though little reliable research has been done on Arabic literacy, the little that has been done is quite clear in one regard. As Johns Hopkins researcher Niloofar Haeri concludes in her contribution to The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy (2009), throughout the Arab world educated people find reading very difficult, don’t like to do it, and do as little of it as possible—even the librarians.

…if one message can be harder to grasp than another—as is clearly the case—then reading that message in consonantal writing like Arabic, which relies on readers grasping it first, is harder by definition. In practice, also by definition, such writing will not only discourage reading, it will also inevitably favor messages that are simple and familiar over those that are complex and challenging (which might explain why the yardstick of literacy in the Arab world is rote memorization of the Quran).

In other words, consonantal writing by definition is a recipe for poor literacy.

  • Drunk_by_Noon

    I totally forgot about that!
    Ancient Arabic, especially in the early versions of the Koran left a lot up to the imagination on just what word was really intended and likely explains some of the nonsense verses.
    Word of God my ASS!

    • Justin St.Denis

      ASSIS? 😉

  • Maneki-neko

    They’re just following Muhammad’s example.

    • tom_billesley

      Or that of mahomet, mehmet, mahmud, mohamed, ……

  • El Martyachi

    Or that, over thousands of miles and two continents, the very same controlling male anger that has spilt so much blood through the centuries even now strives to retain its “traditional” iron grip on cultural authority through the kidnap, rape, and murder of young girls who insist on learning to read for themselves.

    So, basically, it’s the fault of men and tradition, as per usual academese proclamations.

  • Interesting article. Certainly, consonantal reading is a lot more difficult than alphabetical, and this does go a long way to explain the relative ignorance and fundamentalism of cultures involving the former.

    • tom_billesley

      Hebrew scholars cope well enough with vowel marks don’t they?

      • You are right, in that modern Hebrew is used for literature, science, etc. without problem.
        Still, Hebrew without vowel signs is not easy to read for people who are not Hebrew-speakers since birth.

      • Norman_In_New_York

        Even before the revival of modern Hebrew, the Jews of Eastern Europe spoke Yiddish and Iberian Jews spoke Ladino, both of which are written with the Hebrew alphabet. Neither proved an impediment to cultural advancement.

  • phuque uguugle

    That explains why they try and read their hands instead of the written word, simple.

  • Brett_McS

    When I first started working with Japanese companies I was surprised by how much correspondence was hand written. In retrospect it was because computers of the time could not handle the vast array of characters in the language and ‘typing’ a letter involved using massive machines with hundreds of keys. So although the Japanese were generally quite advanced their office technology was backward. Things are better now and they use predictive programs like on smart phones to throw up suggested characters to pick from, so typing is not so laborious as before. But also they all know English now, so it’s not such an issue.

    • tom_billesley

      The Japanese writing system is what caused the very rapid development and widespread use of fax machines in Japan.

  • marty_p

    No literature other than the Quaran, no music other than Quaranic chants, women covered from head to toe, no alcohol…. no wonder they’re all F*cked up.

    • terrence

      Do not forget the inbreeding -marrying first cousins and having many children, lots of whom have severe genetic problems, and still go on to breed more genetically defected children.

  • xavier

    Black Mamba:

    I’d like to play devil’s advocate: what about Hebrew, Amaric and Coptic? They’re cousin languages and in my very superficial understanding the Israelis, mideastern Christains and Copts have high degree of literacy. So what do they do differently with reading and language learning that the Arabs are neglecting or overlooking?

    • jazzonfyre

      Going to school? Doing their assignments? Valuing learning?

    • If you read the comments they actually go into that a bit re. Hebrew. I think the author’s take on that was that Jews tend to read languages other than Hebrew, which has been more or less dead anyway for a long time until quite recently.

    • Minicapt

      Hebrew, despite being a consonant alphabet, has long had added “jots and tittles” with which the vowel sounds were indicated to the reader.
      … Matthew 5:18 …


  • tom_billesley

    [2002 UN report] Greece annually translates five times more books from English than the entire Arab world, and currently, 65 million Arab adults are illiterate.

  • Hard Little Machine

    The read Mein Kampf enough.

  • simus1

    In totally ignorant rock bottom muslim culture there is “only one real book”. Once you have mastered that by rote memorization chanting in unison with fellow students your mission is accomplished.