Arabic is a language from thousands of miles away that has been consistent for even longer, and Husam Samkari has brought it to the Palouse.
Samkari, a doctoral student, teaches an Arabic language class every Wednesday evening at the University of Idaho.
The classes were established at UI last semester, but he first started teaching Arabic to students at Washington State University.
Samkari said people at WSU asked him to teach an Arabic class, as there was no teacher for it. He said members from the Muslim Student Association at WSU told him to teach whatever he was comfortable with and see what the response from students was.
"I said, 'Yeah, I would love to do that. Let's give it a try,'" Samkari said. "I like the idea to help — to help explain or to help people to learn Arabic. It's my language."
Samkari said the president of UI's Saudi club helped make the classes happen at UI. He said they talked to UI President Chuck Staben, who supported the class.
Samkari said his objective is to help people become interested in the language and understand it, even if it's just a little bit. To achieve that, he said he does not start with grammar rules or the alphabet, but rather with vocabulary.
"If we went teaching only the grammar or the rules it will be very boring, and people will start to think 'Oh, it's very difficult, We can't handle it,' and they will see themselves very far from the language," Samkari said. "But if a student learned only one word or like, the greeting, he will be excited. 'Okay I learned something. At least I can say something.'"
One of the attendees of the class was Scott Lougheed, a junior majoring in international studies. He said the lessons by Samkari are different from other language classes he has taken before.
"I'm really enjoying it so far. It's not as formal as a normal language class, which I appreciate," Lougheed said. "I'm actually taking Spanish here, an official Spanish class, which I like too, but I like the more laid-back feel."
Lougheed said the Arab world is one the United States had considerable engagement with, and he predicted it will continue to do so. This is one of the reasons he said he wanted to learn the language, but he wanted to learn it for other reasons as well.
"It's a great amount of history and culture in that region, so obviously a great way to learn about culture and history of any region is to learn their language, even if it's just little bits and pieces of it," Lougheed said.
He said he thinks the class is good for UI as well.
"Anytime you can bring more of other people's cultures and learn about them in a constructive way, I think it's a good thing," Lougheed said.
Samkari said that while many countries with people that use the language may be unable to understand each other's informal Arabic, they can all understand the formal version. He said formal Arabic is what is written in the Quran, and it has not changed in 1,400 years. Television, books and news are all written and spoken in formal Arabic, he said.
Arabic is a beautiful language, Samkari said, and people look back at old Arabic texts for poetry just like English speakers look back to Shakespeare.
"Arabs, they are crazy of poetry," Samkari said. "The Quran — some people take it from a religious perspective. Even if you are not Muslim, you start to read that, like, it's amazing how the instructions are, how the sentences are together, the meanings. It's beautiful."
Samkari said he invites students to ask questions beyond the scope of the language, such as culture and customs of Arabic people. He said if he does not know the answer, he can find information on the web from an Arabic source, which he said may have a different point-of-view than an English source.
Samkari said he thinks these classes are helpful for people at UI.
"It's important for the University of Idaho to have, because it's a popular language," Samkari said. "And we have a big community, Arabic community, Muslim community, we have the Islamic Center here. It's big."
He said he has four more years to study at UI and said he intends to teach the class as long as he has time here.
"I'm just glad that University of Idaho gave me this opportunity to teach this class," Samkari said. "Because I love my language, my culture."