Languages of the Islamic World

Welcome to the "Languages of the Islamic World" page. In a way, Arabic is the language of the Islamic world. It is, after all, the language of God, the language in which the angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Muhammad.

As Islam has spread, almost every place where a Semitic language was spoken has turned to Arabic. However, three other language families are used in a big way in the Islamic world: Indo-Iranian (an Indo-European subfamily), Turkic and, surprisingly, Austronesian! Arabic is spoken across the northernmost section of Africa, throughout the Arabian peninsula and up into what was Mesopotamia.

To the north of Arabia, two other language families have been in competition to dominate what was once known as the Silk Road. The first of the these is Turkic - i.e. Turkish, Turkmen, Uzbek, Kazakh, Uighur and others in an expanse that stretches from Turkey to China's westerly Xianjiang province. Mixed in with the Turkic languages but especially dominant on the southern side are the Indo-Iranian languages. These are spoken from Iran to Afghanistan to Pakistan through parts of India. They include Persian (Farsi in Iran, Azerbaijani in Azerbaijan and Dari in Afghanistan), Pashto (a somewhat different Iranian language spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan) and Urdu (a variant of Hindu written with a Persio-Arabic script and with many Persian and Arabic loanwords).

The Semitic, Indo-Iranian and Turkish languages, though very different, all congregate in the same general area in the Middle East. There are places you can go where all three are spoken within a hundred miles of one another. However, the fourth major language family for Muslims is a bit of a surprise: Austronesian! As a matter of fact, the country with the most practicing Muslims in the world is Indonesia (which is, after all, one of the five most populous nations in the world). In everyday life, most Indonesians speak one of more than 180 local languages, but those with any education at all will also know the national lingua franca, Bahasa Indonesia, or, as we say, Indonesian.

With the War on Terror, some calls for a new Caliphate and other calls for a modernization of Islam, there's a lot of talk on all sides about Islam and the Muslim world. Much of it, on all sides, is doubtless wrong or overdone. cannot and does not presume to cut through all the clatter. It's a language site. But to the extent that language can promote understanding among peoples and nations, we'd like to do our part. Hence this page, linking our different resources on languages spoken in the parts of the world where Islam dominates. We hope that you will use our information and the numerous other sites out there to maybe learn a little more, to learn how to find out more about the different viewpoints out there and finally, to look for places where we can reach some common understanding.

What about the cartoon furor?



Arabic (IBC)


Turkic languages page

Turkish (IBC)

Uzbek (IBC)


Indo-Iranian languages page

Dari (Persian) (IBC)

Pashto (IBC)

Urdu (IBC)


Austronesian languages page

Indonesian (IBC)

(IBC denotes and Itty Bitty Introductory Course)

Interested in Islam? Why not start at the source?

Online version - you can even listen to it!

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