Last updated on November 28, 2020
Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…
The man who created a mobile app that can conjugate Arabic verbs flawlessly.
- Date of birth: 2nd April 1980
- Place of birth: Houla/Lebanon
- Place of residence: Nice – France
- His app Assiraj Almonir (السراج المنير) is available here: google play store.
How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
My name is Habib Kassem. I’m Franco-Lebanese and 39 years old (born 1980). I’m a native Arabic speaker.
After obtaining a Master’s degree in Physics and Electronics in Lebanon, I worked as a telecom and computer science engineer in France where I worked for many companies such as General Electrics, Orange, Amadeus. Currently, I work with Ekinops.
Since my childhood, I have been fascinated by the Arabic language and how its complexity creates beauty. Arabic is my passion. I got it from my father who was an Arabic professor.
When I discovered the gap between technology and Arabic support, I decided to start my after-work project with a unique aim: helping native Arabic speakers to not forget their language and also helping non-native speakers to learn Arabic. It is my dream to spread the Arabic language all over the world.
My project started in 2011. I started preparing the database by hand typing. It took me many, many nights of hard-work until I could finally release my first version 4 years later. Working on mobile applications is time-consuming because there is the restriction of data size. My goal was to release an application with maximum information and minimum size which works offline.
That’s why I spent a lot of time optimizing the algorithm and compressing the data to get spectacular results with one Terrabyte of data compressed to only 16 Megabytes. It’s the equivalent of the size of 8 (digital) pictures – if you can imagine…
What was your first Arabic grammar book?
As I’m native Arabic speaker, my first Arabic grammar book was the one we used at school.
What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?
I cannot cite only one book since there are several books that inspired me in my life. For example, if we talk about grammar books, I would say Antoine El-Dahdah‘s books. In my opinion, he has written some of the best books recapitulating Arabic grammar and at the same time, his books are also easy to understand if you are learning Arabic.
But to be honest, the best Arabic book I have ever read is the Holy Qur’an – which is also the source of the Arabic grammar with all the possible beauty of Arabic sentences inside.
The Arabic Noohat (people who wrote the grammar rules) used the Holy Qur’an and the old Jahili poems as a reference for grammar rules.
How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?
I have no statistics in mind, I would say that if you want to learn and become an expert in any domain, you will need easily 1500 hours.
The most difficult thing is always the beginning. After the first 100 hours, learning becomes a passion, and you will stop counting all the hours you are spending to learn and master Arabic.
What is your favorite Arabic word?
So, what does the app do? It can conjugate verbs and analyze any word of the Quran.
- Conjugation of any triliteral verb
- Quadriliteral conjugation
- Active and Passive voice
- Perfect, imperfect tense
- Indicative, subjunctive, jussive and imperative mood
- connected object + connected subject conjugation
Analysis of every word of the Qur‘an:
- Irab of the Qur’an
- Qur’an tajweed
- Qur’an Tafsir
- Qur’an: word by word grammar
- Qur’an: word by word meaning
- Linguistic tool which shows the Arabic grammar, syntax and morphology for each word of the Holy Qur’an.
Note: There are also other apps that can conjugate Arabic verbs.
Which Arabic word do you like least?
Which Arabic dialect do you like best?
Personally, my most favorite is the dialect of Bilad el-Sham (Syria, Lebanon, …) – in addition to the Egyptian dialect. I think that these dialects are the closest to literary Arabic.
What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?
.لا يهم كم أنت بطيئ طالما أنك لن تتوقف
It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.
What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?
.الإنسَان عَدُوّ ما يَجْهَل
A more literal translation would be: People are an enemy to what they’re ignorant of. The expression basically means: People are afraid of what they don’t understand.
What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?
من أغرب المُدهِشات أن تنبت تلك اللغة القومية، وتصل إلى درجة الكمال وسط الصحاري عند أُمَّة من الرُّحَّل، تلك اللغة التي فاقت أخواتها بكثرة مفرداتها ودقة معانيها وحسن نظام مبانيها، ولم يُعرف لها في كل أطوار حياتها طفولة ولا شيخوخة، ولا نكاد نعلم من شأنها إلا فتوحاتها وانتصاراتها التي لا تُبارى، ولا نعرف شبيهًا بهذه اللغة التي ظهرت للباحثين كاملة من غير تدرج، وبقيت حافظة لكيانها من كل شائبة
“The Arabic language is the most astonishing event of human history. Unknown during the classical period, it suddenly emerged as a complete language. After this, it did not undergo any noticeable changes, so one cannot define for it an early or a late stage. It is just the same today as it was when it first appeared.”Ernest Renan
Excursus: Who was Ernest Renan?
Joseph Ernest Renan (1823 – 1892) was a French expert of Semitic languages. He was also a philosopher and historian of religion. Renan’s works were read and appreciated by many of the leading literary figures of the time, including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Matthew Arnold, Edith Wharton, and Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
My father’s advice:
.ألف قَدْرة ولا نَشْرَة
It roughly means: Make thousands of tries, tests and measures before applying one time the cutter.
My father told me that I should apply this idea to everything in my life. It basically means to calculate a lot before taking irreversible decisions. Like a piece of wood – if you don’t cut it according to the size and measure you need, it will be useless.
Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?
My mother, my sisters, and my brother.
What was the last great meal you had?
The last great meal was in Beirut in summer 2018: It was a real Lebanese meal shared with my beloved family. A great meal always needs great company…
What is your favorite city?
Which book would you give to a dear friend?
Waylat watan in Arabic – or the English version: Pity the Nation – Lebanon at War. The book was written by the British award-winning journalist Robert Fisk. The book is an account of the Lebanese civil war 1975 – 1990 which Fisk lived through and reported on.
Despite that this book is mainly about Lebanon, it can also help you to understand how big nations play with small countries.
What is your all-time favorite movie?
It’s difficult to choose only one film. Here are some films that are special to me:
- Stalingrad (2001; by De Jean-Jacques Annaud) – A Russian and a German sniper play a game of cat-and-mouse during the Battle of Stalingrad.
- Gladiator (2000; starring Russel Crowe): A former Roman General sets out to exact vengeance against the corrupt emperor who murdered his family and sent him into slavery.
- The Message/al-Risalah (1976, starring Anthony Quinn): This epic historical drama chronicles the life and times of Muhammad and serves as an introduction to early Islamic history. Remark: The director of this film – Moustapha Akkad – was coincidentally killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan.
- I also like Charlie Chaplin films (The Kid/1921, Modern Times/1936, …). Such amazing silent dramedies…
What music do you listen to?
My most favorite type of music is Nay (Arabic, Persian, Turkish styles: Saba, Hijaz, Nahawand, Kurd … Maqams). I feel that this instrumental music can relax your mind and each time I listen to it, I get an inspiration for future plans. I myself also play it a little bit.
When were you happiest?
In nature without noises or when looking at the sky during the night.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is to leave this world without implementing my ideas.
What is your life motto?
Life is simple and quick – just enjoy your precious time to enrich yourself with what you like most.
Habib Kassem, thank you for your time.
Picture credit: Habib Kassem and ICHIGO121212 from pixabay.