Urdu in the UK

Posted: 6 Zul-Hijjah 1423, 8 February 2003

The hottest news of the day is that the Manchester police force is going to learn Urdu to improve community relations. It is a common language spoken and understood by South Asian community in the whole of United Kingdom. For Muslims it is known as Urdu and Hindus call it Hindi. Urdu is a Turkish word means armed forces. Urdu script is based on Persian script. It is a common language from Kabul to Burma.

Urdu is one of the most modern languages created by Indian Muslims about 600 years ago. The first Governor General of British Bengal was appointed because he was well versed in Urdu and Persian. This means that the common language of Bengal in the 17th century was Urdu and Persian. Queen Victoria hired an Indian Muslim to teach Urdu and his portrait can still be seen in the Royal Palaces. The official language of the Sikh Empire during 18th century was also Urdu. Majority of Asian TV channels and radio stations broadcast in Urdu/Hindi for about 20 hours a day and couple of hours are given to Punjabi, Bengali, Gujrati and Tamil. All British cinemas show Asian films in Urdu/Hindi.

The move will help police force to understand the cultural pattern of the Muslim community in particular. I hope that in future all police forces will be given chance to learn Urdu so that they can study Islamic literature and poetry to understand Islam and Muslim community. In my opinion, civil servants and teachers need to learn Urdu to improve community relations. According to a study by Derby University, majority of British teachers have no respect for Islamic faith and Muslim community. It is a well known fact that education is the home of institutional racism and those who are involved in the educational process should have the knowledge of Urdu language. During the British Raj, special allowance was given to an employee who had learned Urdu.

British education system has never been serious in the teaching of foreign languages. The first wave of Muslims arrived with three or four languages including Standard English but the young generations of Muslims only know English in local accents. It is crucial for Muslim children to learn Standard English to follow National Curriculum; Arabic and Urdu languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots. They need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers to receive balanced education. In my opinion those state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority may be designated as Muslim community schools. The move will help to improve community relations, which are at the bottom for the time being. [Iftikhar Ahmad]