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Divine Tongues

When Mohammad Arif, a 26-year-old master’s candidate in Arabic at Jawaharlal Nehru University, graduated from Madrasa Taleem-ul-Quran in south Delhi a decade ago, his career prospects seemed dim. After years of religious education, and without having studied subjects such as economics or the sciences, he had few lucrative skills. Like many of his peers, he seemed destined to pursue either teaching in a madrasa as a maulana, or preaching at a mosque as an imam. He did neither. When we spoke on the phone in early September, Arif was sure he would make a good living as an Arabic-to-English translator. “Medium of lecture has always been Urdu at madrasas, but Arabic is also taught. It gives us a unique advantage because no other community understands or is even interested in this language.”

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