Mute until Age Four, Palestinian Girl Speaks Like a Scholar

31.03.11 – 14:16 Osama Awad – PNN/Exclusive – She’s a little girl in the flower of her youth, but she didn’t say a word until she was four years old. Then one day, Jihan Abu Aliya started speaking unlike any other child her age—in the language of the Qur’an.


Child phenom Jihan Abu Aliya (PNN Images).











Standard Arabic, known as fusha, is the official language of Palestine and the language of Islam and Arab literature. But like in other Arab countries, it is used sparingly in Palestine, where local dialects take prominence.

In her home in Dheisheh, a refugee camp in Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, Jihan grew up with a loving family. But as the years went on, her parents feared she was mute. She watched television regularly. Then one day, shortly after she turned four, she began speaking to the other children in kindergarten and on the soccer field in perfect fusha.

Jihan visibly surprised the other children, but they quickly understood her and got used to her. The news traveled quickly out of the kindergarten. When she takes to her other loves of drawing and coloring, she describes her work in perfect fusha.

“This is a deep green and this is orange,” explains Jihan. “I have drawn my friend the bear, as well as the apple fruit, which I love, in the color red.”

Jihan says she is grateful for how well her family treats her and the books they buy her to help her improve her skills in classical Arabic. She says she dreams of becoming “something very important” one day, maybe a doctor, but she hasn’t decided what kind.


Jihan and her brother Mua’taz (PNN Images).

Jihan’s older brother, Mua’taz Abu Aliya, shows some of her linguistic talents, consistently placing at the top of his class. In fact, his mastery of the harakat—case vowelization—is matched only by his physical abilities: Mua’taz can put his foot behind his head while his hands are clasped behind his back.



Ibrahim Abu Aliya, the father of the two, says he was “deeply surprised” by Jihan’s sudden fluency in classical Arabic. He says he suffered for four years, speaking to doctors in vain efforts to get Jihan to speak. When she spoke up in the language of the Qur’an, he deemed it a miracle.



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