Monthly Archives: October 2006

A lesson in their stories

islam-lands.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ لِّأُوْلِي الأَلْبَابِ

Indeed in their stories, there is a lesson for men of understanding. (12:111)

There are a great many examples throughout Islamic classical literature in which the scholars, leaders, and pious men of the past urged and encouraged the Muslims to learn, speak and master classical Arabic, and avoid grammatical mistakes in their speech as much as they were able. The primary reason that drove the scholars of the past to systemize the rules of grammar was the grammatical solecisms (lahn لحن) that were beginning to creep into the tongue of the Arabs, due to the expansion of their borders which led them to mix with non-Arabs and be influenced by their language [among other reasons] and there was a fear that this would lead to an increase in making mistakes when reciting the Qur’an, as had happened in a number of previous cases.

Thus, very early on in the history of Islam we find such examples of encouraging the mastery of Arabic, among which are:

A man went to Ziyad ibn Abeehi and complained to him that his father had died and his brother had taken all the inheritence unlawfully, but made a grammatical mistake in his complaint. Ziyad replied, “The loss you have caused your soul is greater than what you have lost in your wealth.” [1]

It is reported that ‘Umar ibn Yazeed wrote to Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari (may Allaah be pleased with him) and said: ‘Learn the Sunnah and learn Arabic; learn the Qur’aan in Arabic for it is Arabic.’ [2]

According to another hadeeth narrated from ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him), he said: ‘Learn Arabic for it is part of your religion, and learn how the estate of the deceased should be divided (faraa’id) for these are part of your religion.’ [3]

This trend continued throughout the ages, and with the expansions of the Umayyad dynasty in the 7th Century C.E., solecisms became widespread such that they even afflicted the caliphs and leaders such as ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi. Language became a measure of status such that a man’s social standing would drop were he found to commit solecisms, to the extent that ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan was once told that he his hair had become gray very early, to which he replied, “It is due to my fear of ascending the pulpit and commiting a solecism during my sermon![4] He used to view solecisms in speech to be worse than ripping apart an expensive and precious garment. [5]

Men were often rewarded greatly for merely being able to speak fluently without mistakes, even if they were undeserving of the reward. For example, the Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azeez used to say, A man may come to me asking me for something he deserves, but if he commits a grammatical error while asking I deny him it, for it makes me feel as though I am nibbling at a peice of sour pomegranate due to my anger at hearing his mistake. Similarly, a man may come to me asking for something he does not deserve, but if he says it with correct speech I grant him it, due to my delighting at the speech I hear from him. [6]

These are but a handful of examples of this nature; the books of classical literature are replete with much more of the same.

It is often said that one of the main benefits of studying history is to learn from the past. May Allaah grant us the insight and wisdom to take heed of what our predecessors urged. Ameen.

[1] ‘Uyoon al-Akhbaar 2/159
[2] and [3] Iqtidaa’ al-Siraat al-Mustaqeem, 2/207
[4] Tarikh Dimishq
[5] Uyoon al-Akhbaar 2/158
[6] al-Addaar p245


It’s a hit!

slapal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The Arabs have a number of words to express specific ways of hitting. When reading the below, pay attention also to any instances of al-ishtiqaaq al-akbar to increase your wonder and marvel at the richness of this language.

To hit on the front part of the head using the ball of the hand الراحة (the palm but not the fingers) : saqa’a صقع

To hit on the nape of the neck using the ball of the hand : safa’a صفع

To hit on the face using the ball of the hand : sakka صك

To hit on the cheek using the palm الكف outstretched (the ball of the hand including the fingers) : latama لطم

To hit on the cheek using the palm in a fist : lakama لكم

To hit on the cheek using both hands : ladama لدم

To hit on the chin and jawbone : wahaza وهز

To hit on the side of the body : wakhaza وخز

To hit on the chest and stomach using the palm: wakaza وكز

To hit using the knee: zabana زبن

To hit with the leg : rakala ركل

Every hit that makes a sound : safaqun صفق

The Science of Language

phpoztwyzam.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Since the dawn of early Islam, and largely provoked by the doctrine of the miracle of the Qur’an’s linguistic inimitability, scholars of both Arab and non-Arab stock concerned themselves with studying the Arabic Language deeply and comprehensively. They were able to establish a range of sciences (‘uloom) into which the letters, words, and constructions of Arabic all fell. It is important to be aware of these sciences to fully understand the depth and breadth of the Arabic language, and the various angles through which it may be studied. These sciences may be divided into three main categories, each of which is further divided into sub-categories as follows:


1. Sciences related to the letters. They fall into two sub-categories:

i. That which deals with the articulation and sound of the letter. This is known as ‘ilm al-sawt (‘the science of phonology’), or ‘ilm al-tajweed (‘the science of art of pronunciation’)

ii. That which deals with the written representation of the letter. This is known as ‘ilm al-harf (‘the science of orthography’), or ‘ilm al-hijaa’ (‘the science of spelling’).


2. Sciences related to the words, with regards their meaning and form. They fall into four sub-categories:

i. That which deals with the meanings and connotations of words, and the vowelling of the words (on all but the last letters). This is known as ‘ilm al-lughah (‘the science of philology’).

ii. That which deals with the manner in which these words were attributed to their objects. This is known as ‘ilm al-wad.

iii. That which deals with the nature of the letters of these words, with regards to any additions, subtractions, transformations, exchanges, changes in the vowelling, and so on. This is known as ‘ilm al-sarf (‘the science of morphology’).

iv. That which deals with the origins and branches of the words, the relationship between them, and the manner in which some are formed from others. This is known as ‘ilm al-ishtiqaaq (‘the science of etymology’).


3. Sciences related to the constructions, with regards their meaning and form. They fall into four sub-categories:

i. That which deals with the relationship of some meanings to others, and the requirements of this relationship, as embodied in and indicated by the vowel on the end of each word. This is known as ‘ilm al-nahw (‘the science of syntax’).

ii. That which deals with the characteristics of speech composition by virtue of which they conform to the requirements of the occasion. This is known by ‘ilm al-ma’aani (‘the science of meanings’). This was considered the most important science of Arabic balaaghah (rhetoric) to the Arabs.

iii. That which deals with the different ways of expressing the various shades of a single meaning. This is known as ‘ilm al-bayaan (‘the science of style’).

iv. That which deals with the artistic embellishment of speech. This is known as ‘ilm al-badi’ (‘the science of rhetorical figures’).


There are also a further two sciences related to poetic constructions:

i. That which deals with the metres of poetry. This is known as ‘ilm al-‘arood (‘the science of prosody’).

ii. That which deals with the ends of each line of poetry. This is known as ‘ilm al-qaafiyah (‘the science of rhyme’)


May Allah grant us a deep understanding of the language of the Qur’an, and bless those in the past who exerted their efforts to master the language, and then simplify and explain it to us in an accessible manner. Ameen!

Purity in corruption.

purity.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There is a long standing disagreement between supporters of classical Arabic الفصحى vs. supporters of colloquial Arabic العامية with regards which should prosper. The former group sought to avoid colloquial words at all cost, regardless of how correct they were or how well they expressed the intended meaning, while the latter group avoided unfamiliar and uncommon words claiming they were difficult to pronounce.

In reaction to this conflict there emerged a number of authors, led by Ibrāhīm ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Mazinī, who deemed it necessary to try and bring these two factions together, by employing in their writings many words that are commonly uttered by the colloquial tongue, but which are actually correct and classical words.

There also appeared a new branch of lexicography which dealt with this phenomenon of words commonly accepted as colloquial, but with strong classical roots. Among these were Tahdhīb al-Alfādh al-‘Āmmiyyah by Muhammad ‘Alī al-Dasūqī, al-Muhkam fī Usūl al-Lughah al-‘Āmmiyyah by Ahmad ‘Īsā, al-‘Āmmiyyah al-Fushā by Mahmūd Taymūr, and Alfādh ‘Āmmiyyah Fasīhah by Muhammad Dawūd al-Tanayyur, which includes one thousand four hundred words so commonly used in speech that people think them to be colloquial words, but which are “pure, standard Arabic words, acceptable to use in writings, speeches, literature, stories, plays and the like.”

Many such words are those in which the hamzah ء has been diluted into an alif ا sound (more commonly) or sometimes a wāw or a yā’ sound, such as in the colloquial word istannā استنى (‘wait’) used in the place of ista’annā استأنى, badayt بديت (‘I began’) used in the place of bada’t بدأت, jā جا (‘he came’) used in the place of jā’a جاء, and commonly used in the construction jā bi-al-[ta’ām for e.g.] جا بالطعام* instead of jā’a bi al-ta’ām, shā شا instead of shā’a شاء as in the phrase Mā shā Allāh ما شا الله instead of mā shā’a Allāh ما شاء الله, wayn وين (‘where’) used in the place of ayna أين, and so on. This omission of the hamzah is permissible when done for the sake of takhfīf (ease) in speech, as takhfīf is accepted to be one of the dialects (lughāt) of the Arabs.

Other examples of common words wrongly thought to be colloquial are:

Ikhsa اخسَ as in the phrase ikhsa ‘alayk اخس عليك used to rebuke someone. This is actually used in the Qur’an as in the verse (23:108):

قَالَ اخْسَؤُوا فِيهَا وَلَا تُكَلِّمُونِ

He (Allah) will say: “Remain you in it with ignominy! And speak you not to Me!”

and (2:65),

فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُواْ قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ

We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.”

It is correct in its colloquial usage.

Idayh إديه used in place of yadayh يديه (his two hands). This is one of the dialects of Arabic, and is acceptable to use.

Imbārih امبارح (‘yesterday’). It is used in place of al-bārih البارح, and is acceptable because in the Yemeni dialect the letter lām is turned into a meem, and thus they say law mā لوما in the place of law lā لولا .

Aysh أيش used to mean ayyu shay’ أي شيء. This is an acceptable example of naht and is fine to use formally. It is mentioned in Shifā’ al-‘Alīl that this was heard from the Arabs.

Kikh كِخْ is a words used when speaking to children to indicate something is bad. It is mentioned in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that al-Hasan or al-Husayn** ate a date that was bought using money given in charity, so the Prophet (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) said to him, “Kikh! Kikh! Do you not know that my family is not allowed to take charity?!”

So carefully consider your speech next time you scold a person for using colloquial words, for you may be scolding them for using pure, correct Arabic!

*Note that it is not jāb al-ta’ām جاب الطعام in the colloquial, as is commonly thought

** The children of ‘Alī and Fātimah (may Allah be pleased with them). As Fātimah was the Prophet’s (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) daughter, al-Hasan and al-Husayn were his (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) grandchildren.