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


28 responses to “A lesson in their stories

  1. al-Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah.

    Jazakamullahu khairan.

    I also read that ‘al-lahnu fil kalam aqbahu min atharil judari fil wajhi’ or something… not quite sure who said it.


  2. Assalam ‘Alikum

    Jazakallah Khairan katheeran.

    Walikum Assalam

  3. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    Yusuf, wa iyyakum. Jazakum Allaahu khayran for sharing that. It was actually said by Maslamah, the son of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, and can be found in ‘Uyoon al-Akhbaar 2/158.

    For others, the translation of the quote that Yusuf put up is “Solecisms in speech are uglier than chicken pox on the face.” (The narration I found did not have the word athar therefore I did not translate it).

    Yaser, wa iyyaakum khayr al-jazaa’.

  4. JazakAllah for sharing that.

  5. It is a rare person that perfects his speech in any language in this day and age of world travel and the internet, but one who does is recognizd immediately. Thank you for sharing this.

    Ya Haqq!

  6. assalamu alaikum,

    I’ve noticed that many a times the arabs use the superiority of language as an excuse to assert their superiority over others. It has happened through out the history; from extorting jiziyah from muslim “mawlas” to the humiliating treatment of labor workers in present day khaleej. But, I beleive this is not the intended result of the idea behind superiority of arabic “language”. Wouldn’t you agree?

  7. wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    seekerofwisdom, wa iyyaakum.

    Irving, you are welcome.

    nuqtah, I completely agree with you on that point, and it is not the language that differentiates one person over another in the eyes of Allaah but rather their piety. Language is but a vehicle of communication, and if one knows a language and does not understand what is being communicated then it reflects them in a very bad light. This is the case for Arabs who understand classical Arabic and thus the Qur’an, but do not grasp or act upon its message.

    What is interesting is if one reads the history of how Arabic grammar was systemised, it becomes clear that the most care over learning and preserving the language was made by the muslim mawlas, more than the Arabs themselves.

  8. Yes, most Arabic gramarrians were non-Arab 🙂

    Subhaana Allah!

    Pride and arrogance are widepread in all individials and races, and in all fields – Arabic being one of them.

  9. al-Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah.

    This is off-topic and I hope you dont mind but I was reading how some Ulama criticised the plethora of nahw books that exist; shuruh, hawashiy, ta’liqat on book upon book. Ibn Khaldun, specifically, was supposed to have criticised excess authoring in fields that didnt require it and introducing various terminology, which, according to him, just made things harder for beginning students. Some other Shaykh was also supposed to have said that ‘Every book that followed Sibawayhi was just repitition’. I’ve hardly studied nahw but from what I’ve seen books do seem to be very repetitive in that they discuss and cover all the same theories and concepts, difference being: level of ibarah used and how far they delve in to differences. But maybe that is obvious.

    I wanted to ask what you think and if a beginniner were to limit himself to a few mutun to get maximum benefit, which would you recommend and why?

    wa jazakamullahu khair al-Jazaa’

  10. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    I see no problem having many annotated and explained versions of classical text books, for it helps bring more than one perspective to the whole science of Nahw, and Arabic in general.

    Some authors may find that a particular text is too difficult for certain readers, so they decide to explain it using simpler terms. Others may find that a certain book is too comprehensive and it would better if it were organized differently (perhaps divide it into volumes, or classify it by topics, etc..). Other original classical works are far to concise and need explanation like the various Mutuun. What may seem as a waste to one scholar may very well be a treasure for another or for a student.

    As an example, I would never refer back to Sibaweyhs book for grammar because frankly it is too difficult to understand sometimes. Rather, I’d refer to “Jaami3 Al-3uluum Al-3arabiyyah” for example. If I wanted something about morpholgy, Rady-ud-deen’s explanation of Ibn Haajib’s Shaafiyah would be a better book to look at in terms organization and content.

    In terms of books for beginners, there are many. If you just want rules, any explanation of Matn Al-Ajurrumiyyahis fine. If you want the meanings of grammatical constuction and their usage, a book titled “Ma3aanee Al-Nahw” by Dr. Faadil Al-Saamirraa’ee is a very good one (it is actually a pretty original and unique book which unfortunately cannot be obtained free online; you must buy it to get).

    Please note that I am speaking from a native Arabic speaker’s perspective. If you can’t understand the text of a classical (or contemporary) grammar books, then I’d advise that you take a beginner’s Arabic course and build your way up until you are able to comprehend those texts. A good beginners text is the one developed in Al-Madinah University (I can’t recall the exact title, it starts with “Arabic Course”), or perhaps “Al-Kitaab fee Ta3allum Al-3arabiyyah”.

    If I think of anything else, I’ll post it inshallah.

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum.

  11. Alhamduillah, I’m glad I found your blog today. This post was just the motivation I need to continue in my Tajweed class. I live in Saudi and I started the class today, against the advice of the admin. I was told that the class was hard enough for them and that perhaps I should study another juz instead. I did not want to continue in the hifdth until I knew the tajweed, plus that is the class I can learn the most fushaa in. I explained that to them, even though they find it amusing that I want to learn fushaa and nobody speaks it.

    I was at a halaqa the other day and a sister told me that when her family was in Syria, some relatives were speaking fushaa to some Syrian men. At the end of the conversation the men smiled and said, “Sadaqallahu Al Atheem.”

  12. al-Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah.

    Jazakallahu khairan Brother Billo for taking time out to write that.

    Ma’ani al-Nahw’s been on my list for ages, one day insha allah 🙂

    Sister UmmAdam, I’ve heard the ‘sadaqallahu al-Adheen’ tale many times and frankly I find it hard to believe. Even though they may struggle to understand fusha, I’m pretty sure they can differentiate between normal speech and the Quran.

    Why would someone bust out with Quran verses anyway? And if they know what “Sadaqallahu..” means because of its frequent usage after recital of the Quran then it follows that they know the style of the Quran, too.

    Not saying your story is not true though, just an observation.


  13. It seems to not bode too well for the many colloqial dialects in existence today… what are your opinions on those, incidentally?

    I for one have found the study of formal Arabic (classical/MSA) to be very rewarding, but also very difficult, especially with the majority of Arabs around me being able to only speak/listen to their native dialect.

    This blog continues to inspire me for further study! 🙂

  14. Yusuf, the problem wasn’t that they couldn’t differentiate between the kalam and the Quran. They were mocking because it was ajeeb to them.

    Kind of like, if someone approached you speaking King James or Shakespearean English. You would be like, “Where fore aught thou?”

  15. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    Yusuf, Billo gave you a comprehensive answer maa shaa’ Allaah. I do agree with him in that I do not see much of a problem having different books on nahw, but only as long as their method of presentation and explanation is different from others, as different books appeal to different people depending on their learning styles. There are many books which repeat the contents of other books and without much difference in content or presentation – this perhaps is excessive.

    I also agree that ma3aanee al-Nahw is an oustanding work, however I would only recommend it to someone who already knew the grammar rules and wanted to then go one step deeper in their understanding of it.

    ummadam, I was pleased to read that the site motivated you to continue your tajweed classes, may Allaah put barakah in it and grant you tawfeeq to persevere. Ameen.

    dawood, I do not have as rigid an attitude towards the dialects as some people, after having learnt that many dialectical words are also acceptable as standard and correct (faseeh) Arabic.

    However, I do think that dialects should only be used when one knows the difference between the dialect and fusha. A friend of mine teaches Arabic to a young boy, the son of the Kuwaiti Ambassador in their country. Upon seeing his teacher write the word dujaaj دجاج (chicken) in his notebook recently, the boy insisted to his teacher, “I told you to write duyaay! duyaay! why do you keep writing it [wrongly] as dujaaj?!” (In the Kuwaiti dialect, the sound ‘j’ is pronounced ‘y’)!

  16. LOL “Duyaay”

    That brings back so many memories!

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum

  17. al-Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah.

    Oops, ok sorry Umm adam.

    Jazakamullahu khaira


  18. assalaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullaah,

    Maashaa’allaah, a fabulous site.
    Baarakallaahu feekum, May Allaah reward you abundantly for enlivening the importance of studying Arabic!

    I was wondering what you think of the importance of learning Calligraphy (الرسم الخطي) after studying some ‘Ilmul-Qawaafee? Our teacher advised us to consider focusing on becoming proficient in at least one of the well known scripts (from النسخ / الرقعة / الكوفي / الديواني / التعليق / الثلث )… which script would you suggest? And how long would you advise being spent on it?

  19. In my humble opinion:

    الرقعة is the easiest (but least beautiful in my opinion) as it is the typical writing of common folk
    النسخ is just as easy and more elegant
    الثلث is the most difficult but is just amazing
    الديواني is easier than الثلث, and pretty nice too

    In the end, it all comes done to effort you want to put in and what you like best. Frankly, I’m no artist, and caligraphy is beyond me; but my handwritng is acceptable.

    Those are my two cents. 🙂

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum,

  20. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa Rahmat Allah,

    Jazakum Allaahu khayran Billo.

    Taalibul-‘Ilm, wa iyyaakum. My own personal opinion with regards calligraphy is that for the Arab who already has a grasp of Arabic, it is fine, and it is an art that has a historical legacy for the Muslims and the Arabs.

    Similarly, if a person would like to take it up as a hobby, as form of relaxation, etc., I have no problems with it.

    If, however, we are talking about a student of Arabic learning calligraphy as a discipline at the expense perhaps of other studies, I would tend to disincline from that. There is alot of work to be done in terms of spreading and reviving the knowledge of Arabic, and the science of calligraphy is a very deep and intricate one; I used to have a teacher who had spent two years studying calligraphy and nothing else, and another who had spent four!

    If one has not yet memorised the Qur’an, I would advise them to memorise the Qur’an first. If they are not proficient in Arabic, I would advise them to become proficient in Arabic first. If they have memorised the Qur’an and have reached a level of proficiency in Arabic, I would advise them to teach what they have learnt to others first.

    I do not advocate bad handwriting, and if you simply mean learning how to write in ruq’ah or naskh (i personally prefer the ruq’ah style btw) in a manner that is legible, neat, and attractive then I would support that. I am talking about dedicated time spent towards studying the science with all its intricacies and precisions.

    This is my personal opinion, that has only been offered due to it being asked. I do not belittle the efforts and skill and art of those who have become proficient in this field, and I respect them highly.

  21. Assalaamu ‘alaykum

    I want to learn proper ruq’ah script. I was looking at either of these books, perhaps someone could recommend something better or tell of their experiences, if any, with these:



    The latter is a lot cheaper 🙂 but I’d rather spend more and learn more.

    Jazaakallahu khayran for any help.

  22. Also if there are any books to learn naskh instead that would cool too because I don’t really like the look of ruq’ah… but that does not matter too much I guess. I like naskh and it looks pretty simple.

  23. I find this offending and unislamic. It is the niyaah (intentions ) behind your deeds that counts. Can you imagine the consequence of this if it was used in the real world. Someone with a deep accent in a different country could be easily discriminated. I hope this incident is wrongly qouted.

    “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]

  24. Before you call something unIslamic, you should really find out if it is authentic, instead of hoping that it is unauthentic. You could be saying something very unjust by calling the statement of Umar رضي الله عنه unIslamic.

  25. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  26. Also if there are any books to learn naskh instead that would cool too because I don’t really like the look of ruq’ah… but that does not matter too much I guess. I like naskh and it looks pretty simple.

  27. Useful information

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