Qur'anic Arabic


qiyamahAll praise is for Allah. We praise him and seek his assistance. May the Salah and Salam be upon the Messenger of Allah and all those who follow the Prophetic Path until the last day. Amma ba’d: Many brothers have asked me about learning the Arabic language and the best way to arrive at an understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah. In response to these brothers I put this small essay together. May Allah grant us Ikhlaas and success in our efforts. Some of the salaf used to say,

“Man dakhala fil ilm jumlatan, kharaja minhu jumlatan.”:

“Whoever entered into knowledge all at once, it shall leave him all at once.”

It is binding upon the student of any subject to gain an understanding and basic conception of what exactly he/she is studying. In Arabic this is called ‘tasawwur’. The lack of a proper ‘tasawwur’ concerning the method of learning Arabic is perhaps the biggest problem facing those that attempt to learn Arabic in the west. One simply has to look at the many numerous books on the Arabic language that are currently on the market in the west. With all of these books available, it would seem like everyone in the Muslim community would know Arabic by now but that is not the case. The reason for this lack of learning despite the presence of many decent books is built upon my previous statement about the lack of ‘tasawwur’. As for those who have no desire to learn Arabic or only claim that they want to learn while expending no efforts in that path, I ask allah to give them tawfeeq and desire to understand the language of the qur’an and sunnah.

What is the Arabic language?

a) The Arabic language is a Semitic language that is primarily based upon three letter root words. For example we say ‘madh’hab’, this word comes from the root- dhaal-haa’-baa’. This word is derived from the root verb dha’haba. It is expected that those reading this already know this.

b) The Arabic language is composed of different sciences. When someone learns Arabic s/he must understand that he is in fact learning three sciences. Realizing this separation between the various sciences assist the student of Arabic in grasping the language. With this he will know where the language begins and where it ends. It is indeed unfortunate that most modern books of Arabic language instruction fail to even mention this. See what I mean when I spoke about the lack of ‘tasawwur’?

The sciences of Arabic are in fact twelve in number. However the sciences that are the most important for the understanding of the qur’an and sunnah are three:

I. Nahw: It is most often translated as ‘grammar’. Nahw is a study of the language and the various rules governing the words as they appear in a sentence. For example I will now mention to you three sentences and discuss the difference between them please pay close attention.

• 1. ‘la tashrubil-laban wa ta’kulu as-samak’

• 2. ‘la tashrubil-laban wa ta’kulis-samak’

• 3. ‘la tashrubil-laban wa ta’kula as-samak’

What is the difference between these three in meaning? The difference between them is in the ending of the verb ‘ta’kul’ which means to eat. In the first sentence ‘ta’kul’ ends with a dummah. In the second sentence the verb ‘ta’kul ends with a sukuun. In the third sentence however, the last letter of ‘ta’kul’ ends with a fathah. The difference occurs because of the different usages for the ‘waw’. In the first sentence the ‘waw’ is the ‘waw’ signifying a separation. It means, “Do not drink the milk and (but no problem) your eating fish." In the second sentence the ‘waw’ is the ‘waw’ of joining. The sentence means, “Do not drink the milk or eat the fish.” In the third sentence the ‘waw’ signifies a unity of action (ma’aiyah). This sentence means, “Do not drink the milk and eat the fish at the same time.” All of these changes in meaning took place due to the type of ‘waw’ used. The changes were not only in the actual structure of the harakaat (vowels) in the words, but also in the meaning of the sentences.

II. Sarf: It is often translated as ‘morphology’. The actual meaning of sarf is: “The metamorphosing or changing of the ‘asl (base/root word) to many different examples so as to achieve meanings that could not otherwise be achieved.” The science of sarf is mostly relegated to verbs and that which derives from them. This change is done to stretch the meaning and to also make pronunciation easy upon the toque. An example of changing the meaning through sarf is manipulating the verb ‘nasara’. From ‘nasara’ we may derive the following: Nasara, Nas’sara, Naasara, tanaasara, anassara, istansara, mansar, naasir, munasar, mansoor.... All of these words come from one root verb - nasara. As for making it easy upon the tonque I will provide one example. Let us take the word ‘scale' in Arabic. It is called ‘meezaan’. This word comes from the root verb ‘wazana’ which means to weigh. According to a principle of sarf the thing which is used to do this action will sound like ‘mif’aal’. If we were to apply this principle here the item used for the act of weighing would be ‘meewzaan’. Due to the difficulty found in pronouncing that upon the tonque we replace the ‘waw’ with a ‘yaa’ to make it easier. This simplification is broken down into set principles known in sarf. Properly applying principles of sarf can sometimes spell the difference between imaan and kufr. For example Allah said about himself in the Qur’an that he is ‘al-musaawir’-the fashioner. If someone was to pronounce the ‘waw’ with a fathah instead of a kasrah the word would mean ‘al-musaawar’-the fashioned one (the one fashioned by another). Of course the ignorant one making this mistake would be excused but this simply shows you the importance of sarf in the Arabic language.

III. Balaaghah: It is a science dealing with the eloquence of the Arabic language and how to convey proper meanings according to the situation. Balaaghah also deals with the meanings of words and they take shape in their different usage. Balaaghah is essential in fully understanding the I’jaaz (miraculous) nature of the quran. An example of balaaghah may be taken from the Qur’an. Allah the most high said in Surah al-Ankabut, “Alif Laam Meem. Do people think that they will be left alone saying,” we believe” and will not be tested with fitnah? Certainly those before them were tested with fitnah-so that Allah may make it known those were truthful and make it known who are the liars." In this noble verse Allah (Almighty) said “...so that Allah may make it known those who were truthful” in this part of the verse Allah used the past tense verb ‘sadaqoo’ which indicates that they were truthful in the past so the test and trial only made apparent that which was already there in the past - truthfulness. Allah then said, “...and to make it known those who are liars.” In this part of the verse Allah speaks about those who didn’t pass the test as being liars. Here he used the word 'kaadhibeen’. In the science of Balaaghah we learn that this descriptive word-or sifah implies an established state of the person who is described with this quality. Allah spoke about the Jews and how they disbelieved in some of the Prophets and that some they even killed. This was mentioned in the past tense in Surah Al-Baqarah. However when we look at the verse we see a special rule of Balaaghah that gives us more meaning than what is found in the English translation. Allah said about them, “fa fareeqan kadh’dhabtum wa fareeqan taqtuloon.”: “So a group of them you denied and a group of them you killed.” Allah spoke about them saying that they denied a group of the Prophets. He used the past tense verb kadh-dhabtum. However we find in the end of the verse he said that some of them they killed by using the PRESENT TENSE verb ‘taqtuloon’. In the science of Balaaghah we learn that if a present tense verb is used in a past tense context it then signifies what is called ‘istimraar’ or continuance. Therefore the meaning of this verse in the context of Balaaghah is that the Jews used to deny and kill the Prophets and that they will continue to kill-in this case killing the followers of the Prophets way and true path. This is mentioned in Tafseer of Al-Aluusee and in Tafseer ibn Sa’ood.

Learning Arabic-were do I start?

This depends on you. What do you wish to do with your knowledge of Arabic? A boxer will do a workout of a boxer to prepare for a fight. A runner will do a workout that enables him to win his race. If a runner does the workout of a boxer he will not achieve his goal of winning a race. And likewise the boxer who does the workout of a runner will not have the strength to win his fight. So looking at it with this view you must ask yourself: "What do I want to do with Arabic?" If you wish to read the paper only, perhaps the advises listed here will not be a big benefit to you. And likewise the same for the one who only wishes to become a doctor or chemist in an Arabic speaking country. If your reason for learning Arabic is to understand the words of your creator and words of your Prophet (peace be upon him) and the knowledge that comes from the books and tongues of the Scholars then this advice should be of some benefit inshaa’ Allah.

Listed below are some concepts to ponder upon:

  • You must understand Arabic in Arabic.
  • Being a self-translator is not the goal
  • There is no ‘one book ‘ that will teach you all of what you need to know of Arabic.
  • Non-Arabs have been learning Arabic for over 1,400 years from Africa to Indonesia so it is incorrect to assume that we cant learn as they did in the past.
  • The traditional method of learning Arabic is tried and true and we are in no need of new ways to learn the language.
  • You will not learn Arabic by simply taking one part of the plan. What I mean is that if you learn grammar only you will not know Arabic. And if you learn new vocabulary only you will not really know Arabic. Rather you must take all of it.

Where to begin? That is the question.

The reality is that it is very difficult to learn Arabic in the west without a good teacher, determination, time, Arabs or Arabic speaking brothers/sisters to mix with and learn from association. It is my personal opinion that one should begin with a basic lesson in Sarf from the book ‘binaa al-afa’aal’. Learning Sarf in the beginning is the best thing for non-Arabs. In fact this is the way Arabic is still taught in Turkey, India, Pakistan and other non Arab Muslim countries. Learning basic Sarf will assist the person in utilizing his dictionary properly, which in this time of learning he will have as his constant companion. (Note: the best dictionary in Arabic to English is Hans wehr without argument.) The student should learn the basic verb patterns and basic skills in using the dictionary. After this, he will be ready to learn more and look up words with relative ease.

The student should now learn basic grammar. The best book in this area for beginners is the book ‘al-Aajroomiyyah’. It is a small book outlining the fundamentals of grammar that are indispensable in understanding Arabic. There are some brothers that have learnt ‘Al-Aajroomiyyah’ and grasped concepts that the 3rd year college student studying Arabic couldn’t. One should study this book with a good teacher who will make him understand the fundamentals of the book without going into detailed discussions of grammar issues. As we said earlier, learning grammar is not enough, so you must also learn how to pick up words to increase your vocabulary. This part is the most time consuming, sometimes taking years to develop. Here are some practical advises in this regard:

  • You must read as much as you can. Start by reading small books on different issues in Arabic. Take a notepad and write the new words down. When you look up a word in the dictionary, underline it with a pencil. If you look up the word again in the future and see that you marked it with your pencil, you must memorize that word, as you will more than likely see it again and again. Don’t write the meanings of the words in English down in your book that you are reading. That is because you only read the meaning and not the actual word in Arabic this way.
  • You must also learn through listening. In this way you learn how Arabic is spoken and how certain ideas are conveyed. The best thing is to listen and act as if you understand everything you hear. If you cant find a speaker giving a talk then buy some tapes of the Scholars and Students of Knowledge. Some of the clearest speakers are Shaykh Muhammad al-Uthaymeen, Shaykh al-Albani, Shaykh Muhammad al-Mukhtaar Ash-Shanqeetee, and Shaykh Saalih Aal Ash-Shaykh. It is also advisable to listen to tapes of those who are not so clear to gain mastery in listening skills. Some of the best ones for that are Shaykh Abdul-Aziz ibn Baaz, Shaykh Jibreen & Shaykh Aa'id al-Qarni.
  • Listen to the Qur'an while attempting to understand.
  • Try to understand the Arabic language in Arabic. Don’t be like some people who only wish to translate everything into their own native tongue. This will take time but it is very important and will cause you to understand Arabic as it is.
  • Talk as much as you can to those Arabs who can correct you and help you in learning.
  • The most important thing is to always read. If you don’t read you will not gain mastery over the language. You must read even if you don’t want to. Reading will give you a glimpse into the various sciences of the Deen and increase your vocabulary.
  • In the beginning make your primary focus understanding. Most of us will know more words that we can even think to mention in a conversation with an Arab. The same goes for English.
  • In learning Arabic, try to test yourself by gauging your progress:

Level 1/ Reading and understanding the book Qisas an-Nabiyyeen for the first three months.

Level 2/ Reading and understanding the book "Al-Aqeedah As-Saheehah wa ma yudaduha" by Shaykh bin Baz (rahimahullah) for the second three-month period.

Level 3/ Reading and understanding Tafseer ibn Katheer for the third three month period.

Level 4/ Reading and understanding "Fath al-Majeed, Sharh Kitaab at-Tawheed" for the forth three month period.

Level 5/ Reading and Understanding Al-Fawaa’id by Imaam Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) for the fifth three month period.

Level 6/ Reading and understanding Hilyah Taalibil-ilm by Shaykh Bakr Abu Zaid for the sixth three month period. Many may disagree with the books listed in each level but I firmly believe that a person can understand these books (except some vocabulary) after 18 months.

Stay away from English books and lectures. Cutting your ties with them will give you more determination to learn.

Advanced study

As for an advanced study of Arabic, one must traverse the following path:

  • In grammar - Start with the book ‘At-Tuhfah as-Sanniyyah bi Sharhil-Muqqadimatil- Ajrumiyyah’. This book is perhaps the best explanation of Al-Aajrumiyyah. After this book, learn the book, ‘Sharh Qatr an-Nada’ by Ibn Hishaam. After that if one likes he may study Alfiyyah Ibn Maalik. Another good book to read is ‘Jaami’ Duroos al-Arabiyyah’.
  • In Sarf - Start with the book ‘Binaa’ al-Af’aal’. After that, move on to the book, ‘Al-Maqsood’. For more advanced study, learn the poem in Sarf entitled, ‘Laamiyah Al-Af’aal’ by Ibn Maalik.
  • In Balaaghah - Start with the book ‘Al-Balaaghah al-Waadhihah’. After that one may study ‘Uqood az-Zimaam’ by as-Suyooti.

Perhaps the best books to read after the Book of Allah and the Books of Sunnah - to gain strength in the language are the books of Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) and Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (rahimahullah). Don’t rely on any one book to learn Arabic. The Madinah books are not enough in my opinion. Take this advice and seek the tawfeeq of Allah, you should see some progress Inshaa'Allah.

And Allah knows Best.

quranpicgreenThe Praise is for Allâh, the one who has honoured us with the Qur’ân, and chosen for us the noblest of languages, and the peace and the blessings be upon the best one of the ones who articulated themselves in Arabic, and the most-preferred from the servants of Allâh, Our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and his family and his distinguished companions.

The Arabic language is the language of the Noble Qur’ân, and with it, the Qur’ân was revealed upon the seal of the Messengers, so attention to the Arabic language is to have attention to the Book of Allâh the Most High and the studying and the practising of it helps in the understanding of the Noble Book of Allâh and the narration of the master of the Prophets, Muhammad (Peace be upon him). It is also the language of our esteemed Islamic law (As-Sharee’ah), so when we defend it we are not proceeding on a path of nationalism or racism or culturalism, but in fact we are defending the language of our religion (way of life) and it is the cloak of our Islamic Civilisation.

As such, Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:

“The Arabic Language is from the Religion, and the knowledge of it is an obligation. For surely the understanding of the Qur’ân and the Sunnah is an obligation, and these two are not understood except with the understanding of the Arabic Language, and whatever obligation is not fulfilled except by certain steps then those steps themselves become obligatory (to fulfil the initial obligation)” [The Necessity Of The Straight Path by Ibn Taymiyyah ( 1/470)]

So then the knowledge of the Arabic language is essential for every Muslim so that he can perform his religious acts of worship and he can be proficient in the recitation of the Noble Qur’ân. Allâh says in His Book (which means):

“Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’ân in order that you may understand” (Soorah Yusuf: 2)

And likewise the Most-Glorious said (which means):

“And thus We have inspired unto you (O Muhammad) an Arabic Qur’ân that you may warn the mother of the towns (Makkah) and all around it” (Soorah ash-Shura: 7)

And The Exalted said (which means):

“And truly this (the Qur’ân) is a revelation from the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists), which the trustworthy Ruh (Jibreel) has brought down upon your heart (O Muhammad) that you may be (one) of the warners, in the plain Arabic language” (Soorah ash-Shura: 192-195)

And He the Most High also said (which means):

“A Book whereof the verses are explained in detail, a Qur’ân in Arabic for people who know” (Soorah Fussilat: 3)

So from these verses we see why the Arabic Language has reached its station due to the fact that Allâh has guaranteed its protection when He undertook upon Himself the preservation of this Noble Qur’ân since it is the language of that Book.

The Most Merciful said (which means):

“Verily! It is We who have sent down the Reminder (i.e. the Qur’ân) and surely We will guard it (from corruption)” (Soorah Hijr: 9)

Despite this, many of the Muslims are content by spending their whole lives reading a translation of the Qur’ân and so depriving themselves of the miracle of the Speech Of Allâh. Also a translation implies a human factor, which goes against the very essence of the Book of Allâh. Also, the person who does not know Arabic, will have added difficulty in his concentration during his prayers and also in his understanding of the Sunnah. This is because a language is just not a collection of words which can readily be translated into another language but is a whole way of thinking.

Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali (Translator of the Noble Qur’ân) writes:

“It is a pity that many nations are only satisfied in the translated meaning of the Qur’ân and Prophet's Sunnah instead of studying the (true) Arabic text of the Qur’ân and Prophet’s Sunnah. For this reason they are divided into various sects (due to the lack of knowledge about the religion of Islam) e.g. as regards to the ways of religious education, etc. so they are plunged in differences, which was prohibited by Allâh. If the translation of the meaning of the Qur’ân is meant for the above said purpose then it is a real mischief-doing, and an evil action and is against what was brought by Allâh’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) and also against the opinions of the early present day religious scholars. All the religious scholars unanimously agree that the Qur’ân and the Sunnah should be taught in the language of the Qur’ân (i.e. Arabic Language). So did the early religious scholars of the Muslim nation when they conquered different countries.

Translations are mainly meant for informing the people who have not yet embraced Islam to make clear to them the principles of Islam and the teachings of Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and to know its exact facts. When they reach this state and Allâh has blessed them with Islam, they must take the Qur’ânic and the Messenger’s Language (i.e. Arabic) as the only language to understand Islam.

May Allâh's mercy be on Shaykh 'Umar Uzbak, a great Turkish man, who strove for Islam in Uzbakistan under the Russian government, after his long fight against the enemies of Islam with fire (iron) and tongue (speech), he took refuge in Afghanistan at Kabul, where the government honoured him. I met him there in 1352 A.H. (approx. 1932 CE) i.e. nearly 40 years ago, and he had vowed to Allâh that he will never speak to a relative or anybody else except in the Qur’ânic and Messenger's (Arabic) language. His wife sent a man for me to intercede for her to him that he should speak with her and her children in the Turkish language even for an hour everyday. So when I spoke to him about it, he said:

'Russians had compelled us to learn perfectly the Russian language (by force), so we learnt it. And unless they knew that the learning of the Russian language will make the person who learns it, follow their ways of thinking, characters, and their traditions, they would not have forced anybody to learn it.'

He further said to me,

'I have vowed to Allâh long ago not to speak except in the language of the Qur’ân and Sunnah (i.e. Arabic) and I do that only for Allâh's sake. If my wife and children desire to enjoy speaking with me, they should learn the language of the Qur’ân and of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) (i.e. Arabic) and I am ready to teach them the Qur’ânic language whenever they desire that.” [The Noble Quran in the english language by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al- Hilali & Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan , page xxiv ( 1994 edition )]

articlesworldDespite the complexity of this problem, research in cognitive psychology has become familiar with many secrets of human internal intellectual and mental activities and their precise relation with language. With the help of modern computer, it has been possible to set up simplified programs to clarify some of the methods followed by the human mind in classifying information. It has been found, for instance, that language is not only a human being's means of address and communication, but also the basic system used in thinking. Without the laws that control the way in which tangible and abstract meanings are conveyed through word symbols, human beings cannot develop abstract concepts. They cannot use either their sensory perception or their ability to imagine and remember in dealing with various types of experiences they underwent in the past, so that they can relate them to the present and deduce from them possible solutions to problems they are facing. Thinking, in fact, is using such symbols through cognitive processes.

Some researchers, like Whorf who formulated the 'linguistic relativity' hypothesis, consider the characteristics of the language spoken by a certain group of people to be the factor that denoted how they think and how they visualize the realities they live. The structure and other aspects of language are therefore considered to be basic factors in the way a given society visualizes the world.

Let us take a closer look at this idea of the importance of language. If it were wholly or even partly true, it would be most appropriate for us to consider the characteristics of the Arabic language, its impact on the Arabs and the reasons for the divine choice of this language as the means to reveal the Qur'an and convey the message of Islam to the whole of humanity. God says in the Qur'an: "We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and we will assuredly guard it" (15:9). This means that He guards Revelation and, consequently, also the Arabic language. In this connection, the Egyptian scholar, `Abbas Mahmud al-`Aqqad, discusses some aspects of the Arabic language: its vocabulary, phonetic and phonemic aspects:

"The human speech system is a superb musical instrument which no ancient or modern nation has used as perfectly as the Arab nation, as they have used the entire phonetic range in the distribution of its alphabet. Therefore, it is these qualities of the Arabic language that made Arabic poetry a perfect art, independent of other arts." [`Abbas Muhammad al-`Aqqad, al-Lughah Al-Sha`irah (Cairo: Maktabat Gharib, n.d.)]

According to al-`Aqqad, these qualities are not found in any other language, for:

"Arabic eloquence has taken the human speech organs to the highest point ever reached by man in expressing himself by letters and words." [Ibid., p. 70.]

In Al-Fusha: Lughat a/-Qur'an (Classical Arabic: The Language of the Qur'an), Anwar al-Jundi mentions the qualities of the Arabic language and its importance in propagating Islam:

"It is most astonishing to see this robust language (Arabic) growing and reaching a stage of perfection in the midst of the desert, and in a nation of nomads. The language has superseded other languages by its wealth of vocabulary, precise meanings and perfect structure. This language was unknown to other nations. But when it came to be known, it appeared to us in such perfection that it hardly underwent any change ever since. Of the stages of life, that language had neither childhood nor old age. We hardly know anything about that language beyond its unmatched conquests and victories. We cannot find any similar language that appeared to scholars so complete, and without gradation, keeping a structure so pure and flawless. The spread of the Arabic language covered the largest areas and remotest countries." [Anwar al Jundi, Al-Fusha:Lughat a/-Qur'an (Beirut: Dar Al-Kitab Al-Lubnani, 1982), p.27]

amazingscenery 77(1) Allah, the Almighty and Wise, chose and singled out Arabic from amongst all the languages of the world - past, present and future - to be the vehicle for His final Revelation to the whole of humanity. This fact alone should constitute sufficient reason for Muslims to learn Arabic. Certainly, if Allah so wished He could have revealed the Qur’an not only in any language but in every language but as He Himself states in the Holy Qur’an: “Verily, We sent It down as an Arabic Qur’an in order that you may understand”. This verse implies that Arabic has certain unique features which make it superior to all the languages of the world and which enable it to convey the subtleties and mysteries of Allah’s Speech in a manner that no other language can. Furthermore, it is Allah who endowed Arabic with these features and made it superior to all other languages.

(2) If Allah is who He is - the Creator of the worlds - and His Messenger (Peace and Blessings be upon him) is who he is – the Best of Allah’s creation - should not every Muslim in this world attempt to learn Arabic to understand Allah’s Words and those of His Messenger? The Qur’an - even though it is in this world - is not from this world but rather from the Lord of the worlds. Allah, Most High says: “ Verily It (i.e. the Qur’an) is a Revelation from One, All Wise and All Knowing”. How can any Muslim live in this world finding time to do so many things and yet not find time to study the language of Allah’s Holy Book and the Sunnah of His Holy Messenger (Peace and Blessings be upon him). How many of us spend so much time, effort and money on learning the sciences of this world but in comparison spend absolutely zero on learning the sciences of the Next world. If we really know who Allah is and who His Messenger is we would not hesitate one second to learn the language of Allah’s Book and the Sunnah of His Messenger. The Qur’an and Sunnah contain so much wealth – Real Wealth – but most of us prefer to remain poor and deprived forever.

(3) A great number of scholars believe the Qur’anic inimitability to reside inter alia (among other (things)) in its language. The science of al-Balaaghah (eloquence/stylistics) was especially developed to deal with this particular dimension of the Qur’an. This science demonstrates in no uncertain terms that the Qur’an represents the Absolute Pinnacle of Eloquence and that it stands unrivalled and unchallenged in its stylistic output. However, to appreciate the stylistic aspects of the Qur’an presupposes having learnt Arabic. Thus, those who are not schooled in Arabic will forever be deprived of the Stylistic Beauty of the Qur’an and fail to see and comprehend the subtle mysteries that are enclosed in the depths of is language.

(4) Apart from the Qur’an and Sunnah that are in Arabic there is also the vast and rich Islamic Legacy. This is the legacy left behind by the world’s greatest minds. Without Arabic we would deprive ourselves of the fruits of almost fourteen centuries of Islamic scholarship. All of this scholarship was directed at serving Islam and the Muslim Ummah. Numerous sciences sprung up after the advent of Islam with the principal aim of preserving and explaining the Primary Islamic Sources. These sciences are still being studied and taught up to today in Islamic institutions and circles around the world – the result is an ever-expanding heritage. Had it not been for the past Muslim scholars then we would not have known Islam as we know it to today. May Allah reward them abundantly for the great service they have rendered to Islam and the Muslim Community.

(5)  A number of Islamic sciences derive explicitly from the Arabic linguistic sciences in that a number of the issues discussed therein are linguistic issues. To understand these issues requires a thorough grounding in the Arabic linguistic sciences on which they are based. These sciences include inter alia: al-Tafseer (Qur’anic exegesis), ‘Uloom al-Qur’aan (Sciences of the Qur’an), ‘Ilm al-Hadeeth, al-Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), al-‘Aqeedah (Islamic Theology). The reason for this being the case is the fact that the two primary sources of Islam, viz. the Qur’an and Sunnah, are in Arabic and in order to understand their message, unlock their hidden mysteries and treasures and appreciate the linguistic subtleties with which especially the Qur’an has been characterised one needs to be familiar with the Arabic sciences that will make such a task possible. Thus, al-Tafseer is no more than an interpretation of the Qur’an, ‘Ilm al-Hadeeth no more than an interpretation of the Prophetic Traditions, al-Fiqh no more than an extrapolation of legal rules from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, al-‘Aqeedah no more than an extrapolation of a set of beliefs from the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah, etc. It is clear from the aforementioned that each of these Islamic sciences involves a detailed analysis and close investigation of the Arabic in which the Qur’an and Sunnah are couched. It is not uncommon to find that many a difference amongst scholars on a particular Islamic matter has its source in the manner in which they interpreted or read a particular Qur’anic verse or Prophetic tradition.

(6) ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

“Learn the Sunnah and learn Arabic; learn the Qur’an in Arabic for it is in Arabic”.

He also said:

“Learn Arabic for it is part of your Religion and learn how the estate of the deceased should be divided (al-Faraa’id) for these are part of your Religion”.

Imam al-Shafi‘iyy is reported to have said that he studied Arabic for twenty years (from its pure sources) in order to understand the Qur’an

Some scholars also maintain that learning Arabic is compulsory on every Muslim. The reason for this ruling is that learning the Qur’an and Sunnah is compulsory on every Muslim and since the Qur’an and Sunnah cannot be learnt without Arabic it follows that Arabic is also compulsory.

Al-Aîmu‘iyy is reported to have said:

‘What I fear most for a student of knowledge – if he does not know Nahw – that he may fall in the category of those mentioned in the hadeeth: “Whosoever intentionally contrives a lie in my name, then let him prepare or reserve for himself a seat in the Fire”, because the Messenger of Allah (Peace and Blessings be upon him) never used to make grammatical errors in his speech so anything that you report from him and you make grammatically errors in it then you would have contrived a lie in his name’.

(7) Knowledge of Arabic makes one’s devotion and worship much more meaningful. This is especially the case when performing îalaah, reciting and listening to the Qur’an, listening to khutbahs, making du‘as, etc. In short, knowing Arabic obviates the need for a mediator or interpreter between Allah and us. In other words, Arabic enables us to listen to the Qur’an and Prophetic statements first hand.

Moreover, what constitutes the Qur’an is not its mere meaning but rather its meaning together with the specific wording in which it is couched. This means that no matter how close a particular translation is to the actual meaning of the Qur’an it still does not constitute the Qur’an which is the Divine and Uncreated Speech of Allah. At best, a translation is no more than a human approximation of what the Qur’an means and as such is finite and can never replace the infinite Speech of Allah. Consider the following Qur’anic verses: “Say (O Muhammad): If the sea were ink for (writing) the Words of my Lord, surely the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord would be finished, even if We brought another (sea) like it as backup” and “And if all the trees on the earth were pens and the sea (were ink wherewith to write), with seven seas behind it to add to its (supply), yet the Words of Allah would not be exhausted. Verily, Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise”. In addition, reliance on a translation (which in itself is deficient because it is only a human approximation of Allah’s Divine Speech) means one will always be deprived of the effect of the actual wording which adds to the richness and inimitable eloquence of the Qur’an. It is not the translation that brings tears to the eyes of men but rather the Qur’an in the full splendour of its stirring words and moving meanings.

(8) The problematic nature of translations is another reason why Muslims should learn Arabic. Much of our Islamic heritage is still inaccessible to the non-Arabic speaking Muslim population and so it will continue to be for a very long time. Translations also have their own deficiencies and shortcomings. These range from gross misinterpretation to poor quality and sub-standard translation.

(9) Language being a conduit of culture has an indelible influence on its speakers. Arabic being the conduit of Islamic culture likewise has a positive Islamic influence on its speakers. No doubt, the Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah have left a permanent mark on the Arabic language and are – to a large extent – also responsible for Arabic remaining fundamentally unchanged over the past fourteen centuries.

(10) If certain non-Muslims (Orientalists) - spurned on by their hatred for Islam and the Muslims - studied Arabic for the purpose of destroying Islam and gaining control over the Muslims then why should Muslims – spurned on by their Eemaan (faith) and love for Islam and the Muslim Ummah – not study Arabic for the purpose of defending Islam against anti-Islamic forces and Islamophobia?

red_dawn_1600x1200While attending a month long Dawah course when I was a teenager, one of our Islamic studies instructors, Dr. Mahmood Ghaazi, from Islamabad, Pakistan, told us about an official trip he had taken to the Vatican. His delegation met with a group of high priests. Dr. Ghazi asked one of them, "Do you have any words that you know for certain, 100%, that were spoken by Jesus Christ?" The priest felt a little ashamed, but he replied honestly that there were no words that could be traced authentically to Jesus - the language he spoke had been forever lost.

Then the priest picked up, "What about Muslims? Do you have any words that you know for certain, 100%, that were spoken by Muhammad?" Dr. Ghazi smiled (as I'm sure you are smiling too). He replied,

"Not only do we have libraries of books of words we know without doubt were spoken by our Prophet (SAW), we have a science called Tajweed. The study of Tajweed is to teach the student how to pronounce every syllable and vowel exactly the way Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said it!"

Indeed all praise is due to Allah, who protected our Deen in such a way.

But, brothers and sisters, have each of us done our part in protecting those words of Allah and his messenger? Rasul Allah (SAW) said, "Ballighu (notify, transmit, tell others) about me, if only with one Ayah (verse)." How do we do that if we ourselves do not understand the Ayaat that were revealed? How can we presume to know a text when we don't even understand the very language in which it was revealed? In order to fulfill the mission Allah and His Messenger (SAW) have sent us on, it is imperative that we become literate in the language of Islam.

The task of teaching others about Islam - for passing on that one Ayah at a time - is too important for us to waste yet another generation. Literacy and education of our Deen has to flood our communities in order for us to advance as a guiding nation.

The Qur'an is Allah's way of communicating with us, of directly guiding us on his path. But has that communication actually occurred? Look at any college level "Communications" textbook, and it will tell you that the definition of "communication" is that a message is sent, and that message is received with the understanding that the sender intended. If I say something and you can't hear me because my microphone isn't working, or you have gotten bored and are daydreaming, or you don't understand the language I'm speaking, then true communication has not occurred. To quote one "Communications" textbook,

"If my meaning was not conveyed, I question if communication has occurred.. Language may be engaged in; words have transpired. But not an act of communication.".

The same is true for the words of Allah and his messenger. Have we really allowed Allah to communicate with us, if we have not received the meaning of His words?

Just because we understand a watered down, weakened English translation of the Qur'an doesn't mean we fully understand the Qur'an. There is so much subtlety and nuance within every language that simply can not be translated.

If Rasul Allah (SAW) spoke to you directly today - and naturally he would speak to us in Arabic - would you understand what he was saying? Or would you need a translator? You would want to capture every moment, understand every piece of advice he was giving you, but instead, you might be standing there helplessly, unable to communicate with him, or to understand his wisdom.

Those before us who did have that chance were changed by it. Shortly after the first Muslim migration to Habasha, Rasul Allah (SAW) recited Surah Najm at the Ka'bah. As he recited, everyone - Muslims and non-believers - listened in rapture to these Arabic verses.

He came to the final verses: {Do ye then wonder at this recital? / And will ye laugh and not weep / Wasting your time in vanities? / But fall ye down in prostration to Allah, and adore (Him)!}

At that moment, Rasul Allah (SAW) fell to the ground in prostration to Allah. The Muslims followed him, all of them falling in Sajdah to Allah.

Now, I want you to picture what happened next … every disbeliever in the gathering, every one of them, also fell in Sajdah to Allah! They were so moved by the beauty and complexity of the Qur'an, that they couldn't deny the message contained within.

{Verily we sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an so that you may understand.} (Surah Yusuf, 2)

Here's just one example of the impossibility of truly translating the Qur'an:

In Surah 'Abasa 80/33, Allah ta'ala says of the Day of Judgment: {At length when there comes the deafening noise…} The Arabic word for this deafening noise is Saakhah - the blowing of the trumpet -that will announce the resurrection and humanity's repayment for its deeds on earth. It will be an unbelievably overwhelming moment.

Looking at the word Saakhah, you would assume that it's pronounced in two syllables, or beats. But in Arabic, the word Saakhah is recited in a 6 count prolongation. Listen to it being recited. It is as if the recitation of the word itself is like a trumpet being blown. In English, we can not prolong the words 'deafening noise,' so we don't get the full strength of meaning that Allah intended for us. Only someone who understands the language can pick up the power of each word Allah has so carefully and profoundly chosen to give us.

Here's another example. If you, as an English speaker, overheard a master telling his servant, "Get me water," you would understand that the master wants the water right away, not two hours from now. It doesn't say that anywhere. But it's implicit. It's part of the nuance of the language.

When someone says, 'the Arabic language is foreign to me', that translates into 'the understanding of the Qur'an is foreign to me'. When the Arabic language is foreign to someone, that translates into 'the Sunnah of AlMustafa (SAW) is foreign to me.'

Whoever loves Allah must, by virtue of that true love, love Rasul Allah (SAW). And whoever loves Allah and His Messenger must, by virtue of that true love, love the Arabic language chosen by Allah.

It is the language spoken by the greatest book. It is the language spoken by the greatest human. It is the entry way to understanding all of the other Islamic sciences. Someone who never learns Arabic, can never fully understand the Qur'an and Sunnah.

What does learning Arabic do for us?

1) It molds our character. As Ibn Taymiyyah (rh) said,

"Using a language has a profound effect on one's thinking, behavior and religious commitment. It also affects one's resemblance to the early generations of this Ummah, the Companions and the Taabi'een. Trying to emulate them refines one's thinking, religious commitment and behavior."

2) It is our bridge to the culture of Islam. Undoubtedly, with the teaching of language comes the teaching of ways to think and behave, through understanding of the culture that speaks that language.

As a summer job one year, I taught English in a Muslim country and ashamedly had to skip the numerous pages that spoke of alcohol, dating, and lewdness. This is the culture of the English language. Imagine the blessed culture and knowledge awaiting those who would learn Arabic.

At the University of Madinah, I had the chance to go to school with Muslims from the UK, US and Australia. At the end of those years, as students amongst ourselves, we would discuss what we were going to do when we went home to Europe and America. Some of the students stayed behind, accepting jobs of teaching English just so they could stay in Madinah. A graduating brother beautifully rejected this when he said, "Why would I teach Muslim Arab children English, when I have the chance to go to Europe and teach Muslim European children Arabic?"

One of the main Arabic teachers at AlHuda School in Maryland started his career teaching English to Muslims in Arab countries. He saw how serviced the English language was and how much money was being spent to teach and study it. He thought to himself that Arabic, the language chosen by Allah, is more worthy of such wealth, effort and time. He changed his career path and in his graduate studies took on the task of teaching Arabic to native English speakers. As immigrants or children of immigrants, most of us speak two languages. We convinced ourselves, "we must learn English so we can get ahead in this world." Now, we must remind ourselves, "we must learn Arabic, so we can get ahead in the next world."

Let no Muslim think that Arabic is not their people's tongue. It is the language of our Deen. Calling people to this language is not a nationalistic call, it is a call to the Muslim to raise his or her head and say, 'My faith has a language, it's called Arabic!'

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani studied the relationship between the Arabic language and the strength of the Muslim Ummah, and among the conclusions he reached was:

"The Turks overlooked a vital matter; the adoption of the Arabic language as their state language. Had the Ottoman Empire adopted Arabic as its official language and strove to Arabicize the tongues of the Turks, it would have been impregnable. But instead, it did the opposite and tried to Turkicise the Arabs which turned out to be a regretable policy and misjudged move. Arabicization would have removed the nationalistic feuds from the two nations [and united and strengthened them]…" [1]





[1] For more information, refer back to al-A'maal al-Kaamilah by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani.

redblackhouseThe Arabic language no doubt has a special place in Islam because it is the language of the Qur'an, and the importance of Arabic to each Muslim is proportional to their relationship with the Qur'an and how deeply they seek to understand it.

Thus, the Muslim must be vigilant in protecting and preserving the Arabic Language, and this vigilance is related to his vigilance and protectiveness of the religion itself, for one complements the other and strengthens the other, like a building and its foundations.

An argument in favour of Arabic states[1]:

Language is a means by which history is manifested and expressed, and history narrates the character of a people and their nation, and a nation may be said to be crafted by its language because it is one of its inherant, natural needs that cannot be replaced by another. And the Qur'an in this regard represents a linguistic nationality that gathers together all the believers in Tawheed, through the Arabic language.





[1] Adapted from the book al-Bu'd al-Deeni li-al-Lughah al-'Arabiyyah wa atharuhaa fi al-Tadaamun al-'Arabi wa al-Islaami by Dr. Muhammad Sikhani, Dar Qutaybah: Beirut, pg 66-68.

divingIf Arabic is a sea, then the Qur'an is the most precious treasures, jewels, pearls and gems that can be found in the sea.

But reaching these treasures requires a diver skilled in deep thought and contemplation.

One of the prerequisites for a diver to reach this level of skill, is a knowledge and understanding of Arabic and its sciences.

In this regard, Ibn Taymiyyaah (rahimahu Allaah) commented,

"Before one can interpret and understand the Qur'an and the Hadith, he must know the denotations and connotations intended by the words of Allaah and His Messenger (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam). How can their words be understood? Knowledge of the Arabic language in which we were addressed will help us to understand what Allaah and His Messenger (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) intended through their words, as will understanding the semantics behind the words and phrases. Truly, most of the misguidances of the Innovators occured due to this reason – they began to misinterpret the words of Allaah and His Messenger (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) claiming that they meant one thing, when really they meant another." (al-Eemaan: 111)

{Indeeflower-under-night-skyd 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) 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’idh) 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 piece 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

yellowgreenIt has been narrated that a major scholar of the past[1] used to try and fault the Qur’an by searching for flaws in its language. His attempts and studies lasted months, during which time a group of men would frequent his house and ask him whether he had found anything yet. Eventually, he smashed his ink pot and broke his pen, and replied, “None can dispute that this is the Speech of Allah!”

He then left the house and passed by a mosque, from which he heard the voice of a young boy reciting the verse, {And it was said, “O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].” And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judiyy. And it was said, “Away with the wrongdoing people.”} (Hood, verse 44)

to which the man remarked,

“It is not possible that a human could produce such words.”

The verse in question is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, rhetorical verses of the Qur’an, as the scholars of Arabic balaaghah (rhetoric) identified within it more than twenty-five different rhetorical devices (fann balaaghee) within just 17 words! [2]

The Arab Quraysh of Makkah

When the Prophet (peace be upon him)  would pray in the Ka’bah in Makkah, the Qurayshis would laugh at him, curse him, throw rocks at him, and ridicule him. One day he was sitting with some companions around the Ka’bah and recited to them Surah al-Najm, within earshot of the Quraysh. Everyone listened intently until he (peace be upon him) went on to recite the last few verses of this chapter, {Then at this statement do you wonder? And you laugh and do not weep? While you are proudly sporting? So prostrate to Allah and worship [Him].}

By the time this last verse was recited, they all fell involuntarily into prostration as commanded in the verse, mesmerised by the beauty and truth of what they had just heard.

The Conversion of the Great Companion, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab

And the conversion story of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab is a well-known one. He was one of the staunchest enemies of Islam, one of the strongest men in Makkah, who was sworn to kill the man who called himself the Prophet of God. Sword in hand, he set about to accomplish the task he had set himself and on the way was asked by a man he passed on the street as to the nature of his mission. When ‘Umar told the man of his intentions, the man told him to worry about his own sister first.

In a fit of rage, he went to his sister’s house to kill her first if the news was true. He asked her whether she had accepted Islam, and when she replied in the affirmative he slapped her so hard that blood fell from her face. He noticed some paper in her hand, so he asked her what she was carrying. When she told him she could not give him the papers as he was not pure, he tore them from her hands and began to read the words written on them (listen),

{Ta, Ha. * We have not sent down to you the Qur’an that you be distressed * But only as a reminder for those who fear [ Allah ] * A revelation from He who created the earth and highest heavens, * The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established*  To Him belongs what is in the heavens and what is on the earth and what is between them and what is under the soil. * And if you speak aloud – then indeed, He knows the secret and what is [even] more hidden * Allah – there is no deity except Him. To Him belong the best names.}

Upon reading the words on the paper, ‘Umar’s eyes filled with tears. He demanded from his sister that she tell him where this man Muhammad (peace be upon him) was, and after making him promise not to harm the Prophet (peace be upon him) he set out to find him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) could tell who was at the door from the strength of his knock, so opened the door and greeted his visitor with the words, “Isn’t it about time you became Muslim, O ‘Umar?” to which he received the reply,

“I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship other than Allaah, and I bear witness that you are the Messenger of Allaah.”

What did these Men have in Common?

The answer (among other things): They all had a deep, solid, understanding and appreciation of the Arabic language, its syntax, semantics, rhetorical and literary devices, poetry, prose, and all else a mastery of any language entails. An understanding that allowed them to immediately discern that the difference between the speech of God and the speech of His creation is the difference between God and His creation itself. An understanding of the language that allowed them to recognise the truth and submit to it without giving another moment’s consideration to the issue at hand. An understanding that enabled them to recognise the miraculous nature of the Qur’anic text, and use this recognition as a base on which to build their faith.

Perhaps we will never be able to acheive the same appreciation and understanding of the language of the Qur’an as they did, but who can dispute that we owe it to our souls, to our faith, to at least try.





[1] It has been said that he was the well-known Ibn al-Muqaffa’. But the narration appeared without naming the man in  al-Jadwal fee I’raab al-Qur’aan wa Sarfuhu wa Bayaanuhu by Mahmood Safi (6/278).

[2] This is not a suitable place to discuss these rhetorical devices, as a background of balaaghah is first required. But if anyone is versed in Arabic and would like to read more, I recommend them to refer to the book Kifaayat al-Alma’ee Fee Ayat Yaa Ard Ibla’ee by Muhammad ibn al-Jazaree (published by Dar al-Afaq al-Jadidah in Bayrut, 2003), or to refer to Tafseer al-Bahr al-Muheet by Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi.

alphabetOn Saturday morning I woke up to find my inbox inundated with emails linking to an article on the BBC's website entitled Reading Arabic "hard for brain" with an embedded picture of little Muslim girls in hijab reading the Arabic alphabet. Parents, somewhat concerned about the potential strain upon their children's brains, were inquiring about the validity of the claims made in the article. Having looked at the original research paper in the journal Neuropsychology (Language Status and Hemispheric Involvement in Reading: Evidence From Trilingual Arabic Speakers Tested in Arabic, Hebrew and English written by Raphiq Ibrahim and Zohar Eviatar, published by the American Psychological Association 2009, Vol. 23, No. 2, 240–254), upon which the news item was based, I think there is a need for some clarifications that were, in the pursuit of sensationalism and perhaps anti-Arabic bias, ignored by both the researchers and the BBC science correspondent who authored the article, Dr Katie Alcock. I apologise in advance for the use of technical jargon but it is inescapable in this instance. This is a blatant and malicious attack posited within a scientific framework and therefore it requires, at least in part, a discussion in scientific terms. I will try to simplify my language as much as possible.

Reading "Israeli Arabic and logic" is hard for any brain

The problems with this research are too numerous to cover comprehensively in this short article, however there a few conspicuous ones that can be dealt with succinctly.  The first problem is that the Israeli researchers have violated a basic principle of authenticity in the representation of a language upon which they have issued this verdict of causal cognitive deficit. Instead of presenting their subjects, in the experiments, with written Arabic (to read) they created an entirely new orthographic configuration for the language in question.  Arabic morphology is nonconcatanative and the forms of its letters vary considerably depending on their positions in a given word. Among the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, 20 have different orthographic positional representations. For example, the letter 'ayn in its final, middle, first and "standalone" forms are represented thus ayn.

Therefore native readers of Arabic do not learn to read words comprised of letters in their standalone forms. This is different to English, where the orthographic forms found in the English alphabet are identical to those employed in English word constructions.

Despite mentioning this difference between the languages in the research paper, the sample stimuli sheet (Table C1. Arabic) clearly shows the Arabic used in the experiments was written without any consideration of the multiple positional forms of Arabic orthography. For example, the word maktabah was not written in Arabic as it should be (maktabah)  but instead presented as a string of separate standalone letters. See the word maktabah circled in red from the sample sheet below:


I could not believe my eyes when I saw this stimuli sample sheet in the appendix of the research paper.  Initially, I thought it might have been a font recognition problem with my PDF reader but, on closer inspection, I discovered that that was not the case because the stimuli sheet was an image, i.e. a photographic snapshot of the original materials. What is even more astonishing is that there is no explanation whatsoever in the research for this bizarre choice of orthography.  All they have to say on the point is that Arabic was presented to the subjects in Modern Standard Character Madinah S U Normal font. No mention is made of the fact that they had invented their own way of writing Arabic script i.e. by constructing separated letter strings which cannot be considered by any measure to be "Arabic words or Arabic text". Arabic speakers have no familiarity with this form of orthography.

If one's research methodology is flawed then one's results are bound to be flawed. The equivalent of this would be for me to present English speakers with a string of consonants without vowels, test their reaction times in milliseconds and then declare some cerebral deficit for those who speak English.

Another major problem is that the researchers do not consider the subjects’ Arabic reading as first language (L1) competence. They regard the diglossia of 'aammiyyah (spoken Arabic) and fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) as two distinct languages for which they argue

"the two forms of Arabic are different enough from each other to result in the pattern typical of bilingualism" and that the "Adults can minimally be considered quadri-lingual, with SA [Spoken Arabic] as first language (L1), and MSA [Modern Standard Arabic], Hebrew, and English as additional languages. Because SA does not have a written form, all reading and writing are in the non-native language."

For argument sake, if we were to agree with them on this point, then this raises a valid objection to the claim that their subjects were "native readers of Arabic".

In addition to these problems, the researchers appear to be grossly ignorant of Arabic and its orthography. For example, they erroneously claim that

"In Arabic, 22 of the 28 letters in the alphabet have four shapes".

Ask any child who can read the Quran, even in a backwater village in non-Arabic speaking India, to count the different forms of the letters and s/he will able to demonstrate the ignorance of these so-called academic researchers. I am surprised that a prestigious journal like Neuropsychology, of the American Psychological Association, would publish such substandard research. Judging from the grammatical errors found in the paper (e.g. "This pattern in discernable in Hebrew". p.250), I am guessing that even the peer review may have been compromised, perhaps for the sake of old-boy networks or Zionist back-scratching of some sort.

The brain naturally prefers left-hemisphere (LH) for languages

So what is the problem if Arabic speakers use the left hemispheres of their brains? There is an overwhelming body of research which shows that language is predominantly a left-hemisphere activity, even in the case of English (for a review, see Banich, 2004; Hellige, 1993, 2001; Hellige & Adamson, 2006). There is left-hemisphere superiority for processing printed English. For example, reading-related deficits are more likely and more dramatic after injury to the left hemisphere than after injury to the right hemisphere (for a review, see Banich, 2004; Hellige, 1993, 2001). Also, functional brain imaging studies show that cortical networks within the left hemisphere are more active than corresponding networks within the right hemisphere during the identification of words and pronounceable nonwords (e.g. see Binder & Price, 2001; Hagoort et al., 1999; Herbster, Mintun, Nebes, & Becker, 1997; C. Price et al., 1992; Puce, Allison, Asgari, Gore & McCarthy, 1996). In addition, words are identified more quickly and more accurately when they are flashed briefly to the right visual field (and, thus, directly to the left hemisphere: RVF/LH presentation) than when they are flashed briefly to the left visual field (and, thus, directly to the right hemisphere: LVF/RH presentation). Tasks have included such things as naming a briefly presented word or nonword (e.g. see Bradshaw & Nettleton, 1983; Chiarello & Nuding, 1987; Hellige, Taylor & Eng, 1989; Levy, Heller, Banich & Burton, 1983; Levy & Kueck, 1986; Lindell, 2003) and deciding whether a string of letters spells a word (e.g. see Babkoff, Faust, & Lavidor, 1997; Iacoboni & Zaidel, 1996; Mohr, Pulvermuller, & Zaidel, 1994).

Studies examining language processing in general and the processing of printed text in particular have demonstrated left-hemisphere superiority across many other languages, including other Western languages like Spanish and German, as well as a variety of non-Western languages like Urdu, and phonetic forms of Chinese and Japanese (e.g. see Faust, Kravetz, & Babkoff, 1993; Hagoort et al., 1999; Hellige & Adamson, 2006; Hellige & Yamauchi, 1999; Illes et al., 1999; Kuo et al., 2001; Nakamura et al., 2000; Rastatter, Scukanec, & Grillot, 1989; Sakurai, Ichikawa & Mannen, 2001; Sasanuma, Itoh, Moi & Kobayashi, 1977; Tzeng, Hung & Garro, 1978). They all show left-hemisphere dominance with only a small number of exceptions, such as the Japanese Kanji pictographic system, which has been shown to have right-hemisphere dominance (e.g. see Coltheart, 1980; Nakamura et al., 2000; Sasanuma et al., 1977).

Even if the Israeli research was sound in its methodology, the claims made would still be equivalent to someone presenting Japanese pictographic letters to the left-hemisphere (RVF/LH) Kanji speakers and concluding not only that the Japanese have brain deficits but also that reading Japanese is "hard for the brain" which of course would be an absurd conclusion.  It would be similar to me forcing a right-handed person to write with his left hand and when he fails, I declare that because some people are ambidextrous "writing is hard for the brain".

Every language has its own particular effect on the brain. Subjecting speakers of one language to the peculiarities of another in order to establish differences is interesting and scientific but to issue verdicts of deficits on the basis of these differences and to accuse a language of being hard for the brain is not only unscientific but malicious. If some orthographic characters in English or Hebrew are processed in the right hemisphere of the brain, then that is an idiosyncrasy of those languages, in the same manner as the pronunciation of the letter Dhaadh is unique to Arabic. Imagine the furore that would ensue if I were to ask Hebrew speakers to pronounce the Arabic letter Dhaadh and, when they fail to do it correctly, I declare in the headlines that speaking Hebrew inhibits phonetic capacity in the brain. The ridiculousness of this whole exercise and the spin put upon it in the media by Dr Alcock suggests that there is an ulterior motive.

The real target seems to be the Quran

Arabic is not only the mother tongue of some 200 million Arabs but is it also the sacred medium of Devine communication for nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world.  Through Arabic, Muslims experience the presence of the Words of God in the Quran.  It is the language of our five daily prayers and the source of names we choose for our children. Arabic is sacrosanct in the worldview of a Muslim: through it we receive guidance from our Creator and with it we worship Him and pray for His Mercies.

The relationship between Arabic and our faith – Islam – is inseparable.  Without Arabic we would have no Quran, and without the Quran we would have no Islam. Therefore for those who speak Arabic as their mother tongue, their connection to the Quran is direct and profound. They experience not only the supreme literary aesthetics of the Quran but also the power of the Divine words upon every fibre of their being. In the words of one baffled Christian observer,

"It is difficult to understand the fascination that the Quran exerts without mentally putting oneself in the place of the Muslim, who finds God when he recites it, looks to it for guiding principles and for whom the Quran is the presence of God" (Jomier, J., 1978, Eng trans 1997. p.124).

In is no secret that in recent times there has been a consorted global campaign to create distance between Muslims and the Quran. This onslaught has come in a wide variety of guises, ranging from calls for reformation to malicious and direct interventions. Where these attempts – by way of postmodern mumbo jumbo philosophy, music and entertainment – have failed to distract Muslims from the Quran, school curricula have been manipulated to remove Quranic content under the pretext of modernisation and preventing terrorism.

The attack on Arabic by the Israelis and the BBC appears to be part of this same campaign.  If Muslims were to believe that reading Arabic is overly burdensome or tiring for the brain, then they would become reluctant to send their children to learn to read the Quran. Muslim children, regardless of the language they speak, learn to read the Quran at a tender age in the mosques across the world. This experience creates a lifelong bond between the child and the mosque. This is one of the reasons why our mosques are overflowing at the seams while other places of worship are struggling to survive.

The Israeli motive for attacking Arabic could not be clearer. In 1987, they got the Palestinian Authority to agree to Israel’s annexation of 80% of Palestine and now they are currently holding "peace talks" in Washington to grab more concessions over the remaining 20% of the land including Al-Quds al-Sharif and Masjid al-Aqsa. Big pronouncements about peace do not hide their malicious intent. The fact that the BBC is being used to attack Arabic in late 2010 during Ramadan with research that was published in 2009, suggests that there are other timetable considerations in play here.

Dissuading Muslim children from reading the Quran concurs with the ‘doctrine of pre-emption’.  The argument runs as follows: if Muslim boys and girls around the world are kept away from reading the Quran for fear of brain damage or mental strain, their belief will receive less focus in their lives.  As such, their belief in the Quranic sanctity of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque will be eroded.  As a result, their stance against Israeli oppression will be neutered.

The Quran and its Arabic is made easy

Had Arabic been a strain on the human brain, then whole populations in countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Sudan would not have become Arabic speakers. It was primarily their zeal to understand the Quran that led people to give up their native tongues and adopt Arabic as their main language. The Quran emphasises its Arabic nature in no less than eleven different verses (12:2, 13:37, 16:103, 20:113, 26:195, 39:28, 41:3, 41:44, 42:7, 43:3, and 46:12)  Allah (swt) says:

{We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an, in order that ye may learn wisdom.} (Quran 12:2)

Together with this repeated emphasis on the Arabic nature of the Quran the Believers are also informed repeatedly, in no less than six different verses (19:97, 44:58, 54:17, 54:22, 54:32, and 54:40), that the Almighty has made it easy for them.

{So have We made the (Qur'an) easy in thine own tongue, that with it thou mayest give Glad Tidings to the righteous, and warnings to people given to contention.} (Quran 19:97)

{And We have indeed made the Qur'an easy to understand and remember: then is there any that will receive admonition?} (Quran 54:17)

The easy and appealing nature of the structure of the Arabic is recognisable by anyone who genuinely studies the language without bias or malice. This is so even among non Muslims, such as the world renowned Harvard professor Jaroslav Stetkevych, who wrote:

"[T]he fact that Arabic long survived and still had the vitality to burgeon anew might be due to religious and social factors, but the quantitative ability to expand and the qualitative capacity to attain perfection and to maintain its essential characteristics are merits of the language exclusively."

He also explained what he meant by this claim:

"To the Western student unfamiliar with the schematic morphological structure of Semitic languages, the first experience with Arabic suggests an idea of almost mathematical abstraction. The perfect system of the three radical consonants, the derived verbal forms with their basic meanings, the precise formation of the verbal noun, of the participles - everything is clarity, logic, system and abstraction.  The language is like a mathematical formula.  This is, of course, a first notion but it also is the ultimate truth.  In between there lies the great body of language: rich and various, with its pitfalls and puzzles, but what impresses itself upon the mind is the abstract idea." (Jaroslav Stetkevych, (1970)  The Modern Arabic Literary Language. University of Chicago Press,  p.1.)

If Arabic were a strain on the human brain, then it would not have been able to serve as the main international language of science and intellectual thought for nearly a thousand years.  Modern Western scientific advances owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Arabic language for its contributions to science.


This BBC news article was a calculated and malicious attack on Arabic in the blessed month of Ramandan when those responsible know that Muslims – men, women and children, around the world – would be spending long hours in the days and nights of Ramadan reading the Quran in Arabic.  Most Muslims try to read the complete Quran during this month and many complete it several times before the month is over. Children are encouraged to read and memorise as much as possible in this month. So it comes as no surprise that those who would wish that Muslims abandon the Quran would choose this month to publicise their spurious and malicious theories regarding one the most revered languages in the world.

Reading Arabic is not more strenuous for the brain than watching a series of flickering pixels on a screen to create pictures in our minds. If we are permit our children to spend hours glued to pulsating screens (TVs, computers, consoles, mobile devices etc), then sending them to learn to read the Quran in Allah's house (masjid) will not only serve as a relief and respite for their brains but it will also be a nourishment for their hearts and fortification for their faith and souls.

When the Quran is made easy for us by the Almighty, who then in the world can make it hard? If you feel that in order to enter the modern scientific world you must abandon Arabic and adopt some European language, then know that the Japanese who are not bonded to their language through a Divine revelation like the Quran, have mastered modern technology, risen to the pinnacle of science and current modern standards of living without abandoning their language.

One way to defeat this relentless onslaught of attacks on our faith, attacks on our sacred texts, attacks on the dignity of our Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), attacks attacks on our women, attacks on the clothes we wear and attacks on our sacred language, is to deny the instigators their ultimate target, which is our children.  They have made our children their primary target. Put you ears to ground and you will hear them say that this is a "generational struggle".  What this means is that they have given up on trying to take me and you away from Islam but the effort is now firmly focused on disconnecting the next generation from the legacy of the Prophets of Allah and from the heritage of received wisdom in Islam. Creating distance between our children and the Quran is vital to their effort. Do not allow them that chance.  Fortify your children’s hearts with the Quran and preserve your sacred language by making sure your children will able to teach it to your grandchildren.

{Mighty indeed were the plots which they made, but their plots were well within the sight of Allah, even though they were such as to shake the mountains.} (Ibraaheem, 46)

{They plotted and planned and Allah is the best of planners.} (Aal 'Imraan, 54)

This chart shows how the letters change in different positions:




The transliteration of consonants used above is the ISO version of 1984. There are various other ways of transliterating Arabic.


  • alphabet

The following are highly recommended external flash links:

Level 1

Level 2

The Arabic Alphabet:


Makhaarij (Points of Articulation) of the Letters

  1. Huroof Haw'yah
  2. Letters of Aqsa-e-Halq
  3. Letters of Halq
  4. Letters of Adnal Halq
  5. The Letter Qaff
  6. Letter of Kaff
  7. Huroofush Sharjiyah
  8. Letter Daad
  9. Letter Laam
  10. The Letter Noon
  11. The letter Raa
  12. Huroofun Nat'iyyah
  13. Hurooful Lathwiyya
  14. Huroofus Safier
  15. The Letter Faa
  16. The Letters Baa, Meem and Waaw
  17. Ghunna

Practising Letters Which Sound Similar


Level 3

Fathah (Zeber) Practice
Joining letters Fathah Exercise
Kasra (zer) Practice
Joining letters Kasra Exercise
Damma (Pesh)  Practice
Joining letter Damma Exercuse
Long Vowel Fathah (zaber) with Letter Alif
Long vowel Fathah (zaber) with Letter Alif (PRACTICE)
Long Vowel Damma (Pesh) with letter Waw
Long Vowel Damma (Pesh) with letter Waw
Long Vowel Kasra (Zer) with letter Ya
Long Vowel Kasra (Zer) Practice Exercises


Fatha (zaber) with letter Waw
Fatha (zaber) with letter Waw PRACTICE EXERCISE
Fatha (zaber) with letter Ya
Fatha (zaber) with letter Ya PRACTICE EXERCISE
Combined Practice Exercises


Special Rules

Double Fathah Exercise
Double Fathah Practice
Double Kasra Exercise
Double Kasra Practice
Double Damma Excercie
Double Damma Practice
Upright Fathah, Kasra, and Inverted Damma
Upright Fathah (zaber) Exercise 
Upright Kasra (Zer) Exercise 
Inverted Damma (Pesh) Exercise 
Upright Fathah,Kasra and Inverted Damma Practice Exercise Combined

Practice Exercise combined

Special rule letter Alif (Hamza)

SHADDAH  (TASHDID)   double consonant


MADDAH prolongation

Maddah Exercise prolongation

Long vowel and double consonat

Download this PDF (right click & "save target as")


Download this PDF (right click & "save target as")



Maysoor are proud to present the first in a series of speaking Arabic tutorials entitled, "Waking Up for Salaat Al Fajr".

In this short lesson, you will learn the following:

1 - How to say, "My father" and "My mother".

2 - How to tell someone to wake up (masculine & femimine).

3 - How to express near future e.g. "I will pray" or "I will get up"

...and much more.

This speaking skills video explores the different ways one can express themselves when getting up in the morning to pray. The dialogue is played once with the English translation, then immediately after the key vocabulary is broken down in an easy and digestible manner. The dialogue is played one last time, but this time with Arabic text.

This video has been produced in conjunction with Al Madinah Students 2010.

PDF (Download)

  • Download (right click & "save target as")


PDF (Online View)



Welcome to Maysoor's Arabic vocabulary lesson. The following words are taken from Madinah Book 01, Lesson 01. Listen carefully to the Arabic pronunciation of each word, then repeat with the instructor.

This video has been produced in conjunction with Al Madinah Students 2010.
























































PDF (Download):

Download (right click & "save target as").

PDF (Online View): 

Please be patient while it is loading.

PDF (Download):

Download (right click & "save target as").

PDF (Online View): 

Please be patient while it is loading.

PDF (Download):

Download (right click & "save target as").

PDF (Online View): 

Please be patient while it is loading.






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.’ [Iqtidaa’ al-Siraat al-Mustaqeem, 2/207]

madinahbooksThe Arabic Course for English-Speaking Students is a comprehensive and popular course for the teaching of the Qur'anic and Traditional Arabic, originally devised and taught at the renowned Madinah Islamic University, catering for the non-Arabic speaking students from all over the world. Over the years, this course has enabled students to become competent in their use of the Arabic language and to participate and benefit from scholarly pursuits such as Qur'anic Exegeses, Hadith, Fiqh, Sirah, History, and Classical and Modern Arabic Literature. It is concise (consisting of only three books, reasonably short) but extensive in their coverage. It combines modern Arabic vocabulary with Islamic terminology used in the Qur'an and Sunnah. It Helps acquire an understanding of hundreds of Qur'anic verses, aHadith, Arabic parables and poetry.

The Arabic Course for English-Speaking Students is a comprehensive and popular course for the teaching of the Qur'anic and Traditional Arabic, originally devised and taught at the renowned Madinah Islamic University, catering for the non-Arabic speaking students from all over the world. Over the years, this course has enabled students to become competent in their use of the Arabic language and to participate and benefit from scholarly pursuits such as Qur'anic Exegeses, Hadith, Fiqh, Sirah, History, and Classical and Modern Arabic Literature. It is concise (consisting of only three books, reasonably short) but extensive in their coverage. It combines modern Arabic vocabulary with Islamic terminology used in the Qur'an and Sunnah. It Helps acquire an understanding of hundreds of Qur'anic verses, aHadith, Arabic parables and poetry.


The Arabic Course for English-Speaking Students is a comprehensive and popular course for the teaching of the Qur'anic and Traditional Arabic, originally devised and taught at the renowned Madinah Islamic University, catering for the non-Arabic speaking students from all over the world. Over the years, this course has enabled students to become competent in their use of the Arabic language and to participate and benefit from scholarly pursuits such as Qur'anic Exegeses, Hadith, Fiqh, Sirah, History, and Classical and Modern Arabic Literature. It is concise (consisting of only three books, reasonably short) but extensive in their coverage. It combines modern Arabic vocabulary with Islamic terminology used in the Qur'an and Sunnah. It Helps acquire an understanding of hundreds of Qur'anic verses, aHadith, Arabic parables and poetry.

madinahbooksThe Arabic Course for English-Speaking Students is a comprehensive and popular course for the teaching of the Qur'anic and Traditional Arabic, originally devised and taught at the renowned Madinah Islamic University, catering for the non-Arabic speaking students from all over the world. Over the years, this course has enabled students to become competent in their use of the Arabic language and to participate and benefit from scholarly pursuits such as Qur'anic Exegeses, Hadith, Fiqh, Sirah, History, and Classical and Modern Arabic Literature. It is concise (consisting of only three books, reasonably short) but extensive in their coverage. It combines modern Arabic vocabulary with Islamic terminology used in the Qur'an and Sunnah. It Helps acquire an understanding of hundreds of Qur'anic verses, aHadith, Arabic parables and poetry.

Al Aajaroomiyyah, is the quintessence of Arabic grammar, its status is largely unchallenged as an excellent introduction to this first field of learning, which every scholar must master before delving into other Arabic literature. Hence, we find much attention has been paid to it amongst Arab scholars over a considerable period of time. Up untill now, this text is taught across the world in traditional institutions and is recognised as a key stepping stone to studying detailed grammar.

This course is not designed for complete beginners, but for students who have already studied the basics and are ready to tackle grammer in intensive way. It is hoped by the end of the course that the student will be able to understand the basics of grammar and thus be able to deal with more advanced texts in grammar and literature.

The Laamiyyah is a famous primer classical text on sarf by the famous Jamaal ad-Deen Ibn Maalik (rahimahullah).