Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur’an

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Qur’an is a treasure trove of gems and jewels. For the one who diligently seeks them, it can provide any or all of the following priceless blessings required for spiritual growth and rejuvenation: knowledge, insight, understanding of reality vs. illusion, the ability to identify causes of day-to-day situations and human reactions to them, a variety of psychological behavioral traits displayed by people in any era of time, and a deep grasp of the concepts of life, death and the afterlife.

Not just this, but the Qur’an also details numerous past, real-life, historic events accompanied by dialogues that actually took place centuries ago between people, necessitating the student of knowledge to dig deeper into the context behind revelation of its verses, and to consult other reliable sources for details of the events in the lives of previous prophets and bygone nations, with the most authentic of these sources being primarily hadith collections.

Last but not least, one of the greatest gems that can be extracted from this Glorious Book is the immense enjoyment of communicating directly with Allah through un-rushed, beautified and deliberate recitation of His كلام – His own spoken word. Such recitation results in the subsequent descent of, and the feeling of being enveloped by, His Divine mercy or رحمة.

All of the above are blessings and treasures that can be derived from this ‘treasure chest’ – the Glorious Quran – to name but a few.

Yes, the Quran is indeed a treasure trove of gems, but only for the one who seeks them from this trove with the correct intention, and via correct branches and sources of knowledge, which include the rules of tajweed and other supplementary subjects.

One of the most popular – and also often the most feared – subjects that a student of knowledge pursues to understand the Quran better, is Arabic Grammar. Comprising mostly of a set of lexical rules derived to help understand Arabic as a language, Grammar is sometimes a difficult nut to crack. Nay, it is many a students’ most ardent nemeses!

I admit that I have heard some extremely polarized views about this subject from different people, be they experienced teachers or frazzled students at their wits’ end; students ready to pull their hair out over sincere but futile efforts to memorize the complex, multidimensional tables of Arabic pronouns, nouns and verbs!

Some are of the opinion that Arabic Grammar makes it difficult and confusing for a student of knowledge to get a grasp of the language. They opine that memorization of tables does not help if, at the end of the day, the student cannot apply its basic concepts to comprehend the actual Quranic text.

Others stand by the claim that memorization of the complex noun and verb tables of Arabic Grammar is one of the secrets to unlocking the deeper meanings of the comprehensive yet compact (جامع) words in the Quran.

As a work-in-progress student of knowledge, I admit that I hold the latter opinion. I have benefited tremendously by studying basic Arabic grammar. However, my primary concern was never memorizing the tables just to get good marks in tests, but rather, to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Quran’s Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings from it that simple language translations did not adequately convey.

Below, I will attempt to express the importance of studying Arabic Grammar by explaining 3 examples of words found in different places in the Quran.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ

O you who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger..” [Quran – 4:136]

The above portion of this verse carries 2 Arabic words that sound incredibly similar to each other, and they occur consecutively. In fact, the only difference between the two words آمَنُواْ and آمِنُواْ, is changing the fathah (فتحة) on the “م” into a kusrah (كسرة):

آمَنُواْ          آمِنُواْ

The change of that single fathah into a kusrah changes the entire meaning of the same set of letters. Whereas the word “آمَنُواْ” means “those people who have believed” and is a verb or action-word, the word “آمِنُواْ” means, “Believe, you all!” and it is not a verb per se but rather, “a command verb” i.e. an action word that is meant as a command to someone. In grammatical lingo, it known more formally as the “imperative verb”, but I prefer referring to it as the “command verb”, because it is known in arabic as فعل امر.

You can understand it with this analogy: we say, “Eat!” to someone when commanding them to eat, but we also say the word “eat” as a verb in other contexts, e.g. “We will eat in an hour”.

The beauty of the Arabic language is that it uses separate combinations of the same set of root letters (in this case, these letters are: م , ا , and ن), with different sounds for those letters, denoted by vowels, to openly display these differences in meaning very beautifully.

(Please click here for a more detailed, word-for-word, grammatical analysis of the above verse.)

For the next example, here is a verse from Surah Aali `Imran:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اصْبِرُواْ وَصَابِرُواْ وَرَابِطُواْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allah. That you may prosper.” [Quran – 3:200]

In the above verse, again, two very similar words come right one after another. They are:

اصْبِرُواْ              صَابِرُواْ

In this case, both these words are command verbs ordering a group to a certain action. However, their form is different by a single Arabic letter or consonant, the alif (ا). In the first word, “اصْبِرُواْ”, the alif comes before the ص. In the second word, “صَابِرُواْ”, the alif comes after the ص.

This single, apparently very slight, difference in writing the same set of consonants, results in two command-verbs that convey completely different meanings.

The command verb “اصْبِرُواْ” means, “be patient (you all)”, whereas the command verb “صَابِرُواْ” means, “exhort each other towards patience (you all)”.

Isn’t it obvious how powerful the language of the Quran is? How beautifully it conveys different meanings by adding or moving around just one consonant/letter in a word, or the vowel on it?

Now let’s look at the third example. This one will present how knowledge of Arabic grammar helps in pondering more deeply on the verses of the Quran, to get a more detailed picture of what is being said:

خُذُوهُ فَغُلُّوهُ

Lay hold of him, and shackle him” [Quran – 69:30]

This verse of the Quran contains two command-verbs which have the pronoun “هُ” appended at their end. Both the words, “خُذُوا” and “غُلُّوا” are command-verbs directed at several masculine recipients, or a group of men. This is apparent because of the “وا ُ ” appearing at their end.

This presents an interesting insight into this verse. The English translation says, “Lay hold of him“, but analysis of the Arabic command verb “خُذُوهُ” reveals that, actually, several beings are being addressed to “lay hold of him”, not one person.

This unveils knowledge of a bone-chilling scene that shows us a picture of what will happen to wrong-doers in the Akhirah: numerous angels will be commanded by Allah to hold and shackle one sinning human being, and then thrust him into the Hell-Fire!

The next verse, shown below, completes the terrifying picture:

ثُمَّ الْجَحِيمَ صَلُّوهُ

And then let him enter hell;” [Quran – 69:31]

Another command-verb “صَلُّوا” occurs in this verse, having the pronoun “هُ” appended at its end. The meaning is the same: an order from Allah to several angels to throw the person referred to by the pronoun “هُ”, into the Hell Fire.

ثُمَّ فِي سِلْسِلَةٍ ذَرْعُهَا سَبْعُونَ ذِرَاعًا فَاسْلُكُوهُ

And then thrust him into a chain [of other sinners like him – a chain], the length whereof is seventy cubits.” [Quran – 69:32]

Finally, using the command-verb “اسْلُكُوهُ”, Allah commands the numerous angels to pass the sinner onto a chain of others like him.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir explains the above verses thus:

Allah’s words, “Seize him and fetter him; then throw him in the blazing Fire” mean that He [Allah] will command the guardians of Hell to forcibly remove him from the gathering place, fetter him – meaning put iron collars on his neck – then carry him off to Hell and cast him into it, meaning they will submerge him in it.

Then fasten him on a chain whereof the length is seventy cubits!” – Ka`b Al-Ahbar said, “Every ring of it will be equal to the entire amount of iron found in this world.”

Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas and Ibn Jurayj both said, “Each cubit will be the forearm’s length of an angel.”

Ibn Jurayj reported that Ibn `Abbas said,  فَاْسْلُكُوهُ  (“then fasten him“) “It will be entered into his buttocks and pulled out of his mouth. Then they will be arranged on this (chain) just like locusts are arranged on a stick that is being roasted.”

Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said, “It will be ran into his behind until it is brought out of his two nostrils so he will not be able to stand on his two feet.”

End quote Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

Arabic Grammar thus enables us to understand certain things whilst reciting or reading the Arabic text of the Quran directly, without needing an accompanying translation or consulting a tafsir.

As shown above, the tasfir makes it clear that several angels – in the role of the guardians of Hell – will be taking hold of, fettering and thrusting each Hell-dweller into either (i) a chain of other sinners headed for Hell, or (ii) an extremely huge iron chain that will be passed through his body like a skewer. This terrifying picture of several harsh, stern angels working together in a group on one sinner at a time sends chills down the spine.

We seek refuge with Allah from the torments of the Akhirah. Ameen.

I hope I have been able to effectively convey and present the ease that is provided to a student, by studying Arabic Grammar, in understanding lexical technicalities in the Quran’s Arabic text, which does away with the need to always consult a translation.

I know that studying Arabic grammar can be a challenge at times. Here a few tips that can help:

  1. Constantly renew your intention of studying this branch of Islamic knowledge to make it solely for the pleasure of Allah, as it will aid you to understand His Glorious Book better, because of which you will acquire His closeness and more taqwa, insha’Allah.
  2. Do not worry if the conjugation tables and difficult descriptive terms overwhelm you at first. Keep trying to apply the knowledge of the rules to verses of the Quran.
  3. Do not focus just on memorizing grammatical concepts, terms and their definitions to pass exams. Rather, it is alright, for example, if you forget the complex definition of فعل امر but can identify it when you read or recite the Quran’s arabic text and see how it is tying in with the meaning of the text.
  4. Consider your pursuit of knowledge a blessed action worthy of great reward.

When you proceed like this, keeping a positive approach and a never-give-up attitude that transcend official courses and classroom lessons taken under teachers, Allah’s help will come in the form of ease and barakah, insha’Allah, granting you insights into the language of the Quran, which you never anticipated that you could experience!

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur’an

  1. Can you explain why “اصْبِرُواْ ” means to be patient and صَابِرُواْ means to advice each other in patience ? For unknown reasons , I was thinking about this verse few days back and I did not know the answer. I am also a novice student of Arabic.

    Jazakillahu Khairan for the post
    Wassalamualaikum.

    1. The difference is because of the two distinct Arabic imperative verb forms. These different forms, based on the same root letters ص ب ر, give different meanings.
      Please click here to see how the differences in forms give somewhat similar but different meanings altogether, when the root is the same.
      Subhan Allah, how deep is the language that Allah chose to reveal the Quran in.

  2. BismiLLah.
    Dear sadaf Farooqui
    Excellent explaination of fail-e Amr. AlhamdoliLLah.
    I would like to learn Arabic Quranic Grammar and need to buy a good source of it’s book in grammar?
    JZKK.
    anwar khaleeq Khan

  3. salamunalaikum…!

    Allahukber! It is just because of Quranic inspitation Im living my life, else i dont know what would have happened to me by now.

    Mashallah your work is worth appreciating, reading,reflecting and sharing with everyone.

    Blessed be you and your work.

    1. Wa alaikumus salam J,
      Thank you so much. Great to be acquainted with you.
      As I type, I am listening to your radio talk about staying happy in an environment of fear that you’ve linked in your blog.
      Barak Allahu feeki. Thanks for stopping by with your feedback!

  4. As Salamu Alaykum, Masha’Allah. Barak’Allahu Feekum. You deserved that award last year. You are a miracle from Allah. I have never, and I have been to 12 countries and 13 States with the U.S.A, have never seen such well written articles. May Allah increase you.

    1. وعليكم السلام
      Jazak Allahu khair, Sheikh, for the gracious dua and encouragement.
      To say that I am honored by your comment would really be an understatement!
      Thank you for encouraging me to go on using “the pen” in Allah’s path.
      Allah is the source of all benefit.

  5. Wow subhanAllah! what a scary scary description …..just reading it gives one the chills. May Allah (swt) protect us from it. Jazkallahu khayir for an explanation of
    Arabic grammar …I have been listening to Bayinnah podcast on Quranic tafseer and Nouman Ali Khan talks ALOT about grammar and this gives me an insight as to why it is soo important.

    What a beautiful langauage, what a blessed book and what a Merciful Lord that chose to give it to us as Guidance. May we all understand and study it with sincere intentions. Ameen.

  6. Jazak Allah for writing such beautiful post and sharing with us this insight into Quran. May Allah swt bless you.

  7. Assalamualaikum aw rahmatullahe wa barakatuh,
    Dear Sister Sadaf,
    May Allah reward you for your work with the highest position in jannah Ameen,
    I would like to add my experience with learning this divine language,You won’t believe I did my medical school and post graduation,I never enjoyed learning anything more than learning Arabic.I was in Riyadh and had the opportunity to attend a madrasah for nonarabic speaking females 5 years back,now I am in states but still learning the language from whatever resource I can find and I also try sharing it with my family and friends.Learning the language of Allahs book has helped me relate to his message more sincerely and now I can appreciate and reflect the message which Allah is conveying to us.It has helped me to understand it and translate it to my actions.Everyone needs to taste this pleasure,it has so much tranquility,which is beyond explanation.May Allah guide us and give each one of us opportunity to be near him.love you all for the sake of Allah

  8. assalamualaikum sister,
    may allah bless u here and the hereafter for this beautiful work.i have a small question sister.i doing master of engineering at the same time, i have great intention to study arabic language to know the beautiful words of allah. now-a-days every aalim is busy in some other works. so i studing arabic grammer on my own by referring arabic book in tamil. now i am started “jumla”. if i have doubt i asked to some aalim. is there is any problem to study arabic on my own?….i have usthad but he is too busy in doing dawa……he always give me advice that i can study on my own and make quran as teacher.if u study 1 rules see it in quran whether it is applied by allah in quran. …any suggestion about this….waiting 4 ur reply sister…..

  9. Learning to translate and comprehend the text of Grand Qur’aan is merely a skill. Everybody can and should acquire it. What we need is only the desire to develop personal contact with the Author of Qur’aan, Allah the Exalted and the elevated universal Messenger Sal’lallaa’hoalaih’wa’salam; and the tools-kit which is required to translate and comprehend the second-language text.

    Tools-Kit for acquiring the skill for real-time translation:

    The text of languages is typically divided into three categories:

    1) Word; [Parts of speech]

    2) Phrase;

    3) Sentence [Arrangement of words and phrases to convey a proposition-perception]

    The Kit for learners-beginners: Grand Qur’aan is easy to learn-Grammar; Morphology and Syntax.

    The Kit for scholars: Grand Qur’aan in 21st century-easy to comprehend and translate

    Reference for assistance: Translation of Ayah after grammatical parsing of sentences. Each word of Ayah is grammatically defined and is linked with its Root page where all words of that Root occurring in Qur’aan are alphabetically arranged. Classical lexicons and Lane Lexicon for cross check are also linked on the Root page.

    Grammatical parsing of the text-sentences of each Ayah is also linked in the side pane.

    Please remember that no translation of the Qur’aan will ever be exhaustive and final. The day you acquire the skill, I am sure you will render a far better and precise translation than my and my wife’s effort.

    http://haqeeqat.org.pk/English%20Tafsir%20e%20Haqeeqat/eng%20article.htm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s