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Offline Reader Questions

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Islamic Secondary Sources and Lexicons
« on: March 17, 2013, 01:43:01 AM »
Dear Sir,

Thanks for the clarification even at this belated stage. 

However, your Q&A section is really helping me and God will bless you for all the pain you are taking to enlighten us. 

I need some clarification on following:

I note the following from your articles / forum discussions:

Therefore any source, including classical lexicons, works of grammarians, dictionaries or indeed, any Islamic secondary source as defined above which is used to understand the classical Arabic language is implicitly ratified by the Quran (15:9).  The Quran does not simply ratify the protection of the 'kalimaat' (words) alone, but rather the 'dhikr'. This includes words, meanings, grammar and everything necessary to make the ‘message’ intelligible.

Whereas I noted from the forum as follows:

If we cannot rely on hadith which is a secondary source of the second century AH+, how can we rely on the dictionaries which have also been influenced by the same people in the second century AH+ and is also a secondary source?

The oldest dictionary is Kitab Ayn in Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farhidi [d. 174/791]

Will have same status of Hadith and may be not fully reliable in its correct meaning/interpretation as the people around that period must have been influence to interprets some of the meaning to suit the ruling clan/people of that time. 

I feel only correct dictionary or meaning can be from Quran itself wherever we can. 

Sometime we see in Quran Corpus one word having several form of meaning (unbelievably complex, even diverse and may not be applicable now). 

Whether people at the time of Prophet aware of all these meaning is difficult to judge.

Hence our grammar/meanings based on even the oldest dictionaries almost 100 years after the prophet's time will not be correct to some extent.

Please advise of your opinion.


Offline Joseph Islam

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Re: Islamic Secondary Sources and Lexicons
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2013, 05:08:51 AM »
May peace be with you.

Dictionaries are simply a 'source' to understand the Arabic language. They are not the only source.

Hence if you note my shared comment, I said "Therefore any source, including ...”

This from my perspective, clearly intends to imply that there are also other sources in which the Arabic language can be understood.

One major source is the millions of people that speak the language everyday notwithstanding Standard Arabic, which is used and spoken by academic institutions, journalism and in shared discourse by those who have differing native Arabic dialects.

'Arabic' is not a dead / defunct language nor is it nearly obsolete like the language of Prophet Jesus (Aramaic). Arabic is a thriving language throughout the world with many words of the Quran still in everyday use today as they were in the Quran, ancient literature and the vernacular of the Arab ancients of yore.

"Classical Arabic (CA) text is the form of Arabic language used in literary texts authored by early Arabic scholars mainly in the 6th through 10th century. The Quran is considered to be the highest form of Classical Arabic text and has been extensively cited in linguistic scholarly works since the 7th century. In contrast to most languages,  the total body of Arabic texts published during this classical period large, compared to modern corpora of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) - the form used in contemporary scholarly published works as well as in the media. MSA does not differ from Classical Arabic in morphology or syntax, but richness of stylistic and lexis usage is apparent in Classical works. This makes Classical Arabic subsume MSA making computational and linguistic research work on CA benefit both." [1]

Words from the Quran have the same primary meaning in the Quran as they do in spoken Arabic today. For example:

ibriq 56:18 (jug); bisat 71:19 (carpet); basal 2:61 (onions); basar 2:20 (eyesight); bab 2:58 (door / gate); bayt 8:35 (house); dif 16:5 (warmth); dukhan 41:11 (smoke); dalw 12:19 (bucket); dam 5:2 (blood);  dhiram 12:20 (currency); dayn 2:282 (debt); dhi'b 12:13 (wolf); dhubab 22:73 (fly); dafda 7:133 (frog); dayf 11:78 (guest) fajr 2:187 (dawn); fakhkhar 55:14 (pottery); falak 21:33 (sky); faqir 2:271 (poor / needy); far' 14:24 (branch); fil 105:1 (elephant); ghulam 18:80  (young man, son, lad); ghurab 5:31 (raven); ghawwas 38:37 (diver); hud.hud 27:20 (Hoopoe bird); hadid 17;70 (iron); hajr 2:24 (stone / rock); himar 2:259 (donkey); harir 22:23 (silk); hasid 50:9 (harvest); jabal 7:143 (mountain); jabin 37:103 (brow); jidar 59:14 (a wall);  majalis 58:11 (assemblies);  jism 63:4 (body);  jar 4:36 (neighbour); kadhdhab 38:4 (liar - adjective); kahf 18:10 (a cave); kalb 7:176 (dog); kalam 2:75 (word); kursiy 38:35 (chair, seat, throne); kitab 2:2 (book); kub 43:71 (cup); kawkab 6:76 (planet / star); khubz 12:36 (bread); khadd 31:18 (cheek); akhdar 12:43 (green); khamsun 29:14 (fifty); khums 8:41 (one fifth); nisf 4:11 (half); khardal 21:47 (mustard); khushub 63:4 (wood/ timber); khata 4:92 (by error); khal 24:61 (uncle); khayl 3:14 (horses), khayt 2:187 (a thread), lu'lu 22:23 (pearls), libas 2:187 (clothing); lahab 77:31 (flame); lahm 2:173 (flesh); lawh 7:145 (tablet / plank); lawn (pl. alwan) 2:69 (colour); layl 2:41 (night); ma'z 6:143 (goats); mahd 3:46 (cradle); mani 75:37 (sperm drop); marjan 55:22 (coral); misr 2:61 (Egypt); tamathil 21:52 (statues); ma'  2:22 (water); mawj (10:22) wave; nuhas (55:35); brass; najm (6:97) star; nakhlah (2:266) palm tree; nur (2:17) light; qabr (22:7) grave; qufl (47:24) a lock;  qalb (2:7) heart; qalam 3:44 (pen / a quill); qummal 7:133 (lice); qamar 6:77 (moon); qamis 12:18 (a shirt); qasam 89:5 (oath); qasr 25:10 (palace); qawm - people, folk 2:54; qaws 53:9 (a bow); ra's 2:196 (head); ra'd 2:19 (thunder); mirfaq 5:6 (elbows); marhaban 38:60 welcome (salutation); rahl 12:62 (saddlebag); rajm 15:34 (stoned); ramad 14:18 (ashes); rumman 6:99 (pomegranates); rish 7:26 (feathers); sahab 13:12 (clouds); sahil 20:39 (shore); sahhar 26:37 (sorcerer / magician); sullam 6:35 (ladder); saqf 16:26 (roof); aswad 2:187 (black); khinzeer 2:173 (pig);  qiradah 2:65 (ape); baghl 16:8 (mule); buruj - plural of burj 4:79 tower, constellation; sawt 89:13 (whip); sha'r 16:80 (hair); sha'ir 21:5 (poet); shafaq 84:16 (twilight); shahr 2:185 (month); mashriq 2:115 (east); shita 106:2 (winter); isba 2:19 (finger); misbah 24:35 (lamp); sadiq 26:101 (friend); saff 18:48 (ranks); saghir 54:53 (small); sakhr 31:16 (rock); asamm (plural summ) 2:18 (deaf); suf (plural aswaf) 16:80 (wool);  tin 95:1 (fig); thobe: (plural: thiyab) 11:5 (garments / robe / clothes); tifl 22:5 (child / infant);  tufan 7:133 (flood / deluge); tin 3:49 (clay); tayr 2:260 (bird); wadi 9:121 (valley / river bed); wajh 2:144 (face); walad 2:116 (a child; son); waqud 2:24 (fuel); mizan 7:8 (balance, scales); yaqut 55:58 (rubies); yatim 2:83 (orphan); yawm 1:4 (day); zanjabil 76:17 (ginger); barq 2.20 (lightening) are just some examples.

Therefore, if you note my second comment, it is a response geared at those schools of thought (e.g. Astaana and others) that overtly rely on dictionaries alone changing meanings to well established words of Arabic, but at the same time reject the authority of secondary sources in general.

I have made my position absolutely clear of how I define 'Islamic secondary sources' and what element can be used with exception i.e. tools including the spoken language and the lexicons) which assist us to understand the Arabic language.

The theological support I advance for this is that it is inconceivable that where the Quran ratifies the protection of the 'Dhikr' (15:9) i.e. the message and not simply the 'kalimaat' (words) alone, that it would then allow the words, meanings, grammar and everything necessary to make the Arabic ‘message’ intelligible to be consigned to oblivion.

In my humble view, I feel that we ought to remember one crucial point when it comes to Islamic secondary sources such as 'Ahadith' which have arguably been influenced by sectarian, political and religious biases.

The question of the authenticity of the Ahadith corpus is not founded on the unreliability of the classical Arabic language in which it is transmitted. Rather, it is founded on questionable content (matn) and transmission. The mere fact that the veracity of a particular hadith can be ‘questioned’ is proof that the ancient Arabic language in which the Ahadith is transmitted is accepted as reliable.

As an example, if a hadith mentions 'nisa' implying women, it is accepted that the Hadith means 'women'. However, it may be rejected because the content of the hadith about women is not reliable. One cannot reject a particular hadith if the language that underpins it, remains questionable.

Therefore, the rejection of a particular hadith only legitimises the general knowledge of the classical Arabic language in which the Hadith was transmitted. Subsequently, the reliability of the Ahadith corpus and lexicons as a source to understand classical Arabic language has never been in doubt.

With respect to your comment, "Hence our grammar/meanings based on even the oldest dictionaries almost 100 years after the prophet's time will not be correct to some extent.”, it is to be appreciated that 'Arabic' was a well-established spoken language even before any of the dictionaries were written and more so at the time they were written. The language was also underpinned by a sacred scripture and it is inconceivable that basic meanings of basic Quranic words would have become lost given that God intended for the 'message' (dhikr) of the Quran to be preserved (15:9).

So whereas lexicographers may advance different shades of meanings and discuss words, it is inconceivable that they conspired together to invent new meanings  or make unintelligible basic meanings for basic Arabic words in common use which renders us incapable of discerning the fundamental meanings of the Quran with fundamental concepts.

This is especially when Arabic was such a widely spoken language in the entire region.

Today some argue against the basic meaning of concepts such as salat, fasting, nisa etc when these were well established words and concepts known to the Arabs.
To assert that at times some words may have had different interpretations is one thing, but it is quite another to dismiss basic meanings of Arabic words simply using dictionaries and questionable logic to assert a meaning that was never understood by any Arab in that context.

(1) Language of the Hadith is one thing and the Hadith content (2) is another. (1) has never really been in doubt, however the question of authenticity of (2) has been.

I hope that serves to clarify, God willing.


[1] Abdul-Baquee M. Sharaf, Eric S. Atwell, QurAna: Corpus of the Quran annotated with Pronominal Anaphora, School of Computing, University of Leeds, page 130
Bold emphasis mine.
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