Arabic in pre-Islamic Arabia, the platform for Revelation (Qur’ān):

During the pre-Islamic era, Arabic literature and particularly poetry, was composed in a highly eloquent form of the Arabic language and was only surpassed by the language and form of Qur’ān itself, “We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran, in order that you may learn wisdom” [12:2]. The Qur’ān was revealed in a cultural context that highly valued and perfected the art of language. Arabic Poetry played an essential role in almost every aspect of the Arabian life showing the important role that language played in pre-Islamic Arabia. In that backdrop, and in a culture of literary excellence, the Qur’ān which is the masterpiece of Arabic was revealed.

Arabia itself was divided into North and South. While the people of southern Arabia enjoyed prosperity and luxury that was similar to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, the people of the North were known to have primitive nomadic lives. The two contrasting parts of the Peninsula were divided by a vast desert. This gap between them was reflected in their languages. The recognizable precursor of Classical Arabic that the Qur’ān was revealed in was spoken in the North.

Arabic, the Language of Islam:

Apart from the Arabs, many people from different parts of the world attempted to learn the language, as they believed the Qur’ān is universal and the language of the last Prophet belongs to everyone. That is why we find lots of syntacticians, lexicologists, poets, and scientists among the non-Arab community, especially among persians.

 

“إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ“

Indeed, We have sent it, an Arabic Qur’ān so that you all may understand” {12:2}. Imam Shāf’i said, “Every Muslim is obligated to learn the Arabic tongue to the utmost of his power in order to profess through it that ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is His Messenger’ and to utter what is mandated upon him…” (al-Risalah, pg.93). Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah said, “The Arabic language is part of the religion, and knowing it is an obligation since it serves as a means to understanding the Qur’ān and Sunnah that cannot be understood without knowing Arabic, and the (general Islamic principle is that) every act that is an essential prerequisite to perform an obligatory act is also obligatory.” (Iqtida Sirat al-Mustaqeem, pg.469) Hence, the Arabic language played a major role in preserving the religion of Islam, primarily through the Qur’ān and Sunnah.

Early Stages of Codifying Arabic Grammar:

Being the language of Revelation, Arabic had evolved to a high level and gained more attention as a language. Errors of speech entered the Arabic language by the non- Arabs. Although there are different dialects and accents in any community, they are not considered to be harmful to the language and only cause varieties in the spoken language; however, errors of speech are linguistic errors which bring damage to the spoken language and harm the origin of the speech.

The earliest attempt to codify Arabic grammar is traced to`Ali (R) commanding one of his students, Abu al-Aswad ad-Du’ali (69 AH) to systemize Arabic grammar: ‘Speech is made of nouns, verbs, and particles. Nouns are names of things, verbs provide information, and particles complete the meaning. Follow this way (Nahw) and add to it what comes to your mind’ (Ibn al-Anbāri). Ad-Du’ali says, “I wrote two chapters on conjunctions and attributes then two chapters on exclamation and interrogatives. Then I wrote about إِنَّ وَ أَخَوَاتِها and I skipped لَکِنَّ. When I showed that to him, he ordered me to add لَکِنَّ. Therefore, every time I finished a chapter I showed it to him, until I covered what I thought to be enough. He said, ‘How beautiful is the approach you have taken!’ (Ibn al-Anbāri). Following ad-Du’ali came many other grammarians, who studied and developed the science of the language. The period between 750 AD and 1500 AD witnessed  more than 4000 grammarians who have been recorded in history. (Jiyad, Mohammed. A Hundred and One Rules) Of these, the most famous was Sibaway (180 AH), who compiled the work “al-Kitab”, which became the standard reference for Arabic grammar. The teacher of Sibaway, al-Khalil (75 AH), is recognized as the first grammarian to compile an Arabic dictionary كِتابُ الْعَين based on Arabic roots. Grammarians studied the Arabic of the Qur’an, pre-Islamic poetry, and other literature from Bedouin Arabs as the correct standard of language which became known as the Classical Arabic or اَلْفُصْحٰى (al-Fus’ha) that is defined as the language used among Arabs of pure speech of which the beauty is perceived by hearing; eloquent; strictly following the rules of linguistic syntax. It was spoken for the first 300 years AH. The rules of Classical Arabic, however, have been preserved and studied by both Arabs and non-Arabs until today.

Conclusion:

The stage of Arabic development can be divided into seven stages”

1) Foundation (1st and 2nd century Hijri): from the time of Imam Ali (R) to the time of Ibn Abi Ishaq al-Hadhrami (d. 117). This was the period when the preliminary foundations for Arabic grammar were set.

2) Writing books (2nd century Hijri): from the likes of Abu ‘Amr bin al-‘Ala and ‘Isa bin ‘Umar (d. 149) to the likes of Abu Zakariyyah al-Farra, Khalil (d. 170), Sibawayh (d. 180), Kisayee and Akhfash.

3) Expounding (3rd century Hijri): the age of bayan and ta’qib– Mubarrad (d. 285) and Tha’lab (d. 291) tried to expound on the views of Khalil, Sibabwayh, Kisayee and Farra. They elaborated on the foundations of the Basran and Kufan schools.

4) Formalization (4th century Hijri): grammar classes took place throughout the Islamic world. It was in this period when different schools were recognized with their own established views.

5) Standardization (5th & 6th century Hijri): the age of standardizing rules. Linguist sciences  reached and flourished in Andalus and then expanded to other areas of the West for more than two centuries. Al-Shantamri suggested an approach to return back to the basic principles of syntax to simplify Arabic grammar.

6) Reconciliation and (7th century and onward): all efforts of the past centuries were put together and the schools of thought were reconciled. This effort reached its climax in the Alfiyyah of Ibn Malik al-Juyani, which became the main book of reference.

7) Renewal and Re-examination (Modern Day): modern day study of Arabic grammar and matters such as our interaction with grammar are addressed.

 

In conclusion, Arabic language played as an effective communication tool, a precious culture, and the pride of a civilization (later during the pre-modern Muslim governments). The tradition of pre-Islamic poetry serves as a clear historical precedent for the language of the Qur’ān as the language of the Bedouin of the Peninsula became an authority and a source for correctness later when Muslim scholars began the process of codifying Arabic grammar. The process of developing Arabic grammar as a science emerged in the second half of the first century after Hijra, due to errors in speech (lahan) as more non-Arabs embraced Islam. The emergence of Islam in the Arab community resulting in establishing some principles and grammatical rules for Arabic grammar.

 

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