Education International Opinion

Why is Arabic better than English as a “language” of the Qur’an?

By Khalil M. Khayat

It’s unfair to compare the four to five thousand years old Arabic, that is still in use today, in its original rules, grammar and vocab, to “modern English” which is only a few centuries old, Medieval and ancient English are fundamentally different!

So better let’s talk about some of the characteristics and uniqueness of this so ancient, yet modern day Arabic language.

I can simply say Arabic is Magical!

Here’s why:

  • Composed out of 29 letters (though most say 28 but the first letter أ Aleph is a combination of two ا Aleph and ء Hamza)
  • You have a very high probability of picking any 3 letters randomly and come up with at least one up to six different meaningful words, plus more additional depending on the way words are pronounced (using diacritics.)
  • Most Arabic words generate from 3 lettered masculine past tense verbs called “Roots” of which all types of different verbs, adverbs, nouns, subjects, objects, adjectives, etc… are simply derived.
  • Roots also come from 4, 5 and some even 6 letters. Words from two letters are very common, and there are 20 words from a single letter (two thirds of the Alphabet!)
  • The number of conjugation words made up from a combination of 3 letters is amazing, it can go up to hundreds even more from a single root!
  • Sentences can be easily formed out of a single word! Take for instance this word mentioned in Qur’an (أنلزمكموها) it translates into a full sentence in English: (Shall we (God) compel you (plural 3 or more) to accept it)
  • TArabic is extremely concise, you can get a full size A4 English letter and translate it into same size Arabic font for less than a half page.
  • Today’s practice of combining letters of different words to come up with a new acronym is a pretty old Arabic language practice, it is called نحت “Nahet” (word sculpture.) Such as بسملة and حوقلة and تهليل and حمدلة. Here is alink to my answer on this subject in Arabic: (Khalil Mohammad answer)‏ على هل استخدام الاختصارات شائع في اللغة الإنجليزية فقط؟ وما رصيد اللغة العربية منها؟ ولماذا هذا غير شائع في الكتابات العربية؟
  • Arabic language is very rich, can indicate singular, dual, plural (3 or more), masculine, feminine, other creatures, things, and magnitude of synonyms…
  • Qur’an as a 1450 years old text is the single & unique book that modern formal Arabic language rules of grammar, along with exapmles from pre-Islamic ancient poetry, is built upon and preserved.

To demonstrate some of the above points; let’s take as example the following 3 letters ك ت ب written as كتب and with diacritics as كَتَبَ

In English it reads as: Ka Ta Ba meaning “he wrote” (capital letters are for Arabic letters and small letter a is for one type of diacritics)

For singular feminine gender add one letter at the end as كتبت and it becomes “she wrote

For dual masculine كتبا

For dual feminine كتبتا

For plural 3 or more masculine كتبوا

For plural feminine كتبن

And so on….. it is just the beginning for the multi layered conjugations.

This small word is not just about writing, its derivatives are enormous, indicating books كُتُبْlibrariies مكتبات, envelope مكتوب, writer كاتب, office مكتب, desk مكتب etc.

Can easily spend an hour trying to put all possible combinations of these 3 letters by adding prefixes, infixes, suffixes, singular, dual (2 persons), or plural (3 or more persons), past tense, present, future, exaggeration, genders, known, unknown subjects, etc….

● Here’s a complete sentence made of words derived from this single root:

كتب الكاتبون والكاتبات كتبهم بالمكتبة

English: “The male writers (3 or more) and female writers (>3) wrote their books (>3) in the library”

● Another example

درس الدارسون والدارسات دروسهم بالمدرسة

“The male students and female students studied their lessons at school”

all from one root درس he studied

● A third example is from a line of poetry about friendship and faithfulness made of the single root صدق SaDaKa True with the proposition “in في Fee”

صادق صديقاً صادقاً في صدقهِ *** صدقُ الصداقةِ في الصديق الصادق

● A fourth example قرأ he read (past tense)

قرأ القراء القرآن في المقرأة

“The reciters read the Qur’an in the place where recitation is taught”

And so on..

To get more sophisticated, it’s not just how you write a particular word, its also how you pronounce it, that it matters the most.

Early linguistic scholars, such as the brilliant mathematician Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi – Wikipedia (100-170 AH) had to devise set of signs (diacritics) lightly highlighted above or below letters to differentiate phonetic vowels.

For instance the above example word كتب can be read in three different tones:

Ka Ta Ba=the male wrote or he wrote (singular masculine past tense)

Ku Tee Ba= it has been written (unknown affirmative singular or plural any gender past tense)

or: Ku Tu B= Books

All three words are written exactly the same, but pronounced differently, diacritics make the difference, but are hidden (not necessary to show) proper pronunciation is practically detected from context.

Another astonishing characteristic of word derivation is this:

Take any 3 lettered root word, play with letters order, in addition to ending up with several meaningful words (six or more), at many instances one of these words carries the opposite meaning of the original root. This is what Arabic linguistics call it the “grand” derivation (الاشتقاق الأكبر).

In case of our above example كتب to write (in one way it’s an act of revealing) the word كبت is to hide, to conceal.

Other meaningful derivations of same word are بكت بتك تكب تبك.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Haven’t discussed the profound logic of grammar, the traditional Arabic poetry, the melody built within the language, the metaphor, etc….

Now can you tell me which language, still in use, as it was four to five thousand years ago? And that can offer such kind of advanced sophisticated syntax? And can come up with texts that covers all possible meanings?

Which language can give such diversity and with continuous living inspiration?

● Now for comparing with Qur’an, it is the most sophisticated Arabic text, it was interpreted in thousands of Arabic written volumes, linguistically, historically, biographies, ethically, prose, poetry, and nowadays interpretation trend is concentrated on scientific and mathematical implications. It’s meanings have been translated into most living languages, including over 100 translations in the English language alone!

No wonder God’s final revelation to earth was in Arabic!

Allah (swt) said: (notice diacritics above and below letters and size of English translation)

وَلَوْ أَنَّمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ أَقْلَامٌ وَالْبَحْرُ يَمُدُّهُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ سَبْعَةُ أَبْحُرٍ مَا نَفِدَتْ كَلِمَاتُ اللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

  • And if whatever trees upon the earth were pens and the sea [was ink], replenished thereafter by seven [more] seas, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Qur’an 31:27)

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