Language and Vocabulary

Language and Vocabulary

 

The language of the Qur'an - as is we11 known- is Arabic. The Qur'an itself gives some indication about its language:

'We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an in order that ye may learn wisdom' (Al-Qur'an 12: 2).

In another place the language of the Qur'an is called 'pure Arabic' ('arabiyyun mubin):

'This (tongue) is Arabic, pure and clear' (16: 103).

The question that arises is: Why was the Qur'an revealed in Arabic, and not in any other language? The first and perhaps the most obvious reason is already referred to in the Qur'an, namely that because the messenger who was to announce this message was an Arab, it is only natural that the message should be announced in his language:

'Had We sent this as a Qur'an (in a language) other than Arabic they could have said: Why are not its verses explained in detail? What! (a book) not in Arabic and (a messenger) an Arab? Say: It is a guide and a healing to those who believe ...' (Al-Qur'an 41: 44).

Another important reason concerns the audience which was to receive the message. The message had to be in a language understood by the audience to whom it was first addressed, i.e. the inhabitants of Makka and the surrounding areas:

'Thus We have sent by inspiration to thee an Arabic Qur'an: that thou mayest warn the mother of the cities and all around her- and warn (them) of the day of assembly of which there is no doubt (when) some will be in the garden and some in the blazing fire' (Al-Qur'an 42: 7).

The Qur'an Needed to be Understood

The Qur'an contains revelation from Allah and the true nature of revelation is to guide mankind from darkness to light:

'A book which we have revealed unto thee in order that thou mightest lead mankind out of the depths of darkness into light- by the leave of thy Lord- to the way of (Him) the exalted in power, worthy of all praise' (Al-Qur'an 14: 1).

The revelation came in the language of the messenger and his people in order that it might be understood:

'We have made it a Qur'an in Arabic that ye may be able to understand (and learn wisdom)' (Al-Qur'an 43: 3).

In the nrocess of understanding a message two steps are essential:

Only the combination of the two elements, i.e. reception and decoding, lead to proper understanding of the message.

To Understand the Qur'an

It is not correct to assume that understanding the Qur'an in order to take guidance from it depends upon direct knowledge of the Arabic language, since there are numerous Arabic-speaking people who do not understand the message of the Qur'an. Rather the Qur'an tells us that right guidance comes only from Allah:

'This is the guidance of God: He giveth that guidance to whom He pleaseth of His worshippers ...' (Al-Qur'an 6: 88).

However, to understand the language of the Qur'an is a prerequisite to fully grasp its meanings. Hence many Muslims have learned this language. Others, who have not done so, make use of translations, which for them is an indirect means of knowing the language, as in the translations the meanings of the Qur'an have been rendered into their mother tongues so that they may familiarise themselves with the message from Allah.

This message can be understood by all human beings who are willing to listen, for the Qur'an is not difficult but easy:

'We have indeed made the Qur'an easy to remember: but is there any that remembers it?' (Al-Qur'an 54: 17).

Non-Arabic Words in the Qur'an

There is some difference of opinion among scholars whether the language of the Qur'an includes expressions which are not Arabic. Some (among them Tabari and Baqillani) hold that all in the Qur'an is Arabic and that words of non-Arabic origin found in the Qur'an were nevertheless part of Arabic speech. Although these words were of non-Arab origin the Arabs used and observed them and they became genuinely integrated in the Arabic language.

However, it is conceded that there are non-Arabic proper names in the Qur'an, such as Isra'il, Imran, Nuh., etc.

Others have said that the Qur'an does contain words not used in the Arabic language, such as e.g.:

Some scholars have written books on the topic of 'foreign vocabulary in the Qur'an', e.g. Suyuti, who compiled a small book with a list of 118 expressions in different languages. [The Mutawakkili of Al-Suyuti7, trans. by William Y. Bell, Yale University Dissertations, 1924; see also Itqan.]