Foundation, NJ U. S. A
the Message Continues ... 5/90
Newsletter for February 2009
Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12
A Common Language of Faith
by Dr. Hebatalla Elkhateeb-Musharraf
Section I: Introduction
The definitions and connotations of the terms and concepts about Islam and Muslims used throughout this book have roots in common with terms used in other faith communities. This chapter introduces an original descriptive phono-semantic relationship between sound and meaning, a framework that uses the comparative method of phonological analysis as a reliable and peer-reviewed methodology and original pedagogy to engage non-Arabic speaking communities in a deeper understanding of the Qur’anic text and Islamic terminology. This is a new paradigm of common language as a unifying force in the study, teaching, and learning of the universal human capacity for language as a basis for better communication and cooperation among faith communities.
The standard paradigm of language dynamics has been summarized in the book, by Greenburg, Harold, and Croft, Genetic Linguistics: Essays on Theory and Method[i] as follows: “Given the arbitrariness of the relationship between form and meaning, resemblances between two languages significantly greater than chance must receive a historical explanation, whether of common origin or of borrowing.”
Are the two possibilities suggested by Greenberg’s above quote the only ones? This paper aims to present a third possibility: a rich, common, and shared terminology that cannot be attributed to either common ancestor or borrowing but is significantly greater than chance.
This third possibility is based on linguistic evidence from the Arabic and English languages of a core of non-language specific universal vocabulary that transcends borrowing and points to the innate linguistic aptitude of human cognition. This universal core of lexical stock consists of criterion words that reflect normative values and demonstrates the universal human ability and capacity to facilitate the learning and conception of the shared universal moral values that bond all human beings.
The search for a shared origin of language has always been of concern to the general public and to linguists. According to the traditional view rampant in the field of linguistics, the world contains hundreds of language families among which there are no visible genetic connections or common origin. Several linguists challenged this view and suggested that the world’s languages do share a common origin[ii] (Merrit Ruhlen, 1994). In his research, Merrit Ruhlen concluded that the search for linguistic “relationships” among languages was already over and that it made no sense to ask if two languages were related. He asserted that “everything is related and the question to be investigated within or among different language families is the degree of their relationship, not the fact of it.”[iii]
Linguists have developed a theory that groups together sets of languages in a collection called the Nostratic languages, which are a family of languages which sharing a common ancestor, the Proto-Nostratic language. They propose a relationship among several of the principal language families of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The relationship implies a common origin for these families and their constituent languages, and apparently a Nostratic or Proto-Nostratic homeland, occupied by the speakers of the notional ancestral language at a date well prior to the formation of the daughter families and their languages.[iv] This hypothesis is based on a “large number of common roots and many common graphical morphemes.[v] The Nostratic hypothesis suggests that the main contemporary language families in the world descend from a common hypothetical ancestral language, which is called the Proto-Nostratic. Furthermore, this hypothesis especially emphasizes the concept of “common roots” which is the purpose of the present chapter instead of linguistic “borrowing” within or among language families. This chapter as well as the Nostratic theory of languages, adopts an “evolutionary” perspective which emphasizes a common ancestor(s) from which languages have evolved. According to Ruhlen, it is true that many words may have been “borrowed,” but the basic words such as (I, we, you, not…) are rarely borrowed. The fact that such words are shared by different languages especially among different language families over large geographical areas provides a powerful proof of a common ancestor.[vi]
This concept mirrors on a global scale the relation of the Romance languages to Latin. As Italian, French, Romanian, Spanish, and other languages derive from Latin, so too, the theory suggests, do a vast number of languages trace back to an original, shared source. From its origins in Asia Minor, the original Nostratic language birthed many variants as civilized cultures migrated to Europe, Asia, Africa, and even to North America. The word “nostratic” itself derives from Latin, and was attributed by Allan Bomhard to the word “nostras,” meaning “our countrymen.”[vii] The Latin origin of the word is “nos,” the nominative pronoun that means “we.” The word “nos” is similar to the Arabic root word “nafs,” which means “same” and “human soul.” The Arabic meaning of the word agrees with the hypothesis of the Nostratic theory which suggests that all human languages share the “same” origin.
Bomhard finds 601 common roots in the Nostratic language, while other linguists claim to have found, but not yet published, an equal or greater number of roots up to 1,900.[viii] He uses a methodology of tracing similar sounds and sound transformations from one language to another in order to find shared words. For example, the proto-nostratic “b” transforms into a “P” and a “w” in the proto-Uralic subset and into a “p” and a “v” in proto-Dravidian.[ix] Furthermore, as Bomhard (2008) suggests in his latest writings, it “seeks to investigate the possibility that certain languages or language families, not previously thought to be genetically related, at least not “closely” related, might indeed be part of still larger groupings, which may be called “macrofamilies.”[x]
This study uses a methodology similar to Bomhard’s by tracing similar sounds and sound transformation as one of several methodologies as detailed below in Section III. These methodologies will be demonstrated as a means to find vocabulary of shared origin. For example, the “b” in Arabic transforms into a “w” in German (pronounced as a “v” in English) as in Arabic Ba’ied or بعيد which means “far,” and German weit and to a “P” in Turkish as in Arabic Kitab or كتاب, which means a “book,” and Turkish “Kitap.”
Arabic, the language of the Quran, is the longest continuously spoken Semitic language and may represent the ultimate evolution of Semitic languages. It shares Semitic roots and vocabulary with Hebrew and Aramaic. This chapter attempts to show that it also shares the foundation of a universal lexical core or vocabulary with other world languages. It will demonstrate the existence of patterns of sound and meaning that appear to exist across languages between Arabic and English.
The entire book, Islam and Muslims of which this chapter provides a pioneering and unique methodology that serves as the first case study of the Nostratic theory of language in action.
Proceeding from Chomsky’s hypothesis of language innateness, this paper assumes an innate cognitive linguistic facility that enables the human brain to conceive and comprehend a shared core of universal values reflected in vocabulary. These shared concepts, principles, and terminology serve to reconstruct, restore, and inform the reader of the original meanings that are sometimes identical or related and sometimes contextual within the Qur’anic text. For example, the contextual meaning of the words “straight,” “strict” and “strata” share the common contextual meaning of the Qur’anic word “ṣirat,” which does not literally mean “straight” but rather “path.” In the Qur’an the word “sirat” is always followed by “mustaqim,” which together mean “straight path.”
This core of universal values reflected in vocabulary has two components: 1) a universal component, which is determined by a core of vocabulary shared by both languages within the diathesis (composition) of the root word, and 2) a language specific component, which is determined by the phonemes (sound) and morphology (structure) unique to each language.
The long range and ultimate objective of this chapter and its parent book is to facilitate a genuine dialogue in order to create a global world community and promote faith based understanding and cooperation within and among civilizations.
Section II: Common Origins
Although Islam is sometimes misperceived as an alien religion in the West, the present study suggests that Islamic concepts and their Arabic definitions show a common foundation of shared universal values across languages that unite all humanity despite our diverse nature. This, itself, evidences the oneness of the Creator and the universe (in Arabic, the Islamic concept of tawḥīd).
Muslims, Christians, and Jews believe that they have been created by the same Supreme Being, which Christians refer to as “father.” The English word “father” corresponds to the Arabic word “Fat’her”, فاطر , which means “The Creator” of heaven and earth and everything in between. They have the same nature. Islam is the faith of فطرةor “fature”, which means “nature”.
Therefore, Islam is a unifying and comprehensive faith that reflects all others and agrees with “the nature” of the heart, mind, and soul of “humanity” or “Umaty”, أمة in Arabic. Linguistically, the English words “father” and “nature” share the same Arabic root “fat’ure”, فطر, with the retention of all letter of the Arabic root in “father”, and the transformation of the (f to n) in “nature” following the rule of transformation of consonants.
The word “future” which is derived from the same Arabic root “fat’ure”, فطر reflects God as the only knower and the ultimate source of the future. Christians use the expression “God willing” which has the same meaning of the Arabic expression in sha’Allah, ان شاء الله. In sha’Allah is a phrase traditionally invoked by Muslims when referring to the future. In the Qur’an, 18, 23-24, God prohibited any Muslim to say “I will certainly do it tomorrow” unless one adds: “If Allah wills!”, or in sha’Allah, ان شاء الله in Arabic. In English, the future tense is expressed by preceding the verb with, “shall” or “will”. This helping verb “shall” is phonologically and semantically identical to sha’Allah, شاء الله which means “God willing” and it reflects the same shared moral values in communities of different faiths.
Likewise, “will” sounds like wallah, و الله which means “by Allah”. Furthermore, in Spanish o’jala is used to express the future tense and implies the same meaning of in sha’Allah . The French also use the verb “aller” to express the future tense, which identically sounds like “Allah” in Arabic, and “Alle” in Latin, meaning “God”. In sha’Allah brings Allah’s blessings to facilitate and initiate any action. Muslims believe that every action is initiated ultimately by Allah’s will and carried out by human will. The word “initiate” shares the same core of the Arabic root ansha’a, أنشأ, which means “to initiate” in Arabic, another word which sounds phonologically identical to “in sha’Allah”.
Sharing the same nature shows the existence of an equal innate ability and capacity to learn about and seek the truth without any compulsion of any faith over the other and with full accountability for one’s own actions: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Quran, Surah al Baqara, 2:256). This is reflected in an innate core of normative or criterion words or concepts across languages that explicate the universal moral values shared among all humans. The fact that the words “nature” and “The Creator” are derived from one Arabic root provides linguistic evidence from the Arabic language that could not only restore unity among the Semitic Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) but also among other secular and non-Semitic beliefs! It also provides linguistic evidence that regardless of mankind’s diverse interpretation of the “truth”, absolute reality remains the same as a bond for all of humanity. Developing this insight is the purpose of this study.
Section III: Methodology
A. The Universal Component
The suggested core vocabulary, as summarized above, has two components: a shared universal component and a language specific component. The universal component is revealed through the identification and isolation of the language specifics in order to examine the root words that appear to correspond in both sound and meaning in Arabic and English. Additional examples from other languages may also be included for clarification.
The language specific characteristics are revealed through observation and analysis of the phonological and morphological attributes unique to each language. These language specific components must be identified and then isolated to reveal the universal relationships in the common core of distinct languages even across unrelated language families. Such analysis has identified and isolated language specific components in order to reveal the underling patterns of affinity that form the common universal core in both Arabic and English:
1) Deletion of one or more graphemes (letters)
2) Addition of one or more graphemes
3) Transformation of one or more grapheme
4) Addition of a prefix, suffix, or both a prefix and a suffix:
a) the addition of a prefix such as (in, con, de, re, or pro);
b) the addition of a suffix such as the Arabic feminine suffix “ta marbutah”;
c) the addition of both a prefix and a suffix ;
5) Vowel changes in type or duration, (short to long, long to short, reversal,
e.g., a to e and e to i),
6) Order of letters within the word:
a) Scrambled order;
b) Reversed order, as will be explained later.
These dialectical observations, as shown by examples below, reveal the common core of shared vocabulary and explain the phonological and morphological pattern variations between Arabic and English.
B. Language Specific Components
The language specific phonological patterns of deviations from the Arabic root are established and illustrated in the form of alteration from the Arabic root as follows: 1) deletion, 2) addition, 3) transformation of one or more graphemes (letters), and 4) the addition of a prefix, suffix, or both a prefix and a suffix, 5) a change in the type or duration of short or long vowel(s), 6) order of letters within the word: The order of letters within the word whether scrambled or reserved as follows:
1) Deletion: The Arabic word cut’a, قطع, which means “to cut” in which the final “ع” is deleted to form the English word “cut”, and the Arabic word baiy’a, بيع, which means “a selling or buying transaction” and the English word “buy” in which the final “ع” is dropped. The Arabic word injaraḥ, انجرح, (which means to get wounded or injured in Arabic) and the English word “injure” where the final “ḥ” or “ح” is dropped.
2) Addition: The Arabic word atta,أتى (meaning to attain, bring, offer, or arrive “at”), and the English word “attain,” with the addition of the final “n” . The Arabic meaning of the word atta reflects the difference between the concept of attainment through God as the source of attainment and the concept of attainment by human power alone as in many non-Islamic cultures.
This same concept of attainment through God applies to the similarity between the verb “to have” in English and the Arabic verb wahaba, وهب, as well as the German verb haben, which is similar to the imperative form of the Arabic verb hab li, هب لي, in Surah Al-‘Imran, 3:38, meaning “grant to me” rather than “I possess”. This highlights two different perspectives between the Islamic theocentric culture that revolves around God as the ultimate Grantor of every good, and the anthropocentric or man-oriented epistemology of secular cultures.
This focus on God as the source of everything we enjoy in life explains why gratitude is essentially a synonym in the Qur’an for the Biblical concept of love, although the Qur’an has a rich vocabulary for various kinds and levels of love. For example, the common Qur’anic word for love, hubb, حُبّ, shares the same root with “hope” and “hobby” (what one loves to do). The English phrase “hopeful” reflects the Islamic concept of unconditional love in the phrase hubb fi allah, حُب في الله, only for Allah’s sake without any expectations of return. This explains why a really practicing Muslim can never succumb to desperation and destruction.
Another form of love emphasized in the Qur’an is wed or wadda,وَدَّ, which is reflected in the English word “wedding. The Qur’anic term does not mean literally marriage, but refers to the love of Allah as the ultimate source of love and as the loving bond between husband and wife. This good example of contextual meaning highlights the importance of the Qur’anic term muwadda,مَوَدَّة, or compassionate love as the basis for marriage.
3) Transformation of Grapheme Examples:
This methodology is similar to that of Bomhard’s methodology of tracing similar sounds and sound transformations from one language to another in order to find shared vocabularies. This study uses the methodology of tracing similar sounds and sound transformation from the Arabic alphabet to and from those of the Latin alphabet as one of several other methodologies in order to find vocabulary of shared origin as will be explained in details in the alphabet transformation CD. For example, the “b” in Arabic transforms into a “w” in German, pronounced “v” in English, as in Arabic “Ba’ied” which means far and German weit”; and to a “P” in Turkish as in Arabic Kitab,كِتاب, which means a “book” and Turkish “Kitap.” This methodology of letter transformation is illustrated in detail by animation on a separate CD that teaches the Arabic alphabet and their transformation to and from those of the Latin alphabet.
· The Arabic word salm, سـلم, which means peace, and soundness, in which the initial “s” was turned into “c” in the English word “calm”;
· The Arabic word nam, نام, which means to sleep and the English word “nap”, in which the final “m” was turned into “p”. The “m” was retained in the English word “numb” which literally means to put to sleep and an extra “b” was added;
· The Arabic word qist, قِسط, which means “justice” and the English word “Just”, in which the initial “q” was turned into “j”, which is closer to some colloquial Arabic in which the “q” is turned into “g”;
· The word ilyat, عِلية, means “the height” and “the upper class of people” in Arabic, in which the Arabic letter “ع” is converted to “e” in the English “elite”.
4) Addition of a prefix, suffix, or both prefix and suffix:
a) The addition of a prefix:
The addition of a prefix such as (in, con, re, or de): For example, the English word “intimate” and the Arabic word tamat’a, تمتع, which means “enjoy”, where the prefix “in” is added to the Arabic root as “en” is added to “joy” to literally mean “in the state of joy”. Another example of the addition of a prefix is the word “console” from the Arabic root word for salah, صَلاة meaning the attainment of peace through prayer and connection with God which is the literal meaning of the word “Salah” as in the honorific, salah Alahu ‘alayhi wa salam, which means “may Allah console him (the Prophet) and keep him connected to Him (God)”.
b) The addition of a suffix:
The addition of a suffix such as the Arabic feminine suffix “ta marbuṭah” as in “authority” and the Arabic word assultah , السُّلطةِ which means “authority” in Arabic and shares the same meaning with the Arabic word “Sultan” and the English word “soldier” and its German and Russian cognates “soldat”.
c) The addition of both suffix and a prefix
The addition of both prefix (de) and suffix (te) to the Arabic root to form the ارتقاء English word “delicate” in which the prefix “de” and the suffix “t” to represent the “ta marbuta” are added to the Arabic word alriqat, الرقة, which means “delicateness”. This shares the same root with the English word “aristocrat” and Arabic word istirqā, “استرقاء”or “” which means rising to a high ranking or superior moral or physical state.
5) Vowel change: Vowel change is exemplified as follows:
a) A change to the vowel’s type by free conversion among vowels. For example, in the English word “cat” and the word qit, or kit, قـِط, meaning “cat,” the “i” turns into “a” while the original “i” was retained in “kitten”.
b) A change in a vowel’s duration from long vowel to short or vice versa. For example, in the English word “ultimate” and the Arabic word altamat, التامة, which have the same literal meaning, the long “a” in the Arabic word turns into a short “i” in the English word.
6) The order of letters within the word as follows:
This method was used within the Arabic language by some classical creative linguists, such as Ibn Jinni (d.392/1002), who invented what he calls the great derivation (al-istiqaq al-akbar, الاشتقاق الأكبر ). This was a new technique whereby the letters of the verbal root are rearranged repeatedly to yield new ways of looking at ideas or objects. This study expands on this concept of Ibn Jinni by developing its application across languages as follows:
a) Scrambled letter order. The order of letters within the word is scrambled both within and among languages. For example, the order of the letters is scrambled between the root of the word “Arabic”, which is “A-R-B” meaning “to express”, and the root of the word “ Hebrew”, which is “A-B-R” meaning “to go or project across”. The order of the letters of the root word is changed from (A-R-B) in Arabic to (A-B-R) in Hebrew.
The present chapter goes beyond Arabic and Hebrew and apply the same concept to other languages, such as English, in order to establish a semantic relationship between Arabic and English words, such as elaborate, boat, board, and port, which share the root of the Arabic words abbar, عَـبَّر, (which means to express) and abara, عَـبَرَ or abarat, عَـبَرَتْ, (which means to cross). These share the same Arabic root with the English words mentioned above. These English words may initially seem unrelated without knowing their common Arabic root. Remarkably, these English words together reflect the totality of the original Arabic meaning.
b) Reversed letter order. The order of letters within a word among languages may be reversed. For example, the Arabic word ard, أرض, which means earth, is reversed in the Latin word terra, despite the fact that the Arabic word ard has the same order in the German word erde and in the English word “earth”. Another example of reversed order is the Arabic word sakhr, صَـخر, and its reversed letter order in the English word “rocks”.
C. Semantic Connections
The semantic relationship expressed in the shared basic meaning of the core words in Arabic and English may be direct or indirect. Even though English words may initially seem unrelated, one can still recognize and rationally identify the semantic relationship among English words and relate them back to their shared Arabic ancestral roots. For example:
· The word “flip” and its Arabic cognate “Qalip” means “flip” in Arabic in which the “q” was turned into “f”.
· The imperative form of the above verb is the Arabic word eclip,إقلب, and the addition of a final “s” in “eclipse”.
· In the two examples above, the meaning was related literally. The word clap derived from the same Arabic root qalaba,قَلَب, in which the original Arabic letter “q” is retained and not transformed into “f”. This is an example of “semantic connection” in which the words are related semantically not literally. Clapping does not literally mean clapping in Arabic but it is related to the meaning of the Arabic root because the act of clapping needs the flipping of one hand over the other, which explains the semantic connection rather than the exact literal meaning.
According to Eltigani Abdulqadir Hamid, “one way of analyzing the Qur’anic terms is to trace them back to their roots. The basic meaning subsiding in the verbal root remains a unifying common element to which all derivatives can be traced in the same way that members of a family are traced back to their common ancestor. All members of a family share some minimum common attribute that stems from the family root. To apply the basic meaning to a member of a family is to make a generalization, that is, to form a concept in the etymological discourse.”
In Arabic, the root word is always a verb that usually consists of three consonants. The basic meaning in the verbal root remains a unifying common meaning around which all derivative meanings revolve and connect and reflect the totality of the full spectrum of the cohesive meaning of the verbal root. Therefore, knowing the total meaning of the Arabic root facilities the process of identifying all other Arabic and non Arabic words that reflect the totality of the meaning of such root, and vice-versa. This study attempts to further the application of Ibn Jinni’s great derivation concept across languages to establish semantic relations between Arabic root words and all the English words that may seem initially unrelated, but in reality share a common root and reflect the totality of its meaning.
D. The Use of Reason to Establish a Semantic Relationship between Cognates
The use of reason is necessary to establish a semantic relationship when there are two morphologically and phonologically close words to choose from. For example, the words “salvation” and “salve” share the same meaning with the Arabic word “salm”, which means salvation and peace through loving submission to God, and its English correspondent “calm” in which the “m” was turned into “v”. Therefore, the relationship is rationally established based on the cognates with semantic relevance.
The concept of patience in Islam, “sabr”, has a relationship with the English word “bear” as in the expression bear with me. This becomes evident when we apply the methodology of “deletion” by dropping the first letter “s” and the prefix “per” in the English word “persevere” and transform the letter “b” to “v”. One can apply reason to establish a relationship with the word “supper”, which has the exact order and type of letters with the transformation of the b to p, but means a snack to help one’ self bear with hunger. Reason helps to establish a semantic relationship among words that share a common meaning regardless of the language-specific form.
Arabic is a language of a Holy Scripture, that constantly urges mankind to use reason for its words reflect a full spectrum of cohesive interrelated meanings. This provides a full and comprehensive understanding of a unifying faith that agrees with the nature of the mind, heart, and soul of humanity. For example, the word “faith” itself has several interrelated meanings in Arabic and provides the root word for several apparently unrelated English words, notably: 1) faith, 2) belief, 3) victory, 4) fortune, 6) profit, 7) Prophet, and 8) first. These words have two different connections with the Arabic root word (fat’h) as follow: 1) phonologically they share the same three core letters (f, t, and h) of the Arabic root, and 2) semantically they all represent the semantic field of the Arabic root and reflect the totality of its meaning. For example, the spectrum of interrelated meanings of the Arabic root word for “Faith” manifests itself as one of the attributes of Allah: “The Opener” (of all gates of faith, profit, victory, fortune.) It is also the name of the “First” chapter of the Quran: “Al Fatiha” which means “The Opener” (to Faith, Victory, and profit.), and Chapter 48, “Al Fath”, in the Quran, which means “victory” (with the conversion of “f” to “v” and the addition of extra “r”.)
The ultimate objective of this descriptive framework is to create a sound pedagogy and effective methodology for teaching and learning the Arabic language and Islamic terminology and concepts from a global pluralistic perspective and to acquaint the non-linguist with the semantic and phonological patters of connection between Arabic and English cognates as the basis for a core of universal moral values across languages. This, in turn, helps to dispel some of the misconceptions about some Islamic terminology from the Quran and Islam in relationship to other faiths. It seeks to do this dialectically by phonological analysis of the Arabic language using a descriptive framework of inductive and deductive reasoning. This approach induces the principles of phonological patterns of English and Arabic cognates to establish descriptive principles and then to refine those principals by deduction.
This descriptive framework establishes the language specific phonological patterns of deviation from the Arabic Root to English and the semantic connection between the Arabic Root and the English word(s). It also seeks to enlighten the reader about the totality of the Arabic meaning(s) of many religious and secular terms and concepts in English with side trips to other languages for further clarification. Thus a challenge for the reader is to focus on the diathesis (composition) of the Arabic root word (language universal) and deduct, recognize, and understand the patterns of phonological and morphological differences (language specific) from Arabic to English, and then to induce the connection between English words that seem unrelated and the semantic field of the Arabic root as a unifying common element to which the English derivatives can be traced back in order to see the totality of meaning in the Arabic root.
Section IV: Scope of the Analysis
Even though English is a derived language compared to Arabic, which is an original language, this analysis compares the two, rather than comparing Arabic to other languages because: 1) it is widespread as a living language all over the world, and 2) its inclusion of many other world languages facilitates comparison with other languages by non-linguists. This analysis covers a core of English/ Arabic phono-semantic cognates that appear to be shared across language families without arguing or presuming which language came first or which should take precedence over the other.
This analysis is intended to stimulate intellectual and analytical interest as an interdisciplinary approach to learn the Arabic language within the Islamic cultural context through themes that deal with practical aspects of this culture. It does not attempt to indoctrinate learners in a certain Islamic belief to create a unified faith, or to undermine previous scholarly commentaries, “tafasir”, or to propose a new interpretation. Rather it presents a sound methodology and original pedagogy to engage Non-Arabic speaking communities in a deeper understanding of the Qur’anic text and terminology.
Section V: Observations
The Qur’an is unique among the revealed scriptures of
the world in its explicit indication that linguistic
diversity is divinely ordained as stated in the Quran
among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the
earth, and the variations in your languages
and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who
There is a presumption
that Islam is a religion of the Arabs because the Qur’an
was revealed in Arabic, but
language of the Quran was facilitated for both Arabs and
non Arabs as stated in verse 41:44 “Had We sent
this as a Qur'an (in the language) other than Arabic,
they would 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; and for those who believe not,
there is deafness in their ears, and it is blindness in
their (eyes): They are (as it were) being called from a
place far distant!’"
In Genesis 11:1 the confusion of language is said to be ordained by God as a means to divide humanity after it had been one: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”
In the Qur’an, on the other hand, Surah 30:22 states that the variations in language are a sign of Allah as part of tawhid, in which the diversities in the universe point to the Oneness of God. It uses linguistic evidence to concretize or make tangible what otherwise would be abstract religious beliefs.
The Qur’an, meaning "the recitation," is the holy scripture of Islam. Allah commands Prophet Muhammad, “Recite the Qur’an calmly and distinctly, with your mind attuned to its meaning.” Again, He reminds the believers, “Recite the Qur’an with tarteel and tajwid, in which the former shares the same root with the English word (to re-tell) and the later, based on the Arabic word gawwada or (jawwada), meaning to do something well, shares the same root with the English word (good).” The Qur’an is not a simple text linguistically. The word “Qur’an” in Arabic allows for a duality of meaning, because the ending “an” added to the word “Qur” implies two of a kind, two cores: 1) of this life, and 2) of the hereafter, as well as a criterion or “furqan” to distinguish truth from falsehood and right from wrong.
The Qur’an as a book of guidance for human morality provides a coherent comprehensive framework for maintaining justice for all and one’s self on the straight path throughout the course of life. It provides a complete and detailed way of life and good education that, if followed, grants one the best of this life and the best of the hereafter. The English words core, course, curriculum (as a comprehensive frame work), chronicle (as permanent and never to be outdated), court, criterion (to ordain just and clear judgment between right and wrong), career, and courteous are all derived from the root of the word “Qur’an” and reflect the totality of its meanings. Muslims believe the Qur’an, in its original Arabic, to be the literal Word of God that was revealed to Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel (Jibra’il) over a period of 23 years. Without linguistic help Non-Arabs may feel intimidated by the Arabic language and this may discourage them from understanding and engaging with the Qur’an.
The Islamic concepts in the Qur’an transcend place and time by addressing both Arabs and non-Arabs in their own mother tongues.
“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who know.”
Section VI: Nature of the Arabic Language of the Quran
to Establish the Meaning of Islamic Concepts
The Arabic language of the Quran is unique in the way its words represent a holistic spectrum of meanings that define a complete concept. Furthermore, beyond sharing identical roots and vocabulary with its linguistic relatives like Hebrew and Aramaic, it shares the core lexical foundation of the vocabulary of other world languages. This core of vocabulary is reflected in the natural and unconscious capacity of all humanity to correlate concepts and interpret them the same way. This chapter shows that although the West perceives Islam as a wholly alien religion, the very vocabulary (and therefore the very ideas and concepts) of Islam, and especially the Qur’an where every word presents a complete concept, is embedded in the everyday language, faith, law, and culture of Western countries.
For example, the Islamic concept of “prayer” or in Arabic “Salah” which means prayer (with a silent ‘t’ or written as Salah) is the second pillar of Islam and is an integral part of the daily routine of every observing Muslim. This concept of “prayer” in general means any formal act of worship involving ritualistic movements, but it also encompasses any informal supplications used in asking God for forgiveness and guidance or for His blessings. In the Islamic tradition, supplications are called Du’a, which can be said in any language, but Salat refers strictly to the ritual prayers mentioned below, which must be said in Arabic.
Linguistically, the word salat is derived from the root wasala¸ which has many affirming meanings of its blessings, value, and effectiveness, meaning that God accepts and answers the prayers of His believers. Wasala means to reach, to connect, to contact, to unite, to attain success or recognition, to receive, to deliver, to get, to take, to transport, to transfer, to transmit, to communicate, to conduct or act as a conductor, to turn on, to continue, to be continuous, to persevere, to maintain close relations, to gain access to, to arrive, to be interconnected, to form an uninterrupted sequence, to be a consistent unit or integral whole, to be self-contained, to get in touch with, to have a relationship with, to be near, to belong to, to come to (someone’s) knowledge, and to supply. All these meanings form a spectrum that reflects the totality of the meaning of the word salat and convey its power as a direct connection between man and God. Understanding all these meanings elevates the salat beyond a ritualistic act of worship and establishes it as the active fulfillment of any need, desire, or wish a believer may have in terms of one’s relationship with God and all of His creation (including oneself and others), thereby creating among all of God’s creatures a strong, harmonious, and continuous bond centered around a common Creator.
Even though the English words console, reconcile, supplication, and supply (of all sources of goodness from God which raise one's spirits,) seem to be unrelated, they all share the same Arabic root, “salat” (with the addition of the prefix “con” or “recon” in the former, and the infix “pp” in the latter) which emphasizes the great value of supplication or prayer as a great and continuous means of attaining the supply of blessings as an ultimate gain from God. If the letters of the word “salat” are rearranged, they yield a new English word “settle” (in which the “t” precedes the “l”). This emphasizes the role of Salat to reconcile, straighten out, and raise one's spirits. Furthermore, the French word salut and the English word “salutation” come from the word salat as well, meaning that it is a means of saying salutations to God. This sense of greeting or salutation is used when Muslims ask God in their prayers to give salat and consolation to the Prophet Muhammad, meaning that Muslims wish for the Prophet to receive God’s greetings and consolations, not His prayers.
Salat therefore provides consolation, peace, energy, blessings, and meditation for the believer, as this connection with God fulfills and refreshes him or her with positive energy to keep them going throughout the day as they perform each of the five prayers. Nowadays, people mimic some of the very moves and purposes in salat in their yoga practices – from the use of an assigned large room for prayer assemblies (called “sala” which is derived from the word “salah” in most world languages as in Spanish “salon”, French “salle”, Italian” salone”, Russian “zal” or “Zala”, German “Saal”, English “hall” and Arabic “Musalla”) right down to a rug to rest on (like the prayer rug)! Such exercises are meant to attain inner peace and meditation, but the Islamic prayer transcends these mere physical moves and extends its great effects to the minds and souls of those who pray. Indeed, the words “soul” and “source” (where the “l” is converted to “r”) find root in the word salat, as this prayer is one of the only ways, and is the best way, to fulfill the needs of the soul – by getting its nourishment straight from the source!
Section VII: Literacy and the Common Natural
and Unconscious Capacity to Correlate Concepts
The creation of the Arabic language facilitated the art of reading and recording in the region of Arabia. The creation of an Arabic alphabet, which invented specific graphemes (shapes) to represent different phonemes (sounds), replaced the primitive system of hieroglyphics, which had a different shape for each specific word or picture. This ancient hieroglyphic system required the memorization of a countless number of shapes in order to achieve basic literacy. It also limited the creative capacity of the written language by requiring the invention of an entirely new symbol for a new concept, rather than a new configuration of letters, which would be much easier to grasp and commit to memory.
The importance of the written alphabet, although taken for granted in modern times when literacy rates are high and printed language is widespread, is not lost in the Qur’an. Many chapters of the Qur’an begin with letters of the Arabic alphabet, indicating clearly the Arabic base of the Qur’anic language, and implying its accessibility to anyone who not only knows the Arabic language but its simplest form of alphabet. The second chapter of the Qur’an, for example, starts with the letters Alif, Lam, Mim (similar to A, L, and M). Other chapters of the Qur’an begin with letters that represent sounds that have no cognates in many other languages like ‘ayn, ḥa, qahf, and ṣad. Furthermore, the Qur’an itself means “the reading” and, according to the Islamic tradition, the first word of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad was the word Iq’ra, which means read!
According to some Qur’anic scholars, there are different theories concerning the meanings of the letters at the beginning of many chapters of the Qur’an. A second implication of the placement of these letters at the beginning of many chapters of the Qur’an may be that these letters, and specifically the sounds they represent, are vital to interpreting the words of the Qur’an, as well as to the preservation of their meanings. The reader who does not know these sounds may misinterpret the words, and the changing of these sounds also obscures their actual origins. For example, the English word “elite” comes from the Arabic word ‘ilyat (the height), but the letter ‘ayn, “ع” at the beginning of ‘ilyat was lost when the word was adopted into the Roman alphabet, which has no letter that parallels the ‘ayn but instead uses the letter “e”. Elite shares the same root of one of Allah’s attributes “Al-Ali”, “العلي” which means “The most High,” where the initial ‘ayn, “ع” was transformed into “A”. Even within Arabic words, the simple transformation of one sound into another similar sounding one in another language or accent can change the meaning.
This distortion of letters occurs frequently when Arabic words are adopted by other languages and their meanings reduced and simplified. For example, the Arabic word nahat,“نهَت” in its singular feminine form which has a comprehensive set of meanings like: to stop, to put an end to, to forbid, to prohibit, to restrain, to ban; to transmit, to come to one’s knowledge; to come to an end, to attain a high degree, to reach, to abstain or refrain, to be concluded, and to be terminated, simply becomes “no” in other languages, which adapt the word to fit their alphabet and phonological patterns. In Urdu, it becomes nahi; in German, it becomes nein (similar to the form nahiyun, in which the letter “ha” was dropped); and in English it becomes not and negate (the “ha” is dropped in the former, and is transformed into a “g” in the latter). Despite these minor morphological and phonological changes, all of these words essentially share the same Qur’anic word for prohibition!
Furthermore, the words forbid, prohibit, and innovate share the same root of the Arabic word “bida”, “بـِدعة” which means "legally prohibited innovation" in religion. The word “innovate” itself shares the same root with the Arabic word “bid’a” and the English word “prohibit” by dropping the prefix “inn” and restoring the original letter “b”, which was converted into “v”. The correlation of prohibition and innovation can be understood only through reference to the Arabic. This cannot be coincidental. The natural and unconscious capacity of all humanity to correlate these concepts of prohibition and innovation in religion and law suggests a higher unitive design.
Section VIII: The Phonological Similarities
between the Arabic and Roman Alphabets
To further illustrate this point, it is important to point out that there is a clear and direct relationship not only between words but between letters of the alphabet across languages. Even the individual letters are recyclable across languages. Since the Arabic language arguably is the oldest living Semitic language in the world, these correlations confirm the extent to which the romance languages actually draw their alphabet shapes and their phonological representations from the Arabic language. For example, the Arabic letter “ل” (lam) is similar in shape and sound to the Roman letter “L” written right to left as in all Arabic script, the lower case letter “a” resembles in shape with the final form of the Arabic letter “ـه” at the end of a word, and the cursive letter “E” looks and sound like the Arabic letter ‘ain, “ع”. Even the cursive lower-case “e” is identical with the medial form of the letter ‘ain, “ع”. This reveals a new correlation between the upper and the lower cases in English letters, which can be seen only by comparison with the Arabic alphabet. We see similar correlations among almost all the letters of the Arabic and Roman alphabets (see table 1), not to mention the universality of the Arabic numerals as a single universal language of numbers.
As was hinted above, even when looking at cognates one finds that there are similarities in the phonological representations in these languages. This opens the door to a new paradigm in the theory of phonology through the study of the patterns of sound correspondences. For example, the Arabic number “سَبْعةً” (sabatan) (7), the English “seven” and the French “Spet”. Other examples are the Arabic “قطع” (cut’a) and English “cut”, or Arabic “كَسَرَ” (kasara) and the French “casser,” which means “to break”, and the Arabic “ بَعيد” (ba’id), which with the standard conversion of “b” to “w” in German or “v” in English, produces the German “weit”, the Dutch “wijd,” and the English “avoid” or “abort” as in “أبعُـد” (ab’od) (through restoration of the original letter “b”), which all mean “far.”
This correlation is consistent, and calls for the study of linguistic roots of the romance languages drawing from and sharing with the Arabic language. Previous linguistic etymology studies have not dug deeper than the Latin base. This exposes the reason for the shortcomings of well renowned linguistic thought in explaining certain phonological rules and etymological origin of some words that are usually attributed to unknown origins.
Table 1 shows a comparison between some Arabic phonetic symbols and their similar, equivalent, or substitute phonetic symbols of the Roman alphabet.
Illustrative Transformations of Letters from the Arabic to the Latin Alphabets
Section IX: Summary
As shown above through analysis of the alphabet, the
core of shared vocabulary, and the unconscious mutual
linguistic application of concepts, all the way to the
Arabic numerals, there appears to be a universal
language inherent in the human brain or psyche. This,
in turn, indicates that the highest level of each
person’s identity is in the higher community, ummah, of
humanity (umaty), even though the source of such
community is the dignity and sacredness of the
individual human soul, which is subject only to the
Sovereignty of God. All of these words share one
common root and reflect the core Islamic principle of
tawhid, in which the diversity of existence points to
the transcendent Oneness of our common Creator.
[i] Harold, and Croft, Genetic Linguistics: Essays on Theory and Method, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 6.
[ii] Merrit Ruhlen, The Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy, Stanford University Press, 1994.
[iii] Ibid, p.272.
[iv] Aharon Dolgopolsky, Nostratic Dictionary, University of Cambridge, 2008.
[v] The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, vol. 5, p. 2838.
[vi] Ruhlen, Merrit (1994). The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. New York:Wiley, 1994, p. 13)
[vii] Allan Bomhard, The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship, Mouton de Gruyter, New York, 1994.
[x] Bomhard, Allan R. , Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic: Comparative Phonology, Morphology, and Vocabulary. 2 vols. Leiden:Brill, 2008, p.1)
Courtesy: Dr. Robert Crane
HOME - NEWSLETTERS - BOOKS - ARTICLES - CONTACT - FEEDBACK
All material published by Al-Huda.com / And the Message Continues is the sole responsibility of its author's).
The opinions and/or assertions contained therein do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of this site,
nor of Al-Huda and its officers.