A Concise Treatise on Arabic Grammar
by Imam Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Dawud as-Sanhaaji - (famous as ibn ajerum)
Introduction and Translation by Shaykh Abu Alfa Umar Muhammad Shareef bin Farid al-Qaadiri al-Fuduyi
Copyright 1422/2001 Muhammad Shareef
Published by Sankore’ Institute of Islamic-African Studies International
Palace of the Sultan of Maiurno, Gezira Sudan - www.siiasi.org - First Edition 1993
Wa's-Salaatu wa's-Salaamu 'Ala Sayyidinaa Muhammadin Sayyid'l-Mursaleen
All praises are due to Allah who has made the language of Arabic the best of languages. All praises are to Him for choosing Arabic for His final and most perfect revelation - the Qur'an. All praises are due to Allah who says in His Infallible Qur'an: "Verily We have revealed it as an Arabic Qur'an, so that you can understand."; "The Trusted Spirit descends with it to your heart in Clear Arabic, so that you may be among the warners."; "A Book whose signs are detailed in an Arabic Qur'an, for a people who are knowledgeable." All praises are due to Allah who sent His Infallible Qur'an upon the heart of one from among the Arabic speakers, the best and most beloved of His creation - Muhammad. May the best prayers and most abundant peace be upon him, as long as the letter dad remains and is spoken by the People of Paradise.
Peace and blessings be upon, his family and companions, the masters of the Arabs and non-Arabs. Abundant prayers be upon our master Muhammad who said, "The Arab is not by blood. The Arab is by tongue." And who said, "Love the Arab for three reasons: because I am Arab; the Qur'an is Arabic; and the tongue of the People of Paradise is Arabic." And who said, "I was sent to the Red and the Black". Our scholars and fuqaha have explained the meaning of this far-reaching tradition. It is mentioned in the renowned as-Shifa bi Ta'rif Huquuq'l-Mustafa of Qadi al-Iyad: “It is said that the Blacks here means and includes the Arabs because the majority of their skin color is black. And the Red means the non- Arabs.”
Thus, the Arabs are included among people of African descent and since the return of our beloved Prophet to the Highest Abode, the Africans have left nothing of the Arabic language. They have mastered it wherever Islam has been adopted as a way of life. Arabic has influenced the majority of the literary African languages; like Hausa, Swahili, Wolof, Mandinke, Kanuri, Fur, Fulfulde and many others. No understanding can be had of the classical civilizations of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Takrur, Sokoto, Dar Fur, Funj, Massina and Hamdullahi without a deep grasp of the Arabic language. For this reason it is incumbent upon anyone who is serious about the historiography of Africa to have first hand knowledge of Arabic.
We shall briefly chart the history of the Arabic language in order to demonstrate the closeness between it and Africa. Let us begin by positing the fact that the people whom we have come to know as Arabs take their origin from Ibrahim, upon him be peace, who was Syrian; and from the most upright of African women Hajar, upon her be peace. Neither Hajar nor her husband Ibrahim spoke Arabic. So from where did their descendants learn the language? It has been related in the Sahih of al-Bukhari on the authority of Ibn Abaas, “When Ishmael was settled, along with his mother in Mecca, by his father; a company of people from among their neighbors passed them and sought their permission to settle among them in Mecca. When Ishmael had reached maturity, he learned Arabic from these people.” These original Arabs came from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula from what is now known as Hadramawt or Yemen. Later this same area would become the seat and center of a vast African/Arabic empire, the Sabeans. One of its most renowned rulers was none other than the Black and "comely" queen of Saba (Sheba) - Bilqis (or Mekeda) who would travel from this same area to be the guest of the most powerful of the descendants of Ibrahim - the King/Prophet Solomon. Allah ta'ala describes this event in the 28th chapter of the Qur'an, "And he tarried not long, then said: I have encompassed regions which you have not encompassed and have brought to you absolute certain news concerning Saba. Surely I found there a woman ruling over them, and she has been given abundance and she possesses a tremendous throne."
According to tradition Bilqis married Solomon and from their descendants there emerged a powerful and opulent kingdom, which stretched into southern Arabia and into parts of Ethiopia. Allah ta'ala mentions them by naming the 34th chapter after them and says about them, "Certainly there was a sign for Saba in their habitations; two gardens on the right and the left; eat of the sustenance of your Lord and give thanks to Him: a good land and a Forgiving Lord. But they turned aside, so We sent upon them a torrent of which the rush could not be withstood, and in place of their two gardens We gave to them two other gardens yielding bitter fruit and tamarisk and a few lote trees. This We rewarded them because they disbelieved; and We do not punish any but the ungrateful.”
Shaykh Abdullahi dan Fuduye says in his tafsir called Diya at-Ta'wil fi Ma'na at-Tanzil, "Saba was the son of Yashjab who was the son of Yu'arab, who was the son of Qahtan." Thus, this kingdom was clearly an Afro-'Arabic kingdom. Ivan Van Sertima has mentioned this in his Golden age of the Moors, “Western Arabia formed part of the African land mass before a rift occurred in the earth's crust as a result of which the Red Sea was formed and Africa and the Arabian Peninsula became separated. The southern half of the peninsula consequently has a greater affinity with Somalia and Ethiopian regions of Africa than with Northern Arabia and the rest of Asia. Arabia is but an extension of Africa, according to J.A. Rogers, where Black people from the southwest and white, or nearly white people from the Northwest met to mingle their cultures and their blood."
Thus the original Arabs were Black and they existed before Ishmael, his father and his grandfather. The first to speak classical Arabic was Yu'arab ibn Qahtan. In fact his name “yu’arab” became the name given to this ancient Afro/Arab tribe. This was cited by as-Suyuti in his Wasaa’il fi Musaamarat al-Awaa’il. The above mentioned Qahtan was the ancestor of the Arabs called Arab al-Muta'arribah who had mixed with the original true Arabs called Arab al- 'Aribah or the Arab al-Baa'idah (the lost Arabs). They are called lost or remote, because their identity submerged into other African tribes who lived in Arabia Felix (Yemen), Somalia, Ethiopia, the Tigre of Eritrea and Nubia. It is not surprising that many West Af-rican tribes claim descent from the ancient 'lost Arab tribe' of Tor. The Northern Arab tribes of Iraq, Syria and the Persian Gulf were called Arab al-Musta'ribah (‘Arabized Arabs’) who claimed descent from Adnan, and through him, from Ishmael - the son of Ibrahim, upon him be peace.
Arabic like many African languages was an oral language, it was not originally writ-ten down until a few centuries prior to the appearance of Allah's last Messenger and Prophet, Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. It was related by both Ibn Sa'd and Ibn Abi Shayba on the authority of as-Sha'abi who said, "The first among the Arabs (descendants of Ishmael) to write the Arabic language was Harb ibn Umayya ibn Abdushams, the father of Abu Sufyaan. It was said to him, ‘From whom did you learn this?’ He said, ‘From the people of Hira.’ It was said, ‘And from whom did the people of Hira learn it?’ He said, ‘From the people of Anbar.’” Both Hira and Anbar were ancient cities located along the Euphrates River in Iraq. It was related by Waki’u in his al-Gharar, “Muhammad ibn 'Ali informed me that, al- Maazinii Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad informed me, that al-'Asma'i on the authority of Abu 'Amr, who said, 'The first to put Arabic down in writing were two men. One was from Hira and the other was from Anbar. One's name, was Maraamir ibn Marra and the other's name was ‘Aamir ibn Shadra. Neither of them were Arabs.'”
The original order in which the Arabic letters were written was as follows:
alif; ba; jim; daal; ha; waw; za; ha; ta; ya; kaaf; laam; mim; nun; sin; 'ain; fa; sad; qaf; ra; shin; ta; tha; kha; dhaal; dad; dha; and ghain.
This original arrangement of the Arabic letters had a meaning when gathered to-gether in a sentence. In ancient times the Arabs said, “abjad hawwaza huttiya kalamanna sa'afasa qarashat thakhadha dadhaghalaa”. It was from the first four letters in this statement the Arabic word for alphabet was taken; “abjad”. The first six words of this statement expressed deep cosmological and ontological significance to the Arabs. It was related by Ibn Sida, the author of the al-Muhkam, "On the authority of Abu 'Amr Uthman ibn Sa'id ad-Daani on the authority of Ibn Abaas who said, 'Everything has an interpretation (tafsir). Whoever knows it, knows it. Whoever is ignorant of it is ignorant of it.' He then interpreted the statement, 'abjad' as meaning 'Adam refused (aba) obedience and became impassioned (wajada) with the eating of the tree'. And 'hawwaza' meant, 'He slipped (zalla) and fell (hawaa) from the heavens to the earth.' And 'huttiya' meant, 'His errors degraded (hatat) him.' And 'kalamana' meant,' He ate ('akala) from the tree and he was then favored (manna) with the blessings of repentance.' And 'sa'afasa', meant, 'He rebelled and he was taken out of blessings into hardships.' And 'qarashat', meant, 'he admitted ('aqarra) his sins and was saved from punishment.’" Here, we note that Arabic language has, at its most fundamental level, a connection with man's primal beginnings. Hence, a cosmology is built in the arrangement of its letters, which not only facilitate communication, but also delineates man's origin, stations and states, grades and cycles both generally and in detail.
The Unitary Sustainer of the worlds chose Arabic in priority as the conduit for His final revelation. This choice as tawheed demands did not happen randomly or by coincidence. The Arabic language was created and formulated before endless time to carry the weight, meaning, and will of the Final Revelation. Arabic is the building block by which the Creator speaks to man and the universe. This statement must not be taken too lightly. One of our teachers and scholars from whom we have benefited tremendously through her translations of the most seminal Islamic texts - Aisha Abdur Rahmaan at-Tarjumana, (may Allah increase her secret) said in her Subatomic World in the Quran, "Creation is manifest through the names of Allah, and the names are comprised of the 29 letters of the Arabic alphabet…If you are looking for basic building blocks of matter, you will not find them in quarks or in the idea of the 'baseball' particle. You will find them in the letters...The world is created by the letters.... The letters make up the names, and every reality has a name. All of these multi-relationships go back ultimately to the Names (of Allah), and the Names are all from One source, One reality. Such is the nature of existence."
The above statement indicates the intrinsic spiritual power of the Arabic language. This means that the most fundamental level of Arabic, which are the 29 letters, have intrinsic properties and particularities, which evoke profound and divine meaning. Allah ta’ala attests to this when He says, “We have revealed in the Qur’an that which is medicinal (shifa’) and a mercy to those who believe.” It is from this verse that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and those who follow him, have built the science of medicine. Certain letters, verses and chapters of the Qur’an have curative qualities, which affect the spirit and soul of man as well as his physiognomy. According to Ibn Manzur, may Allah be merciful to him, in his Lisan al-Arab, “The intrinsic attributes of the Arabic alphabet has immense implementation which is related to the various sciences of medicine. They have within their very substances noble benefits which are in an express harmony and symmetry with the divine and heavenly orbits.” Shaykh al-Akbar, Muhyiddeen ibn al-Arabi said in his Mirat’l-Arifin (which is falsely attributed to al-Qunawi and Imam al-Hussien ibn Ali ibn Abi Taalib), "Every existing thing is a harf (letter) in one respect; a kalima (word) in one respect; a singular and isolated entity (mufrad wa muqatti') from one respect; compounded phrases (alfaadh murakkabah) from one respect; and a surat (chapter) from another."
The above indicates that Arabic is not just a mode of expression, but a meta-language with an intrinsic logic which lies at the level of symbol, phrase and syntax, each level having its separate mode of meaning - both philosophically and metaphysically. Islam is the deen based upon an Arabic Book, which was revealed to the heart of a trusted and trustworthy individual. Thus, it is no surprise that the reading and learning of Arabic language became the primary goal wherever Islam spread. The Infallible Qur'an is the uncreated speech of Allah, which is immutable for all ages. For this reason Muslims have held it absolutely imperative to master the Arabic language. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said as related in the al-Muwwatta of Imam Malik, “I have left for you two matters. Whoever holds to them will never go astray. They are the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger." Thus, these two sources are the fountainhead of a primal Islam, which is devoid of error and deviation. These two primal sources are in effect the Muslim's object of reliance in his legal decisions and judgments. And since the Qur'an was revealed in clear Arabic language and the Sunna of Muhammad has been preserved in Arabic, it is then incumbent upon every Muslim to understand the essentials of the Arabic tongue.
Shaykh Uthman Dan Fuduye said in his renowned Ihya as-Sunna wa'l-Ikhmad al-Bid'a, "Innovation (bid'a) is that which did not exist during the time of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. It is as Ibn Abdas Salaam said, 'And included in it (innovation) is that which is obligatory (waajiba) like the prerequisites for understanding of the Book of Allah and the sunna of His Messenger; like grammar (nahw), eloquence (bayaan) and other than these. This is because the preservation of the shari'a cannot be complete except by means of these sciences. And that by which an obligation (waajib) is not completed except by it, it too then becomes obligatory."
The prerequisite sciences to understanding the Qur'an and the Sunna are:  the rules of writing Arabic (kitaaba);  the rules of reading Arabic (qira'at);  the sciences of the different readings of the Qur'an;  the science of recitation of the Qur'an (tajweed);  the science of the conjugation of Arabic words (sarf);  the science of rhetoric (balaagha);  the science of prosody (‘uruud);  the science of rhyme (qawaafi);  the science of linguistics (lugha);  the science of literary style ('adab); and finally  the science of grammar (nahw). Each of these sciences (with the exception of rhyme (qiwaafi)) are actually innovations (bid'a) because they did not exist during the time of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. However, they are innovations, which are obligatory upon the Muslims to know and transmit, because the sources of the deen (namely the Qur'an and Sunna) cannot be understood without them.
Prior to Islam very few of the Arabs could read or write and the Arabic language was written in a very primitive way. There were no diacritical marks or vowel markings to distinguish the letters and the parts of speech. It was not until the time of the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Taalib that diacritical points and vowel markings were introduced into the Arabic language. It would be absurd to try and read Arabic without the diacritical points today. Thus, again we witness the emergence of another innovation, which became obligatory for the Muslims to know and transmit.
The Qur'an and the Sunna gave the impulse to literacy among the Arabs. The sci-ences that branched from the primary sources like jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (tawheed), and Qur'anic commentary (tafsir) were, built upon the science of Arabic grammar. Later as the Muslims began to conquer distant lands there emerged an extremely erudite group of scholars who functioned as administrators of the Muslim Umma. Then more secular sciences that were necessary for the preservation of the deen emerged like history, medicine and astronomy. All of these sciences were written in Arabic language.
Wherever Islam spread there appeared schools, colleges and universities where all the above sciences were taught and mastered. Persian was written in Arabic, along with Turkish, Spanish, and Urdu. All of these languages were elevated to a high literary standard as a result of the Arabic language. The great philosophical texts of ancient Greece and Rome were translated into Arabic, commented upon and successfully challenged by Islamic intellects illumined by the Book and the Sunna. In fact most if not all of the earlier Arabic grammarians and linguists were non-Arabs.
Just as Islam elevated the lives of all the societies where it spread, it also raised the Bilad as-Sudan to the most sublime levels of civilization. The languages of the Wolof, Cayor, Fulfulde’, Asante`, Malinke’, Soninke’, Hausa, Kanembo, Nupe, Yoruba, Fur, Funj and many others were for centuries written in the Arabic script. As a result there emerged some of the greatest linguists and grammarians of the Muslim world out of the Bilad as-Sudan. Among these great African linguist was Shaykh Ahmad ibn Ahmad ibn Umar ibn Muhammad Aqit , who was a jurist and mufti from Timbuktu. He wrote a famous work concerning eloquence and logic called Shirh Mandhuuma al-Maghili. There was Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin , the jurist of Mande` origin who wrote an extensive and exhaustive commentary upon the Alfiya of as-Suyuti concerning grammar. There was the most erudite Shaykh of Timbuktu, the mujaddid, jurist, mufti, historian, judge, linguist and grammarian Shaykh Ahmad Baba . He wrote two excellent works on linguistics called an-Nukat al-Mustajaada fi Musawatihima fi Shart al-Ifaada and Ghayat al- Ijaada fi Musaawat al-Faa’il li 'l-Mubtada’ fi Shart al-Ifaada respectively. He also wrote a famous treatise on the use of Ibn Idris as an authority for the Arabic language called at-Tahdith wa'l-Ta'nis fi'l-Ihtajaaj bi Ibn Idris.
Among them was the Fullani scholar of Bagirma, Shaykh Muhammad al-Wali ibn Sulayman , who wrote an exhaustive treatise of the science of the inflection (al-I'raab) called Tadrib at-Tullab 'Ala Tahsin Sinaa'at al-I'raab. Then there was his son named Shaykh Sulayman ibn Muhammad al-Wali ibn Sulayman , who wrote a treatise on Arabic grammar called Sullam at-Tullab li Man Yarum Kutub al-I'raab. Among the Hausa there was the renowned Shaykh Muhammad ibn Masanih , who was famous as Dan Masanih. He was a grammarian and a philologist from Katsina, famous for his Arabic poem, which contained no letters with diacritical points. He is also the author of a work on declinable and indeclinable nouns called Ta'lif 'Ala Ma'rifat Maa Yagbal as-Sarf wa 'Adimahu.
Also from Katsina there was the mathematician, librarian, and grammarian - Shaykh Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Fullani . He was one of the students of Muhammad Fuduye (the father of Shaykh Uthman dan Fuduye). He traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa and later settled in Egypt where he was appointed by the historian al-Jabarti as the executor of his estate. This shaykh had an extensive library and is reported to have claimed, “I have never borrowed a book without making a copy of it for myself, leaving ample space for glosses and comments.” He wrote an extensive book on Arabic linguistics called Bulugh al- Arab min Kalaam al-'Arab. From Borno there was Shaykh Muhammad at-Taahir ibn Ibrahim . He was a physician and an official of the Borno Caliphate who wrote an excellent poem on grammar and verbal conjugation called ad-Durar al-lawami' wa Manar al-Jaami'.
Among them was the Shaykh of Shaykhs Ali Jobbo al-Fullani, who lived in the mid 18th century. He was famous for his miracles and his uncompromising stance in calling people to Allah. He wrote a commentary upon the one thousand line poem of Ibn Malik called Sharh 'Ala Lamiyyat al-Af’aal. This work dealt with the conjugation of the Arabic verbs. Others among the earlier linguist of Africa were Shaykh al-Mukhtar the grammarian , al-Faqih Muhammad ibn Ahmad Barri , and Shaykh Mahmud ibn Mahmud az-Zaghawa .
In the 19th century there was the greatest linguist and grammarian among the Africans, the erudite shaykh, the most eloquent of poets, the historian and scholar-warrior, Shaykh Abdullahi dan Fuduye . He wrote some 300 works, many of them in poetry. His most famous work is his tafsir of the Qur'an called Diya at-Ta'wil fi Ma'na at-Tanzil. He also composed works in linguistics and grammar. Among them was his Miftah at-Tahaqquq li Ghaalib Maa Yahtaju Ilaihi fi'l-Mantiq concerning the science of rhetoric and logic. He also composed a work on rhyme and prosody called Fath al-Lalif al-Wafi li 'Ilm al-'Urud. His greatest work on linguistics and grammar and perhaps the greatest work on verbal conjugation in the Muslim world is his al-Bahr al-Muhit (‘The All Encompassing Sea’). This work is an Arabic poem composed with 4,444 verses on the conjugation of the Arabic verb and other linguistics issues. Shaykh Muhammad Bukhari ibn Uthman Dan Fuduye described the linguistic learning of his uncle - Shaykh Abdullahi - in the following:
"Verily time has given you a Shaykh who has no equal in knowledge in these countries: I mean the Imam of his time, Abdullahi, who led the noble Shaykhs since he was a youth. Famous Quran scholar, foremost in the science of Prophetic tradition, and rhetoric, one on whom others rely. Wide sea of learning, making light of the ship of grammar and the two basic sciences; an abundant shower of rain. If he rose up in knowledge of conjugations, or their origin, which is the knowledge of linguistics, none would be found to speak. Gardens of the principles of the Law, and their branches, and of logic, prudent, bearing the banners of tasawwuf. Firmly grounded in every branch of knowledge, deeply learned, rightly guided in everything he says. Immersed throughout his days in authorship, from which no distraction could turn him aside. Excelling, he ascended to the peak eloquence, and in this wonderful work he had no peer. May Allah preserve him as a right-guiding Imam, and ransom him with the vile and destitute ones who hate him."
Among the people of the Bilad as-Sudan we find that education and literacy in the Arabic language was a major concern of the rulers as well as the ruled. They at-tached the greatest importance upon the purchase, acquisition, transcription and possession of books in Arabic language despite the high cost. In fact, the most ex-pensive commodity for trade in the Bilad as- Sudan, from the 14th century until the 19th century, were Arabic books. This thirst for knowledge affected every strata of society, from the rulers, the scholars, the businessmen and the common people alike. The wealthy and affluent endeavored to form libraries, which specialized in rare and notable books. The scholars used to compete with one another as to who had the most extensive library. And the rulers used to give generous government grants and offer every assistance in that direction. It was for this reason that a magnificent intellectual movement spread throughout the Bilad as-Sudan wherever Islam was victorious.
Among the contemporary African scholars who have mastered Arabic grammar is our master and Shaykh of the Shaykhs the present Wazir of Sokoto, Imam Junayd ibn Muhammad al-Bukhari, may Allah ennoble his secret. He is now around 110 years old and although he has lost the use of his physical eyes (may Allah illuminate his heart and give him visions of the Prophet in this life and the Supreme Vision of Allah in the next), yet he has memorized all the works of Shaykh Uthman dan Fuduye, Abdullahi dan Fuduye, Muhammad Bello and many others. He has composed some 51 works in Arabic, Fullani and Hausa. He has composed 5 works on the grammar and linguistics of the Fulfulbe language in Arabic. His works on Arabic grammar and prosody are the following: al-Mubaadi' ad-Daruuriya fi ad-Duruus al-'Uruudiya and Istilaah Fann al-'Uruud.
In the Republic of Sudan there are four of the most proficient Arabic linguists in the Muslim world. Among them is the erudite scholar and historian Prof. Abdallah at-Tayyib. He has composed many works on Arabic language and has a television program on tafsir of the Qur'an. He is well known throughout Muslim world. He has posited the theory that the first emigration of the Companions of Muhammad to Abyssinia came through present day Sudan.
Among them also is the most astute teacher, the Shaykh of Shaykhs among the grammarians, Shaykh Faraj at-Tayyib. He is perhaps the most learned scholar alive concerning the etymological roots of the Arabic language and the most proficient in his memorization of pre-Islamic poetry. He has proven that many of the Arabic words spoken by the Sudanese that are considered colloquial are actually derivatives of pure classical Arabic words that are no longer in use by the Arabs today. Shaykh Faraj at-Tayyib has the most resonant, low-pitched and eloquent voice I have had the pleasure of listening to. He presently has an Arabic radio program which comes on everyday in the Republic of Sudan called "Lisan al-'Arab" (the Language of the Arabs). In addition to this, every Friday after the Asr prayer, Shaykh Faraj holds Arabic grammar and poetry classes in his home, which faces the Nile River in the area called Bayt’l-Maal in the ancient town of Omdur-man. Most of the students of these lectures are usually the professors and teachers of Arabic in the schools and universities of Khartoum and Omdurman.
Among them also is my teacher, professor and mentor Dr. Fathi H. el-Masri, Dean of the School of Literature and Arabic Language at Omdurman Ahliyya University. He composed the translation and critical analysis of one of Shaykh Uthman dan Fuduye’s greatest works on Islamic governance and constitutional theory, Bayan Wujub al-Hijra 'Ala 'l-'Ibad. He has published many other works, papers and articles on the Sokoto Caliphate, which are seminal works on that subject. While he was doing his graduate studies at Ibadan University in Nigeria, he was for-tunate enough to meet and befriend our beloved leader - Imam al-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X). On many occasions Dr. el-Misri informed me of the many private conversations between himself and Malcolm X, giving me deeper insight into the direction that this Muslim leader was taking before his assassination (may Allah be merciful to him). It was from Dr. el- Masri also that I learned the fundamentals of translation.
Finally, there is my friend and teacher Dr. Abdal Baqi Muhammad ~Ahmad Kabiru. He is originally Kanuri from western Sudan whose father was a great scholar and the Imam of a famous mosque in southern Khartoum near Mayo. He graduated with the highest honors from the School of Arabic Language at al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt in 1988. He successfully competed with native Arabs from entire Arab world and finished the top in the class. His dissertation is one of the most exhaustive works written on Islamic governance and civilization during the 16th century. In it he gives a detailed account of the Songhay, Kanem-Borno and Hausa kingdoms, drawing from primary Arabic sources and refuting the European orientalist’s distortions of African Islamic history. This work is called ad-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi Garab Ifriqiyya fi al-Qaran al'Aashir al-Hijriyya ('Islamic Governance in West Africa During the Tenth Century Hijra')
I have cited these African scholars of the Arabic language to demonstrate that the Muslims of Africa have left nothing of the Arabic language. They have mastered it as if it were their native tongue. They have done this out of their love for Allah's Book and out of love for His Messenger. Arabic has been the lingua franca of most of the kingdoms of West Africa, making it the language of inheritance of the Africans who are in the Diaspora of America. Once Shaykh Abdalqadir al-Murabit told us, "Our nationality is Islam, our religion is justice and our politics is Arabic.” I often pondered over the meaning of, “...our politics is Arabic”, until my studies began to manifest the fact that most of the Muslims of Africa wrote their languages using the Arabic script; and whenever the European colonialist conquered the Muslim lands, they would first have the language shifted away from the Arabic to the Latin script. This political act was a wide spread practice wherever the colonialist were successful. The result was that Kiswahili, Hausa, Fulfulde and many other languages have been divorced from their connection with Allah's Divine Revelation.
Thus the returning of African languages to the script of Arabic is a political act, which will have political results. This will also mean Africans in the Diaspora writing English, Portuguese, French and Spanish into the Arabic script, and severing the linguistic hegemony which the Christians continue to maintain over the Africans. It will also allow them to define themselves, their enemy and their struggle from their own reference and not in the terms of reference of their enemy. This is especially true if they are Muslims. Along with the mastering of Arabic language, I would include the mastery of key West African languages (preferably Hausa, Wolof or Fulfulde). This would strengthen the linguistic unity of the Africans in America with their Muslim brothers at home.
Having said that, I must reiterate that the Arabic language is qualitatively superior to all languages because of its relationship with the Final Divine Revelation; but it also plays a protective function of the first order in elevating the native language to its highest philosophical and cosmological potential. This is regardless if the native tongue is English, French, Wolof or Hausa. Our teacher Shaykh Abdalqadir al-Murabit has summed up this issue as no one else could in his at-Tarbiyat al-Islamiyyat al-Asliyya, “...for someone approaching Islamic education there would be a primary requirement which we would not even list - it would be the 'given', ...it is frankly, and there is no escaping it, a clear grasp of the Arabic language. And I would say for the ajami who does not speak Arabic, it is necessary for him to take it on and get it by the most traditional means possible in order to arrive at an Arabic which is in itself more related to fusaha, more related to the real Arabic which will connect you to the Qur'an and Islamic 'ilm."
It is therefore incumbent for Muslims to have a deep grasp of Arabic grammar from a sound source devoid of orientalist, latinized dialectics. The Arabic word for grammar is nahw. Nahw is a technical term, which means the knowledge that includes the many principles by which the inflection and parts of speech of Arabic words are known when they are constructed into phrases. According to the scholars nahw is a part of the individual obligations (waajib 'ayyan) because it helps to understand the sources of the deen, which are the Qur'an and the sunna. Among its benefits are that it gives the Muslim sound knowledge of the Arabic language in which the Qur’an was revealed and by which the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, explained it to his umma. By the study of nahw one comes to a greater understanding of Allah's shari’a, which is the only way mankind will obtain salvation and happiness in this world and the next. It is the gateway for victory for the Muslims. It is the vast city of knowledge upon which Islamic civilization rest. One cannot enter the city of knowledge nor enjoy the independence of Islamic civilization until we open the gate of Arabic language. This is perhaps one of the explanations of the well-known tradition of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate." Although the People of Allah, may Allah be pleased with them, know the reality of this tradition, however, implicit in it is the fact that the first to lay down the rules of nahw (Arabic grammar} was the Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali ibn Abi Taalib, may Allah be pleased with him.
It was related by Abu 'l-Faraj in his al-Aghaani by way of Ja'far ibn Abi Harb ibn Abi 'l- Aswaad on the authority of his father, who said, "It was said to Abu'l-Aswaad, 'From where did you take the science (meaning by that the science of grammar)? He said, 'I have taken its boundaries from Ali ibn Abi Taalib.'" Abu'l-Aswaad described how this science was transmitted to him by Ali in a tradition which has been related by Abu'l-Qaasim az-Zujaaji in his 'Amaali, "Abu Ja'far Mu-hammad ibn Rustum at-Tabri informed us that Abu Haatim as-Sajastaani informed me that Ya'qub ibn Ihsaaq al-Hadrumi informed us that Sa'id ibn Saalim al-Baahili informed us that my father informed us on the authority of Abu'l-Aswad ad-Dawli who said, 'I entered upon the Amir al-Mu’mineen Ali ibn Abi Taalib. I saw him with his head bowed in deep contemplation. I then said to him, ‘What are you deliberating about O Amir al-Mu’mineen?' He responded, 'I have heard this Arabic slang in your country, so I desired to compose a book concerning the fundamentals of Arabic language.' I then said, 'If you do that, you will give life to us and the Arabic language will persist among us.' I then returned to him after three days wherein he handed me this transcription in which was written:
'In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Al-Kalaam (speech), the whole of it includes the ism (noun), the fi'l (verb) and the harf (particle). For the ism is that which informs about the named. The fi'l is that which informs about the dynamics (harakat) of the named. The harf is that which informs about the meaning, which is neither an ism nor a fi'l.’
He then said to me, 'Proceed in the same fashion and add whatever occurs to you. And realize, O Abu'l-Aswaad, that entities (of the ism) are three kinds: those which are manifest (dhaahir); those which are pronouns (mudmar); and those which are neither dhaahir nor mudmar.' Abu’l-Aswaad then said, 'I then put together something and showed it to him. Included in this was the huruuf an-nasab (particles of the accusative). I mentioned among them: 'inna; 'anna; layta; la'ala; and ka'ana; but I did not mention lakinna.’ He said to me, 'Why did you leave it out?’ I said, ‘I did not count it among them.’ He said, 'On the contrary, it is among them.’ So I added it among them."
This dialogue of transmission between our Imam Ali and his disciple Abu'l-Aswaad demonstrates the importance of the Arabic sciences. Had it not been for the ijtihad of Ali and his disciple, Abu 'l-Aswaad, the gate to the knowledge of the Qur'an and the sunna, (and by extension, knowledge of Allah), would have been closed. Thus, the book of grammar by Ali laid the foundation of the sciences of grammar from that time to the present. The science of kalaam (speech) and its three divisions would later be echoed in all the seminal texts on Arabic grammar for more than 13 centuries. This, of course, brings us to an Arabic text on grammar, which reflected the essence of what Amir Ali transmitted to his disciple. This text begins almost in the identical fashion of the text of Ali ibn Abi Taalib. This text is none other than the famous al-Ajerumiyya, which has been studied throughout Africa, and Asia for the past 700 years.
The author of al-Ajerumiyya was the erudite, upright knower of Allah, Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Dawud. He was from the Sanhaja Berber clan, a tribe that, according to Ibn Khaldun, originally resided in Ethiopia. From the Sanhaja of West and Northwest Africa came the veiled Tuareg, Lamta, Lamtuna, Kunta, Gomara and Masmuda clans. Each of these clans veiled themselves with the litham and lived originally near the riff of Abyssinia. They are related ethnically to the nomads and pastoralists of Nubia and originally stretched to the Red Sea. Another group, which branch from the Nubians of Abyssinia, are the 'Red' Fullani, whose social structure and mores are quite similar to that of the Sanhaja. Thus, the author of this seminal Arabic grammar text takes his origin from the people of African descent who presently reside in Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Algeria and Northern Nigeria.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Muhammad was known as Ibn Ajeruum and lived among the people of Fez. He was born in 1273 during a time when the Sanhaja Moors, the Fullani Torodbe, the Spanish Muslims and the Arabs enjoyed a refined civilization in the Iberian Peninsular. His father was called Ajeruum, which means in the language of the Berbers "the poor sufi". Thus, the name of the author and the name given to the text reflected the overt connection with the way of the people of tasawwuf (spiritual purification). In the Haashiyya of Shaykh Isma`il al- Haamidi it says, "Verily he (Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ajeruum) composed this treatise while facing the Noble House of Allah in Makka. It is said also that when he had completed it, he went and threw it into the Red Sea and said, 'If this work was purely for the sake of Allah ta'ala, it will not even become damp.' And the matter was as he said." Shaykh Ibn Ajeruum died in 1323 at the age of 50.
Shaykh Abu Muhammad Umar Faruq Abdallah once informed us that, "One day a student happened upon a gathering of some of the leading scholars and grammarians who were sitting together reciting the al-Ajeruumiya in one voice. The student was amazed at this and said, "What need have you to study the al-Ajeruumiya When you all have reached such a high level in understanding the sciences of Arabic language!?" One of the scholars responded, "We are not studying it to increase our knowledge, but we are reciting it because of the overflowing baraka it contains."
The al-Ajeruumiyya has remained the basic text of Arabic grammar throughout the Bilad as-Sudan. Most of the chronicles of the history of the Islamic states of Africa give evidence of a large number of commentaries upon the al-Ajeruumiyya by African linguists. One of the families of the ancient town of Timbuktu that specialized in the mastery of this text was the And- Agh-Muhammad family. One member of this erudite family, Shaykh Abdullah ibn Ahmad Boryo composed a commentary upon the text called al-Futuh al-Oayumiyya fi Sharh al- Ajeruumiyya, which came into wide use in North Africa and Egypt.
We at the Sankore' Institute of Islamic-African Studies would like to share with the non-Arab and the Arab the vast amount of blessings, which are hidden within this small but comprehensive Arabic grammar book. Although this blessed text is just twenty-five small chapters, it contains everything the seeker needs to have an un-derstanding of the fundamentals of the Arabic language. Its size and all-inclusive style makes it a blessing in this age of digest knowledge where the people are pro-grammed to surrender to their lowest erotic drives and when the higher and more sublime intellectual qualities are completely abandoned. We ask Allah ta'ala to make our efforts purely for His sake, and that this work be a proof for us and not against us on the Day of Judgment. To Allah is the praise in the beginning and the end and there is no power nor might except with Him. Allah is enough for us and He is the Best of Guardians. May the best prayers and most abundant peace be upon our master Muhammad, who is first of all things, the middle of all things, and the last of all things; and upon his family, companions, the awliya, the right-acting scholars and those who are struggling to give victory to his sunna. Al- Hamdulillahi Rabbi'l-'Aalameen.
1, Ramadhan, 1414 (February 12, 1994)