Contribution to Arabic linguistics and grammar

Ad Du’ali (ra)
Basra was a very important center of grammar. The first one who had established the base of the school of Basra was Abul Aswad ad Du’ali, the close friend of Ali (radhiyallahu anhu). His real name was Zalim ibn ‘Amr ibn Sufyan ibn Jandal ad Duali. He was the first to place dots on Arabic letters and the first to write on Arabic linguistics.
Ibnun Nadim, author of the Fihrist said: “Muhammad bin Ishaq says that most scholars agree that grammar was taken from Abu’l Aswad ad Du’ali, and that he took it from the Khalifah ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhu)”. The reason why Abu’l Aswad began to lay formal rules for the Arabic language lies undoubtedly behind the multiply of non-Arabic Muslims who recited the Qur’aan. It has been illustrated by a report in which Abu’l Aswad heard some Muslims pronounce the wrong reading of the Qur’aan, owing to a mistake in voweling.
As a consequence, following the order of the governor Ziyad bin Abi Sufyan, he instructed a scribe, saying: “When you see me open my mouth at a letter, put a dot above it. When I close it, put one next to the letter. When I draw them apart, put a dot under it.” Hence it is accepted that Ab’ul Aswad ad Du’ali had initially accepted the vowel points. However, these vowel points were not those which are used today. As previously mentioned, for a “fat-ha”, one dot was placed above the letter; for a “kasra”, one dot was placed below the letter; for a “dhamma”, one dot in front of the letter and for a tanween, two dots were fixed. Later Khalil ibn Ahmad (rahimahullah) used the signs of hams and tashdeed. Thereafter, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf had requested Yahya ibn Ya’mar (rahimahulla), Nasr ibn Aasim Laithi  and Hasan Basri (rahmahullah) to insert both dots and vowel points in The Quraan Kareem. On this occasion, to denote the vowel points, the present forms of fat-ha, kasra, were fixed instead of dots, so that they were no confused with the normal dots of letters. Ad Du’ali passed away in 69 AH. Muslims are indebted to the highly beneficial contribution of this great scholar. May Allah be pleased with him.

This school competed with the school of Kufa. The grammarians of Basra were called (people of logic) to be distinguished from the grammarians of Kufa. One of the most prominent scholars of this school of grammar was Seebwayh the Persian who had written a book called “The Book of Seebwayh”.

Seebawayh (ra)
His name was ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman ibn Qinbar (Abu Bishr) originally from the lands of Persia. Seebawayh was a laqab (nickname) given to him by his mother, meaning ‘the scent of apples.’
At the beginning of his youth he sought knowledge in the field of hadith. He studied with the likes of Hammaad, the famous muhaddith in Basra, and it was here with Shaykh Hammaad (rahimahullah) that a particular incident took place which changed Seebawayh’s entire focus.

One day Hammad (rahimahullah) asked him to read out a hadith and Seebawayh began by saying: “ليس من أصحابي أحد إلا ولو شئت لأخذت عليه ليس أبا الدرداء…” – however, he read Aba as Abu in a state of raf’ (nominative) thinking that it was the Ism of Laysa. Hammaad al Basri corrected him and said, أخطأتَ يا سيبويه إنما هو استثناء – ‘You’re mistaken O’ Seebawayh, it is in fact an Exception,’ (i.e. meaning: ‘… except for Abu Darda’). So Seebawayh said, لأطلبنّ علما لا يُنازعني فيه أحد – ‘I will certainly seek knowledge (grammar) such that none can dispute with me therein.’

So he traveled to the learned scholars and grammarians of his time in Basra and studied extensively with the famous al Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi (who established ‘ilm al-’Aroodh) and other grammarians such as al Akhfash. It was here that Seebawayh established the foundations of grammar for the people and wrote his huge scholarly work ‘al Kitab.’ However, at the time, he did not release it to the people. It is stated that he would travel through towns and villages, sitting with the folks and recording their poetry as well as historical statements (handed down through tribes) in an attempt at gathering shawahid (linguistical evidences) for each point and argument that he mentioned in his book.

After his death, one of his students took it upon himself to make this book available to the public. Not only did his book benefit the people of Basra, but it thereafter became one of the greatest books on grammar to have ever been written in history, such that the people began to call it ‘Qur’aan an Nahw’ (the ‘Qur’aan of Grammar’).

Seebawayh (rahimahullah) died at the young age of 34.
The Ummah to this day has not stopped benefiting from his book and the knowledge which he left behind. May Allah be pleased with him.

Check Also

Calligraphic Sheets and Albums (Qit’a and Muraqqa)

Qit’a and Muraqqa (Calligraphic Sheets and Albums) The calligraphic works written on a normal, book-size …

Nabi Muhammad (SAW) in Calligraphy

The Arabic script was not greatly developed in the pre-Islamic era; it was not used …