Sketching Islamic Linguistics

Sketching Islamic Linguistics

 

Bismillahirahmaaniraheem

 

Dear reader, please read with your mind alert. If you’re Muslim, please pray to Allah for his help.


What is Islamic linguistics?

When you see “Bismillahirahmaaniraheem” in the front section of a book or on a wedding invitation, its an islamic use of language, so in my opinion its an example of applied Islamic linguistics.

Many people would call it something that Muslims do. Yes, we do. From a regular perspective, its just something that Muslims do. For a student of language usage, its an Islamic linguistic act.

When a believer says “Assalaamu alaykum” its Islamic and at the same time, its a linguistic prescription. Therefore, I believe its an Islamic linguistic prescription.

 

The Limits of the Sketch

The limits of Islamic linguistics are probably beyond what you can imagine. Try to visualise the mountains singing the praises of Allah along with David, and try to imagine the beauty of his voice.

Imagine a bird chatting with Solomon. The limits of the Islamic study of language are known only to the Almighty. He created languages and He knows best about them.

Noble reader, let us praise and thank Allah for blessing us with the stories of these two great men and their miraculous relationships with the natural world. Glory be to Allah, the Exalted, the Holy.

Let us remember that they were grateful to Allah for these favours, not proud. They knew that the relationship to nature is only a way of relating to Allah, and that it is not, in itself, either an original cause or a final result.

Imagine Jesus giving advice to his mother, the noble Mary. The Qur’an is a book of truth, and so with certainty in its truth, we can imagine or visualise the stories in the Qur’an. Let us praise Allah again!

What about the Day of Judgement: nobody will speak except for whom Allah permits. Glory be to Allah, Master of The Day of Judgement.

This gives us another limit. It is a limit of human speech, that we cannot speak except with Allah’s permission.

Within The Limits

If the above are some of the limits of the sketch, then what is within the limits? The centre of the sketch would seem to be our own daily lives and the language that we use in them, because I find that Islam is for the believing human being and Islam is not difficult or occult or highly theoretical; it is quite practical and the user is the believer.

This area of the sketch, the area within the limits, may be divided into further subdivisions. I choose to categorise them as: acquiring language, using language, and I suppose we should recognise losing language, although it seems that its not as interesting as a subject of study, compared to acquisition.

Knowledge of Language

Allah has blessed us with language and the evidence for this is in the Qur’an. The verses of the Qur’an show that we know language from an innate process. The fact that Jesus spoke as a baby also confirms that Allah is the creator of language and that it is innate.

The believer will have a certain amount of natural speech ability, and then he or she must work to improve upon that. Moses is a good example for us. A man of great faith, he called on his Lord for help when he felt insecure about his own linguistic skills (20:25-28).

I see the Qur’an that Allah may improve us through inspiration ot through teaching. Perhaps there are other ways as well. There probably are. Allah knows best. I don’t know much.

I want to make it clear again, that this essay is a short note, not a complete thesis. I think the qur’an has more about language than what I’ve mentioned so please don’t take this work as any kind of compendium.

Uses of Language

I think this area requires research and discussion, so that we can observe and describe our our speech, as believers who are targetting Allah’s pleasure. There are many books already about speaking to win the pleasure of Allah. I don’t know the names of their titles. I recommend the reader to find them and read them, though. I think they usually mention speaking with honesty, sincerity, clarity, beauty, and in a way that benefits people.

Then we have speaking to Allah through prayer, repentance, and seeking refuge. This is clearly different from the speech that we direct at other human beings.

Humility and submission would appear to be at the heart of this kind speech. Again, Allah knows best. I suggest the Qur’an as the reference; I don’t claim full knowledge of the subject.

As for the speech which we direct at other human beings, I’ve found many practical linguistic commands in the Qur’an. The following list is just what I remember at the moment.

I don’t know if a systematic description of all relevant verses, listed with extensive detail of theory and technique would be ideal for perfecting your speech or understanding languages.

That may be too technical. I find that experience is a good teacher, together with a complement of prayer before speaking, some rehearsal, some repentance, and getting feedback from those who hear you speak.

I think that short books are often more useful than long ones, and in this matter, a huge directory may do more harm than good because speech is not an isolated matter – it is always connected to and coloured by the message that is to be communicated, the audience, your natural abilities, the social environment you are in, and so forth.

Part of the beauty of the Qur’an is its simplicity and another part is the applicability. I think that if we take a too librarianistic approach to language, we may end up with a worse result than a diligent student who reads the Qur’an regularly, leads a right life, and acts as he is commanded to act. Allah knows best.

Examples of speech injunctions are: the command to say that which is good (17:53), the command to say what conforms with your behaviour (61:1-2), and many direct commands to speak, which are found throughout the Qur’an and begin with the Arabic word “Qul”.

The example of a good word, found in Surah 14, is a linguistic precept. The example of a good word is that of a good tree: it gives its fruit again and again.

Noble reader, please assist. Allah is the One who rewards. He will know it if your tongue moves to announce a single word with the intention of pleasing Him, or a whole sentence, or more than that or less. Praise and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

Please forgive me if there are any errors. All goodness is from Allah.

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Why I Believe The Qur’an

At university, I studied the Western hegemony: some arts, some science, some economics. I studied philosophy of the soul, and I managed to cope with the diagrams of it (the soul) that philosophers have come up with, although it was a strain.

Then I learned, from studying philosophy of science, that my references, my pillars, and the pillars of my society, psychology, empiricism, economics, free trade, and so forth, were themselves really just more diagrams, mainly offshoots of mathematics and philosophy.

Eventually, I realised that philosophy itself was another Greek legacy. Firstly I wondered if I was really alive, and really existing and so forth, but it seemed illogical to contemplate whether or not I was contemplating. Didn’t someone say “I think, therefore I am”?

I took that as being reasonable. How can you deny writing while you’re writing? How can you deny breathing while you’re breathing? I asked Buddhists about this and they said “In this form, you’re breathing, you’re writing, but if you are transformed to another life, with another form, then you may not be”. That seemed logical.

Anyway, after getting a bird’s eye view of my own society, I wondered about the produce of other empires. So I learned from the Hindus, investigated Aborigines, asked about Christianity and what were its roots, and so on. I wondered about all mankind.

I remember looking at a magazine in the uni library about Asian primitive cultures and seeing men with long poles hitting each other on the head, with villagers standing around to watch, to decide who was right in an argument about a woman. It seemed not far different from what went on in Sydney on Saturday night.

Even anthropology seemed interesting. I wondered where culture and civilisation themselves came from. How did we get here? Why was I using a washing machine not a stone and a river?

I studied the development of civilisation. I looked at Greek temples and wondered what they did in them. I began studying religions and trying them out as well. I went to temples, churches, the synagogues of Sydney, and pagan parties. I read and read.

Having weighed it all up, it is easy for me to know now that the revelations are from God. It wasn’t instant. I was sceptical and it took a long time. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and I still learn, but there is no doubt any more. Evidence is overwhelming.

Each prophet brought a sign to prove his credentials. Moses brought a magic stick that became a snake. It was because the people of his society revered good magicians, so God overwhelmed them with evidence in that domain. Jesus’ miracles were in the fields of healing and food. I’m sure there was a reason.

Muhammad’s miracle was in writing: the Qur’an. If you compare it to Homer, Dante, Bob Dylan, or anyone, the Qur’an is simply better quality without question. It is so far ahead you can’t measure the difference. It literally makes me cry over and again and reminds me of reading the Bible. Yet, unlike the Bible, it is a literary arrangement from God as well as a soul guide.

The Qur’an made the same claim: “Produce ten chapters like it if you can, but you never will”. It said: if you can produce something equal or better, then you’ll know its not from God.

Yet, since the time of the Qur’an entering human life, 1,400 years ago, there has never been a book to have the same effect. It has not been altered and has not been bettered. You can see a 1,000 year old copy of it in a Museum, and read it, and you can see for yourself that its still the same.

Millions have responded to the Qur’an, and every claim it made has been found true. I’m one of them. Until this day, I’ve been unable to prove that the Qur’an’s claim of divine origin is a false claim. Rather, it appears to me to be true. For all that I have, and all that I know, I can’t see how it could be other than from God.

Abdullah Reed