Introduction Part 3: The Arabic Language
This is Part 3 of the Introduction in the abridged tafsir of Surah Al-Baqarah based on the book ‘tayseer ila usul it-tafsir’ by Shaykh Ata bin Khalil Abu Rishta
An exhaustive study of the Arabic language as it has been recorded and transmitted, shows us that the sources of the Arab’s naming and meanings of their words are four:
Firstly, الحقيقة (the Real meaning) of which there are three:
a) الحقيقة اللغوية (the real meaning in the language). It is the given meaning for a word/term (لفظ) when it was originally put down in the Arabic language. Like the term – رأس – for the person or animal – which is the highest part of the body (head).
b) الحقيقة العرفية (the traditional or customary meaning). It is meaning for a term transmitted of the Arab’s traditional usage, instead of the originally given meaning for it. Like the term الدابّة traditionally used for everything that goes on all fours, instead of its linguistic use for everything that moves of the earth ( دبّ على الارض). So the word الدابّة is الحقيقة العرفية for four legged creatures.
This is called the general traditional meaning الحقيقة العرفية العامة, in other words the tradition of the general Arabs.
There is also the specific traditional meaning الحقيقة العرفية الخاصة in the terminology of the people of every specialist field. Like the use of the term الفاعل for indicating who does the verb according to the grammarians.
c) الحقيقة الشرعية (the shariah meaning). It is the transmitted meaning by way of the Islamic legislation (الشرع), like the term الصلاة for the specific set of sayings and actions, instead of its linguistic use for الدعاء.
Secondly, المجاز (the metaphorical meaning).
It passes the real meaning ( تجاوز الحقيقة) in its usage of the term. In other words, it is the use of the term for other than what it was really put down for, due to an indication (القرينة):
a) Which could be preventing using the real meaning (الحقيقة) while a relationship exists:
i) This is known as the المجاز المرسل if the relationship was not similarity, for example
“They put their fingers in their ears” [al-Baqarah 19], so the whole was mentioned (the fingers) and the intended meaning is the ends of the fingers, i.e. the part. So with that, the relationship is الكلية, completeness.
ii) It is called مجاز عقلي if the relationship is attributing to other than the reality, such as بنى الأمير المدينة the ruler built the city. So building is attributed to the ruler while the builders are other than the ruler.
iii) It is called الاستعارة (simile) if the relationship is similarity, such as
صعدت الى رأس الجبل I climbed to the head of the mountain. So رأس head is used for the top of the mountain in similarity with the real usage of the word رأس as the top of man’s body.
The القرينةindication in all this prevents the original meaning being intended. The whole fingers do not enter the ears, the ruler does not actually build the city and the mountain does not have a real head.
b) Or the indication القرينة does not prevent the real meaning.
This is الكناية allusion: like نؤوم الضحى the sleeper till mid-morning. Alluding to the pampered girl who is served in her house. Here the indication القرينة does not prevent the intended meaning being the real meaning, as this girl could actually sleep until mid-morning.
Thirdly, الاشتقاق derivation:
If the Arabs used the root of a particular word with a specific meaning, then all of the derivations according to the patterns of the language can be used having a meaning connected to the meaning of the root of the derivation, whether the Arabs actually used this new derivation or not. For example: If the Arabs used the term سَلِمَ with its well known meaning, and they used سالم, سليم but they did not use سلمان , so the use of سلمان according to the pattern فعلان as an exaggerated form of سَلِمَ is an Arabic usage and the word will be an Arabic word, even though the Arabs didn’t use it, so long as they used the root of its derivation, and as long as it is derived according to their patterns.
The chapter on derivations is wide and important. Its importance comes from the fact that all of the derivations are bound together by a general meaning.
Fourthly, التعريب Arabisation:
Like when the foreigners put a word for something that they have and then the Arabs take that thing and take its name with them, but they make that foreign name fit their words’ patterns by changing some of its letters, lengthening or shortening, to make it according to their linguistic patterns.
So the word becomes Arabic to indicate the same thing that the foreign word used to indicate before. For example: إستبرق and سندس for thick and thin silk respectively. So, when it was arabised, i.e. when the Arabs entered it into their words after changing its letters to fit their patterns, so it then became Arabic in structure and meaning just the same as any words they put down as original meanings, or metaphors or derivatives of a root that they did use.
Arabisation, as is well known, does not occur except in the sensed things and not in meanings (conceptual matters), because the Arabs only did so with the names of material things that existed in the foreigners’ lands and that were brought to their own lands, after they had changed the letters according to the patterns of their language.