The Orphan’s Tear (Parvin Etesami’s Poem)

The Arabic word for poet is sha`ir شاعر literally means “one who perceives,” for poets are often sensitive to things that others might not perceive, and they are capable of expressing their insights in beautiful and moving language. Among the themes that have long drawn the interest of poets is social commentary and critique, including economic imbalances and the ethical violations that lead to them.

The English Romantic poet William Blake, in his famous Auguries of Innocence, said,

The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags

The poem presented in translation in this post contains a similar idea, but expressed in its own powerful way.

Parvin Etesami (پروين اعتصامي / Parwin I`tisami, 1907-1940) was the first published female poet in Iran. Her father was a man of letters, and he educated her in Arabic and Persian literature. He would also give the young Parvin his own prose translations of Arabic, Turkish and French poems and ask her to convert them into Persian poetry. She wrote almost entirely within the conventions of classical Persian poetry, and often addressed socio-ethical and moral themes. Shortly before her death, she is reported to have destroyed many of her poems because she was not satisfied with their quality. She died from illness at the age of 37, and her anthology (divan) was published a few years later with an introduction by poet laureate Taqi Bahar.

Below is my translation of Etesami’s Persian poem The Orphan’s Tear ( اشك يتيم ), a social commentary that issues a scathing condemnation of financially corrupt and exploitative leaders. The poem opens with the scene of a pompous royal procession through town, and then zooms in on a young orphan and an old woman, upon whose exploitation and/or deprivation the king’s wealth has been built. The closing predicts that some people will probably be offended by, and remain unaffected by the admonition.

Technical Notes

I have opted for a poetic (rhymed pentameter) translation, and in the process have compromized on accuracy in order to preserve meter and rhyme, so this is not a literal translation. For example, compare the literal and poetic translations of line 11 below:

Literal: That pious one who acquires villages and realms is a brigand
Poetic: The saint who craves control is but a rogue

Each English line corresponds to a hemistich (half-line) of the original Persian, and the first and second half-lines have been switched for easier rhyme. The original Persian poem can be found here.

The Orphan’s Tear (English Translation)

From every street and roof rose joyous shouts;
The king that day was passing through the town
An orphan boy amidst this speaks his doubts,
What is that sparkle that’s atop his crown?

Someone replied : that’s not for us to know,
But it’s a priceless thing, that’s clear!
A crone approached, her twisted back bent low,
She said: that’s your heart’s blood and my eye’s tear!

We were deceived by shepherd’s staff and robe
He is a wolf; for many years he’s known the flock.
The saint who craves control is but a rogue
A beggar is the king who robs his flock.

Upon the orphan’s tears keep fixed your gaze.
‘Til you see from where comes the jewel’s glow.
How can straight talk help those of crooked ways?
And frank words will to most folk deal a blow.


— Suheil Laher


PICTURE CREDIT: OpenClipartVectors,

The Proverbial Hadham’s Truthfulness

adhām حَذامِ was the daughter of Rayyān, an Arabian chief. A imyarite chief named ʻĀṭis ibn Jallā launched a military attack on Rayyan, a severe battle ensued. During the night, Rayyan and his people secretly withdrew. They continued marching all day, to get as far from ʻĀṭis as they could, and then set up camp for the night. Meanwhile, ʻĀṭis upon awakening that morning, had found his foe vanished, and therefore set out in hot pursuit. He caught up to them while they were camped for the night. As ʻĀṭis approached Rayyān’s camp, he disturbed some sandgrouses, which therefore started flying and were spotted by Ḥadhām. Ḥadhām, realizing that danger was afoot, tried to alert her people, and to make them get up and leave before they were overcome:

ألا يا قَوْمَنَا ارتَحْلُوا وَسِيْرُوا  *  فَلَو تُرِكَ القَطَا لَنَامَا

        Forsooth, O my people, decamp and proceed!

        For if the sandgrouse were left alone by night, it would sleep.

(The second part of this utterance later came to be used proverbially to refer to someone pressured to unwillingly do something.)

If the sandgrouse were left alone by night, it would sleep

However, they were too worn out from the battle and the subsequent day-long march to heed her. Thereafter, someone else from her camp – either Ḥadhām’s husband Lujaym ibn aʻb, or a man named Daysam ibn āriq – cried out to his people (also in verse),

فلولا المزعجات من الليالي  *   لما ترك القطا طيب المنام

إذا قالت حذام فصدقوها  *   فإن القول ما قالت حذام

        Were it not for the disturbances of the night,

        The sandgrouse would not have left the sweetness of sleep.

        When Ḥadhām says so, then believe her,

        For the truth is what Ḥadhām has said.

Upon this exhortation, Rāyyan’s people made haste to depart, and took refuge in a nearby valley where they remained safe. Ḥadhām’s name became an archetype of truth, and her words and those of the man who took her cue became proverbial.

When Hadham says so then believe her

NOTE (1): The name Ḥadhām comes from the root h-dh-m, meaning to cut, and legend has it that she became known by this nickname after her hand was cut with a sharp blade by a jealous woman.

NOTE (2): The name Ḥadhām, and similarly other Arabic words on the same morphological pattern fa`ali فعالِ , have a fixed ending vowel, regardless of grammatical case, in Western Arabian (Hijazi) usage. The poetic utterance of Ḥadhām’s relayer (Lujaym or Tariq) became a textbook example to illustrate this grammatical point.

– Suheil Laher


PICTURE CREDITS (for the underlying photographs used):

Anja ,

Skeeze ,

Shawqi on Moral Pedagogy

In a previous post, I introduced Shawqi‘s poem on education, and presented a translation of the first 10 lines. Below is a translation of another portion of the poem (lines 37-43, 46-49). This section highlights the importance of imparting proper education to the youth (male and female), since they will be tomorrow’s citizens. He observes that such education cannot be effectively imparted if the teachers themselves are morally impoverished, and also that parents have an important role in their children’s moral development. Once again, the translation is in quickly-composed pentametric blank verse (giving priority to meter over rhyme), with each hemistich of the Arabic corresponding to one line in English.

On fairness bring up well the country’s youth,
That they be vaults of ethics in their prime.
Yea, the teacher nurtures upright natures,
And he it is who raises virtuous souls.
Who straightens out each logic that’s askew,
And leads its thinker on to reason pure.
When the teacher himself shows not justice
Then justice ‘mongst the youth shall be weak-souled.
When acumen the teacher himself lacks,
Then those he nurtures cross-eyed shall perceive
When fancy is the source of his advice,
Or pride, you may as well call it deceit.
When a people’s wound is in their morals,
Then give them their last rites, and wail for them.
When women-folk are raised illiterate,
Their suckled babes grow ignorant and dull.
The orphan is not he whose parents ceased
The toils of life, left him in abjectness,
But he then found a substitute for them:
The world and time their wisdom teaching him.
The orphan is the one whose parents are
Alive and yet repulse him and neglect.

– Suheil Laher


Photo credit: Muhammed Bahcecik,

Arabic Meta-Grammars (Part 2)

In a previous post, we started to discuss the activities of Arabic meta-grammarians in the 4th/10th century. These meta-grammarians were operating within a particular understanding of what grammar is (it is the study of how the endings of Arabic words change depending on their function within a sentence, as I discussed in an earlier post), and how it functions (the default assumption was that every change in ending is caused by an `amil, a syntactical agent, which is often another word within the sentence).

The syntactical agent assumption was questioned a couple of centuries later by the Cordoban Ibn Mada’ (d. 592/1196), who attacked the traditional grammarians in his book al-Radd `ala al-Nuhah (Refutation of the Grammarians). He argued that there is no need for the concept of syntactical agents, and showed that the traditional approach is arbitrary and sometimes questionable as it resorts to circuitous explanations to make data fit into this arbitrary system. For example, he says the question of why the mubtada’ is in the marfu` state is unnecessary; the answer is simply that this is the way Arabs spoke. Similarly, he says the traditional meta-explanation that the vocative is mansub because it can be considered the direct object (maf`ul bihi) of an implicit verb, “I summon,” is pretentious and misleading, because the vocative “Hey, John!” is an inceptive (insha’i) statement, whereas the alleged equivalent “I summon John,” is an informative/descriptive (khabari).

Ibn Mada’ was a judge under the Almohads, and followed the ‘literalist’ (Zahiri) school of Islamic law. His attack on the grammarians is conceptually similar to the Zahiri jurists’ attacks on the formalism and affectedness they perceived in the 4 established Sunni schools of law. (The Zahiris favor sticking to what God or His Prophet have advised, without looking for rationales or constructing theoretical models. Pork, for example, is prohibited simply because God has prohibited it; one should not try to deduce any further reasons or rationales.) Even if one disagrees with Ibn Madda’ in approach or details, he did highlight that Arab grammarians had set up a framework for classifying and understanding the language that was strongly influenced by their aim of preserving knowledge of the the correct word-endings. While they deserve credit for that, their framework was also, as Ibn Mada’ pointed out, often arbitrary. In modern times, the renowned scholar of Arabic Dr Shawqi Dayf (who brought Ibn Mada’s book into the public by editing and publishing it) drew on Ibn Mada to support his call for a reformation inArabic grammar. Another Egyptian linguist Dr Tammam Hassan proposed the concept of linguistic contextual indicators as an alternative to the traditional concept of syntactical agents.

So, what practical relevance, if any does all of this have? I came up with three take-away points:

  1. The Basran Take-Away: As human beings, we tend to like regularity; for things to fit into a pattern. This Basran mindset is useful, especially while learning a language. Imagine if every time you learned a grammatical rule you also learned all the exceptions to the rule! Introductory books (in grammar and other disciplines) will often simplify things, and not even mention exceptions, and this is good for learning.
    • While learning a language, it is useful to come up with your own pseudo-justifications for why something is a particular way. Associating a grammar rule with something silly or funny that helps you remember it is a valuable mnemonic aid. Of course, sometimes you might end up having to modify your abandon your ‘mental rule’ as your learning advances.
    1. The Kufan Take-Away: Notwithstanding the benefits of regularity, we can learn from the Kufans that, as I often say, “Never say ‘never’ or ‘always’ in advanced Arabic grammar.” So, be wary of condemning something as a ‘grammatical error’ when your knowledge of Arabic is the superficial analysis of an observer on the beach who has not yet scuba-dived to realize what is to be found in the depths.

Never say "never" or "always" in Arabic grammar

3. The Ibn Mada’ Take-Away: Traditional syntactic analysis (إعراب) of sentences is beneficial, but some of the justifications it gives are arbitrary. There is benefit in adopting a consistent approach (to grammar or any other field), but it is good to realize that there are other ways to see things. It’s ok to be a grammar policeman, as long as you are not fanatical.

There is another current within the usul al-nahw tradition, that looks at grammar through principles calqued from Islamic legal theory. I might return to discuss this in a separate, future post.

– Suheil Laher

Arabic Meta-Grammars (Part 1)

Try to convince a British speaker of English to speak the language like an American, and you will probably encounter resistance. People often feel very strongly (even combatively) about the way they speak. So, are some forms of a language more equal than others? Does a language have a particular formal structure that is correct, and why? Questions like these come up for many languages, and Arabic linguists started to address them in the 10th century CE (4th century Hijri), which was a time when scholarship reached a stage of maturation and self-reflection. In this article, I will give a brief overview of the systematization of Arabic grammar, and some of the controversies around it.

A renowned Baghdadian grammarian Ibn al-Sarraj (d. 316/929) wrote a book entitled al-Usul fi al-Nahw, which could be translated as “The Principles in Grammar,” or “The Foundations of Grammar,” and was a trailblazing attempt to describe Arabic grammar in a systematic way. By this time, there were two rival schools of Arabic grammar, Basrans and Kufans, and Ibn al-Sarraj identified with the former. The Basran approach to grammar came to dominate (perhaps partly due to Ibn al-Sarraj’s book), and they differed from the Kufans in some terminology, but also a more substantive issue of methodology. In particular, the Basrans considered the rural Arabic of the Bedouins to be the pure form of the language, and criticized the Kufans for giving weight to urban usages (“We take the language from the hunters of lizards and jerboas, you Kufans take it from the eaters of yogurt and pickles.”) Image of yogurt, accompanied by quote from Basran grammarian quote scorning KufansAlso, even when the Kufans studied the rural Bedouins’ Arabic, they tended to be more open to accepting ‘anomalous attestations:’ things that Bedouins might occasionally have said but that are not a norm (i.e. not widely used). The Kufans were not averse to abstract derivation of rules and patterns in the language, but for them the boundaries of the rules would tend to be less clear-cut because they might regard ‘anomalous attestations’ as equally correct even if they don’t fit a general pattern. The Basrans, on the other hand, would tend to disregard anomalous data when deducing a rule by induction. This makes sense if one is trying to document general patterns and trends, then one is justified in ignoring outlying cases, as it is said, “The exception proves the rule.”

Shortly after Ibn al-Sarraj, other grammarians ventured into another form of theorization, beyond describing the rules of the language. Abul-Hasan al-Warraq (d. 381/991) was one of the earliest to write about meta-grammar (`ilal al-nahw), which tries to give a deeper theoretical (or philosophical) justification for why the rules are the way they are. Examples of the types of issues discussed in meta-grammar are:

  • Grammarians tell us there are three basic word categories in Arabic: ism (“noun”), fi`l (verb) and harf (particle). How do we know there are no others? And why is the fi`l, for example, called fi`l and not something else?
  • Grammarians tell us that the mubtada’ (subject of a nominal sentence) is in the marfu` (nominative) case. Why is this the case? In other words, what is the agent (`amil) that is causing the mubtada’ to be in this particular noun case? There are three different opinions about this:
  1. that the marfu` state is caused by the khabar (predicate)
  2. that it is caused by the status of ibtida’ (inception, i.e. because it is starting the sentence)
  3. that the marfu` case here is not caused by anything, but rather is the default state
  • Grammarians tell us that when calling out to someone, the noun following the vocative is, by default, in the mansub (accusative) case, because it can be considered the direct object (maf`ul bihi) of an implicit verb, “I summon,”

So, what benefit (if any) is there in this?

(to be continued)

-Suheil Laher

Photo credit: original underlying photograph: Sinan Coskun,

Shawqi’s Poem on Knowledge and Education

Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawqi presented one of his most famous poems at an event at the Higher Teacher’s College club in Cairo. The Arabic poem, 68 lines long, extols knowledge and teachers, and describes the herculean responsibility of teachers to inculcate knowledge as well as values in the next generation. After explaining the spiritual dimension and importance of knowledge, he goes on to lament the disappearance of true dedication to knowledge and truth, which, coupled with excessive individualism and pursuit of lower desires, exacerbated by the effects of colonialism, have crippled his people’s progress. He proceeds to advise teachers to rear the new generations with knowledge and integrity, and the points out the dangers of dishonorable teachers and an ignorant and unprincipled populace.

Below is a translation of the first ten lines of the poem, in pentametric blank verse. Note that conventional Arabic poems typically comprise lines divided into two hemistichs, and my translation uses a separate line of English for each hemistich, and so the ten lines of Arabic have resulted in twenty lines of English. I have opted for a translation that captures the elegance of the original, and is still faithful in meaning even if not always completely literal.

The opening invokes a simile comparing the teacher to a messenger of God (i.e. Prophet). The language he uses here is within the acceptable boundaries of figurative language, and has has not been theologically problematic to Muslim scholars.

– Suheil Laher

Shawqi on Knowledge and Education

Stand for the teacher, give him full respect
The teacher’s rank is close to the prophet.
Can there be any person nobler than
The one who builds and nurtures souls and minds?
Glory to You God, O best instructor,
With the pen You taught the folk of yore.
You brought this mind forth from its darknesses,
And guided it a way of lucid light.
The teacher’s hand a crucible you made,
Its products ingots rusted or burnished.
Moses as a guide You sent with Torah,
So too the Virgin’s son, who taught Injil.
Muhammad’s fluent fount You caused to gush,
So human souls he quenched with scripture’s words.
You taught the Greeks and Egypt, who’ve declined
Displaced by suns that fain would not depart.
Yore’s giants now returned to infancy
In knowledge, learning now at deadened pace.
From eastern realms of earth the suns arose,
How is it now the western lands prevail?

Ahmad Shawqi, Poet biography

Ahmad Shawqi was one of the most famous Arab poets of the modern era. He was born in Cairo, Egypt, 1869, of mixed Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, Greek and Circassian descent. He grew up in a privileged, aristocratic household, raised partially by his maternal grandmother who was Greek and who worked in the khedive‘s court. He was a bright student, who memorized parts of the Quran while young, and became an avid reader of poetry from an early age. By the time he completed high school in 1885, he was already fluent in Arabic, Turkish and French. He then enrolled in law school, where he he also furthered his literary interests and knowledge. After graduation, he spent four years pursuing further legal studies France (sponsored by the khedive), during which time he visited Belgium and Britain. Upon returning to Egypt in 1892, he became the official poet to the Khedive’s royal court. Following the Ottoman alliance with the Germans in the early stages of World War I, the British deposed the Khedive, and Shawqi was exiled to Spain, where he lived for five years before being able to return to Egypt in 1920. In time, his renown as a poet spread through the Arab world, and his contemporaries gave him the title, “The Prince of Poets.” He died in 1932, and was elegized by many poets. Although he is most famous for his poetry, he also wrote historical fiction, as well as plays, and is a pioneer of modern Arabic verse drama. Shawqi lived at the cusp of the emergence of the modern movement in Arabic poetry, and his poetry is entirely conventional in terms of conformance to the traditional metrical patterns. He also wrote extensively in conventional genres, such as elegy, love and descriptive poetry. Nevertheless he did not hesitate to use poetry as a vehicle for contemporary social and political commentary. He also wrote fabulistic poems were perhaps partly influenced by French poets such as de la Fontaine.

Grammar, Grammars and Meta-Grammars (Part 1)

This article-u introduces some important-a facts-a about Arabic-i grammar-i.

Grammar is this structure of a language, and different languages often have significantly differents structures and rules. Imagine if (as in the opening sentence above) whenever you wrote or spoke a sentence in English, you had to tag a vowel onto the end of each noun, with the choice of vowel varying depending on how you were using the word within each sentence. That is pretty much what you do in formal (Classical as well as Modern Standard) Arabic, because the language has case endings, which are an important part of its syntax (syntax is the study of how sentences are formed in a language) yet non-existent in English and most other languages.

In modern English, syntax is mostly about the correct order of words in valid sentence (“I greeted the world” is valid, but “World the I greeted” is not), and punctuation. Even though Old English was a heavily cased language, this has largely disappeared from modern English. For example, whether we are saying,

“The man ate the potato,” or

“The potato ate the man,”

the words “man” and “potato” remain exactly the same. A few traces of case still remain in modern English, e.g.

“Me ate the potato,”

is incorrect, because in this situation “I” (the nominative (subject) version of the pronoun) must be used rather than “me” (which is the accusative/object version of the pronoun.

Arabic, on the other hand, is a strongly cased language, which means that nouns (and similarly pronouns and adjectives) change depending on how they are used within a sentence. There are three possible grammatical cases in Arabic, which means each noun has up to three possible variations. (Don’t worry, this is still less than Old English, which had 5 cases, modern German which has 4, and modern Finnish which has 15!) Grammatical case variations in Arabic usually involve changes to the end of the word, most often (but not always!) by means of vowels. To give you an idea of how this works, let’s imagine that English used the same system. The potato sentences from above would now become:

The man-u ate the potato-a

The potato-u ate the man-a

Similarly, we would now no longer simply say,

Hello, world

Hello aliens

Instead, we would have to say:

Hello, world-u

Hello, aliens-u

And sometimes it gets more complicated, e.g.

Hello, world-a of aliens-i!

Spoken Arabic does not use the case endings system, and we don’t know when exactly it was dropped. Nor do we know why formal Arabic maintained the case system, while other Semitic languages (like Hebrew) did not. However, we do know that a major concern of the earliest Arab grammarians was to document and classify the correct use of case endings. Some historical narrations tell us1 (and it is very likely so) that the impetus for this was to help with correct pronunciation of the Quran (Islam’s divinely-revealed book), for Arabic was at the time written without any vowels.

The early Arab grammarians’ initial aim was therefore to write a descriptive grammar in order to preserve the purity of the language. A natural consequence of this approach was to classify the descriptive grammatical rules in a logical way, for example, by saying, “The different syntactical scenarios in which the terminal vowel ending is “-u” are ….” The famous medieval grammar (the Ajurrumiyya) manual by the North African Berber scholar Ibn Ajurrum (d. 723 H / 1323 CE) uses this type of taxonomic approach to presenting grammar. However, it should be clear that this approach was neither intended to produce a pedagogic grammar (i.e. a grammar for teaching non-native speakers the language), nor is it effective for such teaching purposes (without even getting into different pedadgogical approaches to language-teaching). A taxonomical primer like the Ajurrumiyya might be of benefit to an Arabic speaker who wants to brush up on his/her knowledge of case endings, but a beginner in Arabic syntax needs to first understand how to form basic sentences and to conjugate verbs. This is why, even though Ibn Ajurrum’s grammar was traditionally considered an introductory grammar work, it is inefficient (if not downright terrible) to use it as a first textbook for an English speaker trying to learn Arabic.

Two parting remarks:

(1) In the article above, I have used the word “grammar” loosely to refer primarily to syntax, one of the two major sub-disciplines of grammar. In a future article I hope to comment on the other major branch, morphology, which is the study of the forms of words.

(2) We have not yet gotten to talk about meta-grammars (which this article’s title promised), nor the tension between descriptive and prescriptive grammars in the Arabic grammatical tradition, but in order not to make this post too long, I will stop here for now.

This writer-u bids farewell-a to the kind-i readers-i.

(Please don’t start speaking English like this, or you may drive your family and colleagues crazy.)


-Suheil Laher


1 Caliph Ali is traditionally credited with spearheading the project to write and teach grammar, in response to hearing people (whether non-Arabs or simply semi-literate Arabs) who were (inadvertently) reciting the Quran with mistakes in case-endings that would change the meaning drastically.

Let the Days Pass As They Will

Poetry has long been companion to the human spirit, attempting to record the ineffable breezes, the delicate memories, the raging fires that sometimes come over the human heart, to capture the wings that perhcance flutter within the chest. Translating poetry is more challenging than translating prose, as there will inevitably be a trade-off between faithful literal translation, and looser but more aesthetically pleasing rendering. Below is my translation of famous Arabic poem by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi`i (d. 204H / 897CE). In addition to being the eponym of one of the major Sunni legal schools, and the architect of some innovative legal techniques, al-Shafi`i was renowned for his flawless command of the Arabic language.

The poem is on the theme of wisdom, containing Shafi`i’s general advice for life. My translation is in tetrametric couplets, and in observing these constraints of rhyme and rhythm, the fidelity of the translation has of course been compromised (only slightly, I would like to think!)

O let the days do as they please!
And be content when fate decrees.
Do not regret what this day’s cast,
For this world’s pains for sure won’t last.
So be a man ‘gainst horrors strong,
Be kind and loyal, all life long.
If in folk’s eyes your faults abound,
And you would like that they be gowned:
Then shelter seek beneath kind acts,
For kindness well all blame retracts.
To foes never reveal weakness
For gloating foes do bring distress.
From misers seek not bounteousness
In fire is but thirst’s hopelessness
Your calmness won’t reduce income,
Nor fretfulness increase the sum.
Not grief nor happiness shall last,
Nor poverty, nor riches vast.
If in your heart you’re satisfied
Then you do own the whole world wide.
A man on whom his fate alights
No depths shall save, nor any heights.
God’s glorious earth is wide, but know,
That destiny makes it narrow.
So, face each day on even keel.
There is no balm from death can heal.

-Suheil Laher

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: Some of the metaphors in my opening paragraph are built on words written in Arabic by Egyptian journalist, literate, jurist and educationist Shaikh Ali Tantawi (d. 1990)

The Sub-Disciplines of Arabic

If you think about it, there is a lot involved in language (any language). The renowned Andalusian historian and sociologist Ibn Khaldun (d. 808 H / 1406 CE) enumerated four major areas in the study of the Arabic language:

  1. Lexicology اللغة
  2. Grammar النحو
  3. Rhetoric الببان
  4. Literature الأدب

Of course, each of these has numerous sub-disciplines and areas. How many sub-disciplines are there in all? Several writers gave twelve as a number for sub-disciplines, with some composing lines of poetry summarizing them for easy memorization, e.g. Egyptian educationist and writer Ahmad al-Hashimi (d. 1943 CE) wrote:

نحو وصرف عروض ثم قافية ** وبعدها لغة قرض وإنشـــــــــاء 
خط بيان معان مع محاضــــرة ** والاشتقاق لها الآداب أسماء 

However, it is possible to identify other disciplines beyond these twelve. Below, I present a fourteen-fold taxonomy, arranged these under a modified version Ibn Khaldun’s higher-level categories: I have added one category (‘Media,’ which deals with the sounds and script of the language), and collapsed Lexicology and Grammar into a single category ‘Words.’ For some disciplines, I list prominent sub-disciplines. In future blog posts, I might explain some of disciplines that are less familiar (name-wise or content-wise) to many people.


  1. Sounds: Phonology
    • Phonology `ilm al-aṣwāt
    • Phonetics (including Qur’anic Phonetics `ilm al-tajwīd)
  1. Script: Orthography (`ilm al-rasm / al-khaṭṭ)


  1. Origin, Coinage (`ilm al-waḍ`)
  2. Meaning
    • Lexicology (matn al-lughah)
    • Triconsonantal Semantic Patterns `ilm al-ishtiqāq
  1. Internal Structure of Words: Morphology (`ilm al-ṣarf)
  2. Terminal Variations on Words: Syntax (`ilm al-naḥw)
  • Rules of Syntax qawa`id al-naḥw
  • Meta-Grammar `ilal al-naḥw / uṣul al-naḥw


  1. Linguistic Pragmatics (`ilm al-ma`anī)
  2. Imagery, Figurative Expression (`ilm al-bayān)
  3. Rhetorical Embellishments (`ilm al-badī`)


  • Poetry

  1. Prosody, Metrics (`ilm al-`arūḍ)
  2. Rhymes (`ilm al-qawāfī)
  3. Writing Poetry (qarḍ al-shi`r)
  • Prose

  1. Composition (al-inshā’)
  2. Public Speaking (al-khaṭābah / al-muādara)


– Suheil Laher