Home / Islam / Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur’an

The Quran is indeed a treasure trove of gems, but only for the one who seeks them from this trove with the correct intention, and via correct branches and sources of knowledge, which include the rules of tajweed and other supplementary subjects.

Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur’an

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Qur'an is a treasure trove of gems and jewels. For the one who diligently seeks them, it can provide any or all of the following priceless blessings required for spiritual growth and rejuvenation: knowledge, insight, understanding of reality vs. illusion, the ability to identify causes of day-to-day situations and human reactions to them, a variety of psychological behavioral traits displayed by people in any era of time, and a deep grasp of the concepts of life, death and the afterlife.

Not just this, but the Qur'an also details numerous past, real-life, historic events accompanied by dialogues that actually took place centuries ago between people, necessitating the student of knowledge to dig deeper into the context behind the revelation of its verses, and to consult other reliable sources for details of the events in the lives of previous prophets and bygone nations, with the most authentic of these sources primarily being  hadith collections.

Last but not least, one of the greatest gems that can be extracted from this Glorious Book is the immense enjoyment of communicating directly with Allāh through un-rushed, beautified and deliberate recitation of His كلام – His own spoken word. Such recitation results in the subsequent descent of, and the feeling of being enveloped by, His Divine mercy or رحمة.

All of the above are blessings and treasures that can be derived from this 'treasure chest' – the Glorious Qurʾān – to name but a few.

Yes, the Qurʾān is indeed a treasure trove of gems, but only for the one who seeks them from this trove with the correct intention, and via correct branches and sources of knowledge, which include the rules of tajweed and other supplementary subjects.

One of the most popular – and also often the most feared – subjects that a student of knowledge pursues to understand the Qurʾān better is Arabic Grammar. Comprising mostly of a set of lexical rules derived to help understand Arabic as a language, Grammar is sometimes a difficult nut to crack. Nay, it is many a students' most ardent nemeses!

I admit that I have heard some extremely polarized views about this subject from different people, be they experienced teachers or frazzled students at their wits end; students ready to pull their hair out over sincere but futile efforts to memorize the complex, multidimensional tables of Arabic pronouns, nouns and verbs!

Some are of the opinion that Arabic Grammar makes it difficult and confusing for a student of knowledge to get a grasp of the language. They opine that memorization of tables does not help if, at the end of the day, the student cannot apply its basic concepts to comprehend the actual Quranic text.

Others stand by the claim that memorization of the complex noun and verb tables of Arabic Grammar is one of the secrets to unlocking the deeper meanings of the comprehensive yet compact (جامع) words in the Qurʾān.

As a work-in-progress student of knowledge, I admit that I hold the latter opinion. I have benefited tremendously by studying basic Arabic grammar. However, my primary concern was never memorizing the tables just to get good marks in tests, but rather, to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Qurʾān's Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings from it that simple language translations did not adequately convey.

Below, I will attempt to express the importance of studying Arabic Grammar by explaining 3 examples of words found in different places in the Qurʾān.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ

O you who believe! Believe in Allāh and His Messenger..” [Qurʾān - 4:136]

The above portion of this verse carries 2 Arabic words that sound incredibly similar to each other, and they occur consecutively. In fact, the only difference between the two words آمَنُواْ and آمِنُواْ, is changing the fathah (فتحة) on the “م” into a kusrah (كسرة):

آمَنُواْ           آمِنُواْ

The change of that single fathah into a kusrah changes the entire meaning of the same set of letters. Whereas the word “آمَنُواْ” means “those people who have believed” and is a verb or action-word, the word “آمِنُواْ” means, “Believe, you all!” and it is not a verb per se but rather, “a command verb” i.e. an action word that is meant as a command to someone. In grammatical lingo, it known more formally as the “imperative verb”, but I prefer referring to it as the “command verb”, because it is known in arabic as فعل امر.

You can understand it with this analogy: we say, “Eat!” to someone when commanding them to eat, but we also say the word “eat” as a verb in other contexts, e.g. “We will eat in an hour”.

The beauty of the Arabic language is that it uses separate combinations of the same set of root letters (in this case, these letters are: م , ا , and ن), with different sounds for those letters, denoted by vowels, to openly display these differences in meaning very beautifully.

(Please click here for a more detailed, word-for-word, grammatical analysis of the above verse.)

For the next example, here is a verse from Surah Aali `Imran:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اصْبِرُواْ وَصَابِرُواْ وَرَابِطُواْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allāh. That you may prosper.” [Qurʾān - 3:200]

In the above verse, again, two very similar words come right one after another. They are:

اصْبِرُواْ         صَابِرُواْ

In this case, both these words are command verbs ordering a group to a certain action. However, their form is different by a single Arabic letter or consonant, the alif (ا). In the first word, “اصْبِرُواْ”, the alif comes before the ص. In the second word, “صَابِرُواْ”, the alif comes after the ص.

This single, apparently very slight, difference in writing the same set of consonants, results in two command-verbs that convey completely different meanings.

The command verb “اصْبِرُواْ” means, “be patient (you all)”, whereas the command verb “صَابِرُواْ” means, “exhort each other towards patience (you all)”.

Isn't it obvious how powerful the language of the Qurʾān is? How beautifully it conveys different meanings by adding or moving around just one consonant/letter in a word, or the vowel on it?

Now let's look at the third example. This one will present how knowledge of Arabic grammar helps in pondering more deeply on the verses of the Qurʾān, to get a more detailed picture of what is being said:

خُذُوهُ فَغُلُّوهُ

Lay hold of him, and shackle him” [Qurʾān - 69:30]

This verse of the Qurʾān contains two command-verbs which have the pronoun “هُ” appended at their end. Both the words, “خُذُوا” and “غُلُّوا” are command-verbs directed at several masculine recipients, or a group of men. This is apparent because of the “وا ُ ” appearing at their end.

This presents an interesting insight into this verse. The English translation says, “Lay hold of him“, but analysis of the Arabic command verb “خُذُوهُ” reveals that, actually, several beings are being addressed to “lay hold of him”, not one person.

This unveils knowledge of a bone-chilling scene that shows us a picture of what will happen to wrong-doers in the Akhirah: numerous angels will be commanded by Allāh to hold and shackle one sinning human being, and then thrust him into the Hell-Fire!

The next verse, shown below, completes the terrifying picture:

ثُمَّ الْجَحِيمَ صَلُّوهُ

And then let him enter hell;” [Qurʾān - 69:31]

Another command-verb “صَلُّوا” occurs in this verse, having the pronoun “هُ” appended at its end. The meaning is the same: an order from Allāh to several angels to throw the person referred to by the pronoun “هُ”, into the Hell Fire.

ثُمَّ فِي سِلْسِلَةٍ ذَرْعُهَا سَبْعُونَ ذِرَاعًا فَاسْلُكُوهُ

And then thrust him into a chain [of other sinners like him - a chain], the length whereof is seventy cubits.” [Qurʾān - 69:32]

Finally, using the command-verb “اسْلُكُوهُ”, Allāh commands the numerous angels to pass the sinner onto a chain of others like him.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir explains the above verses thus:

Allāh's words, “Seize him and fetter him; then throw him in the blazing Fire” mean that He [Allāh] will command the guardians of Hell to forcibly remove him from the gathering place, fetter him – meaning put iron collars on his neck – then carry him off to Hell and cast him into it, meaning they will submerge him in it.

Then fasten him on a chain whereof the length is seventy cubits!” – Ka`b Al-Ahbar said, “Every ring of it will be equal to the entire amount of iron found in this world.”

Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas and Ibn Jurayj both said, “Each cubit will be the forearm's length of an angel.”

Ibn Jurayj reported that Ibn `Abbas said, فَاْسْلُكُوهُ (“then fasten him“) “It will be entered into his buttocks and pulled out of his mouth. Then they will be arranged on this (chain) just like locusts are arranged on a stick that is being roasted.”

Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said, “It will be ran into his behind until it is brought out of his two nostrils so he will not be able to stand on his two feet.”

End quote Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

Arabic Grammar thus enables us to understand certain things whilst reciting or reading the Arabic text of the Qurʾān directly, without needing an accompanying translation or consulting a tafsir.

As shown above, the tasfir makes it clear that several angels – in the role of the guardians of Hell – will be taking hold of, fettering and thrusting each Hell-dweller into either (i) a chain of other sinners headed for Hell, or (ii) an extremely huge iron chain that will be passed through his body like a skewer. This terrifying picture of several harsh, stern angels working together in a group on one sinner at a time sends chills down the spine.

We seek refuge with Allāh from the torments of the Akhirah. Āmīn.

I hope I have been able to effectively convey and present the ease that is provided to a student, by studying Arabic Grammar, in understanding lexical technicalities in the Qurʾān's Arabic text, which does away with the need to always consult a translation.

I know that studying Arabic grammar can be a challenge at times. Here a few tips that can help:

  1. Constantly renew your intention of studying this branch of Islamic knowledge to make it solely for the pleasure of Allāh, as it will aid you to understand His Glorious Book better, because of which you will acquire His closeness and more taqwa, inshā'Allāh.
  2. Do not worry if the conjugation tables and difficult descriptive terms overwhelm you at first. Keep trying to apply the knowledge of the rules to verses of the Qurʾān.
  3. Do not focus just on memorizing grammatical concepts, terms and their definitions to pass exams. Rather, it is alright, for example, if you forget the complex definition of فعل امر but can identify it when you read or recite the Qurʾān's arabic text and see how it is tying in with the meaning of the text.
  4. Consider your pursuit of knowledge a blessed action worthy of great reward.

When you proceed like this, keeping a positive approach and a never-give-up attitude that transcends official courses and classroom lessons taken under teachers, Allāh's help will come in the form of ease and barakah, inshā'Allāh, granting you insights into the language of the Qurʾān, which you never anticipated that you could experience!

allah ameen insha'allah quran

About Sadaf Farooqi

Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan. 11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette. Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'. For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.

25 comments

  1. it gives me courage to learn arabic language with more enthuthiasm.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. AlhamduliLlahi, there are several readily-available resources online to help in learning nahw (grammar), sarf (morphology), etc. Personally, Shariah Program (shariahprogram.ca) is my favorite – Mufti Yusuf Mullan’s program is second to none. I’m in my first semester and I’ve learned more in these first weeks than I have in all my years as a Muslimah (13+ years) studying off and on, plus the university-level Arabic studies before Islam. Trust me, the frustration CAN be over with access to a great program.

    Another great resource: Qibla Academy (aka Sunnipath.com). And, of course, there are so many others…Bayyinah and so on.

    Thank you so much for posting this. There may be many translations of the Qur’an, but the part that cannot be translated is the miracle of the Qur’an which is encoded in the special usage of the language itself. And the way to access that miracle is through deeper study of the language. Jazaakum Allahu khairan.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Totally agree, Shariah Program is one of the best online courses out there.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • There’s also Fawakih Institute’s summer program and the new Zaytuna College which offers a degree in Arabic and general Islamic sciences. Along with Bayinnah and Shari’a Program, there’s no need to go overseas, at least for now!

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. The Quran is not a book like any other; it is a timeless guide for life, death and the The Arabic Grammar thus enables us to understand certain things whilst reciting or reading the Arabic text of the Quran directly, without needing an accompanying translation or consulting a tafsir.so through arabic grammer you can understand quran easily.nice post thanks for sharing it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. JazakAllah for the encouragement. I often wonder – if the Quran was revealed in English, what it would read like to us ENglish speakers nowadays. How sublime the language would be. If we could hear – just for a few moments- in our own language, how amazing the words are, would it give us more encouragement to learn Arabic?

    But we’ll never know – unless we learn Arabic and truly understand the Quran in its original language.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Thanks a lot for this invaluable information!
    I have at least got some idea of the difference between straightforward translation and an insightful translation.
    May Allah help me to understand Quran better and hence Islam!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. I second to Hibah about the resources available online for learning Arabic Grammer. I would also like to share the site where you can download the excellent lectures on Arabic learning especially for the beginners.

    Please go on http://www.lqtoronto.com/

    This lectures based on Dr. Abul Rahim Medina Books 1,2 and 3. (Medina University Saudi Arabia)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Jazaki Allahu khayran for this fantastic article Sadaf!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. asalamOalekum warehmatullah

    MashAllah very informative . The reference links are excellent too. I am once again feeling like giving grammer a try with new courage and enthusiasm :) after all its never too late .
    Jazakillah khair. Love n envy ur brain and ur knowledge MashAllah !!
    Keep me in ur prayers .

    love hugs n duaz
    regards.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. When I started to learn the Quran, the thing that impressed me most about the Arabic language was that how much of an exception exceptions were! For example in the English language goose is singular, moose is plural, but this doesn’t apply to moose! i before e and all that. Arabic was so much simple.

    Another fact I feel is that people rely on tafsirs that are done keeping a certain time and place in mind, but Quran applies to all time and all place. For example Surah Quraish may be talking about the Quraish, but it’s a lesson to ALL powerful nations that are secure, have treaties, are provided food and shelter by Allah but is denying Him.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Assalamualykum sr.Sadaf,

    Jazakillahu khairaan kaseera for encouraging us .Still a long way for me to master this.May Allah make the path of ilm easy for all of us.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Great article, mashaAllah!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. mashAllah great article, I have another example which i found myself when studying arabic, alhamdulilah even though im only a beginner ,I really appreciate how much grammar helps me with understanding quran

    1. When prophet yusuf alaihisalaam narrates the dream رأيت is used (ماضي, but when the prisoners and the king narrate the dream they use مضارع (different tense) أرى and أراني

    it gets translated as “I saw “for all three in the english translations of the quran..

    the reason for that is the ulamaa of the arabic language mention that the present tense denotes continuity…thus would mean the King saw the dream over and over again- thus it became a point of worry and concern…

    The past tense does not allude to continuity and thus would imply Yusuf AS seeing the dream once…

    Allah knows best.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. I finished the free arabic grammar lessons on Bayyinah, but then school started and I forgot it all =[.

    By the way, can the arabic font be made larger?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. I can’t wait til Fawakih or Bayyinah come back in town!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Jazaakallaahu Khairan, this was a nice article. It has given me great encouragement to keep studying.

    lqtoronto is an excellent resource if you are doing the madeena books

    also abu taubah at http://myfiks.org/ offers the ultimate arabic course

    you can check out some of his videos on youtube

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Assalamualaikum,

    MashaAllah, this is turning into a great Arabic learning resource.

    In my opinion, the best FREE Arabic source for beginners is http://www.understandquran.com. In less than 30 days, you will understand half the words on a page of Quran, as well as basic gammar as well. I went through it and I have seen great improvements in my understanding. Tarawih is so much more enjoyable.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. This is an excellent article. But the author disappoints in one crucial place when she says: “When you proceed like this, keeping a positive approach and a never-give-up attitude that transcends official courses and classroom lessons taken under teachers.”

    I appreciate the author’s ability to self-study and their zeal to set an example that self-study is acceptable. But does self-study really have to be presented as “transcending” courses and teachers? This is a very typical al-huda / old school salafi (not MM!) mentality where there seems to constantly be a need to jab at formal instruction and take a better-than-thou stance to all others.

    Again, note the author’s implication in her words: “However, my primary concern was never memorizing the tables just to get good marks in tests, but rather, to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Quran’s Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings from it that simple language translations did not adequately convey.”

    Here again, she seems to feel the need to suggest and insinuate that formal students of courses under teachers learn grammar “just to get good marks in tests.” This is the worst form of su-e-zann and one-upmanship. Sister, you shouldn’t feel the need to put others down in order to feel good about yourself. You should have husn-e-zann that EVERYONE who studies arabic grammar, including those who follow the classical method of formal instruction, their “primary concern” is indeed to “to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Quran’s Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings…”

    Without these unfortunate slants, the article would have been even more beautiful and untinged by arrogance. There is no need to present one as unique and above the mainstream. Indeed, in addition to the grammar of the Qur’an, one needs to adopt the humility of the Qur’an.

    All my love and support for those studying at Bayyinah, Shariah Program, Sunni Path, and others as well as those sincerely trying to do the best on their own, while having the humility and honesty to acknowledge that self-study can never be a replacement to formal instruction, let alone glorified above it.

    I hope the moderators and commentators will not come to a spirited and uncritical defense of the author but rather will allow for some peer-to-peer tarbiyyah and islah!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. الله يحفظكم

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. I really very much liked the article.This was very informative article.This article was very helpful in studying by merely sitting on net.This article inspired me to study & understand more about QURAN.Its a better option to study and understand principles of QURAN, rather than being guided by a teacher.Its better than attending afternoon islamic classes.THANKYOU.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top