Thursday, 2 April 2009

What goes through the needle's eye?

There's an old debate amongst Christians on should the camel or the cable1 force itself to go through the needle's eye in order to be able to enter rich men into Paradise. But let's see what says the Qur'an about it.

Jesus is considered to have said that „For it is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke, 18:25). However the camel in no way wants to go through the needle's eye. Hence some church fathers – who had more property than to be called poor men – must have felt inconvenience about it. Examining the Greek manuscripts one can see that they sometimes even tried to soften the edge of this phrase. Although the word camelos means camel in Greek, with an elegant maneuvre it can be easily tamed to mean cable, when man writes it with iota instead of eta. This way will turn camelon into camilon (καμηλον -> καμιλον), and likewise will be easier to enter rich men into Paradise. Providing that cable fits into the needle's eye.
Or you think it's impossible?
Well, the author of the text must have ment the same. Considering that the phrase even traced back to ancient times of Semitic languages, and means something like „when hell freezes over”.

While the Syriac Church (who claims that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic) also stick to the meaning '(thick) rope', the condition of the rich didn't really become less desperate. [Gamlo (ܓܡܠܐ) means in Aramaic tow-rope that used to tow ships as well as camel.]

White hope... (Illustration by Édua

A solution will appear while reading the Quran. While christians argue whether cable or camel should go through the needle's eye, the Quran reveals that doesn't matter which of them. Our key of salvation is not our material essentials, but something completely different.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآَيَاتِنَا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا عَنْهَا لَا تُفَتَّحُ لَهُمْ أَبْوَابُ السَّمَاءِ وَلَا يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى يَلِجَ الْجَمَلُ فِي سَمِّ الْخِيَاطِ وَكَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُجْرِمِينَ

„To those who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance, no opening will there be of the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the garden, until the camel can pass through the eye of the needle: Such is Our reward for those in sin. ” [Quran 7:40]

The original text has „جمل” which can be read as jamal or jummal as well, meaning camel or thick rope respectively.
But it is camel or rope then?
The Quran generously lets the reader decide.

1 In the sense of thick rope.

Koranic Arabic in Clarke's Bible Commentary

Adam Clarke Biblical scholar in his authoritative work spoke in flattering terms about the language of the Qur'an.

Adam Clarke (1760-1832) was one of the most influential methodists, who followed John Wesley. His enormous commentary on the Bible was a standard reference for more than hundred years, and used by all protestant churches. Its thorough and authoritative scientific nature was accepted by Armenian and Calvinist churches as well.

Looking up his commentary at Exodus 20:26 we can find the following sentence: „Mohammed defied all the poets and literati of Arabia to match the language of the Koran; and for purity, elegance, and dignity it bore away the palm, and remained unrivalled.”1
In his work Adam Clarke has mentioned Arabic language several times, which – he wrote – means serious help interpreting the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Bible. The scholar himself also set an example by mastering Arabic language, inspiring those who desire to apprehend the message of holy scriptures to do likewise.

1 Of course muslims credit this feature to Allah rather than Mohammed.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The second-most widely used alphabet around the world

Accidentally bumping into an Arabic script, one almost never thinks about that somebody is as familiar with that alphabet as we are with Latin. Yet this is the fact in case of not only minorities but masses!

Arabic is the second-most widely used alphabet around the world (according to Enclopaedia Britannica). Only Latin surmounts to it, which we've already known. Thus if we get learned Arabic alphabet, then we're ready with a remarkable percentage of the world.

Although Arabic is a Semitic language, using Arabic alphabet not only Semitic languages can be written, but also among others Persian, Urdu, Pashto, Malay, Hausa, Swahili, Panjabi, Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, and Kurdish. Moreover the Jews living in diaspora often wrote Hebrew, and the Ottoman empire used to write Turkish language with it. The list is far from being complete.

In fact, the Arabic script with minor additions is suitable to represent any language. For instance in Europe it was also used to write Portuguese, Spanish, Albanian, Bosnian, Polish (Tatar minority), and Romanian language.

It even fits to write English. For example if we would write "Light comes from the East", it could appear as:
لايْت كَامْز فْرَم ذْ إِيسْت
Of course, there's no standard spelling of Arabic script for English language, hence a slightly different spelling could also be used. But probably anybody - who got used to read Arabic alphabet - could relatively easily and properly read it, depending on the language he/she speaks, even though he/she never has met English before.

There are 30 different writing systems derived from Arabic script, like Xiao’erjing (小兒經, Xiǎo'érjīng, شِيَوْ عَر دٍ) for writing Chinese, and Aljamiado for writing Romance languages (Spanish, Mozarabic, Ladino).

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Why to learn Arabic?

The Arabic language is the cultural language of the middle-east, in fact a lingua franca, and the language of diplomacy and social affairs in all Arabic countries. It has approximately 280 million native speakers along with about 250 million non-native speakers. Accordingly this is the fifth most spoken language in the world.

Arabic influenced many other languages, like Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Persian, Turkish, and more.
Moreover almost all languages has loanwords from Arabic. In English for example among others the following words are derived from Arabic: admiral, algebra, arsenal, elixir, camphor, coffee, magazine, massage, saffron, Satan, syrup, tariff, zenith.

In the middle ages, Arabic was cultural language, the carrier of encyclopedic knowledge, like French in the 18th century. Medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy was transfered by Arabic. Its cultural significance is well illustrated by the fact, that the Arabic word كتاب "book" is used in 15 different languages with the same meaning.
Arabic plays an important role also in studying Semitic languages, for it features enormous literature and vast amount of speakers for almost 3000 years until today. It has written lexicons and grammars long ago. It is a serious help in reconstruction and resuscitation of extinct Semitic languages like Ugaritic, Akkadian, and Hebrew.

And what's probably even more important, that Arabic is liturgical language, the language of a religion. The central language of Islam as well as other religions like Arab Christians, Arab Druze, Mizrahi Jews and Iraqi Mandaeans.
Arabic is the language of the Noble Qur'an and the records about the life of Prophet Muhammad.

Note: You may realized that the author of these posts are a non-native English speaker. I tried hard to avoid mistakes, but I apologize if they happened anyway. Nevertheless I welcome any correction in email.

Analysing our motto

أَصْحَابُ العَرَبِيَّةِ جِنُّ الإِنْسِ، يُبْصِرُونَ مَا لا يُبْصِرُ غَيْرُهُم

أَصْحَابُ: masculine noun, plural, nominative case, determining noun of a construct state. Singular: صاحب. Root: صحب. Meaning: companions, fellows. In construct state this is a common Arabic phrase which expresses something or somebody who accompanies, follows or posesses the determined noun, eg. أصحاب الجنة = The inmates of Paradise.

العَرَبِيَّةِ: definite article + feminine noun, singular, genitive case, determined noun of a construct state. Root: عرب. Meaning: the Arabic (language).

جِنُّ: masculine noun, singular, nominative case, determining noun of a construct state. Root: جنن. Meaning: jinnee.

الإِنْسِ: definite article + masculine noun, singular, genitive case, determined noun of a construct state. Root: ءنس. Meaning: human, people.

يُبْصِرُونَ: imperfect verb, third person plural. Root: بصر. Meaning: they see.

مَا: particle, here: relative pronoun. Meaning: that which.

لا: particle, negative. Meaning: not, don't.

يُبْصِرُ: imperfect verb, third person singular, masculine. Root: بصر. Meaning: see.

غَيْرُهُم: masculine noun, singular, nominative case + third person plural masculine posessive pronoun suffix. Meaning: others than them.

Arab linguists prefer to use their own slightly different grammatical categories those we will discuss later.

Our motto

أَصْحَابُ العَرَبِيَّةِ جِنُّ الإِنْسِ، يُبْصِرُونَ مَا لا يُبْصِرُ غَيْرُهُم
"Those who know Arabic are jinn among humans, they can see what nobody else can." (Imam Shafii)

A formerly hidden world will reveal for those who know Arabic language. The 1400 years old scriptures will tell tales, and their stories will become alive. They will guide that person into an era, when miracles happened, and mankind received a message that shaped the world. This secret however won't appear to anybody. The privilege of its knowledge is only for those who are disposed to spend enough time and attention learning it.
Welcome to the Arabic language blog!

This blog is dedicated to the teaching of Arabic language and publishing interesting articles about it. Conform our planes we're going to publish new posts regularly, beginning with the basics but not only limited to that. Soon we launch our crash course on Arabic writing. The lessons will appear here. Check us often!