The Precedence of the Shi’ah in Arabic Grammar
By: Allamah Sayyid Hasan al-Sadr
The person who invented Arabic grammar and dictated its priciples and broad outlines was the Commander of the Faithful Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a). There is a consensus of expert opinion on this issue as reported by Jamal al–Din Ali ibn Yusuf al–Qafti in his Tarikh al–Nuhat and by al–Marzibani in Al–Muqtabas. In the chapter on the truthfulness of narrators in Al–Khasa’is, Ibn Jinni states: “First, you should know that the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) was the first to introduce grammar and drew the people’s attention to it”. Abdulhamid ibn Abi al–Hadid noted: “This fact is known to everyone”.
This issue is treated by the scholars as an indisputable fact. In the original version of this book, I have cited their explicit statements which indicate that the claim of consensus was accurate, simultaneously reputing as weak, the view that the inventor of grammar was Abdurrahman ibn Hurmuz. In reality, this man learnt grammar from Abu al–Aswad, and some say, from Maimun al–Aqran who himself learnt from Abu al–Aswad. Another reason why Abdurrahman could not have enjoyed that position is that all narrations about the issue end up with Abu al–Aswad who in turn links them to Ali (‘a). In the unabridged version of this book I have cited Abu al–Aswad’s narration to that effect through numerous links that are continuously transmitted (mutawatir). We shall mention some of them in due course.
The First to Systematize Grammar Studies
Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali is the one who founded and systematized the study of grammar. His surname al–Du’ali is derived from al–Du’al ibn Bakr ibn Abdumanaf ibn Kinanah. Abu Ali al–Ghiya’i states in Kitab al–Qari’ that the grammarians al–Asma’i, Sibawaih, al–Akhfash, Ibn al–Sikkit, Abu Hatim, al–Adawi and others, say that ‘al–Du’il’ should be pronounced with the vowels ‘u’ and ‘i’ after the letters ‘dal’ and ‘hamzah’, respectively (i.e. Du’il). The hamzah carries an ‘a’ vowel only in the form denoting descent or origin (i.e Du’ali meaning descending from Du’il) just as in the case of nimr and al–nimari; salim and al–salami. Al–Asma’i said that Isa ibn Amr preserves the ‘i’ vowel on ‘hamzah’ even in the form denoting decent, thereby violating the rule of conjugation. Abu Ali says “Al–Kasa’i, Abu Ubaydah and Muhammad ibn Habib used to say that Abu al–Aswad was related to al–Dil [i.e ‘dal’ will have the vowel ‘i’ and ‘hamzah’ gives way for ‘ya’ with no vowel where in effect the ‘ya’ serves as a prolongation of the ‘i’ vowel of ‘dal’]. His name was Zalim ibn Zalim and the dimunitive form for both names (Zuwaylim ibn Zuwaylim). Others say he was known as Amr ibn Uthman ibn Amr or Zalim ibn Umar ibn Zalim. Still others say he was a descendant of Sufyan ibn Amr ibn Khulais ibn Nafa’t ibn Adiyy ibn al–Du’il ibn Bakr ibn Kinanah.
The most correct pronounciation of the name is Du’ali, the form what denotes descent from Du’il, the change to Du’al [with ‘a’ before ‘l’, rather than ‘i’], this being the form denoting origin or descent. Most scholars think that Abu al–Aswad’s name was Zalim ibn Amr al–Du’ali a descendant of al–Du’il ibn Bakr ibn Abdumanaf ibn Kinanah. He was one of the chiefs of the tabi’is and among the most faithful companions of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a).
Abu al–Tayib, the lexicologist who died in 351 A.H. wrote in Maratib al–Nahwiyyin that the first person to chart the course for the study of grammar was Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali who learnt it from the Commander of the Faithful Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) In Kitab al–Ma’arif, Ibn Qutaybah states that: “Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali’s name was Zalim ibn Amr ibn Jandal ibn Sufyan ibn Kinanah and his mother came from the clan of Abduddar ibn Qusayy. Abu al–Aswad was intelligent and resolute but mean. He was the first person to record the rules of Arabic and he was a proficient poet”. The author of Al–Shi’ir wa al–Shu’ara says “He is counted as one of the poets, the tabi’is, the traditionists, the niggards, the semi–paralyzed ones, the lame and the grammarians. He was the first person to write a book on grammar, having adopted it from Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a). He was appointed by Ibn Abbas Abu al–Aswad as governor of Basra when the former went to participate in one of the battles fought by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a). Abu al–Aswad died there, a very old man”.
In Al–Isabah, al–Hafiz ibn Hajar writes about Abu al–Aswad: “Abu Ali al–Qali relates from Abu Ishaq al–Zajjaj on the authority of Abu al–Abbas al–Mubarrad who said: The first person to record (the rules of) the Arabic language and assign the dots to (some letters of) the Holy Qur’an was Abu al–Aswad. When he was asked as to who paved the way for him, he answered: Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a). Amr ibn Shubbah relates through his chain of transmission that Asim ibn Bahdalah said: ‘The first person to record grammar was Abu al–Aswad’.”
Al–Jahiz is reported to have said that Abu al–Aswad was considered to be among the tabi’is, the jurists, the traditionists, the poets, the nobles, the knights, the princes, the grammarians, the shrewd, the quick–witted and the niggardly. He was also counted among the ‘bald noblemen’ and had foul breath.He was also a Shi'ah. Al–Jahiz’s report is related by both Abu al–Faraj in Al–Aghani, and al–Suyuti in Bughyat al–Wu’at. Similarly, al–Raghib states in Al–Muhadarat in his account on Abu al–Aswad that he was the first to furnish (some of the letters of) the Holy Qur’an with dots and he also established the discipline of grammar under the supervision of Ali (‘a). He was among the most accomplished people in judgment and intellect and he was a Shi'ah, a poet, a quick–witted man, reliable in what he relates…”
Al–Yafi’i records in Mir’at al–Jinan that Zalim ibn Amr, Abu al–Aswad al–Basri was among the most eminent tabi’is and a companion of the Commander of the Faithful Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) with whom he participated in the battle of Siffin. He was among Ali’s best supporters who were endowed with sound judgment and mature intellect. He was the first to record Arabic grammar by the direction of the Commander of the Faithful”.
Imam al–Baihaqi writes in his book Al–Mahasin wa al–Masawi that Yunus ibn Habib, the grammarian has said “The pioneer of Arabic studies who opened up the gates to this discipline and trod its path is Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali whose name is Zalim ibn Amr”.
Abu al–Barakat, Abdurrahman ibn Muhammad al–Anbari records in the beginning of his book Nuzhat al–Albab that Abu ‘Ubaydah Mu‘mar al–Muthanna and others, relate that he learnt grammar from Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a). Abu Hatim al–Sajistani says that Abu al–Aswad was born in the pre–Islamic era and learnt Arabic grammar from Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a). Abu Salamah Musa ibn Isma’il narrates from his father who said: “Abu al–Aswad was the first person to introduce grammar and it was in the city of Basrah”. Ibn Al–Anbari observes: “Indeed, the founder of Arabic studies who defined its broad outlines and rules was the Commander of the Faithful Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) and Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali took after him”.
Ibn Jinni records in Al–Khasa’is in the chapter about the truthfulness of transmitters the Commander of the Faithful was the one who started it (grammar), drew people’s attention to it and caused its spread. Then Ibn Abbas actualized it while Ali (‘a) entrusted Abu al–Aswad with its development”.
In Kitab al–Awa’il, Abu Hilal Hasan ibn Abdillah al–‘Askari had this to say: “The founder of grammar was Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a).” This fact is recorded by al–Zajjaji in his Amali on the authority of al–Mubarrad.
Abu Ubaydah says: “The first to write about the Arabic language was Abu al–Aswad, followed by Maimun al–Aqran, then Anbasat al–Fil and then Abdillah ibn Ishaq”. It is obvious that these people adopted it from Ali (‘a) because Abu Ubaydah himself attested to that, as we saw in Ibn Al–Anbari’s quotation.
In the same vein, Ibn Abi al–Hadid declares in his commentary on Nahj al–Balagah, that it was invented by Ali ibn Abi Talib who dictated its broad outlines to Abu al–Aswad. Abu al–Fadl ibn Abi al–Ghana’im wrote in Sharh al–Mufassal that Abu al–Aswad reported to have acquired the knowledge of grammar from Ali (‘a) who directed him to apply it to the speech (of the Arabs). Abdulqadir al–Baghdadi records in Khazanat al–Adab in his account about Abu al–Aswad, that he was the founder of grammar by Ali’s instruction. Likewise al–Damiri mentions in Hayat al–Hayawan while commenting on the word Da’il, that Abu al–Aswad was the first to write about grammar according to the directives of Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a).
In Al–Fihrist, Ibn al–Nadim quotes Abu Ja’far ibn Rastum al–Tabari as saying “The reason why nahw is given this name is that, on receiving some principles of grammar from Ali (‘a), Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali sought his master’s permission to follow his example (nahw). This is why this branch of knowledge is named nahw. Ibn al–Nadim adds: “I have come across a proof which confirms the idea that grammar was first recorded by Abu al–Aswad. I found four pieces of paper of Chinese origin, I suppose the title of whose content reads: “These papers contain Abu al–Aswad’s discussions on subject (fa‘il) and object (maf‘ul )in Yahya ibn Ya’mur’s handwriting”. Under this was an old line reading “This is the hand–writing of al–Nadr ibn Shumayl’.
Ibn Khillikan and Ibn al–Anbari report that Abu Harb the son of Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali said: The first chapter which my father wrote was about words expressing wonder and admiration (ta’ajjub). Ibn al–Anbari observes that Abu al–Aswad compiled the concise book ascribed to him after he had furnished the Holy Qur’an with dots, an exercise which he accomplished during the time of Ziyad.
Ibn al–Anbari observes in Al–Nuzhah: “The truth is that, Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) was the one who invented grammar because all the reports ascribe this subject to Abu al–Aswad who confesses that it is ascribed to Ali. It has been related that Abu al–Aswad was asked one day about the source of his knowledge of grammar and he answered ‘I acquired its outlines from Ali ibn Abi Talib and built on that’.
Imam Fakhr al–Razi states in Kitab Manaqib al–Shafi’i that al–Khalil ibn Ahmad studied under Isa ibn Umar who learnt from Abu ‘Amr ibn al–‘Ala’ from Abdullah ibn Ishaq al–Hadrami from Abu Abdillah Maimun al–Aqran form Anbasat al–Fil from Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali from Ali (‘a). Similarly, Rashid al–Din ibn Shahrashub al–Mazandarani records in Kitab al–Manaqib that al–Khalil ibn Ahmad relates from Isa ibn ‘Amr al–Thaqafi from Abdullah ibn Ishaq al–Hadrami from Abu ‘Amr who was known as ‘Alam al–Nahw and Ibn al–‘Ala’ from Maimun al–Aqran from Anbasat al–Fil from Abu al–Aswad from Ali (‘a).
Other notable scholars such as al–Azhari, in his Tahzib al–Lughah, Ibn Makram in Lisan al–Arab, Ibn Sayyidah in Al–Muhkam and Ibn Khillikan, in Al–Wafayat, corroborated that report. In the same way, Ruknuddin Ali ibn Abu Bakr al–Hadithi writes in Kitab al–Rukni that the first person to found grammar was Abu Al–Aswad al–Du’ali, the teacher of al–Hasan and al–Husayn. He learnt grammar from Ali ibn Abi Talib and subsequently five people studied it from him. They are his two sons, ‘Ata and Abu al–Harith, Anbasah, Maymun and Yahya ibn al–Numan. Abu Ishaq al–Hadrami, ‘Isa al–Thaqafi and Abu ‘Amr ibn al–‘Ala, in turn, acquired it from these five. Al–Khalil ibn Ahmad studied Arabic grammar under ‘Isa al–Thaqafi and excelled in it. He taught Sibawayh and later al–Akhfash. Thereafter, two literary schools, the Kufi and the Basri, took shape.
Al–Kaf’ami, an Imamiyyah scholar wrote in his Mukhtasar Nuzhat Ibn al–Anbari that Abu al–Aswad al–Du’ali was the founder of Arabic studies, having learnt it from Ali (‘a).
These citations are sufficient to ascertain this fact.
Here, an objection by Ibn Faris in this regard is worth discussing. In his book, Al–Sahibi subtitled Fiqh al–Lughah says: “If it is said that there are successive reports that confirm that Abu al–Aswad was the first to record the rules of Arabic while al–Khalil was the founder of prosody, the answer will be that we do not deny this but it should be noted that these two disciplines are ancient branches of Arabic studies that were neglected over time and revived by these two masters”.
This argument sounds like the speech of the deranged because the Arabs of the pre–Islamic period did not stand in need of the knowledge of grammar because they spoke Arabic naturally; they could not have deviated from the correct form, not to mention needing a set of rules by which their speech would be corrected. In fact the narrations, which Ibn Faris acknowledges are successively transmitted, indicate the reason why the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) invented this field and Abu al–Aswad followed in his footsteps.
It was the corruption noticeable in the language of the Arabs who were born of Nabatean and Persian mothers during and after the days of the Prophet. Apprehensive that these corrupt usages might spread and spoil the language, they founded the grammar to preserve what was, hitherto protected by virtue of the natural disposition of its speakers.
On the whole, both facts of history prove the opposite of what this scholar claims. It was a presonal view of his which he upheld without realizing that it would be liable to objection. We, therefore, take what he narrates and ignore what he thinks. As for the supposition that prosody was an ancient discipline in Arabic, it has already been refuted.