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This blog is dedicated to my notes on Islamic Studies, comparative religion, history, philosophy, and linguistics.

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Ibn Al-Ja'abi

I've intended for this post to be a placeholder until I publish my next entry on the linguistic history of the Arabic language until the early Islamic period. I've adapted it from a post I made elsewhere. It represents an early phase in my research on the religions in pre-Islamic Arabia, it's rather informal but so is the nature of my research right now. InshaAllah it'll be added to, corrected, and fixed as time progresses.

The presence of Christianity in Arabia was already centuries old by the time the Prophet was born. Historical Arabia was identified as a region spanning from the Eastern banks of the Nile to the Euphrates and as far north as the Syrian desert. According the Socrates Scholasticus, the Byzantine ecclesiastical historian, not the Athenian philosopher, a Queen Mavia (ماوية) of the Ishmaelites, who reigned from the late fourth century to the early fifth century, converted to Christianity. She went on to appoint a Bishop named Moses, another "Saracen" (Arab) who led a monastic life and was reputed to preform miracles. Eusebius writes about an Arab Monarchian named Beryllus, Bishop of Bostra. He believed that Christ was a distinct divinity but only possessed the Divine nature of God the Father after the incarnation. Origen of Alexandria converted him back to "orthodoxy" (in the lower-case sense of the word, not upper-case sense referring to the Orthodox Churches).

It seems that by the birth of Prophet Muhammad there was a major presence of various "heretical" Christian groups. A misattributed dictum of St. Theodoret of Cyrrhus states that "Arabia hæresium ferax", "Arabia is the bearer of heresies". Scholars have attempt to identify the groups present in Arabia using antique and mediaeval sources and the Qur'anic description of their doctrines.

Theophilos Indus, an Arian Bishop sent by Emperor Constantius II to Asia via Arabia as a missionary. He is reported to have converted the people of Himyar to Arianism. He was Heteroousian, a follower of the theologian Aetius, who denied that Christ and God the Father were of the same substance. It's possible that Arianism survived in the region.

There was also a Severan Monophysite presence concentrated on the Red Sea coast (Hijaz and Yemen). The Julianists, a group closely related to the Docetists, are of particular interest due to their rejection of Christ having died on the cross -- a view also found in the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter (where Christ is in a tree and laughing at whoever is being crucified). Irfan Shahid states Ashab al-Ukhdud (People of the Ditch) that the Qur'an mentions were Monophysites. Their account is also mentioned in text called "The Book of the Himyarites", a Syriac work which was translated into English by Axel Moberg. Their leader was St. Arethas (Harith) was written about in the 7th century text Acta Sancti Arethæ/Martyrium Sancti Arethæ.

There was also a Nestorian presence in Arabia. The Prophet was aware of this and the Qur'an even employs the Nestorian idea of "Isa b. Maryam" to deny that Christ is the Son of God. The aforementioned Book of the Himyarites also has a passage were Dhu-Nuwas employs Nestorian terms to refer to the Christology of the "majority of Christians" (in his realm).

Though Monophysitism did become dominate after the fall of Dhu-Nuwas, Nesotrianism returned with the conquest of South Arabia by the Sassanids. In the lifetime of the Prophet, Nestorian missionaries from Najran would go to Ukadh to preach, and Prophet Muhammad encountered one who left an impression on him, Quss b. Sa'idah al-Iyyadi. He was possibly a bishop of Najran. Irfan Shahid mentions this as a matter of fact in "Islam and Oriens Christianus". However, he's also argued against this position in his entry on Quss b. Sa'idah in the Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam, saying that it was just a conflation of several facts about him and the Episcopate of Najran.

Shahid believes there also might have been an Ethiopic Christian presence. This is based on what seems to be Ge'ez terms being used by the Qur'an, such as Nasara rather than Masihiyyun, Isa rather than Yasu'. Though in the case of the latter Arthur Jeffery demonstrates how this could have also happened as a result of natural linguistic corruption when the word transferred from Syriac to Arabic.

 

References and Further reading:

Irfan Shahid's article "ISLAM AND ORIENS CHRISTIANUS: MAKKA 610-622 AD" represents a bulk of the research here, I would highly recommend it. You might also want to check out Irfan Shahid's series on Byzantium and Arabia. Gabriel Said Reynold's The Qur'an in its Historical Context (both parts one and two) might also prove useful. And Darren M. Slade's article "ARABIA HAERESIUM FERAX (ARABIA BEARER OF HERESIES): Schismatic Christianity’s Potential Influence on Muhammad and the Qur’an ".

Ibn Al-Ja'abi

The saying usually goes “like father like son”. However, in the case of Abraham and Ishmael it should be “like son like father”. In the Qur’an, their names are written as ʾIsmāʿīl (إسماعيل) and ʾIbrāhīm (إبراهيم). It seems rather banal to those of us used to reading these names, it is an etymological peculiarity. In the original Hebrew, these names are Yišmaʿel (יִשְׁמָעֵאל‎), meaning “God Heard”, and ʾAbrāhām (אַבְרָהָם), meaning “Father of Nations”. While Yišmaʿel is Arabicized typically from Hebrew, ʾAbrāhām is not. The initial alef is pronounced with a kasrah in the Arabic rather than a fatḥah like in the Hebrew. More notably, the final alef becomes a yāʾ in the Arabic. This has even confused Muslim philologists who have listed such variants of the name as ʾAbrahām, ʾAbrāhum, and ʾAbraham. The philologist and orientalist, Arthur Jeffrey, in his “The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an”, records several theories as to why this might be the case concluding that the best possibility is that ʾIbrāhīm was put onto the same pattern as ʾIsmāʿīl’s name when being Arabicized – something the Qur’an has done with other names.  

Though it seems semantical, it is relevant to understanding the style of the Qur’an. This topic and others like it have to do with the history of Arabic, which, like the history of any language, is important in providing context to linguistic phenomena, and consequently better cementing our understanding of the Qur’anic text. While great efforts are made by Muslims to have mastery over Arabic grammar, there seems to be a gap in our collective understanding of this topic.

Arabic is now a global language spoken by 290 million native speakers found from Morocco to Khuzestan and Central Asia, and it is used as a liturgical language by over a billion people. In the 9th-century BC, though, it was an obscure Semitic language spoken by an equally obscure ethnic group of nomadic herders and mercenaries from the South Syrian desert.

As such, I intend on writing a series of brief blog posts, which will give an overview of the history of the Arabic language. In due course, we shall also examine interesting features of and notable oddities in the language, such as the one I mentioned at the beginning of my introduction. These posts will not necessarily be chronological so that the task of writing is easier. 

Since a language exists only due to people being there to speak it, I will also be writing general points about the history of the Arab people. This will not be comprehensive, rather, it will simply complement our primary discussion on the Arabic language. I hope that by reading this series you will grow to love the subject as much as I do, and by its completion, have deepened your knowledge of the Arabic language and the Qur’an.

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    • Another interesting blog entry. I learn so much from you, Sister. Alhamdulillah for all your help. 
    • Peace be upon you O Uthman, the namesake of Uthman the son of Amirul Mumineen [Ali].
    • Wa Alaykum Salam.  What you have quoted from Tafsir al-Safi goes back to Tafsir al-Askari [a Tafsir which claims to originate from the Eleventh Imam]. This is the translation: قال رجل للصادق عليه السلام فإذا كان هؤلاء العوام من اليهود لا يعرفون الكتاب الا بما يسمعونه من علمائهم لا سبيل لهم إلى غيره فكيف ذمّهم بتقليدهم و القبول من علمائهم و هل عوام اليهود الا كعوامنا يقلّدون علمائهم فان لم يجز لأولئك القبول من علمائهم لم يجز لهؤلاء القبول من علمائهم فقال عليه السلام بين عوامنا و علمائنا و بين عوام اليهود و علمائهم فرق من جهة و تسوية من جهة أما من حيث استووا فان اللَّه قد ذمّ عوامنا بتقليدهم علماءهم كما قد ذمّ عوامهم و أمّا من حيث افترقوا فلا، A man said to al-Sadiq عليه السلام: If the common people among the Jews did not have any other way to obtain knowledge of the Book except through what they heard from their scholars - then why did He blame them for their following of the scholars and acceptance from them? Further, is it not the case that the common people among the Jews are like our common people for they [our common people] too follow their scholars, so if it is not permitted for them [the Jews] to accept from their scholars then is it not also impermissible for these [our common people] to accept what their scholars say? He عليه السلام said: Between our common people and our scholars and the laity among the Jews and their scholars there is a difference in one aspect and similarity in another aspect. As far as the similar aspect is concerned then just as Allah censured our common people for the blind following of their scholars He did the same in censuring their common people, but as for the divergent aspect then No [he did not censure it].   قال بيّن لي ذلك يا بن رسول اللَّه قال إنّ عوام اليهود كانوا قد عرفوا علمائهم بالكذب الصريح و بأكل الحرام و الرّشا و بتغيير الأحكام عن واجبها بالشفاعات و العنايات و المصانعات و عرفوهم بالتعصب الشديد الذي يفارقون به أديانهم و إنهم إذا تعصبوا أزالوا حقوق من تعصبوا عليه و اعطوا ما لا يستحقه من تعصبوا له من اموال غيرهم و ظلموهم من أجلهم و عرفوهم يقارفون المحرّمات و اضطروا بمعارف قلوبهم إلى أن من فعل ما يفعلونه فهو فاسق لا يجوز ان يصدق على اللَّه و لا على الوسائط بين الخلق و بين اللَّه فلذلك ذمّهم لما قلّدوا من قد عرفوا و من قد علموا أنّه لا يجوز قبول خبره و لا تصديقه في حكايته و لا العمل بما يؤديه إليهم The Narrator said: Explain it for me O the son of the messenger of Allah. He عليه السلام said: the common people among the Jews knew that their scholars used to lie outright, eat the forbidden wealth, were corrupt, changed the laws from what they should be based on intercession, favours and bribes. They also knew that their scholars were excessively partisan, that they used to split up their religion because of this rivalry and used to trample the rights of those they were against and give those they are partial towards what they do not deserve of the wealth of others, they used to oppress them [the enemies of their allies] to please their biases. They knew them to perpetrate the forbidden. They [the common people] knew it in their hearts [had intrinsic knowledge] that the one who does what they used to do is a Fasiq, and it is not acceptable to consider them truthful in what they attribute to Allah or to the intermediaries between the creation and Allah. That is why He censured them when they followed those they knew for a fact it was forbidden to accept their reports or consider them truthful in what they say, or to act based on what they instruct.   وكذلك عوام امتنا إذا عرفوا من فقهائهم الفسق الظاهر ، والعصبية الشديدة والتكالب على حطام الدنيا وحرامها ، وإهلاك من يتعصبون عليه إن كان لاصلاح أمره مستحقا ، وبالترفق بالبر والاحسان على من تعصبوا له ، وإن كان للاذلال والاهانة مستحقا فمن قلّد من عوامنا مثل هؤلاء الفقهاء، فهم مثل اليهود الذين ذمّهم الله تعالى بالتقليد لفسقة فقهائهم Likewise, the laity of our community, if they recognize signs of clear-cut Fisq from their scholars, extreme partisanship, their turning towards amassing the wealth of this world and its prohibited items, destroying the affair of the one they are biased against even though extending assistance to him is what is appropriate,  showing compassion, good-will and charity to the one they are biased towards even thought humiliating and chastising them is the appropriate response - then the one among our common people who follows such Fuqaha are like the Jews and those who are censured by Allah the Elevated because of their following of corrupt scholars. فأما من كان من الفقهاء صائناً لنفسه، حافظاً لدينه، مخالفاً لهواه، مطيعاً لأمر مولاه، فللعوام أن يقلدوه. وذلك لا يكون إلاّ بعض فقهاء الشيعة، لا جميعهم فان من يركب من القبائح و الفواحش مراكب فسقة فقهاء العامّة فلا تقبلوا منهم عنا شيئاً و لا كرامة لهم. As for the one among the Fuqaha who protects his soul, preserves his religion, opposes his caprice [desires], and obeys the command of his Master then it is upon the laity to follow him. There are only some of the Fuqaha of the Shia who are like this, not all. As for those who perpetrate the despicable and abominable acts the way the `Amma [proto-Sunni] scholars do then do not not accept from them about us anything and they are not to be honoured.
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