The Sciences of the Arabic Language

In this post, we are going to shed some light on the different sciences of the Arabic langauge. This is a mere introduction to the sciences of the Arabic language to appreciate the efforts put in by the early scholars to preserve the authenticity of the language. We also provide a guideline on the order/sequence in which these sciences should be studied.

The reason for defining the sciences

With the rapid spread of Islam since the prophethood of Muhammad (SAW), the Last and Final Messenger of Allah, Islam reached as far as China in the East, Spain in the West, and beyond. There are some records of Muslims reaching as far as the North American continent many years before it was discovered by Christopher Columbus, and Muslim explorers reaching up to Australia. Allah knows best.

The following video by The Merciful Servant, from their Untold History of Islam Series, gives a beautiful explanation of how Islam spread and contributed towards the progress of science and technology since the 7th century.

It’s worth a watch:

This rapid spread of Islam led to mixing of different cultures (Arabs and Non-Arabs) and languages under the religion of Islam. The early scholars realised the danger it posed in terms of the damage it might cause to the authentic Arabic language in which the Quran, the Last and Final Revelation of Allah, was revealed. For this reason, the scholars actively took part in organising Arabic meanings and words into dictionaries, and they established fundamental rules to preserve the language in its authentic form. This eventually led to the formation of the 13 sciences of the Arabic language.

The Sciences of the Arabic Language

Abu Taubah from the FIKS organisation, USA, introduced these sciences beautifully by translating a poem from the classical works as follows:

The sciences of Arabic
Are thirteen arts of Rhetoric

Start off with Sarf then NaHwu
Ar-Rasmu plus al-Inshaa-u

Balaagha break it down in three
Bayaan, Badee’u, Ma-‘aaanee

Then QarDush-Shi’r or Poetry
ArooDu mix with Qawaafee

KhaTaaba brings the art of Speech
And History is what they teach

If texts of old Mutoon you seize 
Then know you’ve gathered all the keys

Let us now break them down and try to get an idea of each one of them. You may notice that I have avoided using the English terms for these sciences. This is because it’s best to learn Arabic in Arabic, and most of the time, the translations don’t do justice to the word. We will, however, explain the meaning of each term for our understanding, to the best of our ability, In Sha Allah.

[Note: It is highly recommended to study these sciences in the order that they appear below.]

Before defining the sciences, we have to define Rhetoric as it has come to mean something else in our times. Nowadays, it usually means speech that is insincere and/or unnecessarily grandiloquent (using fancy words to magnify something, unnecessarily). However, rhetoric has been defined as the art of speaking or writing effectively, using the principles and rules of composition formulated by the critics of ancient times. It is a skill in the effective usage of speech.

As a terminology, rhetoric refers to the principles and rules of speaking and writing, extracted from the Quran, the authentic Hadith and the classical writings of the Arabs. It must be understood that a word can only be found in one of the two conditions: by itself or in a sentence. Which leads us to the first two sciences of Arabic language:

1) Sarf الصَّرْف

Sarf is the study of Arabic words, before they enter into a sentence. It includes the study of classes or types of words, how they change, their functions and their jobs, before they enter into a sentence.

2) NaHwu النَّحْو

NaHwu is the study of Arabic words, after they have entered into a sentence. It is a study of how the words relate to each other in a sentence. It’s not necessarily a study of the meaning of the sentence, rather it’s the study of rules.

It’s also sometimes referred to as the study of E’raab الإعْراب or analysis, because it’s mainly the study of vowels on the last letter of the word. For example, if you said in English: “Zayd hit Amr“, it would be “Dharaba Zayd-un Amr-an” in Arabic (ضَرَبَ زَيدٌ عمراً). But if you said “Dharaba Zayd-an Amr-un” (ضَرَبَ زَيدً عمرٌ), it would mean: Amr hit Zayd. Just by changing the endings (vowels) of the last letter, the whole meaning changes.

3) Ar-Rasmu الرَّسْم

This is a science of Arabic language that relates to the study of writing or dictation. It’s the rules of spelling, and how to write what has been said.

4) Al-Inshaa-u الإنْشاء

Al-Inshaa-u literally means to grow up and develop. As a term Al-Inshaa-u is the science through which we learn how to develop and arrange feelings, emotions, ideas and descriptions into clear Arabic expressions. It is called the art of composition, the art of expressing specific thoughts in a normal, expected way. Its how the Arabs spoke.

For example, in English you may say: you want to cut your hair. However, in Arabic you can’t translate it literally. Because it might sound something like: I want to chop my hair. Instead, in Arabic, you would say something like: I want to barber my hair, which is the more appropriate way of saying it.

By learning how to organise one’s thoughts into clear statements, this science becomes a preview to the science of Balaagha, or the art of eloquence.

Balaagha is composed of three sub-sciences: Bayaan, Badee’u and Ma-‘aaanee.

5) Bayaan البَيان

This is the first of the sub-sciences of Balaagha, which is the art through which we learn how to express one meaning through a number of different ways, along with using a suitable language to make its meaning clear.

6) Badee’u البَديع

This is the second of the sub-sciences of Balaagha which is the art wherein we learn the detailed and subtle ways used to beautify the langauge from every angle. Basically, it is learning how to beautify speech without loosing clarity of intent or without using words out of their proper context.

7) Ma-‘aaanee المَعاني

This is the third and final sub-science of Balaagha, which is the art wherein one masters the word meanings from a linguistic, technical and colloquial standpoint, then skillfully uses that knowledge as a means to eloquence. Dropping the right words to tickle the heart of the intellectual mind.

8) QarDush-Shi’r قَرْضُ الشِّعْر

This is the science of poetry, which is the art of versification, the theme and story of it all. Along with that is ‘ArooDu and Qawaafee.

9) ‘ArooDu العَروض

This deals with the rules of the sixteen scales (metrics) of poetry.

10) Qawaafee القَوافي

This is the art of line-endings or rhymes.

11) KhaTaaba الخَطابَة

It is the art of speaking, while on one’s feet, without reading from a piece of paper or a book. It’s the art of organising one’s thoughts on the spot, to express clear points.

12) Taareekh تاريخُ

Taareekh or History (of Literature) is the knowledge of life of the language and it’s notables from the beginning to the present time.

13) Mutoon al-Lughah مُتون اللُّغَة

These are the classical texts: the academic works that everyone depends upon. The original books from which others derive their work.

Most Important Sciences of the Arabic Language

As mentioned earlier, if one were to embark on a journey of mastering the Arabic language, he or she would be highly recommended to follow the order mentioned above. However, the most important of these sciences would be: Sarf and NaHwu. These two sciences form the basis over which we can build on. Hence, the importance of these two sciences cannot be emphasised enough.

The below image summarises the points discussed above:

Sciences of the Arabic Language
Sciences of the Arabic Language


Have you read our post on the Origin of the Arabic alphabets?

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