Meaning And Use Of The Article Al In Arabic

Question

I have heard Javed Ghamidi sahib explain that alif-laam in Arabic is the definite article and is the same as 'the' of English. From a lecture by him posted on http://www.tv-almawrid.org, I got the impression that, according to him, it is always used as a definite article. I am finding this difficult to reconcile with alif laam's other uses and would like to find out about his response. Alif-laam, according to my limited understanding, is used both as a definite article as well as an article to indicate a genus, referred to as al-laamu jins. In that usage, the sentence, such as al-rajulu khayrun mina lmar`ati would mean "man is better than woman" in general and not necessarily specify a particular man and woman. In Quran, one sees examples of this too. For instance, in verse 2:83, orphans, needy and people are referred to as al-yatama, al-masakeen and an-naas, all referring to general categories and not specific to a particular group. I would like to understand when Mr. Ghamidi explains the first few verses of Surah Taubah, how can one understand that being an alif-laam MUST imply that it is specific mushrikeen and not general to all mushrikeen. I understand that based on the textual context and context of revelation, one can argue either way, but I am more interested in understanding the linguistic aspect of it. A related but separate question is that if we use al-mushrikeen to understand the polytheists of the Prophet's (pbuh) time only, then I will also request you to consider the verses of Quran that command Muslims to pay due rights of orphans (such as 2:220 and 4:2) that use the word al-yataama. However, we do not understand them to be specific to the orphans of Prophet Muhammad's time, but rather commandments that are general for orphans of all times.


Answer

First it needs to be clarified that in the opinion of Mr Ghamidi the article alif laam is used in both ways you have indicated. It is used to connote a specific entity (called alif laam of 'ahd (referred by you as the definite article)), and it is also used as alif laam of genus to indicate a common entity without specifying it.

As far as the alif laam in the word al-mushrikun mentioned in the Quran is concerned, in his opinion, it is that of 'ahd and refers to the mushrikun or the Idolaters of Arabia specifically and not to other mushrikun because unlike others they intentionally subscribed to shirk and later even after the truth had been conclusively conveyed to them arrogantly insisted on shirk and incurred God's wrath through the swords of the believers as mentioned in Surah Tawbah. It was because of this deliberate denial that they were meted out this stern punishment. This deliberate denial and the knowledge that they deliberately denied is specific to the Idolaters of Arabia only. It cannot be extended to other mushrikun. So common is this usage in the Quran that al-mushrikun has become a title for the unlettered Arabs (ummiyyin) of the times of the Prophet (sws).

As far as the alif laam on the yatama and masakin is concerned, it does not refer to any specific type of yatama and masakin which can be singled out in the Arabian society and which do not exist in other or later societies. For this reason, this alif laam is that of genus and not that of 'ahd.

In most cases, it is the context, concomitant factors and intrinsic indicators which help a serious student of the Quran in distinguishing between these two types of alif laams.

About the Author

Dr. Shehzad Saleem


 

 

EDUCATION

University of Wales, Lampeter, United Kingdom
  Ph.D. Title of dissertation: Collection of the Qur’ān: A Critical and Historical Study of al-Farāhī’s View (2010)
  Under the tutelage of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi for religious studies (1988-)

University of Engineering and Technology,  Lahore, Pakistan
  B.Sc Electrical Engineering (1990)

The Government College, Lahore, Pakistan
  Intermediate, Pre-Engineering (1983)

 

RESEARCH WORK

Special Area of Interest
  History of the Qur’ān and the Previous Scriptures

Projects
  Associate Fellow (1992-2008) / Fellow (2008 to present) at Al-Mawrid, A Foundation for Islamic Research and Education, Lahore,  Pakistan (www.al-mawrid.org)

•      Recently completed (2018) an eighteen year research project on the history of the Qur’ān that attempts to address the issue of multiple versions of the Qur’ān and some nagging questions regarding its collection.

•      Completed translation of a five volume Qur’ān commentary (Urdu to Eng) of Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī  titled Al-Bayān. (1998-2018).

•      Currently working on translating a nine volume Qur’ān commentary (Urdu to Eng) of Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī titled Tadabbur-i Qur’ān (2008 to present).

•      Currently working on a critical study of the corpus of Ḥadīth literature, including the “Hagar-Zamzam” narratives, “First Revelation”  narratives and “Return of Jesus” narratives.

 

EXPERIENCE

On Campus Work for Al-Mawrid
  •      Vice President (1995-1996/2013-2019). I assisted the president in organizing academic research work on Islam, its subsequent publication and various educational activities. Also oversaw administrative and financial spheres of the foundation.
  •      Secretary General (CEO)  (2012-2016). As a representative of the Board of Governors of Al-Mawrid,  was required to run the foundation comprising more than thirty staff members.
  •      Headed a graduate program of Islamic Studies (1999-2001) offered in affiliation with a private university (MA Jinnah University, Karachi). Work included organizing staff affairs and also supervising the syllabus and its effective instruction.
•      Instructor for Qur’ānic studies (1999-2001). Besides teaching,  responsibility involved developing the pedagogy and curriculum for teaching the Qur’ān to graduate students of the foundation.
•      President, Centre for Islamic Communications (1997). The objective of this centre was organization and marketing of various media of Al-Mawrid as journals, audio-video cassettes, lectures and seminars.
  •      Director General (1993-1995 / 1998-2003). Job responsibility as Director involved development of the institute and management of all its affairs.
  •      Director Admin (1992-1993). Job responsibility involved assisting the President in the administration of the institute.
  •      Editor of Renaissance Journal (1991-1995/ 1998 to present)
Oversaw the management of a monthly Islamic journal and all aspects of its publication.  Over the course of almost three decades, the journal has published several hundred articles on various aspects of Islam.

Online Work for Al-Mawrid
  •        Launched in 2014 http://www.abdus-sattar-ghauri.org, a website on the Biblical scholar Abdus Sattar Ghauri (1935-2014).
  •        Launched in 2012 http://www.tadabbur-i-quran.org, a website on the exegesis of Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī (1904-1997), a Qur’ānic scholar of the sub-continent.
  •        Launched in 2010 http://www.hamid-uddin-farahi.org, a website on life and works of the Qur’ānic scholar Ḥamīd al-Dīn Farāhī (1863-1930)
  •        Launched in 2004 http://www.amin-ahsan-islahi.org, a website on life and works of the Qur’ānic scholar Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī
  •        Launched in 2003 http://www.studying-islam.org, a website that offers online courses on Islam in English and in Urdu. Currently, there are over fifteen thousand registered students from around the globe and about 50 courses on Islam in English and Urdu.
  •        Launched in 1999 http://www.monthly-renaissance.com, the website of the monthly Islamic Journal Renaissance. Besides regular issues, special issues on Islam and Non-Muslims: A New Perspective, Islam and Women, Political Directives of Islam, Economic Directives of Islam, Understanding Islamic Punishments and Collection of the Qur’ān have been published.
  •        Launched in 1998 a comprehensive distance learning program for Al-Mawrid. It was well received in an era where online religious education was not that common.
•        Founded an Islamic Query Service (IQS) in 1997-2003), an email based service meant to answer questions on or about Islam. By 2003, more than 3000 questions had been answered by this service.

 

PUBLICATIONS

1. A New Economic Framework, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 1995.
  2. Common Misconceptions about Islam, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2008.
  3. Playing God: Misreading a Divine Practice, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2010.
  4. Islam and Women:  Misconceptions and Misperceptions, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2010.
  5. Essays on Character Building, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
  6. Qur’ān Workshops on Character Building,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2016.
  7. Lessons on Character Building, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2016.
  8. Selections from the Qur’ān, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
  9. Selections from the Bible, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
  10. Selections from the Ḥadīth, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2014.
  11. Introduction to the Qur’ān: Insights from Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, 1st ed., Lahore:
  Al-Mawrid, 2019
.
  12. A Treasury of Prayers from Qur’ān and Ḥadīth,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2017.
  13. The Good Human, 1st ed.,  US: Amazon, 2019.
  14. Modern Challenges to Parenting, 1st ed., US: Amazon, 2019.
  15. History of the Qur’ān: A Concise Study,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2018.
  16. History of the Qur’ān: A Critical Study, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2019.
  17. From the Core of my Heart (poems), 1st ed., US: Amazon, 2019.

Translations (Urdu to Eng) (Published)
  1. Selections from the Tadabbur-i Qur’ān,  Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2004.
  2. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Mīzān (Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction), 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2010.
  3. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Al-Islam (Islam: A Concise Introduction), 1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2009.
  4. Selected Essays of Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī,  1st ed., Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015. (co-translator)
  5. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Al-Bayān, 1st ed., vol. 1, Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.
6. Jāved Aḥmad Ghāmidī, Al-Bayān, 1st ed., vol. 5, Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2015.

Translations (Urdu to Eng) (Unpublished)
  1. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 6, (Al-Mawrid, 2016)
  2. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 7, (Al-Mawrid, 2015) 
  3. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 8, (Al-Mawrid, 2015)
  4. Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, “Tadabbur-i Qur’ān”  (Pondering on the Qur’ān), vol. 9, (Al-Mawrid, 2014)

Works in Print
  1. History of the Qur’ān: A Critical Study
  2. From the Core of my Heart (poems)

PRESENTATIONS

I have lectured in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Pakistan. Some important topics include:
  1. Critical History of the Qur’ān
  2. Misconceptions about Women in Islam 
  3. Interfaith dialogue
  4. Selected Biblical Verses
  5.  Question on the Qur’ān by Serious Students 
  6.  Misconceptions about Islam 
  7.  Muhammad (sws): The Misunderstood Prophet of Islam
  8.  Marriage and Married Life
  9.  Basic Morality
  10.  Islam and Islamic Welfare State 
  11.  Misconceptions about Divorce in Islam 
  12.  Misconceptions regarding Jihad of the Companions of the Prophet (sws) 
  13 Imbalanced Religious Attitudes
  14.  Intellectual Freedom and Critical Thinking
  15.  Parenting
  16.  Challenges faced by the Youth of Today
  17.  The Mind of a Muslim Militant

I have also conducted several activity-based workshops for adults and sessions on Character Building and Personality Development for teenagers. Topics include:
  1. Charity 
  2. Pride and Arrogance
  3. Remembering God   
  4. Civic Sense 
  5. Kindness to Parents
  6. Gratitude
  7. Forgiveness 
  8. Moral Courage 
  9.  Truthfulness  
  10. Showing Off 
  11. Humility
  12. Sympathy
  13. Sinful Speech
  14. Honesty
  15. Justice

Most lectures are available at:
  http://www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleem / www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562019607

Have also recorded a 90 lecture series on the history of the Qur’ān that is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sNWx-SSvc8&list=PL7oYOZNO0kHwDzi9P4UmSremVOVKzku7s

PERSONAL
  An avid tennis player besides being a swimmer, cricketer,  golfer and a chess player.
  Hobbies include reading books on religion, philosophy,  literature and history and writing poetry.
  Born on 18th June, 1966. Married with one son.

Answered by this author