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


Born in 1966 Shehzad Saleem has been under the tutelage of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi since 1988 and is currently a Research Fellow and one of the Vice Presidents of Al-Mawrid. He has a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from UET Lahore, Pakistan and holds a PhD in the History of the Qur’an from the University of Wales, UK.

Special Area of Interest
  He recently (2014) completed a fifteen year research work on the History of the Qur’an, a part of which constituted his doctoral thesis (the thesis portion is available at: http://www.al-mawrid.org/index.php/books/view/collection-of-the-quran-a-critical-and-historical-study-of-al-farahis-view).  The work addresses some nagging questions related to the revelation, collection and transmission of the Qur’an. These questions include narratives found in our legacy on the alleged incompleteness of the Qur’an, scribal errors found in it,  its variant readings, chronology of its compilation, order of the surahs, and manuscript studies.

Books Authored
  1. Common Misconceptions about Islam
  2. Playing God: Misreading a Divine Practice
  3. Islam and Women: Misconceptions and Misperceptions
  4. Essays on Character Building, Lessons on Character Building
  5. Qur’an Workshops on Character Building (including a separate Teacher’s Guide)
  6. Lessons on Character Building
  7. Selections from the Qur’an
  8. Selections from the Bible
  9. Selections from the Hadith

He has also compiled a modular textbook on Qur’anic Studies, which was taught by him to graduate students (1999-2001). The textbook is available in course format at
  www.studying-islam.org. It comprises course topics as: Revelation of the Qur’an, Theme of the Qur’an, History of the Qur’an, Arrangement of the Qur’an, Language of the Qur’an, Interpreting the Qur’an.

Translations
  He has translated some works of Amin Ahsan Islahi (d. 1997) and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi into English. These include:

1. Volumes 6, 7,  8 and 9 of Tadabbur Qur’an 
  2. Mizan (Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction)
  3. Al-Islam (Islam: A Concise Introduction)
  4. Selected Essays of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
  5. Volumes 1 and 5 of Al-Bayan 

QnAs
His answers to various questions received about Islam can also be accessed at the Renaissance website at: http://monthly-renaissance.com/issue/writers.aspx?option=queries&id=1

Websites
He is the Founding Editor of the monthly research journal, Renaissance which was initiated in 1991. In 1999, its website www.monthly-renaissance.com was launched.

He launched the Studying Islam www.studying-islam.org website in 2003, which offers online courses on Islam. Through technical help, he has developed an online software (Qur’an for All) at the Studying Islam website to teach the translation of the Qur’an to those who can read the Arabic text but cannot comprehend its meaning.

He also set up websites about the life and works of the Qur’anic scholars Hamid Uddin Farahi (www.hamid-uddin-farahi.org)  and Amin Ahsan Islahi (www.amin-ahsan-islahi.org)  in 2010 and 2013 respectively

He has also built a text based website on the exegesis Tadabbur i Qur’an (www.tadabbur-i-quran.org)  in 2013.

He also founded a website on the life and works of the biblical scholar Abdus Sattar Ghauri (www.abdus-sattar-ghauri.org)  in 2014

He uses his personal facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562019607)  to write on personality development issues.

Lectures
  He is a guest speaker at various public forums. Some of the topics he regularly speaks on include:

1. Misconceptions about Women in Islam
  2. Pardah and Gender Interaction
  3. Non-Muslims and the Qur’an
  4. Question on the Qur’an by Serious
  5. Misconceptions about Islam
  6. Muhammad (sws): The Misunderstood Prophet of Islam
  7. Marriage and Married Life
  8. Fast and Fasting
  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

He conducts activity-based Qur’anic Workshops for adults and sessions on Character Building and Personality Development for teenagers. Topics include:

1. Spending in the Way of God 
  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

Some of his talks and lectures on or about Islam can be viewed at:
  www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleem         www.dailymotion.com/drshehzadsaleem
  www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleemurdu, www.dailymotion.com/drshehzadsaleemurdu

A facebook page, Dr Shehzad Saleem’s Video Talks (https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Shehzad-Saleems-Video-Talks-309627932402929/?ref=br_rs)  also displays his talks

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