The Role of Arabic Grammar in Deriving Rulings

These are notes taken from a seminar that took place on 24th December, 2015, at Muassaseh Fiqhi Aimmah Athar of Ayatullah Fazel Lankarani (d. 2007).

Topic: The Role of Arabic Grammar in Deriving Rulings

Speakers: Ustaad Shaykh Muhammad Qaeni (student of Sayyid Khoei) and Ustad Rabbani (a senior teacher from Mashad).

Shaykh Muhammad Qaeni (شیخ محمد قائنی)

  • There is no doubt that Arabic grammar – inclusive of all its subjects from Sarf & Nahw to Ilm al-Bayan – has an effect in deriving religious law, because the main sources of deriving laws (Quran and Hadith) are in Arabic.
  • Sciences pertaining to speech (kalaam) can be divided into two: 1) Those that deal with the Mawaad (مواد) – what something is composed of and 2) Those that deal with Hai’aat (هیئات) (whether they are افرادی or ترکیبی) – how something is composed together
  • Ijtihad in Fiqh is dependent on having done Ijtihad in its preliminaries, such as Usul al-Fiqh. Although it is said that some preliminaries do not require Ijtihad, Shaykh Qaeni is of the view that any subject which directly effects the hujjiyah of your fatwa, one must have done Ijtihad in it. Therefore, Arabic grammar is one of those subjects. The famous view is that taqleed in the preliminaries of Fiqh is not acceptable.
  • A jurist can pass a Fatwa when he is familiar with vocabulary (lughat), not when he does taqleed in it, otherwise his Ijtihad is only valid if he is from the school of thought of Insidad (i.e. the path to attaining certainty is cut-off). This does not mean that one should not refer to books of Arabic grammar, since that serves as a preliminary to attaining Ijtihad in Lughat & Arabic Grammar, however accepting the statements of the grammarians – just because they said so – is not a valid methodology.
  • Subjects that pertain to the Mawaad of words, deal with their actual meanings. Whereas Hai’at is dealt with in Nahw, Sarf, Bayaan and other related subjects. A jurist cannot move on in his derivation process unless he is aware of the meaning of the words he is dealing with and likewise if he is now aware of the states of the words.
  • The style in which a certain sentence is constructed plays a role in understanding the mawaad of words, and this is what results in error in one’s understanding – such as in the case of one word with multiple meanings. One of the causes of these errors is the relationship a non-Arab has with the Arabic words, because there are huge differences in words that are both used in Farsi & Arabic most of the times. For example when it is said in Farsi: اجاره به شرط تملیک in Farsi, the word Ijarah in this context will mean Ijarah as it is commonly defined in Farsi, rather what is meant by it in this sentence is Bay’ (بیع).
  • Another example is the word ضرر (used in the principle of لا ضرر و لا ضرار). Generally ضرر is translated as نقص or نقصان (Akhund Khorasani and others translate it as such). An Arab jurist would say that it does not mean every type of نقصان, rather only a نقصان فاحش. This type of نقصان is معتاد به, which results in at least a little bit of حرج. Therefore, ضرر would translate into حرج or something more specific than حرج.
  • A grammatical effect can be seen in the second part of this same principle: لا ضرار. Is ضرار a masdar from Baab Thulathi Mujarrad, or is it from Baab Mufa’ala? Marhum Akhund for example says, ضرار is in the meaning of ضرر and it is relaying emphasis (تاکید). However most say it is a different meaning and there is a discussion on what it specifically means (particularly those who say it is from Baab Mufaala, but what meaning of Baab Mufaala: تعدیه, مشارکت). A jurist needs to come to an Ijtihadi conclusion on this matter and should have certainty in it.

Below are some grammatical principles which definitely have a role to play in religious edicts:

  1. In line with what has been previously mentioned regarding Baab Mufa’ala, the same can be said about Baab Tafaa’ul. If one believes that its meaning is قائم به طرفین it can result in differing opinions (for example in the Qur’anic verse that says do تعاون). Sayyed Khoei for example says, it is not قائم به طرفین

The word تواری is discussed in the discussion of Salat al-Musafir. The narration says حتی یتواری – most jurists say that prayers becomes Qasr when the walls of the city disappear, however this is not correct because تواری means when the people of the city are unable to see the traveler. Or if we go with the view that it is قائم به طرفین  then it could mean that both the traveler and the people of the city should not be able to see each other.

  1. Another Principle: تقديم ما حقه التأخير – the effects of this principle can be seen in an authentic hadith of Ali bin Mahzyar[1] in the discussion of Khums (on the phrase فَهِيَ الْغَنِيمَة ). The consequences of this principle can be seen in the Fatawa that say there is Khums on gifts. If you say that this phrase due to this principle relays حصر it means that there is no Khums on gifts.

Furthermore, in this same narration there is also a ruling regarding inheritance (ارث). The famous view is that there is no Khums on it, but some have given a Fatwa for its Wujub.  Most jurists apply this principle on the phrase وَ الْمِيرَاثُ الَّذِي لَا يُحْتَسَب  (so not all types of الْمِيرَاثُ).

Another place where this principle is applied is in narration التقیة فی کل ضرورة. Sayyid Khoei using the same principle above says that Taqaiyyah is only in ضرورة, and therefore تقیه مداراتی is not allowed.

  1. Another Principle: زيادة المباني تدل علي زيادة المعاني – one place where the effects of this can be seen is in the meaning of بکا or بکاء and whether prayers is invalidated merely by tears while crying or is an accompanying sound also necessary to invalidate the prayers
  2. Another Principle: دلالة الفعل المضارع على الاستمرار – this can be seen in the issue of what establishes a Watan. The famous view is that we have something known as a Watn Shar’i – deduced by looking at the hadith of Muhammad bin Isma’il bin Bazi’ (محمد بن إسماعيل بن بزيع) where the Imam says: أن يكون فيها منزل يقيم فيه ستة أشهر. However if you take يقيم to mean یستمر it means if you stay in any place for 6 months, it becomes your Watan which also means that there is no longer anything known as Watn Shar’i. Sayyid Khoei agrees with the latter view. So for example if you were touring a city and got sick and spent 6 months, it will become your Watn.
  1. Another Principle: اشراب و تضمین – the discussion on this can be read in al-Masalik of Shaheed Thani and he speaks about the effects of this principle in Tafsir, Fiqh etc.

Question from Audience: Since you were in Najaf and are fluent in Arabic, does your expertise and fluency in Arabic really have an effect on your Fiqhi derivation process?

Answer: Due to my fluency I can feel the meanings either intuitively or as if I am sensing them. This disposition is very important. You need a feel for the language while you are deriving a ruling, because resorting to a statement of a grammarian does not result in certainty. At times even some of our great jurists show weaknesses (since they were not Arabs). Sahib-e Jawahir says that some of our Fiqh is a mockery, and calls it Fiqh al-A’ajim (فقه الاعاجم) , when he discusses the way Sahib-e Qawaneen al-Usul does istidlal in the section of طلاق بعوض.


Ustad Rabbani (محمد حسن ربانی)

All of our efforts in the Hawzah are so we can work towards Ijtihad. Various jurists have spoken about the requirements of Ijtihad (such as Allamah Hilli and Shaheed Thani) in باب قضا. But the first scholar who mentions Arabic grammar as a condition for Ijtihad was Shaykh Fadhel Tuni in his Sharh al-Wafiya. Waheed Behbahani in his فوائد الحائریه says it too and Ahmad bin Muhammad Mahdi Naraqi in his مناهج الاحکام و الاصول  also refers to it.

In an authentic narration in al-Kafi (Volume 1, بَابُ رِوَايَةِ الْكُتُبِ وَ الْحَدِيثِ وَ فَضْلِ الْكِتَابَةِ وَ التَّمَسُّكِ بِالْكُتُب‏) we find:

قَالَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع‏ أَعْرِبُوا حَدِيثَنَا فَإِنَّا قَوْمٌ فُصَحَاءُ

This narration is authentic, but what does it mean? Mazandarni in his Sharh of al-Kafi writes that we should say the speech of the Imams correctly, so that their words themselves can show their true meanings.

Allamah Sha’rani says in his Hashiyeh of Sharh al-Kafi that it means one should say our words exactly the way we say it so that the reality of our words are relayed. Its exoteric meaning could be to read and pronounce correctly and its esoteric meaning would be to convey the true meanings of our words.

Ahmad ibn Fahad al-Hilli, in his ‘Uddatul Da’ee says that supplications have conditions. One of those conditions is to recite them correctly. What happens if we read a Du’a incorrectly? In a hadith from Imam Jawwad (as), it says that an incorrect Du’a does not go towards Allah [swt]. But what is this incorrect Du’a? Is it a Du’a which is mispronounced?

Ibn Fahad says there are a few possibilities:

  1. If someone does a supplication against someone, it does not get accepted quickly
  2. A supplication of a parent against their children
  3. God looks at the intention of the person reciting the Du’a (if a person reads a wrong Du’a it does not go up, but rather the correct form of it goes up)

Another possibility is that the term hadith in the aforementioned tradition from al-Kafi does not mean tradition or our words, rather it means Fiqh (jurisprudence) and narrations pertaining to Fiqh, because one Fatha or Kasra can change a law.

For example we have an issue in Fiqh: if someone slaughters a cow or a camel while it was pregnant, the child is going to be either alive or dead. If it is alive, and it is able to be sacrificed, it must be sacrificed according to all Shi’i and Sunni scholars. If it is dead, Imami jurists say it does not need to be sacrificed, because a narration that both Shi’a and Sunni have says: ذكاة الجنين ذكاة أمه . The Shi’i read the second ذكاة as Marfu‘ (for it being a Khabar).

Shaheed Thani in his Tamheed ul-Qawaid says that if Mubtada and Khabar are both ma’rifah they relay حصر. The ال in الجنين is for jins. Thus it means: The ذكاة الجنين is only ذكاة أمه.

The Sunnis argue otherwise. They say that if the baby is dead, it must still be sacrificed. They read ذكاة أمه with Nasb (منصوب بنزع الخافض with a ک). The actual khabar is hidden (ذكاة الجنين ثابت). However, Shafa’i scholars read it Marfu’ like the Shi’as (see one of their works: Misbah ul-Muneer of al-Fayyumi (d. 770)  – some call it a book of lughat, when it really is not). In Misbah ul-Muneer, he says that he reads it marfu’ based on the hermeneutics of the sentence. Ibn Fahad al-Hilli also discusses this matter.

Another example: We have a hadith (in al-Faqih of Shaykh Saduq it is a mursal hadith, but with the statement of Qaala attributed to the infallible; in al-Kafi it is with a Sanad; Shaykh Tusi does not bring this hadith at all in his 2 main books, rather he brings it in his al-Khilaf, Sayyid Murtadha brings it in al-Nasiriyyat. The Sunnis all bring it):

مفتاح الصلاة الطهور وتحريمها التكبير وتحليلها التسليم

Muhaqqiq Hilli (d. 675) brings this hadith in al-Mutabar and refutes it from the perspective of its chain and also its text. The issue is, whether prayer ends with Salam or not (Tashahhud is sufficient). Muhaqqiq Hilli says that Salam in prayers is not Wajib (in Riyadh al-Masa’il). Those who say that Salaam is Wajib (very few from the Qudama) have resorted to the same Arabic grammatical point that both Mubtada and Khabar are Ma’rifah and therefore it relays حصر. Thus the only way to end the prayers is by Salam. Muhaqqiq Hilli says that it relays حصر only if you take ال as a jins, but if you take it as ‘Ahd it will not relay حصر.

Allamah Hilli says that there is no need to analyze the sanad for this narration because it is found in abundance in both Sunni and Shi’i works. However post-1000 Hijri we see that other than Fadhel Sabzawari, all jurists say that Salam is part of prayers and prayers ends with it.

Another example: Shaykh Baha’i (d. 1030) in his famous work 40 Hadith, brings a narration[2] which uses the word ولدغیه. Shaykh Baha’i says we will read it لغیه  – lughiyah (on the pattern of fui’lah – this pattern has been used in the meaning of both fa’il and maf’ul), but some have said it is ولدغیه. There is grammatical justification for both cases, however Shaykh Baha’i says that the reliability of the text of the hadith is based on how the teachers read it (since hadith-reading was very common and oral transmissions were very important those days), not what a book of some grammarian says. Shaykh Baha’i says that according to Shaheed Thani it is لغیه.

Another example: Regarding Surah Ma’idah, Verse 33  the أَوْ  used in the verse has differences of opinions, but if we go by the principle کل أو للتخییر  we will conclude that it is also for تخییر here.


[1] Wasael al-Shi’a, Volume 9, Page 501, #12583

[2] اذا رایتم الرجل لا یبالی ما قال و لا ما قیل له فانه لغیه

[3] Ustad Rabbani quoted the actual story, saying Shaykh Baha’i quoted his father or grandfather (or someone) who directly quoted from Shaheed Thani, something along these lines.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.