The Story of Sibawayh the Persian: The Imam of Arabic grammar!

August 18, 2011 § 6 Comments


When a single mistake leads you to become an Imam for the Ummah

How often we frown at ourselves when we make mistakes in life, and indeed how often we become disheartened when we fall into error! But yet how little we realise that sometimes it’s these small mistakes that shape our lives and renew our focus. The Qadr of Allah is certainly amazing in that a failure on one day can become the cause of our triumph on another day…

When a single mistake leads you to become an Imam (leader) for the Ummah…

The Story of Sibawayh: The Imam of Grammarians

– Name: ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman ibn Qinbar (Abu Bishr) originally from the lands of Persia, i.e. pre-safavid, Sunnah Persia. According to the scholars of Islam he was the greatest of Arabic linguists he was a Persian who lived in Basrah, Iraq, during the second half of the 8th century AD

Sibawayh was a laqab (nickname) given to him by his mother, meaning: ‘the scent of apples.’

Sibawayh at the beginning of his youth sought knowledge in the field of hadith. He studied with the likes of Hammad, the famous muhaddith in Basra, and it was here with Shaykh Hammad that a particular incident took place which changed Sibawayh’s entire focus…

One day Hammad (rahimahullah) asked him to read out a hadith and Sibawayh began by saying: “ليس من أصحابي أحد إلا ولو شئت لأخذت عليه ليس أبا الدرداء…” – however, he read Aba as: Abu in a state of raf’ (nominative) thinking that it was the Ism of Laysa. Hammad al-Basri corrected him and said, أخطأتَ يا سيبويه إنما هو استثناء – ‘You’re mistaken O’ Sibawayh, it is in fact an Exception,’ (i.e. meaning: ‘… except for Abu al-Darda’). So Sibawayh said, لأطلبنّ علما لا يُنازعني فيه أحد – ‘I will certainly seek knowledge [grammar] such that none can dispute with me therein.’

So he traveled to the learned scholars and grammarians of his time in Basra and studied extensively with the famous al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi (who established ‘ilm al-’Aroodh) and other grammarians such as al-Akhfash. It was here that Sibawayh established the foundations of grammar for the people and wrote his huge scholarly work ‘al-Kitab.’ However, at the time, he did not release it to the people. It is stated that he would travel through towns and villages, sitting with the folks and recording their poetry as well as historical statements (handed down through tribes) in an attempt at gathering shawahid (linguistical evidences) for each point and argument that he mentioned in his book.

After his death, one of his students took it upon himself to make this book available to the public. Not only did his book benefit the people of Basra, but it thereafter became one of the greatest books on grammar to have ever been written in history, such that the people began to call it: Qur’an al-Nahw (the ‘Qur’an of Grammar’).

Sibawayh, rahimahullah died at the young age of 34, but despite that, the Ummah to this day has not stopped benefiting from his book and the knowledge which he left behind. جزاه الله عن الأمة خير الجزاء

… This really highlights out (particularly for the students amongst us) that sometimes you may wish for one thing but Allah has wished for something else – better than what you perceive. So be patient and ask your Lord for Tawfiq in all affairs and who knows, one day you may become a leader for the righteous in one thing or another!

NOTE: All remarkable and famous Iranian scientist who Iranian nationalists-Islamophobes and extreme Shi’ite Iranians love to present as “the Persian scientific service to mankind” and what not, were in almost every case Persians of tradtional Muslim-Sunni backround. Exactly, they – the Islamophobes – ironically back up the “superiority” of their culture with Muslim-Sunni scientists, among them the major Persian poets of the likes of Molana (Sunni), Saadi Shirazi (Sunni), Ferdowsi (Sunni), OMAR Khayyam (Sunni), or the likes of Sibawayh (Sunni), there is not one PRE-ISLAMIC Iranian personality worth to be mentioned let alone worth to be compared to these Muslim Iranians. Afterall, these Islamophobes claim that Islam did no service to Iran/Persia, where infact Islam brought up men like the Sunni Persians of the calibre of Sibawayh. Their last excuse is to claim that all these great men had no choice but to busy themselves with Islamic science/Arabic language. This is of course nothing but nonsense and in fact they insult those whom they claim to love, for can man achieve poetic perfection like Saadi (who praised Allah, his Messenger and his companions), Hafez ((who praised Allah, his Messenger and his companions), without real, sincere love and adherence to their faith? These ignorance potray these great men as hypocrites, and the plain truth is that sincerity only could make the Persian Muslim-Sunni figures of history to what they’ve actually become i.e. the most notable scientists of the world, amongst them Sibawayh the Persian, a non-Arab, who who mastered the Arabic language to such a degree that no Arab scholar in any part of the Arab world misses to mention the achievement of this man.

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Here a quote from the lisanularab.org forums:

In our time Kitab Sibawayh has not lost any of its greatness though it be among non-Muslims who in my view have more respect and have done more for Sibawayh and his Book than we Muslims living in the west. Take a look at this website entitled the “Sibawayhi Project” headed by a certain Michael G. Carter, the author of the 2004 publication “Sibawayhi” (Makers of Islamic Civilization). I have read parts of this book, and from what I have read I can only say that the author has nothing but praise for Sibawayh. As this is not the time and place to discuss the genius of Sibawayh, I can only say that Sibawayh was truly a maker of Islamic civilization and that in a big way. Everything that has been passed down to us of Arabic linguistics has its origin directly or indirectly in al-Kitab  [his major work] . It is difficult to believe that a Persian living only in the third Century of the Hijri calendar produced a book on Arabic grammar so sophisticated that it was not until the nineteenth century that Western scholars could only begin to appreciate Sibawayh’s achievement as there was nothing like it in the West at the time of its discovery. This is what Western scholars are themselves saying about traditional Arabic linguistics in general.

Arab Muslims paying homage to their Persian brother in faith, Sibawayh the MASTER OF THE ARABIC LANGUAGE (as the banner says!)

§ 6 Responses to The Story of Sibawayh the Persian: The Imam of Arabic grammar!

  • Think & Talk Islam says:

    good to know…thanks

  • Salam, I want to have the proof that the famous arabic grammarian Sibawayh is not a shia while most part of Iran are sh

  • Alaikum Salam,

    well, you are not familar with the history of Iran. Iran is mostly Shia for only 500 years now, before that all of Iran (except Qom and Kashan) were purely Sunni, so was Sibaway, so where most Iranian scholars and even poets like OMAR Khayyam, Saadi Shirazi etc.

    BTW this is the full name of Sibawayh (may Allah have mercy on him) Abū Bishr ʿAmr ibn ʿOTHMAN ibn Qanbar Al-Biṣrī (c. 760-796) (Arabic: أبو بشر عمرو بن عثمان بن قنبر البصري‎)

    Not very Shiite, isn’t it …

  • Atiffah says:

    Excuse me, I want to copy this, please… Syukran jazilan…

  • Abubakar Liman Nku says:

    What a great grammarian. May Allah have mercy on him

  • Madeleine says:

    Excellent post. I’m dealing with some of these issues
    as well..

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