Wednesday, October 17, 2007

من صامَ رمضانَ، وأَتْبعَهُ سِتًا من شوّالٍ : a question posed by a student to his teacher

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

We are all familiar with the hadith: من صامَ رمضانَ، وأتبعَهُ سِتًا من شوّالٍ كَانَ كَصِيَامِ الدَّهْرِ (Whosoever fasts Ramadan, and follows it up with the six (days / nights) of Shawwal, then his fasting is like the fasting of a whole year) which has been documented by Muslim in his Compilation of Authentic Hadiths.

Apart from the significance of this hadith because of the month that we find ourselves in - the month of Shawwal - the hadith also contains a special Nahw question. At the same time it is also a lesson in for us in student-teacher relationships.

The special grammatical question or query in the hadith is why is it سِتَّا and not سِتَّةً on the basis that what is implied is 'six days' in which case we say: سِتَّةَ أيَّام , and not سِتَّ أَيَّامٍ , such that the implied structure of the hadith should read: من صامَ رمضانَ، وأتبعَهُ سِتَّةَ أَيَّامٍ من شوّالٍ ?

This was the exact question that one student asked his teacher in a series of questions concerning a number of ahadith in Sahih Muslim. The student was no other than the great Imam al-Nawawi, the author of numerous works including the highly popular Forty Hadith and Riyadh al-Salihin, and the teacher no other than the great Ibn Malik, also the author of numerous works and was especially famed for his Alfiyyah (thousand verse didactic poem on grammar). Imam al-Nawawi could not have asked for a better Nahw teacher and Ibn Malik could not have asked for a better student. It is said that it was Imam al-Nawawi that Ibn Malik referred to in the second half of line 126 of his Alfiyyah when he gave examples of a mubtada' occurring as an indefinite (nakirah) noun: وَرَجُلٌ مِنَ الْكِرَامِ عِنْدَنَا (... and there is a man from amongst the honourable men in our midst). What a student! and, What a teacher! May Allah reward both them with only the best for the tremendous services that these two giants have rendered to Islam.

Ibn Malik's Response to Imam al-Nawawi's Question:

Since the first of the month is a night (i.e. it starts from sunset) and the last of the month is a day (i.e. it ends with sunset), the Arabs calculated their dating using the nights, and by mentioning the nights they did not need to mention the days.Therefore, they would say: كُتِبَ لِخَمْسٍ [it was written after five (nights have passed)]. This is also not case of التغليب (giving the one preference and precedence over the other), because التغليب obtains when both categories are mentioned, and then both of them is given the treatment of one of them as though it was mentioned alone, e.g. رأَيْتُ رِجالاً ونِسَاءً يَتَحَدَّثُوْنَ (I saw men and women talking) [here يتحدثون is in reference to both men and women but is conjugated according to the gender of رجال (men)]. This is not the case with كُتِبَ لِخَمْسٍ , because what is mentioned does not cover nights and days, rather the mentioning of الليالي obviates the need to mention الأيام .So when this system was became sort of the standard for dating, it became also adopted for other things, on condition there was no confusion or ambiguity, like the Statement of the Most High: يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنْفُسِهِنَّ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْرا، البقرة: 234 (they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days) and يَتَخَافَتُونَ بَيْنَهُمْ إِنْ لَبِثْتُمْ إِلَّا عَشْراً ، طـه:103 [they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten (days)].Falling in this category would be the following: وأتْبَعَهُ ستّاً مِنْ شَوَّال . Al-Zamakhshari says in the al-Kash-shaf: “You say: صُمْتُ عَشْراً (I fasted ten), and were you to have made it agree with the masculine, you would most certainly have strayed and deviated from their way of speaking (i.e. the way of the Arabs)”.

Ibn Uthman’s comment: This last point that al-Zamakhshari makes is interesting because the whole purpose of the study of al-Nahw is to emulate and follow the Speech or Lisan of the Arabs. This is clearly stated by Abu Bakr Ibn al-Sarraj when he says in his highly acclaimed al-Usul Fi al-Nahw (the Foundations of Grammar): : النحو إنما أريد به أن ينحو المتكلم إذا تعلمه كلام العرب [(Nahw: its purpose is for the speaker – when he learns it (i.e. Nahw) – to emulate and follow the Speech of the Arabs]. The Arabic word for “emulate and follow” in Ibn al-Sarraj’s text is يَنْحُوْ from whence the term النحو (al-Nahw). In other words, Nahw is all about emulating and following the (classical) Arabs in their Speech.

والله أعلم


siraj said...

assalamu alaikum Sh. amienullah,

I love reading your blog, I check every day to read your amazing posts.

please keep is in your thoughts and prayers.

your favorite student,


Ibn Uthman said...

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Shukran for popping in, Sh. Siraj. As you can see I'm just trying to keep in touch with Arabic and explore different angles with the hope that more interest will be generated around them, insha Allah. It's high time that Arabic moves on from where it is currently located amongst Muslims in the West. Someone needs to be the flagbearer, to carry the flag into hitherto unexplored areas in Arabic discourse among Muslims in the West.

Please also keep me in your thoughts and du'as.

Ibn Uthman