(35:28) Grammar Hazards

Don’t make this mistake when you’re reading Qur’an! Allah ﷻ says in surah Fatir:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَٱلدَّوَآبِّ وَٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ مُخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَٰنُهُۥ كَذَٰلِكَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤُا۟ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ ٢٨
Just as people, living beings, and cattle are of various colours as well. Of all of Allah’s servants, only the knowledgeable ˹of His might˺ are ˹truly˺ in awe of Him. Allah is indeed Almighty, All-Forgiving.

If you change the vowel at the end of the word Allaha (ٱللَّهَ) to Allahu (ٱللَّهُ), you would be speaking blasphemy without knowing it. Why?

In Arabic, the vowel at the end of a word indicates its relationship within the sentence it sits in. In this verse, the fatha (ـَ) on the word Allah (ٱللَّهَ) tells us it is the grammatical object in the sentence, i.e. the one being feared. The dammah (ـُ) on the word scholars (ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤُا) tells us it is the grammatical subject, i.e. the ones in fear. Together, this gives the meaning; “The scholars fear Allah ﷻ”. If you switch these vowels around to (ٱللَّهُ) and (ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤَا), their roles within the sentence also swap, changing the sentence to ”Allah ﷻ fears the scholars”!!

Switching the vowels changes the meaning from Scholars fearing Allah ﷻ, to Allah fearing Scholars – Astaghfirallah! Every detail in the Quran matters, even if small.

One additional subtlety; Arabic grammar is agnostic to the order you write the words in so long as it maintains the grammatical states we discussed, i.e. the vowels at the end of the word. This means you can say:

يَخْشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤُا


يَخْشَى ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤُا مِنْ عِبَادِهِ ٱللَّهَ

Both sentences still mean: “The scholars from His slaves are the ones who fear Allah”, even though we switched the words around

Placing the name Allah ﷻ first is more befitting to the meaning being conveyed, as no slave goes before His Master. However, in terms of meaning, the order of the words has no impact grammatically on what is being conveyed.

Finally, Ibn Ashur explains a further subtlety; the word إنما and the delay of the word “scholars” within the sentence limits the application of the verb to them only. i.e. only the scholars fear Allah ﷻ. In fact, the word علماء translates more broadly to “Knowers”; i.e. you can only truly be in awe of Allah ﷻ if you know Him. This is why knowledge plays such an important role within our faith.

All these subtleties within the Arabic is lost within the translation. A single change in vowel can have a dramatic impact on the meaning. This ‘grammar hazard’ is just one of the details we need to be aware of when reading the Quran.

(Note: the orthography of words and structure of sentences have been kept the same for teaching purposes to limit confusion in the explanation. Words such as ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤُا have a specific spelling within the Quran and have not been changed when the vowel was changed to ٱلْعُلَمَـٰٓؤَا. More on this in a future podcast)


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