Ibn Abbas on the Importance of Arabic


“Two Statements of Ibn Abbas (RA)

on Arabic”


The greatest interpreter of the Qur’an Ibn `Abbas (RA) is recorded to have made the following two statements:


“ما كنتُ أدري ما معنى: ﴿ فَاطِرِ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ﴾ [الأنعام: 14] حتى سمعتُ امرأةً من العربِ تقول: أنا فطرتُه؛ أي: ابتدأته”

“I did not know the true meaning of the verse {The originator of the heavens and the earth}[1] until I heard an Arab lady say: ‘I created it!’, meaning ‘I originated it’…”[2]


“إذا خَفِيَ عليكم شيءٌ من القرآنِ، فابتغوه في الشِّعرِ؛ فإنَّه ديوانُ العرب”

“If anything of the Qur’an escapes you, then avail yourself with poetry as it is the recordings of the Arabs…”[3]


  • Arabic is correctly learnt from Arabs in how they use their language.
  • Classical poetry (jahiliyya [= Pre-Islamic]) is one means by which to know how Arabic words were used correctly in their appropriate contexts. This would then inform how one understands the Qur’an as it was revealed in the language and style of the Arabs at the time.


[1] Q. 42:11.

[2] Ibn Hazm, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, 1:17 and cf. al-Amidi, al-Ihkam, 1:51. Emphasis not in the original.

[3] al-Alusi, Ruh al-Ma`ani, 21:192.


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