Shaykh Abu al-Aswad ad-Du'ali (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Shaykh Abu al-Aswad ad-Du’ali (r.a.), 603-688 CE, was a close companion of ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.).  He was a grammarian and a poet.  He was the first to place dots, ashkal, on the Arabic letters and the first to write on Arabic linguistics.  It has been said that Shaykh Abu al-Aswad ad-Du’ali (r.a.) was the first grammarian of the Arabic language.

Imam Abu al-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq an-Nadim (r.a.), author of Kitab al-Fihrist said, “Most scholars agree that grammar was taken from Abu al-Aswad ad-Du'ali, and that he took it from the Khalifah, 'Ali.”

This is also the opinion of the famous language specialist, Shaykh Abu ‘Ubaydah (r.a.).  The lexicographer, Imam al-Zubaydi (r.a.) said about Shaykh Abu al-Aswad (r.a.), “He was the first to establish the science of the Arabic language, to lay down its methods and to establish its rules.”

There are also stories in which both ‘Ali (k.w.) and ‘Umar (r.a.) acknowledged Shaykh Abu al-Aswad‘s command of grammar or deferred to him on the subject.  Shaykh Abu al-Aswad (r.a.) began to lay down formal rules for the Arabic language because more and more non-Arabs were converting to Islam, especially with the conquest of the Persian Empire.  They needed help in learning the language of the Qur’an.  It was reported that Shaykh Abu al-Aswad (r.a.) heard some Muslims pronounce words wrongly whilst reading of the Qur’an, owing to a mistake in vowels.  As a consequence, following the order of the governor, Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan, he instructed a scribe, saying, “When you see me open my mouth at a letter, put a dot above it.  When I close it, put one next to the letter.  When I draw them apart, put a dot under it.”

Another story describes Shaykh Abu al-Aswad’s (r.a.) reason behind the beginning of grammar.  Some Arabs laughed once when a non-Arab convert, one of the mawali, as they were known, mispronounced an Arabic word.  Shaykh Abu al-Aswad (r.a.) rebuked them, saying, "These mawali have formed a desire for Islam, and have converted, so they have become our brothers; if only we were to lay down the rules] of language for them!”

The following was taken from the blog of Ustadzah Zafirah Jeffrey: The Requirements of Being an Educator.  She translated one of the poems of Shaykh Abu al-Aswad ad-Du’ali (r.a.).

This is one of the most notable works by Shaykh Abu al-Aswad ad-Du’ali (r.a.) (16-69 H), one of the greatest forefathers of Arab grammar.  He is of the tabi’in, the generation after the Prophet (s.a.w.) and played a major role in assigning the markings, ashkal in the Qur’an.  Much reference has been made to this, especially the last line, in studies of Arabic literature and grammar.

“O ye who teaches others,
Why have you not educated yourself?
You prescribe remedies to the thirsty and the one in hardship,
As if it cures - while you remain sick,
You attempt to solve our problems by guiding our discretion,
Yet you are most obviously in need for guidance,
Begin with yourself and restrain it from others,
And once your training is complete, then you are wise.
Thereafter will there be acceptance of your words
And a cure that comes from it, and your teaching will be of benefit,
Do not condemn an action and then behave in that same manner,
It is a terrible disgrace upon you.”

Here, Shaykh Abu al-Aswad (r.a.) has made an explicit reference to undesirable characteristics in the transmitters of knowledge.  He uses a firm, reprimanding tone against the self, the nafs – an adequate warning universally applicable then and now.


  1. Salaam. Is a very gd and brief history of arabic!


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