Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies

Dunja Rašić



The Concept of Hikmat al-Arab and the 10th Century Grammar Apologetics: A Study in Arabic Language Ideology


The Concept of Hikmat al-Arab and the 10th Century Grammar Apologetics: A Study in Arabic Language Ideology


‘’Classical Arabic is the language whose musical and aesthetical qualities move its listeners, creating the feeling of spirituality, nostalgia and community. Classical Arabic socializes people into rituals of Islam, affirms their identity as Muslims, and connects them to the realm of purity, morality, and God.’’ Dr. Niloofar Haeri


Serving as one of the strongest symbols of group identity in the Middle East from the first century of Islamic era up until today, throughout the centuries Classical Arabic language has prevailed as one of determining factors in the rise and fall of nobles, merchants and court officials. Upon dealing with the phenomenon as layered as group identities, every study risks raising more questions than it answers. Cultures and politics of empires around the world can be understood (or misunderstood) in any number of ways. However, when it comes to the Arab world, the present study argues that language represents a crucial link for the better understanding of both.

Rather than treating language as the means of daily communication first and foremost, the present study pivots on the complex interplay between language, history and social structures. In particular, I intend to analyse language as a mode of cultural representation in the intellectual tradition of the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate, overwhelmed by the so-called ṭalab al-rias’ab: the pursuit of leadership raging between representatives of classical Islamic sciences among 10th century grammarians and their opponents among the Baghdadi logicians, who were unsurprisingly the fiercest proponents of the newly emerging Middle-Eastern branch of Peripatetic school. Through the analysis of the cultural conflict which sprung as a result of the assimilation of the Aristotelian philosophical heritage into the intellectual tradition of the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate, the present study strives towards offering a genuine contribution to the on-going research on the complex interplay between linguistic structures and their symbolic values in the history of Arabic grammar studies.


In the attempt to determine how were group identities reflected and enacted within the grammatical patterns and properties of Classical Arabic language, the main focus of the present study pivots on the concept of ḥikma al-‘arab – as the crown jewel of the linguistic credo which was established within the ḥalaqa of the renowned 10th century grammarian Abī Bakr Muhammad b. Sahl ibn al-Sarrāj. Viewed as the shaping force behind the unmatched beauty, balance and harmony of Classical Arabic language, ḥikma al-‘arab was at the same time celebrated as the ultimate reflection of the genius of people who, in the mists of time, were its progenitors. In early the 10th century, the ḥikma al-‘arab rose as the ultimate result of strivings of the ‘Abbāsid grammarians; who were on their side firmly determined to stand up to the intellectual pretensions of the Baghdadi logicians. Through the analysis of Ibn Sarrāj’s doctrine on ḥikma al-‘arab, alongside key factors and intellectual influences which shaped and determined its development, my research strives towards offering an innovative perspective on language, group identity and social and power relations in the 10th century Arab world.


Erstgutachterin: Prof. Dr. Beatrice Gründler

Zweitgutachter: Prof. Dr. Lukas Mühlethaler

  • Rašić, Dunja. 2015. "The Perfect Man in the Literary Opus of John Climacus and Ibn Arabi", Kom Journal of Religious Sciences 6, pp. 119-143.