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The Ta Marbuta and Her Sisters

Reader comment on item: Arabist Snobs

Submitted by Pied Piper (Saudi Arabia), Nov 22, 2011 at 17:59

There are several items that need attention here:

1. There is no way Dr. Sullivan can be considered an "Arabist". An Arabist is a scholar who specializes in the Arabic language but is not native to it. As such, he is more a linguist than anything else. He would necessarily be familiar with Islamic history, Arabic literature and so on, but his primary interest is the language itself. This is not Dr. Sullivan who, I believe, from checking his academic background, is primarily a historian.

2. How much Arabic Dr. Sullivan "commands", I have no way of knowing, but some of his linguistic assertions are questionable:

a. The idea that the term Islam is somehow the "incarnate" form for the Arabic "notion" of "peace" is laughable. Without getting too technical, this is simply not true. Although both "peace" and "Islam" come from the same verbal "root" [s-l-m], there is no "peaceful" implication whatsoever in the term "Islam" – what is implied, instead, is "surrender" or "resignation". But definitely not "peace".

(It appears that not only does Dr. Sullivan subscribe to this error, so do Nafziger-Walton).

An Arabic word for "receipt" (a piece of paper showing you've paid for something) is "istilaam", another term with origins in the verbal root [s-l-m]. If you can somehow show me that the word "receipt" in English or Arabic somehow implies "peace" on the basis that they have the same "root", then you're a better linguist that I am.

[I'm surprised that the notion that "Islam" means "peace" is still around. I thought that idea was debunked at least a decade ago).

b. The word "qiblah". Contrary to what Dr. Sullivan and the IJMES journal state, there is indeed a very good reason to add the letter "h" when this word is transliterated into English. Again, without getting technical, historically, the "h" was pronounced as such when the word stood alone, although in modern Arabic you have the choice of skipping in (when you utter it). Second, and more important, when an Arabic word ends with taa marbuuta and is followed by another word in the genitive case, the "h" suddenly become "…..at" which must be pronounced. If the English rendition simply ends in "a" (qibla), there's no way to tell if you'd have to add this "…..at" if necessary.

Bottom line: the final "h" in such words as "qiblah" is really an indicator that this word would add (….at) in place of the "h" to indicate the genitive case. Therefore, it's necessary to show the "h" in English.

These are, of course, small technicalities of the Arabic language, but even a budding "Arabist" would be aware of them. Dr. Sullivan may indeed have a good command of Arabic, but, as I said, he's no Arabist.

Ditto with Ol' Man Cole (Dr. Juan Cole) mentioned in the article, of whom the less said, the better.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

I made the same point (a) at http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/10/islam-does-not-mean-peace

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