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Monday, May 15, 2017
The roots of Islamic ṣala(t)
Ahmad al-Jallad's “Was it sūrat al-baqárah?” was teased last March in Marijn van Putten, "The development of the triphthongs in Quranic and Classical Arabic", Arabian Epigraphic Notes 3 (2017), 47-74. Al-Jallad’s paper is now out. Besides Al-Jallad’s revelations in pronouncing words in Qur’anic Arabic (which was not classical Arabic!), I find in it that the suras borrowed from Syriac independently from Safaitic (and from Sabaic).
Intelligent peoples think by abstraction, and often find themselves requiring a linguistic means of adapting a noun or a verb into a concept. For that, several languages use suffix. In English, we use –ness or –hood, or at least we should use these. Latin and Romance have –tio(n); Greek has –ism. Among the Semites, the Syriac nations tag a noun with –uta. But Semitic builds up from abstraction, from triconsonantal roots. As a result, many such languages just salt those roots with strategic vowels. Especially if a definite-article prefix is available: like Arabic for "war", al-harb.
In English we still live in awe of the French (Romans less so), and of the Greeks, and so we find ourselves taking –tion and –ism from them or, worse, from both (-isation). The game Star Control 3 (admittedly flawed) had much fun with this, as the blustering bullies the K’tang kept misusing those suffixes. As for the Arabic suras, some slipped into Syriacisms, especially for religion; accordingly, the Qur’an often has “malakut” for the Kingdom of God where an Arab with more self-respect should prefer mulk (also found in the suras).
Al-Jallad teaches us that the Safaitic Arabs were no exception. For praying, they too used a Syriac loanword, ṣalla. The word of an act of prayer was consonantally *ṣl[w]t but assuredly pronounced ṣalōt. The same were borrowed in Sabaic in the Yemen. But we do not read ṣalōt(a) anywhere in the Qur’an; we read ṣalōh (van Putten’s pronounciation).
So Safaitic and Sabaic borrowed both “to pray” and the abstract “prayer” directly from Syriac, but those Arabs who gave birth to Qutham borrowed only the word for “to pray”. This root, the proto-Muslims re-adapted in an Arabic way.
Thus the first Muslims informed themselves and the other Semites, even other Arabs, that the Muslims were to pray like Arabs, where the Banu Ghassan had been praying like Syrians and Yemenis.
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