Arabic Word Morphology (Sarf)

tree roots aqaaid

Arabic Word Morphology (Sarf)

Year: 1st and 2nd

1st year Textbook: al-Mu’jiz fi at-Tasreef compiled and translated into English by Sheikh Ali Abdur-Rasheed

2nd year textbook: Mabadi al-Arabiya fi as-Sarf wa an-Nahw by Sa’id al-Shurtuni, in Arabic

The majority of words in the Arabic language are intertwined in meaning and form with other words by means of root letters and common word patterns. Arabic Word Morphology (Sarf) is the study of these roots and patterns and the effects that they have on the meanings of words. A mastery of Sarf is essential for a deep understanding of subtleties of the Arabic language.


Note: The study of the Arabic language in the howzah is unlike language studies anywhere else. When a language is studied in most educational settings, the primary outcome sought is the ability to communicate with other people who speak or write in that language. In the howzah, this outcome is also sought to an extent, and is considered beneficial, but it is a secondary goal. Much of what a howzah student is expected to master in sarf (Arabic word morphology) and nahw (Arabic grammar) is unnecessary in everyday communication. In fact, native Arabic speakers would likely find much of it overly detailed and technical, just as native English speakers are largely unaware of the technical intricacies of English grammar and word construction.

For Islamic scholars, the fundamental focus is not on Arabic as a language spoken and used by people, but as the language used by Allah to give instructions and guidance to people. This is a major difference, because the words and expressions of people are imprecise, filled with errors, redundancy and lack of eloquence. The words and expressions of Allah and the ma’soomeen (as) on the other hand are necessarily and absolutely precise, meaningful, and perfect in eloquence. The language courses of the howzah, therefore, are designed to train students in analysis of text into its smallest components in order to precisely determine the intended meaning, because what is at stake in understanding the words of the Holy Qur’an and ahadith is not merely a matter of communication, but a matter of guidance or misguidance. These very technical details of grammar and word construction are often the keys to distinguishing between right and wrong interpretations of the verbal expressions of Allah and the ma’soomeen. Hence, when a howzah student, in his first years of study, masters sarf and nahw, he is in reality gaining the first set of indispensable tools and skills needed for advancing towards the level of ijtihaad.