This series is based on a translation of the book إعلام السادة النجباء أنه لا تشابه بين الضاد والظاء by Dr. Ashraf Muhammad Fu’aad Tala’at and of the research paper صوت الضاد الفصيحة التي نزل بها القرآن on this topic, by Sheikh and Researcher Farghali Sayyid Arabawi.
The Arab Tribes
Since the letter ض is a letter of the Qur’an, and the Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic Language, it is important to understand the roots of this Language, especially as it was spoken during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
The Arabs at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an were many different tribes (as they are today). The majority of words they used were the same, but there were some minor differences across the tribes in certain words. The purest Arabic was spoken amongst the Arab bedouins who lived in the desert and hence did not mix much with other civilisations that their language would be affected. This is one of the reasons why even during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم babies were sent to live with wet nurses in the desert so that they would grow up learning pure strong Arabic. As for the cities such as Makkah, due to trade caravans constantly travelling and mixing with other peoples of different languages, this left their Arabic most susceptible to outside influence.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ
And We did not send any messenger except [speaking] in the language of his people to state clearly for them [Surat Ibrahim, 14:4]
So since the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was from the tribe of Quraish, Allah revealed the Qur’an mainly in their dialect.
As for reciting, since the Sahaba were Arabs they naturally spoke that way, i.e. they naturally spoke and pronounced their letters with ‘tajweed’.
Documenting the Language
Later as Islam spread to the non Arabs and there was a lot of mixing, the scholars saw that people were making mistakes in Arabic grammar and the pronunciation of letters. Realising that if this continued the Arabic Language would eventually become so distorted and lost that people would not be able to know the Qur’an properly, they started the documentation of the Arabic Language. The first person to write down some rules was Abul Aswad ad-Du’ali (d.69 Hijri). He was also the first person to add red dots to the mushaf representing the signs of fatha, damma and kasra (previously the mushaf was empty of any dots or marks on the letters). After him, al-Khaleel ibn Ahmad al-Faraaheediy (100 – 173 Hijri) also wrote down some grammar rules, defined the articulation points of the Arabic letters, and changed the red dots that Abul Aswad ad-Du’ali had used, to red letters instead. He also put signs for sukoon, hamzat al-wasl and madd in the mushaf. Others came and wrote down more Arabic grammar rules and further development of the mushaf script took place, such as adding dots to the letters to differentiate one from the other. Then came Seebawayh (140 – 180 Hijri), the famous grammarian and a student of al-Khaleel, who categorised the grammar rules (these categories are still used today), and completed the documentation of the remaining part of the Language.
This documentation of the Arabic Language was important because the Qur’an was revealed and recited in Arabic. If this original Arabic from the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was lost, people would not have been able to understand the Qur’an any longer. So this is how the scholars documented the Language from that time and kept it alive as part of and also through the teaching and recitation of the Qur’an.
The whole of the Arabian Peninsular being the centre of Islam, especially due to the annual pilgrimage, quickly became industrialised as Islam spread and as time passed by. Due to the Muslim armies travelling and conquering other lands and mixing with their people, as well as non Arabs travelling to the Muslim lands, there was a huge pollution of the Arabic dialects spoken amongst the common masses. Today, the Arabic dialects spoken amongst Arabs all over the world are so changed and distorted from the original Arabic at the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, that it is almost impossible for the Arabs of one place to understand those of another!
However, since the original Language was documented and effort was made to keep it alive, a form of Arabic exists today that has its base in the original Qur’anic Arabic. This form of Arabic is what is taught and used formally in schools, on the news, etc, and is known as Modern Standard Arabic. Because of this, although the modern dialects spoken amongst the masses have become so different, educated Arabs from different places all understand and can communicate with one another via Modern Standard Arabic. Also because of this, Arabs can still understand the Qur’an. But despite the importance and role of Modern Standard Arabic, there has been much debate in Arabic-speaking countries on leaving this universal form of Arabic, and instead making the local dialect of the people the standard form of language to be used in all situations whether formal or informal.