John 1:1 في البَدْءِ كانَ الكَلِمَةُ

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by mansio, Feb 27, 2006.

  1. mansio Senior Member

    I am interested in religions and languages.
    For years I have been reading the famous first sentence of the Gospel of John in Arabic "In the beginning was the Word" "fî l-bad'i kâna l-kalimatu" without noticing the big grammatical mistake.

    An Egyptian, on a Muslim forum, pointed it to me: the verb "to be" kâna must agree in gender with kalimah which is feminine. So it should be "fî l-bad'i kânati l-kalimatu".

    I was very much surprised that the Arabic translation (I think there is only one around) of John had such a big mistake. Usually the first lines are the best translated.

    I did some research in different grammars and found a rule that said the agreement in gender was not compulsory in ancient classical Arabic when the verb is at the beginning of the sentence.

    The Egyptian dismissed the rule as nonsense, said there is no ancient Arabic anyway, asked a scholar who agreed with him, and said he knew Arabic grammar better than me, a lone French beginner in Arabic.

    My opinion is that the XIXth century translator revived an old
    rule to give a neutral aspect to the verb "to be".

    Does anyone of you know of this old rule?
  2. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    It is not a mistake. It is an exception, and there's a reason for it.

    "Kalima" in this verse refers to God (the verse continues to say "wa kaana 'l-kalimatu 'l-laaha."). Because God is masculine, the verb has to be masculine. Remember that the New Testament was translated from Greek. In Greek, the word for "word" is masculine, so there was no problem. In Arabic, the word for "word" happens to be feminine, but the masculine verb was chosen because it is referring to God.
  3. mansio Senior Member


    I know your theory. It certainly was the reason why the translators chose the masculine form for kâna.
    In French translations the word Logos is translated either by "le Verbe" which is masculine or "la Parole" which is feminine. It does not bother Christians to use a feminine word although the French verb for to be is neutral.
  4. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I found Elroy's explanation interesting, never knew of it before.
    But from a purely grammatical point of view, the verb should be kaanat and not kaana, because the concordance is between the verb and the gender of the word, not the gender of what the word refers to, if you get what I mean.

    So, my personal explanation of this is quiet simple : Arabic translation of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is full of grammatical and stylistic mistakes (I'm not criticising the text itself, just commenting on the LANGUAGE). The explanation I have of this is that the translation was done by people who were not fluent enough in Arabic, we even find words that are a bit odd.
    But I know there are more than one translation of the Bible, I've seen a more modern one, done in Lebanon which was much better than the one I've seen before (and don't know where it was done).

    So, Mansio, to give you a little advise : if you're going to study the Bible or compare it to any other Arabic book, don't count on the language but on the content itself.
    To go the other way round, I can't count on the French or English or any other translation of the Coran for any demonstrative purposes unless I count solely on the content, because the language is really very very bad even in the "best" translations.
  5. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    I , for one, see, as it is my own view, that "kan" referes to Iesa(Jesus , may Allah's peace be upon him)which it goes as this:
    At the beginning(Jesus)was the word.Do not take as it is.It is my own guess.
  6. mansio Senior Member


    You are right that kâna and kalimah refer to Jesus.
    In a Christian perspective Jesus is God, or a part of Him, or both, so Elroy could be right too.
  7. mansio Senior Member


    The Arabic translation is from a group of American and English missionaries helped by Lebanese and Syrian scholars.
    One of them, Mr Van Dyke, rewrote the Arabic translation of the New Testament with the help of a Muslim scholar from Al Azhar university. All that was done in the second half of the XIXth century.

    I am not well versed in Arabic to decide if the translation is full of mistakes or not, but as I said before, the first lines of a translation (and John 1:1 is one of the most important verses in the NT) are usually the best translated.

    I still do not know if any one of you has heard about the stylistic licence concerning the non agreement of kâna and kalimah.

    If you could tell me more about the new translation of the Arabic Bible I would be grateful. I know of a translation that adds a "huwa" (towards the end of the verse) but changes nothing to the non agreement.

    I would also be interested by the "bad" translations of the Koran as I am reading from it.
  8. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Can you give an example of that??

    I find your observation ironic. Most would complain that some of the "content" is lost in translation, whereas the language is, of course, grammatically correct. :)

    And yes, I agree with you that in any other case the verb would be "kaanat." This, as I said above, is an exception.
  9. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    You are right - the verse refers to Jesus, Who (according to this verse) is God:

    fi 'l-bad2i kaana 'l-kalimatu, wa 'lkalimatu kaana 3inda 'l-laahi, wa kaana 'l-kalimatu 'l-laaha.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.

    Either way, though, the point is that the subject is masculine.
  10. mansio Senior Member


    Do not forget the "t" to kaanat and the liaison vowel "i" before the definite article "al-"!
    So "fii l-bad'i kaanati l-kalimatu".
  11. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Sorry? I was quoting the text from the Bible, in which the verb is masculine...
  12. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Elias, please, I said I wasn't criticising the text of the Bible, why do you think I was ironic ?!!! :(

    Any way, I spent some time in the library comparing a number of the Arabic translations of the Bible (only the first verses of John's gospel), I think the differences –though slight– can proove what I said about the stylistic "mistakes". By mistakes I only mean that some sentences could be written in a better way. That is all.
    Now for the examples : (I start with the first copy I read, than put in bold the changes in the other translations).​

    1- فى البدء كان الكلمة والكلمة كان عند الله وكان الكلمة الله. هذا كان فى البدء عند الله. كل شىء به كان وبغيره لم يكن شىء مما كان. فيه كانت الحياة والحياة كانت نور الناس. والنور يضىء فى الظلمة والظلمة لم تدركه.

    (دار الكتاب المقدس بمصر، طبعة العيد المئوى 1883-1983).

    2- فى البدء كان الكلمة/* والكلمة كان لدى الله/ والكلمة هو الله/ كان فى البدء لدى الله/ به كان كل شىء/ وبدونه ما كان شىء مما كان/ فيه كانت الحياة/ والحياة نور الناس/ والنور يشرق فى الظلمات/ ولم تدركه الظلمات.
    * هذه العلامة (/) تشير إلى سطر جديد، فى هذه الطبعة كل جملة تقريبًا مكتوبة فى سطر)
    (دار المشرق، بيروت، الطبعة الثالثة، 1994)
    أنقل لكم من المقدمة هذا الكلام: «هذه الطبة ترجمة الآباء اليسوعيين اوغسطينس روده Augustin Rodet وفيليب كوش Philippe Cuche وجوزف روز Joseph Roze وجوزف فان هام Joseph van Ham وأسهم الشيخ إبراهيم اليازجى فى صياغة كتب العهد القديم. [... فى سنة 1949 أعيد النظر فى الترجمة للاستفادة] مما وصلت إليه الدراسات الكتابية وأساليب الترجمة [...] وفى السنة 1980، انتقل العمل إلى أسفار العهد القديم، وعُهد به إلى الآباء اليسوعيين انطوان اودو ورنيه لافنان René Lavenant وصبحى حموى، وسار على المبادئ الأدبية التالية: الأمانة للأصل العبرى ونص الترجمة القديمة قدر المستطاع، لاسيما فى استعمال المفردات الكتابية المسيحية المألوفة، والبساطة فى اختيار الألفاظ، والمحافظة على أسلوب إبراهيم اليازجى وعلى الإنشاء العربى التقليدى.
    قد لا تجد، أيها القارئ، فى هذه الترجمة الجديدة، جميع الألفاظ والتعابير والتراكيب التى أَلِفَتها أذناك وذاكرتك فى الترجمة القديمة، فقد بُدِّل بعضها للمزيد من الدقة والأمانة.»

    3- فى البدء كان الكلمة، والكلمة كان عند الله. وكان الكلمة هو الله. هو كان فى البدء عند الله. به تكوَّن كل شىء، وبغيره لم يتكوَّن أى شىء مما تكوَّن. فيه كانت الحياة. والحياة هذه كانت نور الناس. والنور يضىء فى الظلام. والظلام لم يدرك النور.
    (دار الثقافة بمصر، 1982)
    تقول مقدمة هذه الطبعة: «... أخذنا بعين الاعتبار الترجمات العديدة فى اللغة العربية التى صدرت خلال السنوات العشرين الماضية، فضلاً عن الترجمات المعروفة فى القرون السابقة والتى يزيد عددها على المئة. كما أننا قد جنينا فائدة كبرى من الترجمات الكثيرة باللغتين الإنكليزية والفرنسية بما فها من ترجمات حديثة وقديمة...»

    As we can all see, the differences do not affect the meaning, they only give better Arabic. That is all. (beside the more accuracy as stated in the introduction, but this is not our concern here).

    Again, I was not ironic Elias, and I'm sorry if I gave that impression.
    P.S. I must say I can't give examples for grammar mistakes, for I'll need to read all the Book, which unfortunately I don't have time to do. But I hope I made myself clear in what concerns the stylistic point.
    P.P.S. Ash-shaykh Nasiif al-Yasijy and his son Ibrahim (also shayk) are catholic christians.
    There were many Christians who studied in Al-Azhar.​

    Edit : Well, I'm not sure about the Azhar thing (in what concerns their studies) but here's a little bio about shaykh Nasiif, in which we find why he was called a shaykh. (it was a social dignity, rather than a religious title) :

  13. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Cherine, I think you misunderstood what I meant. :)

    By "ironic" I meant "surprising." Most of the time, when a literary text is translated into a new language, people complain about the possibility of having compromised the original meaning, because as you know something is almost always lost in translation. Grammar, however, is usually preserved even in a translation. My observation was meant to highlight my surprise at the idea that you expect that the grammar of the Arabic translation of the Bible would be "full of mistakes."

    If you mean the style, though, that's something else. Whether the "style" is good or not is subjective; different people will like different translations from among the ones you provided, for example. But I don't think that has to do with the fact that it's a translation. Sometimes we do not like the style of the original language in which a text is written. The difference with translations is that since none of them is the original work of the author we have the flexibility to pick and choose whichever one we find the most appropriate/faithful/appealing/enjoyable/beautiful.

    Hope I've made myself clearer. :)
  14. kifaru Senior Member

    Just for those who wanted to know anothe transliteration of
    Nasiif al-Yasijy is Naseef al Yaziji. I found some webpages with his name spelled like this.
  15. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Yes Kifaru, اليازجى is to be transliterated as Yaziji, the "s" was a mistake of mine. Sorry. And thanks for correcting this mistake :)
  16. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Dear Elias, yes you've made yourself much clearer :) (I think I really should go take that English course, really need it :) )
    I must say that after re-reading my own post, and yours, I must withdraw what I said about grammar -an apologize for a hasty judgement. But I still believe that the style in which most of the translations are done is not very good. This is why I prefer the newer ones, because they try to re-write the Arabic text in a better Arabic.

    You're right. But remember I said I wasn't talking about the "content", this is why I didn't talk about the meaning. What concerns me most was/is the style of the target language, specially that I can't compare the translation to the original :)

    Hope we are all clearer now :)
  17. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Yes, much more so. :)

    Now that you've confirmed that you meant "style" and not "grammar," all misunderstandings have been cleared up. :)
  18. Tajabone Senior Member

    French, Berber (Kabyle), Arabic (classical and dialectal)
    Moderator Note: This post was the start of a new thread that was merged with an old one on the same topic.


    I'm more familiar with the Gospels in French but I came across this verse some time ago.

    I was initially amazed to see the word/verb Kaana كان instead of Kaanat كانت.

    I guess it is written like this to make a difference between a mere word (kalima in its ordinary meaning) and The Verb (Logos). We can say it's somehow a theological grammar in this case.

    The complete verse is :

    . في البَدْءِ كانَ الكَلِمَةُ، والكَلِمَةُ كانَ عِندَ الله، وكانَ الكَلِمَةُ الله

    Any further explanation about the use of كان ?

    Thank you !
  19. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    The way I read it الله = كانَ. That is why كانت is not used forالكَلِمَةُ . This is just an idea, it could be wrong.
  20. CarlosPerezMartinez Senior Member

    Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    Spain, Spanish
    Could الكلمة be here a proper male name with a female ending (like Khalifa, Mu'awiya,...) with the meaning of "the Word" (Logos, in Greek) ? If that was the case the use of كان is correct.
  21. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    No, it is not. As was stated above, the only reason the masculine verb is used is that the reference is to God.
  22. Tajabone Senior Member

    French, Berber (Kabyle), Arabic (classical and dialectal)
    Good. This is what I thought, by the way.

    I would like to add that The Quran has also used "kalima" in a context where the possessive noun was masculine.

    Sura 3 (Al- 'Imraan), verse 45 :

    إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ

    I've given this example just to show the proximity in the use of Kalima which has puzzled some commentators.

    Thanks again
  23. Abu Bishr Senior Member

    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Before I post my response to the topic under discussion, can you please explain to me exactly what it is that you are saying in this quote, lest I misunderstand and misinterpret your statement. Thanks.
  24. Nikola Senior Member

    English - American
    Abu Bishr, I think he is comparing the masculine possessive بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ with the masculine verb before.هُ is conected to الله. Not to كَلِمَةٍ.
  25. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I'm not sure I understood.
    Do you mean that هُ refers to الله ?
    I think it refers to عيسى ; i.e. the word following the haa2 not a word preceding it. Otherwise the sentence -structurwise- would be a bit strange.
    But I think Abu Bishr can give a better answer.
  26. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I think Tajabone's point was that the ـهُ refers to كلمة - which would be another example of a lack of grammatical gender agreement.
  27. Tajabone Senior Member

    French, Berber (Kabyle), Arabic (classical and dialectal)
    Thank you, Abu Bishr, for your delicate "warning" :)

    My point is very simple and is (partly) better expressed by Elroy.

    I started with a lexical search for "Kalima" in digitised versions of the Quran. And I came across a verse where the context was showing a masculine possessive. This was odd enough to have a research started.

    I used some Tafsir books that I have with me and went further with other digitised Tafsir works on the net.

    The exegetes' performances appeared to be disparate: some focused on the linguistic aspect of it, others went on with a deeper theological explanation (referring to the كن, known in Latin as Fiat); remains a group who proposed a very succinct gloss (like ابن كثير on this particular linguistic matter).

    Technically, one would have expected to read اسمها instead of اسمهsince the verse is talking about "kalima" and the possessive in Arabic goes - concerning the grammatical agreement - with the previous word. And that was curious enough to make exegetes dissert profusely (or keep bashfully silent, one may say) about it, with a relative degree of achievement.

    Tabari, for instance, quotes Ibn ‘Abbas :

    حدثنا ابن وكيع، قال: ثنا أبـي، عن إسرائيـل، عن سماك، عن عكرمة، عن ابن عبـاس فـي قوله: { إِذْ قَالَتِ ٱلْمَلَـئِكَةُ يٰمَرْيَمُ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِنْهُ } قال: عيسى هو الكلـمة من الله.

    This gloss goes on with the explanation of the possessive:

    قال عزّ وجلّ: { ٱسْمُهُ ٱلْمَسِيحُ } فذكَّر، ولـم يقل اسمها فـيؤنث، والكلـمة مؤنثة، لأن الكلـمة غير مقصود بها قصد الاسم الذي هو بـمعنى فلان، وإنـما هي بـمعنى البشارة، فذكرت كنايتها، كما تذكر كناية الذرّية والدابة والألقاب، علـى ما قد بـيناه قبل فـيـما مضى.

    Note that البشارة is a feminine word …

    According to this material (and others), the question of possessive هُ looks similar to the “theological grammar” we have seen for John 1:1 .

    So in short, according to Tabari and his material كلـمة = ه = which is عيسى

    Tabari's answer has been mainly resolved in a theological way, leaving the linguistic aspect aside.

    I’m just pointing out this aspect without claiming to have a solid or definitive answer.

  28. Abu Bishr Senior Member

    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Thanks alot for explaining your statement after the Quranic verse, because for a moment I thought that this thread was going to develop into a long theological debate between Christians and Muslims on the question of whether or not the Quran preaches the Trinity. It is customary in these debates to quote this verse in particular together with the tafsiirs of exegetes such as al-Tabari (whilst quoting Ibn Abbas), Ibn Kathir, Ibn Arabi, and even Sayed Qutb, etc. For those that are interested there are several such debates on the internet.

    Now, as for the question concerning the use of the word الكلمة or كلمة it is clear that it refers to Jesus (who is a male), in which case it is permissible to used a masculine pronoun to refer to it. A word in Arabic is often treated from two angles: its form (اللفظ) and its meaning (المعنى). Now, sometimes its form is feminine and its meaning masculine, and vice versa. Sometimes, both are feminine or masculine. الكلمة or كلمة here would be a case of the word being feminine in form but masculine in meaning. This is the same as a Quranic variant reading (albeit not rigorously authentic) (يا أيها الناس اتقوا ربكم الذي خلقكم من نفس واحد ) instead of the normal (نفس واحدة) because even though نفس is feminine it refers to Adam who is masculine.

    As an afterthought, I thought I'll include a bit of an interpretation of the word "كلمة" from an Islamic exegetical point of view, as reference was made to it in Tajabone's previous post.

    Now, Muslims believe that Jesus was created through God's command in the form of the word "كن" (Be!) addressed to him which Tajabone refered to as (Fiat), and this has been referred to several times in the Quran. In fact, in the same Quranic chapter it is said (Indeed, the similitude of Jesus is like that of Adam, He created him (Adam) from clay and said to him: Be!, and so he was). The similarity here is that for Muslims both (Adam & Jesus) came into being without fathers. In fact, Muslims believe that God created everything through the command (Be!), and Jesus is no exception. However, Jesus is only an exception insofar he was singled out to be called and receive the title of "the Word" by which is actually meant the object to be created by the Word "Be!" (which is Jesus in this case, and not the actual Word "Be!" itself. This is the same as saying: "The streets were noisy this morning" where you actually mean "The cars / vehicles in the street were noisy" rather than the streets themselves. This interpretation is further evidenced by the two verses following the one quoted by Tajabone:

    إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ

    وَيُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِي الْمَهْدِ وَكَهْلاً وَمِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ

    قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّى يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ قَالَ كَذَلِكِ اللّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاء
    إِذَا قَضَى أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

    45. Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.

    46. "He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous."

    47. She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, 'Be,' and it is!

    Note from these verses that Mary responded to Gabriel's glad tidings (البشارة / التبشير) of a word from God, by saying: How shall I have a son ..." Now see the response to Mary's question (Even so, Allah created what He wills. When He decrees something, He merely says to it, Be!, and it is). So for Muslims Jesus is not the Word in the real sense, rather he is only the Word in the sense that he was created through and by that Word which is "Be".

    In conclusion, Muslims believe that Jesus is the Word but only insofar as he is the object of creation of that Word which is "Be!", since it is the Command God uses (according to Muslims) to bring things into existence.
  29. Taalib Senior Member

    United States
    United States
    The original text of the biblical passage that started this thread was taken from the Arabic translation to the Gospel of John. I assume based upon responses it is taken from the well-known Eli Smith/Van Dyke translation.

    Perhaps it is a bit too obvious, but are there are other Arabic translations of the New Testament that differ from this particular verb/subject conundrum? The argument that the gender disagreement is in fact a justifiable exception to the rule makes complete sense with the Smith/Van Dyke text: but I wonder, to make things interesting, if other translations use different language...
  30. Nikola Senior Member

    English - American
    Abu Bishr, Great explanation. Taalib the Coptic Bible gives the same version.
  31. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Yes, Taalib, the text that started this thread is from the Van Dyke translation, and no, I do not know of any translation that uses a feminine verb.
  32. Tajabone Senior Member

    French, Berber (Kabyle), Arabic (classical and dialectal)
    Most of the versions I know do not use a feminine agreement for Kana.

    Abu Bishr gave us a good explanation of the notion of "Verb" according to Muslim beliefs (which is not new to me). However, I must confess that I'm not accustomed to religious polemics thinking deeply that challenging religiously other people's faith is purely meaningless.

    But let's go back to a fact that I'm interested in: could you provide, Abu Bishr, a context in any Arabic literature, where "kalima" is used both as a masculine and feminine word ? That would be really satisfactory.
  33. Qcumber Senior Member

    UK English
    I thought a predicative nominal group was in the nominative case, so I expected: 'l-laahu. Could someone please remind me the grammatical rule whereby it should be in the direct case: 'l-laaha, as in this clause?
    P.S. I wanted to start a new thread with this, but the "copy-paste" function is not available.
  34. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Kaana governs two cases. It "enters" a nominal sentence and changes the case of the "predicate" to the accusative while keeping the "subject" in the nominative.

    AT-Taqsu jamiilun.
    Kaana 'T-taqsu jamiilan.

    By the way, inna does the opposite:

    Inna 'T-Taqsa jamiilun.
  35. Abu Bishr Senior Member

    Afrikaans, South Africa
    The general rule is that any feminine word (feminine in form, that is) that refers to a male or something masculine, can be treated as masculine or feminine providing it is not a proper noun in which case it is treated as masculine only, e.g. حمزة , طلحة , etc. both of which are names of males in Arabic. Now, the word الكلمة is not standardly used in the Arabic literature to refer to Jesus or to any other male for that matter, however, the moment that is the case consideration can be given to the meaning and الكلمة can be treated as masculine from a meaning point of view. Now, in my view based on this rule, there would've been nothing wrong if the verse read (بكلمة منه اسمها المسيح) considering the feminine form of the word الكلمة , but then it would almost be as if the name belongs to the form of الكلمة and not what it refers to.

    Anyhow, the famous al-Samiin al-Halabi in his linguistic analysis of the Quran entitled "al-Durr al-MaSuun" has the following to say on the analysis of the verse under discussion:

    والمرادُ بالكلمة هنا عيسى، فهو من باب إطلاق السبب على المُسَبَّب. و"اسمه" مبتدأ، و"المسيح" خبرُهُ. و"عيسى" بدلٌ منه أو عطفُ بيان. وسُمِّيَ كلمةً لوجودهِ بها وهو قوله: {كُنْ فَيَكُونُ}

    [What is meant by الكلمة here (i.e. in this specific context) is Jesus on the basis of using the cause (i.e. the word "Be") but intending thereby the "object caused" / or using the cause to refer to the object caused by it. Moreover, اسمه is the subject, and المسيح its predicate. عيسى is the permutative of it (i.e. of المسيح ) or the appositive. Furthermore, he i(i.e. Jesus) is called كلمة because he was brought into existence through it, which is His statement / Word كن فيكون (Be, and it is).]

    Then a little later he says:

    وأتى بالضمير في قوله: "اسمُه" مذكَّراً وإنْ كان عائداً على الكلمة مراعاةً للمعنى، إذ المرادُ بها مذكر.

    [He uses the personal pronoun in (اسمه) as masculine even though it refers to الكلمة (which is feminine) taking into consideration the meaning, since what is intended is a male / something masculine.]

    I hope this answers your question somewhat.
  36. Tajabone Senior Member

    French, Berber (Kabyle), Arabic (classical and dialectal)
    Thanks, Abu Bishr, for the meritorious effort.

    In fact, حمزة , طلحة , خليفة , etc. are examples we took at (high)school in order to show some exceptions. However, I have never read that "kalima" could be both masculine and feminine (Arabic Christian texts aside).
    Furthermore, the case we are discussing now (Quran, 3:45) seems to be the only one of its kind: the rest of the 25 occurrences in the Quran are used with a feminine case.

    And Tafsir السمين الحلبيgives a very "usual" explanation (though his book is of interest).

    Thanks anyway. I will try to find out a double gender use of "Kalima" in pre-Islamic literature or in other corpora.
  37. Qcumber Senior Member

    UK English
    Thanks a lot, Elroy, a very clear explanation indeed.

    Also, thanks a lot, Mansio, this thread is so exciting.
  38. Diadem Senior Member

    USA (English)
    The phenomenon is called a constructio ad sensum. Basically, it involves a word's grammatical gender and natural gender. While الْكَلِمَةُ is a grammatically-feminine word, it is actually referring to a male entity, i.e. Jesus, who is God. Hence, the word's natural gender in this instance is masculine.

    Therefore, knowing this, the author chose to use a verb conjugated in the masculine gender. Constructio ad sensum is a common phenomenon in many languages where words possess grammatical gender (i.e., Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, etc.). It is not a mistake on the author's behalf because John, who wrote this gospel, wasn't simply referring to the "word" one speaks. He was referring to an actual living entity, Jesus Christ. Had he simply been referring to a mere word (vocal pronunciation), then the Arabic translator would have had no need to employ a construcio ad sensum. Vocal pronunciations (literal words) are genderless.
  39. abdulwahid Senior Member


    Your Egyptian friend and the scholar are wrong (I doubt he said so, or I doubt that he's a scholar of the Arabic language). The classical grammar rules are very clear. If the subject in a sentence is not refereing to something that is really feminine (i.e. not a woman or a girl for example) then it is allowed to have the verb in the masculine form as well as in the feminine form. It is also allowed to have different gender between the verb and the subject if the subject doesn't follow immediately after the verb.

    This means that the sentence you are asking about is not wrong grammatically, and it's not an exception. It is clear and correct post-classical and classical Arabic.

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