Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali

Scholar, philologist
Zalim ibn 'Amr ibn Sufyan ibn Jandal al-Du'ali
Title Abu al-Aswad
Born 16 BH (603 CE)
Died AH 69 (688/689)
Era Islamic golden age
Region Muslim scholar
Religion Islam

Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali (Arabic: أبو الأسود الدؤلي‎‎) (ca. 603CE/16BH – 688 or 689CE/69AH) was a close companion of Ali ibn Abi Talib and a grammarian. He was the first to place consonant-pointing and vowel-pointing (markings) on Arabic letters to clearly identify them. He was the first to write on Arabic linguistics, and is said to be the first to write a book on Arabic grammar (nahw).[1] Al-Du'ali educated many students.[2]


Letter-pointing and vowel-pointingEdit

Al-Du'ali is credited with inventing a system of placing large colored dots above certain letters to differentiate consonants (because several groups share the same shape), and indicate short vowels (because the sounds are not otherwise indicated).[3]:664 [4]:131 Consonant differentiation is called I'jam (or naqt). Vowel indication is called tashkil. Al-Du'ali's large-dot system addressed both of these, resolving readers' confusion and making clear how to read and write Arabic words.[4]:131

Although effective, the large dots were difficult to use on small-size fonts and on any but a limited selection of scripts. They were also time-consuming to make on any size font or script. Thus, the Umayyad governor al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi asked two of al-Du'ali’s students to create and codify a new system that was simpler and more efficient. A new ‘’tashkil’’ system was developed by Al Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi (d. 786). It has been universally used for Arabic script since the early 11th century.[4]:131

Further detailsEdit

It has been said - and many adduce it as fact - that the first grammarian in the Arabic language was Abu'l-Aswad al-Du'ali (d. 69 AH), a companion of Ali bin Abu Talib and an early poet.

Ibn al-Nadim, author of the Fihrist said:

"Muhammad b. Ishaq says that most scholars agree that grammar was taken from Abu'l-Aswad al-Du'ali, and that he took it from the Khalifah 'Ali."

This is also the opinion of the famous language specialist Abu 'Ubayda (d. 210 AH), and the lexicographer al-Zubaydi (d. 397 AH) said about Abu'l-Aswad:

"He was the first to establish [the science of] the Arabic language, to lay down its methods and to establish its rules."[citation needed]

There are also stories in which both 'Ali and 'Umar acknowledge or refer the subject of grammar to Abu'l-Aswad al-Du'ali.

The reason why Abu'l-Aswad began to lay formal rules for the Arabic language lies undoubtedly behind the multiply of non-Arabic Muslims - who recited the Qur'an. It has been illustrated by a report in which Abu'l-Aswad heard some Muslims pronounce the wrong reading of the Qur'an, owing to a mistake in voweling. As a consequence, following the order of the governor Ziyad b. Abi Sufyan, he instructed a scribe, saying:

"When you see me open my mouth at a letter, put a dot above it. When I close it, put one next to the letter. When I draw them apart, put a dot under it."

Another story describes Abu'l-Aswad's reason behind the beginning of grammar. Some Arabic people laughed once when a client of an Arab mispronounced an Arabic word, so Abu'l-Aswad rebuked them, saying:

"These mawali (clients) have formed a desire for Islam, and have converted, so they have become our brothers; if only we were to lay down [the rules] of language for them!"


  1. ^ Ibn Khallikan. Wafaayat al-'Ayaan. vol. 1 p. 663.
  2. ^ M. Mukarram Ahmed. Encyclopaedia of Islam. p. 83.
  3. ^ Ibn-Ḫallikan, Aḥmad Ibn-Muḥammad (1843). Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, 1, Volume 4. Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. 
  4. ^ a b c Leaman, Oliver (2006). The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis Group: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32639-7. 

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