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Seebawayh the Imaam of Grammarians

He was one of the main contributors to Arabic culture and Islamic civilization. He participated in founding and developing Arabic Grammar. He wrote a great book in which he outlined all the rules of the Arabic Language. This book was known as "Al-Kitaab" (The Book).

  • Birth and Early Years

'Amr Ibn 'Uthmaan Ibn Qunbur (Seebawayh) was born in an area called Al-Baydhaa', one of Shiraz villages in Persia. He was known as Seebawayh, which is a Persian word meaning the smell of an apple. He was known by this name because he himself had a nice smell and he was good-looking.

He was born in the middle of the second Hijri century. He did not live for long in his hometown. When he was young, he moved with his family to Basrah, Iraq. Basrah was one of the greatest centers of knowledge in the Muslim World at that time, and its mosques used to run many classes on jurisprudence, prophetic narrations, the Arabic language, literature and other sciences. Students from all over the world used to go there in order to acquire knowledge.

In Basrah, Seebawayh started to attend the classes held by jurists and scholars of prophetic narrations as he liked the study of these two subjects. He never stopped attending the class of Hammaad Ibn Salamah, may Allaah have mercy upon him, who was one of the greatest scholars of his time. He continued to attend his classes for a long time, until something happened which changed the course of his life, and made him decided to study the science of Arabic grammar and he mastered it to the point that he became one of the most important grammarians in the history of Arabic culture and one of the most famous names in Arab history.

  • Changing the course of his study to grammar

Seebawayh stopped studying prophetic narrations because of a linguistic error he made in front of his colleagues and his Shaykh corrected it immediately. One day, Seebawayh was in the class of his Shaykh, Hammaad Ibn Salamah, may Allaah have mercy upon him, who was dictating to his students the narration of the Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, in which he said: "There is none of my companions except that I found (a minor) fault in him, except "Abu Ad-Dardaa'." [The name Abu Ad-Dardaa' is mentioned as subject where as it is an object as it is preceded by "Laysa" which causes it to be in the nominative form and which means with the exception of Abu Ad-Dardaa']

Seebawayh thought his Shaykh made a grammatical error in the narration. His Shaykh explained it and Seebawayh realized that it was he who had not mastered Arabic grammar. So he said: "I will learn a science that will make me never err in my speech."

Seebawayh moved to the classes of grammarians and linguists in order to study the Arabic language and grammar. In Basrah, there were many outstanding grammarians and linguists such as Al-Akhfash Al-Akbar, Yoonus Ibn Habeeb, and Abu Zayd Al-Ansaari, may Allaah have mercy on them. Seebawayh learnt at the hands of Al-Khaleel Ibn Ahmad who was the scholar who influenced him the most.

Seebawayh learnt at the hands of all the above-mentioned scholars until he attained a high level in the Arabic language and grammar. His Shaykhs acknowledged his excellence and genius, and they also confessed his wide knowledge of the Prophetic narrations and the science of reciting the Quran (Qira'aat).

Seebawayh felt it was not sufficient for him to only learn at the hands of Shaykhs and scholars. He moved to the desert where he started to orally learn the Arabic language from the eloquent people of the Arab tribes who spoke pure Arabic that was not infiltrated by other foreign words.

  • The master of grammarians in his thirties

Al-Khaleel Ibn Ahmad was the master of grammarians in Basrah. When he died in 175 A.H., 791 A.C.,

none of his students was able to fill the vacant post or teach his classes except Seebawayh. He drew the students' attention and taught in the place of his Shaykh although he was only thirty years old at that time.

The students seeking knowledge gathered around him in order to benefit from his knowledge. They came from all corners of the world.

  • His Only Book

Seebawayh became famous for his excellence in the Arabic language and grammar to an extent that he excelled all his contemporaries and Shaykhs. Scholars testified to his pioneering role in Arabic grammar and he became the mastermind of the Basrah grammarians.

Seebawayh is accredited as the first scholar to establish the rules of the Arabic language by writing the only book he authored in this field.

He did not give the book a title, so after his death, it was known as "The Book". This book had a great influence on Arabic grammar and scholars considered it to be the most important book in that field to the extent that they called it "the Quran of Grammar".

  • His trip to Baghdad

Seebawayh became very famous. He decided to go to Baghdad, the capital of the 'Abbaasid Caliphate, in order to meet the caliph Haroon Ar-Rasheed who used to sponsor science and scholars. At that time, Baghdad attracted the most genius scholars, jurists, and grammarians.

Al-Kisaa'i, the mastermind of the grammarians of Koofah, moved to stay in Baghdad before Seebawayh.

Caliph Haroon Ar-Rasheed sponsored Al-Kisaa`i and held him in high esteem.Haroon Ar-Rasheed trusted and respected Al-Kisaa'i to the extent that he made him the private tutor and care taker of his son, Al-Ameen.

In Baghdad, Seebawayh met Al-Kisaa'i and they engaged in a famous grammatical debate on one of the grammatical issues. Al-Kisaa'i was accompanied by some of his most outstanding students such as Al-Farraa' and Ibn Sa'daan, who asked Seebawayh several difficult questions, and he, in turn, answered them efficiently. Then, Al-Kisaa'i asked Seebawayh a grammatical question, and both of them engaged in a long discussion over it. Al-Kisaa'i asked some Bedouins who were attending the debate to be arbitrators on this question because they were famous for their strong command of the language. They supported Al-Kisaa'i who won the debate, although, according to grammarians, Seebawayh's opinion was the right one.

  • His Death

After the debate, Seebawayh returned to his birthplace Al-Baydhaa' where he died in 180 A.H., 796 A.C.

  • The Character of Seebawayh

Seebawayh had a strong will and was highly ambitious. A grammatical mistake made him study and master the science of grammar until he became the mastermind of grammarians in his time. In addition, he authored one of the most famous books in the history of Arab culture. Whenever the rules of Arabic grammar are mentioned, the name of Seebawayh immediately comes to mind.

  • Seebawayh In Brief

- He was born in Al-Baydhaa', one of the villages of Shiraz.

- He was known as Seebawayh which is a Persian word meaning the smell of an apple.

- He moved with his family to Basrah where he started to study jurisprudence and prophetic narrations.

- He shifted to study the Arabic language and grammar at the hands of Al-Khaleel Ibn Ahmad.

- He succeeded his Shaykh, Al-Khaleel Ibn Ahmad, in teaching his class in Basrah where tens of grammarians learnt from him.

- He wrote the most famous book on grammar known as "The Book".

- He went to Baghdad where he met Al-Kisaa'i, the mastermind of the grammarians of Koofah.

- Seebawayh returned to his hometown where he died in 180 A.H.


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