First Iranian Master in Arabic Literature


M. Saadat Noury
by M. Saadat Noury

INTRODUCTION: Arabic Poetry is the earliest work of Arabic literature, and it is usually written down in the Arabic language either by Arabs or non-Arabs. Unlike Persian Poetry, which is as old as Avesta ( the sacred book of Zoroastrians), knowledge of poetry in Arabic dates from the 6th century AD. Arabic poetry is categorized into two main types of rhymed (measured), and prose. The rhymed poetry falls within fifteen different meters collected and explained by an Iranian scholar, Khalil Ahmad Irani (KAI), who also compiled the first Arabic Dictionary. Many Western and Arabic Literature, regrettably, refer to KAI as a famous Arab Philologist (in Persian: Vajeh Shenaas). He was actually a linguist of Persian origin born in Oman in the south of Iran. In this article, the life story of KAI and his literary works are studied and discussed.

HIS VARIOUS NAMES: KAI was also known as Khalil-ibn Ahmad, Khalil-ibn Ahmad-al Farahidi, Abu Abdolrahman Khalil-ibn Ahmad Farahidi, and possibly many other names. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica his full name was [Al-khalil Ibn Ahmad Ibn Amr Ibn Tamim Al-Farahidi Al-azdi Al-Yuhmadi Al-Basri Abu Abd Al-Rahman]. On the basis of the research works carried out by the late eminent Iranian scholar, Roknodin Homayoonfarrokh, KAI is considered to be the correct name for the author of the first Arabic Prosody and the first Arabic Dictionary.

HIS LIFE: KAI was born in 718 AD in Uman (presently known as Saltanate of Oman, a country in the south of Iran) and moved to Basra, Iraq where he converted from the Ibadi sect (the Umani dominant form of Islam, which was founded less than 50 years after the death of prophet Mohammed) and became a Sunni. The German scholar Brockelmann wrote that KAI was a poet, and lived the ascetic life of a poor student. Ascetic literary means avoiding physical pleasures and living a simple life, often for religious reasons. At the end of his life, KAI was the mentor and the teacher of the medieval Islamic world's most distinguished authority on Arabic grammar, Sibuyeh (in Arabic: Sibawayh). Sibuyeh was a linguist of Persian origin born in 760 AD in the town of Bayzaa in the Fars province of Iran. KAI died in Basra some time between 777 and 791 AD.

HIS WORKS: KAI was distinguished in his own time as a Lexicographer (in Persian: Loghat Nevees), Phonologist (in Persian: Vajeh Shenaas), Grammarian (in Persian: Karshenaas-e-Dastoor-e-Zabaan), Educator (in Persian: Amoozgaar, Farhikhtaar) and Musicologist (in Persian: Moosighi Shenaas). In the world of Literature and Science, his stature is almost legendary, although information on his life, his works and his achievements is fragmented. In her four-essay collection of Early Medieval Arabic published in 1998, the American researcher Karin C. Ryding provided a detailed look at the life and work of KAI. T. Emerson reviewed Ryding's book and wrote that, 'Karin Ryding's analysis of KAI's work on the genitive construction is interesting but quite technical'. KAI is remembered principally for two achievements, which are the creation of the first Dictionary of the Arabic Language (Kitab al-Ayn or The Book of Ayn or the Book of Source), and discovery of the rule-governed metrical systems used in Arabic poetry. The Book of Source while started by KAI, it was probably completed by one of his students, Layth Muzaffar. It was titled 'The Source' because the goal of its author was to clarify those words which were composed the origin or the source of Arabic vocabulary. According to most researchers, the dictionary was not arranged alphabetically but rather by phonetics, following the pattern of pronunciation of the Arabic alphabet from the deepest letter of the throat (in Persian and Arabic: the letter of Ayn) to the last letter pronounced by the lips, that being the letter of Meem. Though German scholar Brockelmann refers to the last letter as Ya. This book was not known in Baghdad until 862 AD. The book seems to have been in existance as late as the 14th century, but it is now only known from extracts in manuscript. KAI was an expert in Prosody, the study of poetic meter and the art of versification. KAI collected and explained fifteen different meters for Arbic Poetry. It is reported that he also wrote a treatise on verse forms of Arabic poetry but most of his works are now lost.

EPILOGUE: KAI also set the final shapes for Harakat (the diacritic marks used to represent vowel sounds) as we are familiar with them today. His biographers also cite publications on the musical theory that he presented. Rosemary Mountain from the Concordia University of Montreal referred to KAI and wrote that KAI was also interested in the techniques relating music to text through attention to meter, rhythm, and prosody and he authored a Book of Songs (in Persian: Ketab-e-Avaazhaa va Naghmehaa, in Arabic: Kitab al-Nagham).

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD


Brockelmann, C. (1898): Arabischen Literatur (in German), ed., Weimar, Germany.

Encyclopedia Britannica (2007): Online Article on 'Al-khalil Ibn Ahmad Ibn Amr Ibn Tamim Al-Farahidi Al-azdi Al-Yuhmadi Al-Basri Abu Abd Al-Rahman'.

Emerson, T. (2003): A Solid Essay Collection, an Online Review.

Homayoonfarrokh, R. (1992): History of Persian Poetry (in Persian), ed., Elm Publications, Tehran, Iran.

Homayoonfarrokh, R. (2006): Online Article on the 'Eight Thousand Year-History of Persian Poetry' (in Persian).

Mountain, R. (2003): Online Article on 'Facets of Islamic Musical Tradition'.

Ryding, K. C. (1998): Early Medieval Arabic: Studies on Al-Khalil Ibn Ahmad (Arabic Language Linguistics History od Science), ed., Georgetown University Press, USA.

Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on the 'First Iranians who introduced the Art of Poetry'.

Saadat Noury, M. (2006): Online Poetry on the 'Definition of Poetry'.

Saadat Noury, M. (2007): Various Articles on Persian Poetry and the History of Iran.


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by M. Saadat Noury on

WHO visited this thread. My thanks also go to Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi and Ladan Farhangi for their nice comments.

Ladan Farhangi

Good Research Work

by Ladan Farhangi on

Thank you for sharing.

Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi

Informative & Educational

by Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi on

Thank you Ostad Saadat Noury.