Iraq

The Iranian Presence in Classical Arabic and Medieval Islamic Learning

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus. This article surveys the Iranian presence in pre-Islamic Arabia and the medieval Islamic world, addresses Classical Arabic loans in Modern Persian and features an exclusive English-language listing of 200 Middle Iranian loans in Classical Arabic and their etymologies, compiled by the author.

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A library in present-day Baghdad, named after Bayt al-Hikma; courtyard view, Abbasid-era portion.

On the Prevalence of Classical Arabic Loanwords in Modern Persian

Whereas pre-Islamic Iranian languages are all virtually free of Semitic vocabulary, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic have borrowed a remarkable number of words from Iranian (as did late Babylonian, Achaemenid Elamite, Armenian, Georgian, most Turkic languages, and later, Urdu). Historical linguists have afforded the majority of these languages exhaustive pedigrees of Iranian borrowings, but regrettably few authors have paid attention to the Iranian loans in the Arabic language and literature, and in doing so, have ignored a rich narrative of cultural contact and appropriation.

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The Sassanid Empire (224 A.D.-651 A.D.) was the last Zoroastrian Iranian polity before the arrival of Islam. Sassanian and Byzantine antecedents formed the creative backbone of early Islamic material and visual culture. 

It is no mystery that following the conquest and Islamization of Sassanid Persia throughout the 7th and 8th centuries AD, Iranian languages were shot through, even to the most far-flung dialects, with Arabic loanwords. But never did Arabic attain a currency of a lingua franca in the Iranian world. Instead, knowledge of the Arabic language in Persia throughout the Islamic period was limited to educated city-dwelling Muslim circles, and it was from this stratum of society that Classical Arabic lexica were gradually and purposefully incorporated—often undergoing abstract semantic shifts—into “erudite speech”, which became the basis of New Persian literature, scholarship, and poetry. These Iranian religious figures, literateurs, linguists, poets, historians, mathematicians, chemists, alchemists, astronomers, physicians, geographers, musicians, and philosophers became preeminent contributors to the canonization of the Arabic language and its transformation from a regional nomadic tongue into a universal vehicle of both doctrinal and secular learning. Acculturation was taking place along the same vector– whereby medieval Islamic architecture, horticulture, cuisine, attire, court culture, political offices, etc. were systematically appropriated from earlier Persian and Byzantine models.

USSR 198355294463
Al-Khwārizmi was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer during the Abbasid Caliphate. The English word “algorithm” is his namesake, and the word “algebra” derives from al-jabr, an operation he used to solve quadratic equations. Here he is pictured on a postal stamp issued by the USSR in 1983 (left) and immortalized in statue at Khiva, Uzbekistan (right).

Knowledge of Classical Arabic was essential and indispensable for religious worship, and the correct reading of the Qur’an was impossible without it. But in the first century of Islamic ascendancy, the Arabs did not produce anything of literary value. If any poetry was composed, it was on the old pagan models and celebrated the poets’ amatory adventures, in stereotyped fashion, rather than the victories of Islam. As Reinhart Dozy notes:

Mais la conversion la plus importante de toute fut celles des Perses. Ce sont eux, et non les Arabes qui ont donné de la fermeté et de la force à l’Islamisme, et en même temps, c’est de leur sein que sont sorties les sectes les plus remarquables. (Dozy, L’Islamisme, p. 156)

It follows that the first grammar of the Arabic language, al-Kitāb, was written by the Persian author Sībūyeh (Arabic: Sībawayh) in the 8th century AD, and many of his Iranian contemporaries with masterful command of Arabic, including Ibn al-Muqaffa’, translated thousands of Indian, Greek, Syriac, and Persian literary works from Middle Persian into Classical Arabic. The epicenter of these intellectual activities was Bayt al-Hikma (literally “House of Wisdom”) in Baghdad, which was the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun’s appropriation of the Sassanid Persian Academy of Gundishāpur, the world’s first center of both religious and secular higher-learning. The Caliph had the contents of Gundishāpur and its world-renowned hospital transported to Bayt al-Hikma, which was staffed by graduates of the Academy of Gundishāpur and wherein the methods of the older Persian academy were to be emulated. The Bukhtishu-Gundishāpuri family were Nestorian Assyrian physicians from Persia who served at the Abbasid court through the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries, spanning six generations. The Caliph al-Mansur’s new capital and crown jewel, Baghdad (“God-Given” in Persian), was no exception to this trend; the city had been modeled off of the quintessential Sassanid round city plan (such as at Firuzābād) by a Persian architect and planner, Mashallah ibn Athari, and the auspicious location had been determined by Nawbakht, a Zoroastrian priest. The Abbasid and Fatimid bourgeoisie were patrons of Persian garments, etiquette, court culture, and cuisine, and relied heavily on Persian viziers such as the Barmakid family to oversee crucial matters pertaining to finance and state administration. As such, they adopted the Sassanid postal system and bureaucratic system (diwān).

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Persian gardens (top) have influenced the design of gardens from Andalusia to India and beyond. The gardens of the Alhambra show the influence of Persian Garden philosophy and style in a Moorish Palace scale, from the era of Al-Andalus in Spain (bottom). 

Persian influence increased at the Court of the Caliphs, and reached its zenith under al-Hadi, Harun al-Rashid, and al-Ma’mun. Most of the ministers of the last were Persians or of Iranian extraction. Afshīn Kheydār b. Kāvūs, the all-powerful favorite of the Caliph al-Mu’tasim and a scion of the Buddhist princes of Osrushana in modern-day Uzbekistan, was appointed Abbasid Supreme General and Governor of Sindh, Jebāl, Libya, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In Baghdad, Persian fashions continued to enjoy an increasing ascendancy, and the old Persian festivals of Nowruz and Mihrigan were celebrated. Persian raiment was the official court dress, and the tall black conical Persian hats (qalansuwa) were already prescribed as official by the second Abbasid caliph in 770 A.D. At the court, the customs of Sassanians were imitated and garments decorated with golden inscription were introduced which it was the exclusive privilege of the ruler to bestow.

The Islamic Golden Age reached its peak during the 10th and 11th centuries, during which Persia was the main theater of academic activity, eclipsing al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) in volume and significance. Persian scholars and polymaths in various fields produced their masterpieces in Arabic—an Arabic whose lexicon they had made applicable to their respective fields in pioneer ways and for which they had popularized phrases, word forms, and grammatical structures through the dissemination of their works. Among the most prominent of these individuals were al-Khwarizmi, Abu Sina (Avicenna), al-Tusi, al-Biruni, Omar Khayyam, al-Haitham, al-Shirazi, and Naser Khusraw. Ironically enough, we can imagine that a rather pure, eloquent spoken form of Classical Arabic was probably in use among Iranian scholarly circles in Khwārezm (a historic Iranian region roughly corresponding to modern day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan), while the Arabic vernaculars spoken in major Arab-inhabited urban centers around the Islamic realm such as Baghdad, Damascus, and Cordoba were of colloquial provenance and were undergoing gradual deviation from Classical pronunciation, grammar and lexicon under the influence of regional linguistic factors. These colloquial transformations are reflected in contemporary literary productions such as 13th century manuscripts of “Arabian Nights” or “1001 Nights” (Arabic: Elf Leyla wa Leyla, based on an earlier Persian work Hazār Afsāna, literally “1000 Myths”) recovered from Syria and Egypt.

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The story of “1001 Nights”, also popularized under an orientalist misnomer “Arabian Nights”, is a series of adapted stories based on a mythical Persian king Shahryār and a storyteller Shahrzādeh. The core characters and structural framework of the Arabic language version are inextricably akin to an earlier Persian work, Hazār Afsāna, with the addition of a few Abbasid-era stories and Arabian motifs such as the Jinn.

This trend did not escape the observation of the 14th century Arab historiographer, Ibn Khaldun, who elaborately explains the primacy of Iranian culture and learning in the nascent Islamic world:

It is a remarkable fact that with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs. Thus the founders of grammar were Sibawayh and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the Prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven, the Persians would attain it…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture. [Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; Frye, R.N. (1977). Golden Age of Persia, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p.91)].

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Mughal India, like the Ottoman Empire and the Timurid Empire, was a Persianate society (a society that is either based on, or strongly influenced by the Persian language, culture, literature, art, and/or identity.). Emperor Shāh Jahān (literally “King of the World” in Persian), commissioned a Persian architect from Badakshān named Ustād Ahmad Lāhauri to construct the Tāj Mahal (“Crown Place” in Persian) for his Persian wife and lover, Mumtāz Mahal (née Arjumand Banu Begum.) The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian Garden interpretations in the world.

It was via this initially exclusive medium of scholarly and artistic expression promulgated by Muslim Iranian intelligentsia that Middle Persian began to assume a new form throughout the medieval Islamic period. Middle Persian words became archaic and even obsolete in favor of abstract Classical Arabic loanwords, a feature that was characteristic of the speech of the Muslim Persian city-dwelling elite. A modified Arabic orthography was applied to this transforming tongue in place of the Aramaic-based alphabet used to write Middle Persian. This new form of the Persian language became a prestige dialect and would later enjoy widespread patronage and even official currency in the royal courts of the Ottomans, the Timurids of Central Asia, and the Mughals in India. What are modern-day Turkey and the Indian subcontinent even became important centers of Persian literary and poetic production. In Persianate societies, Arabic words were indirectly transmitted via Persian influence into languages such as Urdu, Turkish, Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Turkmen, Pashto, Uyghur, as evidenced by the retention of Persian phonological modifications to Classical Arabic pronunciation in these languages. Sarti Uzbek (but not Khorezmian or Kipchak Uzbek) even lost vowel harmony—a rudimentary feature of Turkic phonology—as a result of Persian substratum and bilingualism.

But this was by no means the first golden age for the Persian language—pre-Islamic Iranian languages likewise exerted a remarkably pervasive influence on neighboring tongues under the aegis of Iranian suzerains and civilized elite in those territories. Classical Armenian contained an impressive sixty percent of its general vocabulary derived from Iranian languages, and most Aramaic languages had been heavily Persified by the time of the Islamic conquest—even serving as media of transmission for Iranian borrowings into Arabic.

486e2d09a6dApaxT 631fc995ad Khanaka (Sufi monastery) of Nadir Divan-Beghi {1620}, Bukhara09-Bukhara-2013raw1640b registan-v-samarkandeshahi-zinda-samarkand022_Klub_puteshestviy_Pavla_Aksenova_Uzbekistan_Samarkand_Registan_Medrese_Sherdor_Foto_efesenko_-_Depositphotos-1024x623
[From top, left-right: 1. Chahār Minār, Bukhara  2. Bukhara, view of old city and wall  3. Nādir Divan-Begi Khānaqāh, a Sufi monastery featuring depictions of Simurgh from Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāmeh on its pishtaq, Bukhara  4. Bālā-Hauz, Bukhara  5. Gūr-i Amīr, Tamerlane’s mausoleum, Samarqand  6. Rēgistān square, Samarqand  7. Shāh-i Zinda, Samarqand  8. Shērdār Madrasa at Rēgistān, Samarqand]
Bukhara and Samarqand are still natively Persian-speaking (Tajik) cities in modern-day Uzbekistan; the former traditionally boasted a sizable Persophone Jewish element as well that has since relocated to Israel. The structures depicted are architectural heirlooms to the region’s robust Persianate past and former economic prosperity under the Samanid, Ghaznavid, and later Timurid empires. From a philological standpoint, we can imagine that it was in urban centers like these that incoming Turcophone groups interacted with the autochthonous settled Persian-speaking populations in Transoxiana, in turn giving rise to the modern Uzbek yoke, and wherein the Uzbek language (Sart dialect; progenitor of the modern literary language) gradually lost features typical of Turkic—notably the vowels /ü/, /ö/ and vowel harmony—and adopted thousands of Persian words and phrases. (*note the Khorezmian Uzbek language is of Oghuz provenance but features a heavy admixture of Uyghur-Uzbek elements; the Kipchak Uzbek language is closely related to Kazakh. Both of these languages are vowel-harmonized and feature relatively fewer Persianisms in their lexicon and morphology) 

Thus the prevalence of Arabic loanwords in Persian is largely the fruit of a medieval scholarly tendency among Iranian intelligentsia who were composing their works in Classical Arabic to then incorporate Arabic words and phrases into their speech, perhaps in an attempt to “enrich” the non-Islamic Middle Persian tongue and thereby delineate their stratum in society (city-dwelling, educated Muslim families) on the basis of their prestigious vernacular. Iranian scholars and polymaths also played a pivotal role in the standardization and diffusion of Classical Arabic, and Persians, Greeks and Syriacs served as cultural brokers in the Abbasid court.

List of Middle Iranian Loanwords in Classical Arabic (Compiled by the Afsheen Sharifzadeh)

Ahmad Amin writes “at a glance one can see that the Arabs in every point or every way they turned or for every necessity of life were obliged to use Persian words. Besides the words themselves they adopted the phrase-making ideas and expressions used by the Persians in explaining various matters or in defining things.”

Hundreds of Iranian words and terms began to enter into Arabic language, sometimes via an Aramaic milieu, and were Arabicized (ta’rīb) in eccentric ways according to the phonetic and morphological system of that language. Verb derivatives were even formed from Iranian nouns according to the Arabic patterns (awzān). It follows that Iranian lexical borrowings in Classical Arabic (mu’arrabāt) pertained to all domains of civilized society, including botany, culinary matters, administration, architecture, minerals, philosophy, zoology, musical instruments, and items of luxury and power adopted from Sassanian Persia. The following are some notable and readily-recognizable Eastern Iranian/Parthian, Middle Persian (MP) loans, and Early New Persian (NP) that remain in Modern Standard Arabic (اللغة العربية الفصحى) as well as most dialects, although borrowings in Classical Arabic and Mesopotamian/Gulf dialects are far more widespread and numerous.

LIST


abad- eternity (MP: a-pād “without foot, endless”)

‘abqari- genius, highest perfection, unsurpassed (MP: abargar “superior, highest”)

adab– literature; courtesy, civility (constructed from MP: dab)

‘anbar- ambergris (MP: hambar)

anbār– warehouse, depot (MP: hambār)

argīla– waterpipe (NP: nārgīl “coconut”)

‘askar, ‘askari- army, military (constructed from MP: lashkar)

‘atr, ‘attar, mu’attar– perfume, perfumist (constructed from MP: atr)

azraq, zarqā’- yellow (constructed from MP: zargōn “golden”)

Baghdād (MP: baga+data “Given by God”)

bahlawān- clown, gymnast (MP: pahlawān “champion”)

bakht- luck (from MP: bakht)

banafsaj- purple, violet (MP: wanafshag, NP: banafsha)

bandar– port, harbor (MP: bandar)

baqshish- tip, gratuity (MP: bakhshish “gratuity”)

bāriz, baraza– prominent; to elevate (constructed from MP, Parthian: borz “high; elevate”)

barīd– post, mailing (constructed from MP: burida-dum “a docked mule appointed for the conveyance of messengers”)

barnāmaj- program (MP: abarnāmag)

bas- (coll.) but, enough, stop (NP: bas)

bashkīr– hand towel (MP: pēshgir)

bathinjān- eggplant (MP: bādengān)

baTT- duck (MP: bat)

bayān- statement, report, accouncement (MP: payām)

baydaq– a footman [in chess] (constructed from MP: payādag, NP: piyāda)

bulbul- bird (MP: bulbul)

bulūr- crystal (MP: bolur)

bunduq– hazelnut (MP: pondik)

bunj- anaesthetic (MP: pōng)

burj– tower (MP: burg)

burwāz- frame (MP: parwast “enclosure”)

bustān- garden (MP: bostān)

bāmiya- okra (MP: bamiya)

bārija- battleship, flagship (MP: bārūja “flower pot”< “a deep-hulled vessel”)

bāzār– market (Parthian: wahāchār, MP: wāzār, NP: bāzār)

būsa- kiss (MP: bōs)

dabīr, dabbara- manager; to oversee, plot (constructed from MP: dipīr)

daftar- notebook, office (MP: dabtar)

darb- gate (MP: darpân “gatekeeper”, Arabic reflex of this term)

darwīsh- ascetic, particularly Sufi (MP: dreyosh “one who lives in holy indigence”)

dashin, yadshin– dedicate (constructed from MP: dashn “gift”)

dumbek– drum (MP: tumbag)

dukkān– shop (MP: dukan)

dulāb– wheel (MP: dol-ab “water wheel [machine]”)

dunyā- world (MP: dunya)

dustūr- constitution (MP: dastwar, NP: dastūr)

dīn, diāna, tadayyun- religion, piety (constructed from MP: dēn> OP: daēna)

dīnār– unit of currency (MP: denār)

dīwān- high governmental body, council (MP: dēwān “archive”)

falak- orb, sphere (MP: parak “the star Canopus, brightest star”)

Fārsī, Bilād al-Furus– Persian, Persia (MP: Pārsīg)

fattash, taftīsh, mufattish- inspect (constructed from MP: pitakhsh “viceroy”>p-t-kh-sh>f-t-sh)

fayj– courier (MP: payg, NP: payk)

fayrūz- turquoise (MP: pērōzag, NP: firuza)

fihris, fahrasa- index, register (constructed from MP: pahrist)

finjān- cup (MP: pengân)

firdaws- paradise (MP: pardēs)

fiSfiSa- alfalfa (MP: ispist)

fustuq- pistacchio (MP: pistag)

fīl- elephant (MP: pil)

filfil– pepper (MP: pelpel)

fūlādh– steel (MP: polad)

fūTa- towel (MP: pusha)

handasa, muhandis- engineer (constructed from MP: [h]andāzag “measure, quantity”, NP: andāza)

hawā’- air, atmosphere (MP: havā> OP: hvayāv “good current”)

haykal- framework, outline (MP: paykar)

Hind- India (Persian name for Sindh, product of h>s Iranian/Indo-Aryan isogloss)

hindām– symmetry (MP: [h]andām “symmetry, arrangment”)

ibrīq- jug (MP: abrēk)

īwān- a chamber or vault, often at the exterior entrance of a building (MP: aywān)

jāmūs– buffalo (MP: gāwmēsh)

janzīr– chain (MP: zanjīr)

jaSS, jaSSās- gypsum; plasterer (MP: gach)

jawhar- essence, substance (constructed from MP: gōhr)

jawhara, jawahir- jewel (constructed from MP: gōhr)

jawz- walnut (MP: gōz)

jazar– carrot (MP: gazar; descendents Larestani: gazrak, Armenian: gazar))

jund, jundīyya, tajannud, tajnīd- army, military service, enlistment (constructed from MP: gund “army”)

jāsūs, tajassus- spy, espionage (constructed from MP: goshash>g-sh-sh>j-s-s, “hearer, listener”)

julnār- pomegranate blossom (MP: gulnār)

jūrāb- socks (NP: jawrāb)

ka’ak– a type of pastry (MP: kāk)

kabāb, kubba- roasted meat on skewers (MP: kabāb)

kahrabā’- electricity (MP: kāhrubā, “yellow amber”)

kamān, kamānja- a musical instrument (MP: kamān “bow”, kamāncha “little bow”)

kānūn- campfire, furnace (MP: kānun)

kanz- treasure (MP: ganj>OP: ganza)

khām- raw [materials], ore (MP: khām “raw, crude”)

khandaq- moat, pit (MP: kandag)

khanjar- dagger (MP: khōngar)

kharj, kharrāj– tribute, duty, work (constructed from MP: harg)

khiār- cucumber (MP: khyār)

khurda- scraps, fragments (MP: khurdag)

khammana, takhmin- guess, speculate, value (constructed from MP: gumān g-m-n > kh-m-n)

khān- shelter, rest stop (MP: khān “house”)

khashin, khushūna- rough, harsh; severity (constructed from MP: khashen)

khazīna, makhzan- treasury (constructed from MP: ganjēna g-j-n > kh-z-n)

kīmīā’– chemistry (MP: kimiā)

kīs- bag (MP: kisag)

kisra- idol (from MP: Kasra, Khosrow)

kūz- vase, storage vessel (MP: kōz)

laymūn: lemon (MP: lēmōg)

lāzaward: lapis lazuli (MP: lajward)

lubiya- bean (MP: lobiya)

mahara, muhr- stamp, seal (MP: muhr)

mahrajān- festival (MP: Mihrigân, Zoroastrian autumnal equinox celebration)

al-Māristān– premier hospital complex of Abbasid-era Baghdad (from MP: wēmāristān; NP: bimārestān)

marj – field (Parthian: marg, MP: marv)

marjān- pearl, coral (MP: margān)

mās– diamond (MP: almās)

masaka, massaka, amsaka, tamassak– adhere, stick, cling, take hold (constructed from MP: mashk “musk”)

mask– musk (MP: mashk)

mawz– banana (MP: mōz)

maydān- city square, field (MP: mēdān)

mezza– taste, starter (MP: mizag, NP: mazza)

mihrāb- niche in the wall of mosque indicating the qibla or direction of Mecca (MP: Mihrāba “Mithraeum”)

miswāk– toothpick, toothbrush (constructed from MP: sawāk, from MP sūdan “to rub, scrape”)

muzarkash, zarkash- colorful, decorated (constructed from MP: zarkesh “gilded”)

nabāt- sugar crystals, “sugar candy” (MP: nabat)

nabīdh– wine (MP: nabēd)

nadhar, intidhār, munādhir, mandhūr– to look, watch, wait (constructed from MP: negar, negaristan)

nafT- oil, petroleum (MP: naft)

namr- cushion, pillow (Parthian: namr “meek”, NP: narm)

naqsh, munāqasha, niqqāsh, naqqāshi, manqūsh- painter, artist (constructed from MP: nakhsh)

narjis- narcissus flower (MP: nargis)

nasrīn- sweetbriar flower (MP: nasrēn)

nishān- badge (MP: nishan)

numūdhaj- exemplary (MP: namudag)

nākhudhā- ship captain (MP: nāv-khudā)

nāranj: orange, clementine (MP: narang)

nāy: reed flute (MP: nay)

nīlūfar: nenuphar, lotus, water lily (MP: nilōpal)

qabr- grave, coffin (MP: gabr “hollow, cavity”)

qafaS– cage (MP: kafas)

qahramān- champion (MP: kār-framān, “manager, overseer”)

qas’a- serving pot (MP: kāsa)

Qazwīn- Caspian (MP: Kasbīn)

qirmiz– crimson, scarlet (MP: kermest)

qubba- vault, dome, cupola (MP: gunbad)

qumbula- bomb (MP: kumpula)

raSāS- lead, tin (constructed from MP: arziz > Parth: archich)

rizq, razaqa, istarzaqa, rezzāq- daily wage, sustenance; to bestow or endow (constructed from MP: rōzig, Parthian: rōchik “daily bread”)

Saidala, Saidaliyya– pharmacy (constructed from MP: chandal “sandalwood”)

Saqr- hawk (MP: chark)

Salīb- cross (MP: chalipa)

Sandal- sandals, sandalwood (MP: chandal “sandalwood”)

Sandūq– chest, crate; treasurer’s office (MP: sandūk)

Sanj– harp (MP: chang)

sarādiq- pavillion, canopy (MP: srādag)

sardāb- basement (MP: sardāba)

sarīr- throne, bed (MP: sarir)

sawsan– lily (MP: sōsan)

shakush- hammer (MP: chakuch)

shāhīn- falcon (MP: shāhēn)

shatranj- chess (MP: chatrang)

shā’ib, shā’ibа, ashīb – grizzly (constructed from MP: āshub)

shāwīsh– sergeant (MP: chāwush “seargent, herald; the leader of a caravan”)

shāy- tea (MP: chāy)

shibbith– dill (MP: sheved)

shīsha- waterpipe (NP: shīshag “bottle, flask”)

siāl, sayl, musīl– flowing, runny (constructed from MP: sayl, i.e. saylāb)

sifir- zero (MP: zifr)

simsār, samsara- middleman, broker (MP: samsar)

sirāj- lamp, light (MP: chirāgh)

sirāT– path, way, custom (MP: srat, “street”)

sirdāb- tunnel, cellar (MP: sardāb)

sirwāl- pants, trousers (MP: shalwār)

sufra- dining table (MP: supra)

sukkar- sugar (MP: shakar)

Sīn- China (MP Chin, name for China, from the Qin dynasty)

sādej- plain, simple (MP: sādag)

sīkh- skewer (MP: sikh)

Sīnīyya- tray (MP: chini, in reference to imported chinaware from the East)

sīra: juice (MP: shirag)

Tabaq- plate, dish (MP: tābag “frying pan”)

Tābūr- line, queue (MP: tabur)

Tarāz- type, brand (MP: taraz)

Tarbūsha– a type of hat, “red fez” hat (NP: sar “head” + pūsh “wear”)

takht, takhta- platform, bench (MP: takht “throne”)

tanbal- lazy (MP: tanparvar)

tannūr- oven (MP: tanūr)

tannūra- skirt, dress (MP:tanvar)

tarjuma, mutarjim– translation (constructed from MP: targumān)

tarzī- tailor (MP: darzi)

tāj- crown (MP>Parthian: tāg)

tāzej– fresh, new (MP: tāzag)

tūt- mulberry, berry (MP: tut)

ustuwāna- disc, cylinder (NP: ostovāna)

ustādh- teacher, master (NP ostād>MP: avistād “master, skillfull man”)

waqt- time (from Parthian, Eastern M.Irn: bakht)

ward, warda- flower, rose (Parthian: ward, Early MP: varda> OP: varda)

wazīr, wizāra- vizier (MP: vichira “bureaucrat, member of Sassanian court”)

yasmīn- jasmine (MP: yasmēn)

yāqūt- ruby (MP: yākand)

Yūnān- Greece (MP: Yonan, Persian name for Ionia)

za’farān– saffron (MP: zarparōn)

zaman, zamān- time [abstract] (MP: zamān, zamanāg, Parthian: zhamān, zhamānak)

zandīq- heretic (MP: zandik)

zanjabīl- ginger (MP: singibir)

zayt, zaytūn– olive (MP: zayt)

zilzāl- earthquake (MP: zilzilag)

zinzāna- prison, dungeon (MP: zindānag)

zumurrud– emerald (MP: uzumburd)


Persian Factors in pre-Islamic Arabia and the days of the Prophet Muhammad

The contacts between Arabia and the Sassanian Persian Empire were very close in the period immediately preceding Islam. The Arab Kingdom centered at al-Hira on the Euphrates had long been under Persian influence and was a headquarters for the diffusion of Iranian culture among the Arabs. Throughout the titanic struggle between the Sassanids and the Byzantine Empire, where al-Hira had been set against the Kingdom of Ghassan, other Arab tribes became involved in the conflict and naturally came under the cultural influence of Persia. The Court of the Lakhmids at al-Hira was in pre-Islamic times a famous center of literary activity, and Christian poets such as Adi ibn Zaid lived long at this court and produced poems containing extensive Persian loanwords. But the Iranian influence was not merely felt along the Mesopotamian areas; it was an Iranian general and Iranian influence that overthrew the Abyssinian suzerainty in southern Arabia during Muhammad’s lifetime.

640px-Kamal-ud-din_Bihzad_001
A Persian manuscript from the 15th century describing the construction of Al-Khornaq castle In Al-Hira, the Arab Lakhmids’ capital city. The Lakhmids were a Christian Arab tribe of Yemenite stock who established their center in southern Iraq in 266 A.D., near the Sassanid capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.

In the early days of the Prophet’s mission, there were only seventeen men in the tribe of Quraysh who could read or write. It is said that an Iranian man, known as Hammad ar-Rawiya, seeing how little the Arabs cared for poetry and literature, urged them to study poems. In fact it was Hammad who selected the Mu’allaqāt, the seven Arabic poems written in pre-Mohammedan times and inscribed in gold on rolls of coptic cloth and hung up on the curtains covering the Ka’aba. In this period, Hammad knew more than any one else about the Arabic poetry. According to Edward Browne, before the advent of Islam, the Arabs had a negligible literature and scant poetry. It was the Iranians who after their conversion to Islam, feeling the need to learn the language of the Qur’an, began to use that language for other purposes.

Ph. Gignoux hypothesizes that the Quranic phrase bismi’llahi’l-rahmani’l-rahim was modeled on the Middle Persian pad nam-i yazdan. Although there were antecedent Jewish and Christian parallels, a similar formula was also current among Zoroastrians and Manichaeans.

In The Vocabulary of the Quran, Arthur Jeffrey enumerates over 40 words of Iranian origin in Qur’an, among them the following: ebriq, estabraq, barzakh, burhan, tanur, jizya, junah (from gonah), dirham, din, dinar, rezq, rauza, zabania, zarabi, zakat, zanjabil, zur, sejjil, seraj, soradaq, serbal, sard and zard, sondos, suq, salaba, ‘abqari, efrit, forat, firdaus, fil, kafur, kanz, maeda, al majus, marjan, mask, nuskha, harut and marut, wareda, wazir, yaqut.

In addition, many terms in Classical Arabic literature are transliterations or calques of the Persian: Khamsa Mustaraqa from Panjeh-ye DozdidehMushahira from MahianehNisf an-Nahar from Nim-ruzan-Namal al-fares from Murcheh-SavariMaleeh (origin of Levantine Arabic mniih “good, well”) from NamakinBeyt an-Nar from AteshkadehBalut al-Moluk from Shah-balutSamm al-Himar from Khar-zahrehLisan al-thawr from Gav-zabanReyhan al-Mulk from Shah-Esperam.

Sources: 

Eilers, Wilhelm. Iranisches Lehngut im arabischen Lexikon: Über einige Berufsnamen und Titel. Gravenhage: Mouton, 1962.

Lane, Edward William. An Arabic-English Lexicon.
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2002.02.0021%3Aroot%3Dxmn

Hovannisian, RIchard G.; Sabagh, Georges. The Persian Presence in the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Tafazzoli, A. Arabic Language ii. Iranian loanwords in Arabic.
http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/arabic-ii.

Browne, Edward. A Literary History of Persia, Vol. I. 

MacKenzie, D.N. A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. Psychology Press, 1971.

Shir, Addi. Al-Alfâz Al-Fârsîyya Al-Mu`arraba (A Dictionary of Persian Words in the Arabic Language). Library of Lebanon, 1980.

Gharib, B. Sogdian Language i. Loanwords in Persian.
http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sodgian-language-i-loanwords

Agius, Dionisius A. Classic Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean. Brill Academic Pub, 2007.

Cheung, Johnny. Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Verb. Brill Academic Pub, 2007.

علي الثويني. التائه بين التأثيرات اللسانية و عقدة الخواجة 2-9/محمد مندلاوي
http://www.hekar.net/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=8603

تاثیر زبان فارسی بر زبان و ادبیات شبه قاره هند. محمد عجم.
http://www.hozehonari.com/PrintListItem.aspx?id=22896

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Al-Maqām al-‘Irāqi in the Baghdadi Jewish Tradition

Written by Afsheen Sharifzadeh, a graduate of Tufts University focusing on Iran and the Caucasus.
This article examines the maqām in the Baghdadi tradition, first paying attention to the origin of the repertoire and then focusing on the role of Baghdadi Jews in its evolution and propagation. In doing so, the authors proposes that Iraqi Jewish musicians played a capital role in the development of the standard Iraqi maqām style, and later served as “international agents” of the Iraqi repertoire–that is, as exponents of their host country’s musical heritage–in a fashion not dissimilar to the Sephardic Jewish financiers of Ottoman Istanbul and the Armenian silk merchants of Safavid Isfahan. They disseminated their tradition through contact with foreign musicians and absorbed foreign aspects into the Iraqi repertoire. Indeed this bi-directional model of musical appropriation carried into the Israeli and Indian diaspora communities.

436px-Ezekial's-Tomb-at-Kifel
Iraqi Jews by Ezekiel’s tomb, Baghdad, 1932. Before 1948, Jews made up a burgeoning one-third of Baghdad’s population and had lived in Iraq for over 2,000 years. Today, there are less than 10 Jews left in the country. 

Al-maqām al-‘Irāqi

Except in Iraq, maqām has three levels of meaning: a degree of sound, a theoretical scale, and the modal organization of the Arab-Islamic area. In Iraq, the former three are known as nagham, while maqām is the main urban vocal repertoire. Currently the origin of the Iraqi maqām remains poorly characterized—while some contemporary Iraqi specialists posit that the repertoire dates back to the Abbasid era, (750-1258 A.D.), others believe that it may be a relatively new phenomenon dating back only four to six centuries. Nonetheless, I propose a development in an Iranian environment that may have reached its present state through cultural contact between Persian and Baghdadi Jews.


Farida performing a Baghdadi pesteh, “Yumm al-‘Oyoun al-Soud”, with chālghī Baghdādī accompaniment in Amsterdam 

In enumerating the underlying Iranian elements of the Iraqi maqām, we can count the following: the seven main modes or maqāmāt of the Iraqi Maqām are identical to those of the Persian āvāz or dastgāh repertoire; most of the maqāmāt have Persian names; and instruments such as the santūr and joza further suggest appropriation from an Iranian milieu. Many of the Iraqi maqāmāt sung with Classical verses are found in the Persian tradition as well, particularly the Mukhālif, Mansūrī, Dashtī, Awshār, Bakhtiyār, and Mathnawī. Another distinguishing trait of the Iraqi maqām among Arab musical repertoire is that each maqām has a distinct vocal introduction (badwa or tahrīr), the lyrics of which are usually in Persian: Sigāh has “Lilay, lilay…”; Rāst has “Yār, yār…”; Humāyūn and Dashtī have “Amān, amān…”; whereas Bayāt and Hijāz have “Faryād-e man…” (“Oh my wails” in Persian.) Thus conceivably, Iraqi musicians absorbed elements of Persian style through the performance of what Iraqi musicians have called “Persians songs”—although not the classical Persian repertoire.

While it would be a futile exercise to attempt to ascribe these cultural transformations to a single musician or host throughout the centuries, it is important to note that Persia lost control of Baghdad in the 16th century and sporadically regained control until the 19th century. And while there has existed a minority Muslim Persian population within Baghdad for many centuries, the vast majority of Persian-speakers in that city have been Jews of Persian extraction with surnames such as Shīrāzī, Shahrabānī, Irānī, Bābāyī, Āghāsī, Lārī, ‘Ajamī, Āghā-Bābā and the like. Thus the role of Jews—many of whom lived intermittently between Iran and Iraq as traders, artisans and merchants—as agents in the propagation of these influences is probable if not imperative, as Jews were also traditionally disposed to musical professions in Persia. Indeed, in one episode contact between Iraqi Jewish musicians and a Persian professional musician even resulted in Iran’s adoption of the qānūn repertoire. Thus communication between Baghdadi Jewish musicians and their Persian coreligionists is a reasonable medium of musical acculturation between the two societies that still remains to be studied definitively.


Interview (in Iraqi Arabic) with Farida, a renowned Iraqi maqām vocalist based in the Netherlands 

Nonetheless, the chālghī Baghdādī ensemble has traditionally performed at secular and religious occasions for Muslims, Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, and Yezidis in Iraq. The central instruments of the ensemble or al-chālghī al-baghdādī are the santūr, the al-kamāna [al-baghdādīyya], the joza, the daff, and the dumbag, while the ‘ūd, santūr, and nāy as well as Western Classical instruments such as the violin and cello are popularly considered to be later additions that were appropriated from either an Egyptian or Maslāwi Christian milieu. There exist some fifty individual maqāmāt and three regional traditions: namely, those of Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk. While the Baghdadi repertoire is typically performed in Arabic, Persian, or Hebrew, the traditions of northern Iraq are most often in the regional Turkoman (South Azerbaijani), Neo-Aramaic, and Kurdish languages and are distinguished by incorporation of a number of regional instruments in addition to the standard chālghī Baghdādī ensemble. When performed in the Arabic language, the poem at the center of the lyric can take the form of mawwāl or zhayrī, which is colloquial or hybrid, or the qasīda which is strictly a monorhyme ode based on Classical Arabic prosidy. The former type of maqāmāt amounts to twenty-five, according to al-Wardī, while the latter includes forty-one.


A maqām preformed in the Turkoman (South Azerbaijani) language of northern Iraq, particularly Kirkuk and Erbil. 

A standard Iraqi maqām begins with the badwa or tahrīr, which is the opening melody/main theme that is repeated throughout the maqām; qitā ‘ (sing. qita‘a) and awsal (sing. wusla), or secondary melodies, which form the building blocks of the composition; the meyāna, or climax, which is usually a qita‘a or a wusla sung in the high register; a small cadence known as a jelsa, which precedes the meyāna; a qarār, or a descent into the lower register; and the taslīm, which is the final, closing cadence that signals the end of the maqām and the coming pesteh (from Persian “baste” via Ottoman Turkish “beste”). Pestāt are in turn rhythmic songs with repetitive melodies that often contain simple, humorous, texts dealing with cotidian matters and various aspects of society. These, while not a part of the maqām repertoire, are popular, light-hearted urban songs typically in Arabic and Persian.


Iraqi female vocalist Zuhuur Hussein performing the pesteh “Ya ‘Aziz al-Ruh” in Arabic and Persian

Jews in al-Chālghī al-Baghdādī Ensemble

As in most mashriqī Arab musical traditions, maqām singers (mughannīn or even mutribūn) have traditionally been Muslims, and many are reciters or chanters of the Qur’ān for Islamic rituals and ceremonies. They are rarely professionals. In Iraq, the singers have traditionally belonged to the Arab, Kurdish, and Turkoman ethnic communities and most often belong to the lower urban social classes of merchants and craftsmen. However, central to our discussion here is the curious fact that until 1950, almost all the instrumentalists of the Iraqi maqām (daggagāt, ālātīyya) were Jews.

In explaining this phenomenon, a number of ethnomusicologists propose a class-based theory. Of course Islam has traditionally been unfavorably disposed towards music, so professional musicians have necessarily held low rank in society. Yet music has been an indispensable component of Muslim social life, so naturally a reasonable resolution was to regulate musical functions to ethnic minorities in order to preserve the cultural tradition in the face of opposing social and religious attitudes. Moreover, in explanation of this trend, scholars suggest that it is precisely musicians’ low rank that allows them to be enjoyed. As low-ranking persons they are a negligible element of society; they simply are not to be taken seriously as social beings deserving of interaction. As providers of a social service, their rank is assumed; therefore they can be admired solely for their musical product.

Consistent with these societal attitudes, many musicians were blind or handicapped and were recruited by the Jewish vocational institute in Baghdad in the 20th century. However it should be noted that the majority of mughannīyūn or vocal performers of the maqām have been Muslims. Jews in turn attribute this to the Muslims’ “superior” pronunciation of Arabic, or at least concede that the Muslim dialect is the highbrow, prestige dialect of that city. A brief survey of the two dialects reveals considerable phonological, lexical, and morphological differences, even impairing mutual intelligibility in some instances. The outspoken differences between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian dialects of Baghdad arise from conflicting origins: while the Muslim dialect is of Bedouin provenance, the latter two descend from Medieval Baghdadi Arabic which was a sedentary dialect with considerable Aramaic and Persian substrate. Furthermore, the Jewish dialect includes a sizeable inventory of Hebrew vocabulary that further distinguishes this mode of speech to linguists as “Judeo-Baghdadi”. Resultantly, Jewish maqām readers (qurrā’) were not appreciated due to their outspoken “Jewishness” which manifested itself in their peculiar mode of speech. It was only in the form of vocalists such as Salīma Murād–a Jewish qāri’a who converted to Islam and displayed a marked attempt in her songs to imitate the Muslim Baghdadi dialect—that Jews could be universally appreciated and she in turn became one of the most famous mughannīyūn of the 20th century.


A sample of the Jewish Baghdadi dialect of Arabic, now only spoken by the diaspora in Israel and abroad

As the preferred musical performers of Baghdad, Jews served as domestic and international flag-bearers of the Baghdadi maqām repertoire. Jews had to become familiar with widespread musical systems— the chālghī baghdādī, rīfī folk songs, abūdhiyya poetry with rabāb accompaniment as well as synagogue repertoire in the maqām system. Due to their knowledge and mastery of Muslim repertoire, Jewish instrumentalists and qāris were hired to sing for Muslim holiday services, such as Ramadan evening parties and radio-broadcasts during the holy month. As a result of Jewish hegemony in the Iraqi music industry by the early-mid 20th century, many Muslims were not satisfied as there was virtually no music to be enjoyed during Jewish holidays. An attempt was even made in 1936 to close down the broadcasting station’s music program that was directed by Jews until Muslims learned to play Iraqi music, although after several months the Iraqi officials ceded control back to Jewish musicians in defeat. As agents of the a diverse range of repertoires, the Jews were successful in soliciting acclaimed Muslim vocalists such as Rashīd al-Qundarchī and ‘Abdallah Fāris to sing in the Judeo-Baghdadi Arabic as an ode of appreciation to the Jewish pioneers of the Iraqi maqām. In sum, Jewish masters of the maqām became highly-regarded musicians in Baghdad and exerted their influence over their Muslim counterparts.

However the influence of Baghdadi Jewish musicians was not limited to the urban centers of Iraq. Indeed, Iraqi Jewish musicians as members of a diaspora served as “international agents” in a similar fashion to the Sephardic Jews of Ottoman Istanbul and the Armenian community of Safavid Isfahan by disseminating their tradition through contact with foreign musicians and absorbing foreign aspects into Iraqi repertoire throughout the 20th century. They were responsible for introducing foreign elements unfamiliar to their society due to close ties with foreign musicians, primarily Egyptian. For example, the violin was probably adopted from Egypt under the influence of Ezra Aharon, a Baghdadi Jew who was an outspoken proponent of Egyptian musical trends. This very Ezra Aharon traveled with Iraqi Jewish music delegation, which was led by the acclaimed Iraqi musician Muhammad al-Gubbānchī, to the Congress of Arab Music held in Cairo in 1932. After emigrating to Israel following the Farhūd persecutions of 1950, he is known for fashioning his Iraqi radio ensemble to follow the Egyptian mainstream style.

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Ezra Aharon and Muhammad al-Gubbānchī with the Iraqi Jewish music delegation to the Congress of Arab Music, Cairo, 1932

But the influence felt between Iraqi and other Arab musicians was reciprocal, as Iraqi musicians were acclaimed masters of their art and thus served as points of reference for their Arab counterparts. For example the Jewish composer Salah al-Kuwaytī taught Umm Kulthūm a composition and taught Abd al-Wahhāb the maqām lāmi, which he later utilized in a composition. Within in Iraq itself, it so happened that Arabs unknowingly sang many traditional Jewish melodies whose Hebrew text had been changed to Arabic by Jews. Additionally, at least one maqām was recorded in Hebrew in 1920 and sporadically after that, indicating that there must have been some demand for Hebrew renditions of maqāmāt. But perhaps the most conspicuous vestige of Jewish hegemony in Iraqi maqām is observed in the badwa of maqām al-țāhir, which begins with the Hebrew word “Hallelujah.” Evidently Jewish Baghdadi musicians were able to exert their influence on their Muslim counterparts both inside and outside of Iraq, and they left a distinct Jewish imprint on the Iraqi maqām repertoire alongside loans from Egypt and the West.

In conclusion, Iraqi Jewish musicians have played a capital role in the development of the standard Iraqi maqām style, and later served as “international agents” of the Iraqi repertoire–that is, as beneficiaries of their host country’s musical heritage–in a fashion not dissimilar to the Sephardic Jewish financiers of Ottoman Istanbul and the Armenian silk merchants of Safavid Isfahan. They disseminated their tradition through contact with foreign musicians and absorbed foreign aspects into Iraqi repertoire. While the Baghdadi Jewish diaspora in Israel has remained markedly more operative and prolific in the continuation of the Iraqi maqām tradition than its Indian and Javanese counterparts, it too struggles to define its identity in the face of an ever-homogenizing host society. With the emigration of all of the Jews of Iraq out of the country in the mid twentieth century and pressures towards assimilation in their host countries, the Iraqi maqām faces a difficult and defining future.

Sources

Eli Timan. “Menashi Somekh Recollections on Iraqi Maqams.” 4 April 2013. Youtube. April 15th. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcXsCgS_YQ8&feature=player_embedded> 

Esther Warkov. “Revitalization of Iraqi-Jewish Instrumental Traditions in Israel: The Persistent Centrality of an Outsider Tradition.” Asian Music. University of Texas Press: Vol. 17, No. 2, Music in the Ethnic Communities of Israel (Spring – Summer, 1986), pp. 9-31.

Gen’ichi Tsuge. “A note on the Iraqi Maqam.” Asian Music. University of Texas Press: Vol. 4, No. 1, Near East-Turkestan Issue (1972), pp. 59-66.

“Jews of Iraq in Recent Generations.” Journal of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center. Nehardea: No.14, Autumn 2003. <http://www.babylonjewry.org.il/new/english/nehardea/14/7.htm&gt;

Scheherazade Qassim Hassan. “Iraq.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 10 April. 2013. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/13899&gt;

Virginia Danielson; Scott Marcus; Dwight Reynolds. “The Iraqi Maqām and Its Transmission.” Garland Encyclopedia of Music. Routledge: Vol. 6 (Aug 2001) 1200 pp.