Quranic Arabic Heaviness (Tafcím) – Tajwid Enhancement Lesson 1

أَنِ ٱعْمَلْ سَـٰبِغَـٰتٍۢ وَقَدِّرْ فِى ٱلسَّرْدِ ۖ وَٱعْمَلُوا۟ صَـٰلِحًا ۖ إِنِّى بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌۭ

Àni a‘mal sābiẗiņ waqoddir fie alssardi, waa‘malúa ṣōliḥana, ìnnie bimá ta’malúna baṣír

[Quran 34:11]

The ‘weight’ of a letter in Arabic relates to the nature of its macroj ‘exit point’ from the mouth, and its corresponding vowel ṣifaḧ ‘characteristic’. Though there is plenty for English-speakers to struggle with when learning to speak Arabic, vowels need not be one of them. Vowels are sounded by gently exhaling while vibrating the vocal tract; they are then distinguished by the shape of the lips during this process. The Arabic vowels ‘a‘, ‘u‘, and ‘i‘, are expressed in Arabic writing with harokát diacritics, and letters [ ا ] Alif, [ و ] Wau, and [ ي ] respectively. Though Arabic vowels are commonly taught as being three, there are more precisely four, as the Arabic fatḥaħ/Àlif is actually used to represent two English vowel sounds. To understand this, read out for example, the words ‘bat‘ and ‘ball‘. Did you notice how each vowel sounds different, despite being spelled with the same letter? English spelling is notorious, and we could have more intuitively written ‘boll’ instead of ‘ball’. However, this example helps us understand more about the Arabic fatḥaħ/Àlif, which is also used to represent two vowel sounds. In English, these two sounds are conventionally referred to as ‘light a‘, and ‘heavy a‘. There is also a subtle distinction that the trained ear can hear between the Arabic light and heavy ‘i‘, and even less so between light and heavy ‘u‘. The reason why these two vowel sound weights are usually not distinguished in Arabic education however, is because the sound is technically attached to the letter before it; it is actually the consonants that are categorised as either [ مُفَخَّم ] mufaccomheavy‘ (giving the following vowel a heavy sound), or [ مُرَقَّق ] muroqqoqlight‘ (giving the following vowel a light sound). This ‘heavy a‘ sound in Arabic is practically an ‘o‘ sound, like that of ‘lock‘, and is thus represented as an ‘o‘ in transliteration here. It should be sounded as such whenever a heavy Arabic consonant is followed by the fatḥaħ/Àlif. There are 2 forms of tafcím heaviness explained below:

  • Permanent heaviness (Tafcím ul’lázim)
  • Temporary heaviness (Tafcím ul’áriḍ)

1.a) Permanent heaviness (Tafcím ul’lázim)

Priority: Mandatory

There are 7 Arabic consonants that carry a ‘permanent’ heaviness, in all their attached vowel sounds due to the nature of their macórij exit points. These are  [ خ ] , [ ص] Ṣód, [ ض ] Ḍód, [ ط ] Ṭô, [ ظ ] Ṿô, [ غ ] Goin, and [ ق ] Qóf. The letters can be summarised in the Arabic mnemonic [ خُص ضَغطٍ قِظ ] cuṣ ḍogṭin qiṿ. They are articulated by curving the tongue downwards, as if there is a ‘heavy’ ball placed on it, so allowing air to fill the mouth while the letters are pronounced.

E.g.

أَنِ ٱعْمَلْ سَـٰبِغَـٰتٍۢ وَقَدِّرْ فِى ٱلسَّرْدِ ۖ وَٱعْمَلُوا۟ صَـٰلِحًا ۖ إِنِّى بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌۭ

Àni a‘mal sābiẗiņ waqoddir fie alssardi, waa‘malúa ṣōliḥana, ìnnie bimá ta’malúna baṣír

[Quran 34:11]

وَٱلَّذِى جَآءَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ وَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦٓ ۙ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُتَّقُونَ

Waallavie jã-a bialṣṣidqi waṣoddaqo bihiẽ ùulãìka humu almuttana

[Quran 39:33]

أَلَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ خَلَقَ وَهُوَ ٱللَّطِيفُ ٱلْخَبِيرُ

Àlá ya’lamu man colaqo waHuwa allLaṭífu alCobíru

[Quran 67:14]

1.b) Temporary heaviness (Tafcím ul’áriḍ)

Priority: Recommended

There are 2 Arabic consonants that carry a ‘temporary’ heaviness, in that their proceeding vowel sounds are only heavy in certain circumstances. These are  [ ر ] , and [ ل ] Lám. The is only heavy when followed by a fatḥaħo‘ or ḍommaħu‘. The Lám is only heavy when it is in the grand name ‘Allōh‘ God, except when this word is commenced with the kasroḧi‘ vowel, for example in ‘liLlāhi‘.

E.g.

بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Bismi Alllāhi alrRoḥmāni alrRoḥími

[Quran 1:1]

بَرَآءَةٌۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦٓ إِلَى ٱلَّذِينَ عَـٰهَدتُّم مِّنَ ٱلْمُشْرِكِينَ

Baàtuņ mmina Allhi warosúlihiẽ ìlae allavína ‘āhadttum mmina almuṡrikína

[Quran 9:1]

مَّا يُقَالُ لَكَ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ قِيلَ لِلرُّسُلِ مِن قَبْلِكَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَذُو مَغْفِرَةٍۢ وَذُو عِقَابٍ أَلِيمٍۢ

Mmá yuqólu laka ìllá má qod qíla lilrrusuli miń qoblika; Ìnna Robbaka lavú magfiroẗiņ wavú ‘iqóbin àlím

[Quran 41:43]


Allah knows best.


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