How did Zayd bin Thabit learn foreign languages? What methods did the Prophet (pbuh) teach him about learning a language?
Submitted by on Fri, 13/10/2017 - 12:04
Dear Brother / Sister,
The Prophet Muhammad is an Arab. Allah Almighty sent him from among Arabs. The Prophet was born in Makkah and he grew up there. All of his ancestors were Arabs like him.
Allah sent down the Quran, His last book, in Arabic. The Prophet (pbuh) himself mentions his lineage and language as follows:
"I am an Arab in terms of lineage. I am a member of Qurayshi tribe. My language is the language of Sons of Sa'd."
Halima, the wet nurse of the Prophet, was a member of Sons of Sa'd. He lived with them for four years and learned their language; he learnt fluent and real Arabic.
As it is mentioned in tafsir, hadith and siyar books, the only language that the Prophet (pbuh) knew and spoke was Arabic. There is no resource mentioning that the Prophet spoke any other languages. It is stated in some resources that he uttered a few words in Persian but it does not mean that he spoke Persian.
After the Prophet (pbuh) came to Madinah, delegations and letters started to come from various nations, especially the Jews living around Madinah. The Prophet advised Zayd bin Thabit, one of the revelation scribes, to learn Hebrew and Syriac in order to understand what the delegations said and to respond to the letters. There are hadiths in hadith books like Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud and Musnad, and siyar resources regarding the issue. For instance, as it is mentioned in Musnad, Zayd bin Thabit expresses it as follows:
"When the Messenger of Allah arrived in Madinah, I was a child. They took me to the Messenger of Allah. He liked me very much. They said to the Messenger of Allah:
'O Messenger of Allah! This child is from Sons of Najjar. He memorized more than ten chapters.'
The Messenger of Allah liked it very much. Once, he said to me,
"O Zayd! Learn the writing of Jews. By Allah, I cannot trust in what Jews write to me."
"I learned to read and write Hebrew in fifteen nights. After that, I started to read the letters Jews sent to the Messenger of Allah and to write them answers in Hebrew." (Musnad, V/136)
Zayd bin Thabit also learned Syrac because it was necessary.
Once, the Prophet (pbuh) received a letter in Syriac. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to Zayd bin Thabit,
"I receive letters in Syriac. Can you write in Syriac well?" Zayd said,
"I do not know Syriac."The Prophet (pbuh) said,
"Then, try to learn this language."
Hz. Zayd learned Syriac in seventeen days. It is a miracle of the Prophet that he learned it so quickly. After that, Zayd wrote the letters that came to the Prophet in Syriac and wrote answers to them. (Tirmidhi, Istidhan: 22; Abu Dawud, Ilm: 2)
It is clearly understood from the narrations above that the Prophet gave the letters that came to him in foreign languages to Zayd; it became his duty. Those narrations show that the Prophet did not speak any language other than Arabic.
(Mehmed Paksu, Meseleler ve Çözümleri - 1)
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