Some know better than some: A Proverb!

Didn't post for some days I guess? Sorry. A bit busy with many things here. We have some holiday here so I'm able to stay up late without feeling guilty! Our holiday here is related to the Pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) and Eid Al-Adha (Turkish: Kurban Bayramı). Anyway, it occurred to me that there is one famous saying or a proverb that involves Makkah indeed! So, why not share it with you with some "analysis" in hope that it would beneficial for some.

أَهْلُ مَكََّةَ أَدْرى بِشِعابِها

Translation: People of Makkah know its ways better.

Transliteration: Ahlu Makkata adrá bi ši3ábihá.

Moral: Said as an advice or as a reminder that someone or some people who spent their lifetime with something know that thing better, be it the ways of some town, knowing some people, or even the ways of some crafts.



أَهْلُ: People (also family).
مَكّة: Makkah.
أدرى: Know better.
بِشِعابِها: In her ways.


In this little proverb we have some weird stuff that I might be discussing for the first time. Not sure how this proverb was initiated and by whom it was said but it seems that it was common even before the Islamic era. The reason for such a proverb is that Makkah is situated at the center of some chains of mountains, and those who do not live in Makkah would easily lose their way in or out of the town, even Arabs who were living in other parts of Arabia.


This word is as simple as it gets. It stands for "people" as well as for "family". The designation of the meaning here really depends on the words that follow أهل. For example, if I say أَهْلُ الرجُل (ahlu-rrajul: people of the man), then surely I mean "his close relatives" or his family in general.


I guess this word has no need to be defined. The name of the holiest spot on Earth for all Muslims. I preferred to type it as "Makkah" instead of the usual "Mecca" here because of some problems, so to say. Unfortunately, in many places, in the West specifically, the word Mecca had been used to mean the center of town where pubs and gambling take place which is insulting for Muslims. Thus, many people started to re-write the name as Makkah to step away from the spelling of that word which has been in use now for improper behavior, according to Islam and Muslim, as well as it had been a general idiom said about things that attract or centers of some activities.
Anyway, let's jump to the linguistic side now. Did you listen to the audio yet? Did you notice that I've read the proverb twice? I did that on purpose to show some people who are still baffled about the Ta-Marbúta ة and still don't know how it works. In the first instance, I've read the proverb with a stop (imagine there is a comma after the word for Makkah). At this instance, and because there is a stop, I was not required to spell the "T". But I've simply said it as "H," as if there is Sukún on the Ta-Marbúta. However, in the second reading, I've moved the Ta-Marbúta with a vowel to connect and to read the whole proverb without a stop, and thus the "H" sound changed to "T" (Makkata) and this is how I've typed it in the transliteration above. I hope these two readings show you clearly how Ta-Marbúta works and why it is "H" sometimes and why it changes to "T" other times.
Now, to the magic. I've clearly stated in my previous posts about the Genitive (or adding nouns together), that the second term in the composite usually gets Kasrah (-i sound) to its end. However, you see this is not the case here even though the word مكة is indeed in Genitive case. Instead, we put Fatħah (-a) to its end. Why? This is because the word مكة is part of a special class of words known in Arabic as ممنوع من الصرف, or let me put it the easy way: Indeclinable. What does that mean? It means such a word cannot have Kasrah (-i) to its end, and not ANY Tanwin or Nunation of any kind to its end either. There are specific rules in Arabic as to what nouns or words that are considered indeclinable but I won't go deeper here as explaining them would take a great deal of text and it's beyond the simple scope of this article. I'm just stating this to let the learner be aware that if any such incidence is seen, where the genitive case is not applied and Fatħah (-a) appears rather than Kasrah (-i) at the end of some words, then most likely you are facing an indeclinable word. Just to finish this and not leave you totally blind: One rule for indeclinable words in Arabic is, proper names ending with Ta-Marbúta (be it feminine or masculine; yes, there are masculine names and nouns ending in Ta-Marbúta sometimes).


This verb can be tricky to explain, but I'll try. But let me start first, why this is written in this way, specifically with Alif Maqcúrah ى (or the dot-less Ya). Remember, this is not Ya ي. This is Alif Maqcúrah, which should be spelled as "á". But why not as a simple Alif ا? The reason for this is, the original verb is يدري (yadrí), which means "to know". When modifying this verb in certain ways (without going deeper), to show a higher degree of the verb (hence "better" is added in the translation), it becomes أَدرى, and the Alif at the end is written as Alif Maqcúrah specifically to show that the ORIGIN of this Alif is, in fact, Yá ي in the present tense. So, this is a somewhat orthographical trick only to guide some readers. What's important here is to know that this is read just like regular long "á" vowel and not as a long vowel "í". Pay attention to the dots below this letter. I've talked about the problems that some people do because of their carelessness in writing or typing good Arabic, specially with this letter, causing some serious and funny mistakes at times.


This word here needs a breakdown to its constituents. As you may know already, Arabic has a lot of prefixes and suffixes that modify and do a lot of work on the words they attached to. So, let's begin:
+ بـِ: (bi), this prefix is actually a "pulling letter" (حرف جر) just like (fí: في) which causes the word coming after it to get Kasrah (-i) to its end.
+ شِعابِ: (ši3ábi), this is a plural form of the singular شِعْب (ši3b). We see here that there is Kasrah (-i) at its end because of the prefix (bi: بـِ). I've translated this word as "ways" but actually "way" is not a good translation. As I looked this word up in some Arabic thesaurus resources, it turns out that this is a name for the narrow roads in between the mountains, which are usually narrow (so it's not a valley). Do you know of any English word that describes such roads?
+ ـها: (-há), this is the final syllable of this word which translates as "her" and it refers back to Makkah, which is a feminine name.
Thus, all these elements here combined, mean "in her ways" or "in her roads". Of course, the translation in English does not coincide with the Arabic one, as word-to-word translation would not make sense at all in English. The play here is with the preposition بِـ (in) which is required in Arabic after أَدرى while in English such preposition is not required.

I hope this text has been useful to you (and I hope the audio is clear enough). As much as I want to delve deeper and deeper into some aspects mentioned here, but I think back and I have to pull back and refrain from complicating things with grammatical rules. I'm trying my best to keep it down to the beginners' level as much as possible. So, I hope it works that way. Don't worry if you don't understand many aspects mentioned here (like the verb أدرى for example), but I just hope that by now, at least, the fear of reading and recognizing Arabic has begone. Even though I do explain some grammatical aspects in these posts, but the greater benefit as I believe is not in these grammatical bits. Rather, they lie in pushing learners forward to the desire of reading Arabic whenever and wherever they can find it, until they get used to it (and start reading even without diacritics). Good luck everyone!

August 11, 2019


Good Morning. And yes, I have learned that you might have one week off related to the Opferfest.

Thank you for this excursion and be sure, that you are doing it great (every time). We get a nice overview of some topics which might we not understand completely now but it helps when this topic will come up at another time again. Enjoy your holiday and family.

August 11, 2019

Vielen Dank :)

we get a holiday only till Tuesday. I'm back to work on Wednesday sigh.
Meanwhile, I'll be around I guess... annoying other users :)

August 11, 2019
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