The Man Most Scholars Turned to on Urdu Orthography and Word Origins

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Rauf Parekh

Baba-i-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq (1870-1961) was, and is still, considered an authority on the Urdu language. But who did he turn to when he got stuck in the matters of Urdu orthography, lexicography or the origins of words?

Syed Sulaiman Nadvi (1884-1953) was among the few scholars of his times who were expert in tracing the origins of words and their histories. He had a command of the oriental languages such as Arabic, Persian and Urdu. But who corrected him when he made, albeit rarely, a mistake?

Vaheeduddin Saleem Panipati (1859-1938) was a scholar who had a profound knowledge of linguistics and a knack for coining terms. Many of his coinages, included in his book Vaz-i-istelahaat and published by Moulvi Abdul Haq, gained currency. Who could have written a critical review of the book, pinpointing some errors and suggesting invaluable corrections and additions?

Dr Syed Abdullah (1906-1986) still commands the respect as a researcher, critic and scholar of classical Urdu and Persian literature. He also knew Arabic quite well. Who did he ask for help and guidance when he was editing Navaadir-ul-alfaaz, Urdu’s earliest dictionary?

The answer to all these questions is one: Dr Abdus Sattar Siddiqi. What made Dr Siddiqi so erudite that even scholars of such statures looked to him for guidance? Well, he was one of those rare scholars who had this rare combination of knowledge about modern linguistics, orthography, word origins, research techniques, history and ancient and modern languages. He knew Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, English, Latin, German, Avesta and Pahlavi, or Middle Persian, very well. In addition, he knew Hebrew, Turkish and Suryani (Aramaic). His knowledge of historical linguistics and ancient forms of words of several languages was amazing even for scholars. Having lived in Europe, especially in Germany, between 1912 and 1919, and having written his doctoral dissertation in the German language, he had become quite well-versed with some other European languages, too.

Dr Siddiqi was one of the few scholars who had the ability to do what they did: he had written a book in German that traced the Arabisation of Persian words. He researched the Persian words that had found their way into classical Arabic even before the advent of Islam. Dr Siddiqi once wrote in a letter to Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi that “in 1919 my book was published from German city of Gottingen. It was written in German and I must translate its name: Studies in Persian loanwords in classical Arabic”.

Dr Siddiqi’s articles published in Urdu journals such as Hindustani deliberated on Urdu orthography and his suggestions to the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Hind in 1944 for rationalisation and standardisation of Urdu orthography was truly a remarkable work.

But it is quite painful that a great scholar like him has been forgotten. He is so little-known that even some students doing PhD in Urdu or Persian give a blank stare when Dr Siddiqi’s work is mentioned. Hardly any article is written on him. An exception is Dr Tehseen Firaqi’s recently published article in Bunyad, Lahore. One of the reasons for Dr Siddiqi’s being ignored is that the topics he wrote on are of not of much interest to the common people. Secondly, he was not a prolific writer and did not write more than a few books and a few dozen articles. Only 18 of his research articles and reviews were collected in book form by his son Muslim Siddiqi. Titled Maqalat-i-Siddiqi, it was published by Lucknow’s Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy in 1983. Two more such collections could be published with the remaining articles. His two research works Divan-i-Bayan and Maakhaz-i-Ghalib still remain unpublished. Another of his invaluable research work was published some 30 years after his death when Mushfiq Khwaja managed to get published Muarrabaat-i-Rasheedi from Idara-i-Yadgar-i-Ghalib in 2003.

But this needs a bit of details. Muarrabaat-i-Rasheedi, a research work, discusses the Arabic words that had been borrowed from other languages, especially Persian. Originally in Persian, it was written by Abdur Rasheed Thattavi, a 17th century scholar who belonged to Thatta. Thattavi was a well-known scholar of Persian and Arabic and also a lexicographer. His two dictionaries, Muntakhab-ul-Lughaat (Arabic) and Farhang-e-Rasheedi (Persian) are considered authentic works. But Muarrabaat was only heard of and no scholar had ever seen its manuscript. Dr Siddiqi discovered its manuscript in 1921 in Hyderabad Deccan. In 1946, he discovered another manuscript in Rampur State Library. Later, other manuscripts, too, were discovered by different scholars. Earlier, Dr Siddiqi had published his research work, in English, on Arabic loanwords under the title Ibn-i-Duraid and his treatment of loanwords. It was his favourite subject. So he began editing Muarrabaat. The book was printed in 1955 but could not be distributed for a number of reasons, one of which was the discovery and publication of another manuscript from Iran. Dr Siddiqi wanted to make some changes after the collation with the Iranian manuscript. But that was not to be. Dr Siddiqi fell ill and passed away. Some of his family members had already migrated to Pakistan and the printed pages, except for a few, were destroyed. Luckily, some time later, his son went to India and brought the edited script and the printed pages. Mushfiq Khwaja asked Mazhar Mahmood Sherani, Hafiz Mahmood Sherani’s grandson, to edit and translate it into Urdu. So, in 2003, at long last, the book was published with an Urdu translation and annotations.

Abdus Sattar Siddiqi was born on Dec 26, 1885, in Sandila, Hardoi district of the UP. His father, Moulvi Abdul Ghaffar, was employed in Deccan State and Abdus Sattar Siddiqi got his early schooling in Gulbarga and Hyderabad (Deccan). Having passed his BA from M.A.O. College, Aligarh, in 1907, he worked as a teacher at a Nagpur school. But later resigned and obtained a master’s degree in Arabic from Allahabad University. He got a scholarship the same year to study in Germany. In Germany, he had a chance to benefit from some world-renowned scholars and linguists and at Strasbourg University and Gottingen University he learnt Modern Persian, Latin, Suryani, Hebrew, Turkish, Pahlavi, Avesta and Sanskrit. In 1917, he was awarded a doctorate for his research work on Ibn-i-Sibawayh’s work on Arabic grammar, which is sometimes referred to as Al-kitab.

Dr Siddiqi returned to India in 1919 and was made a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University. Later, he served at the Usmania University College, Hyderabad (Deccan), till 1924 when he was appointed at Dacca (now Dhaka) University as head of the Arabic and Islamic Studies department. At Hyderabad, he was very close to Moulvi Abdul Haq. From 1928 to 1946, he served as professor and head of the Arabic and Persian departments of Allahabad University. On retirement, he was appointed the first Professor Emeritus at Allahabad University.

Dr Abdus Sattar Siddiqi died on July 28, 1972 in Allahabad.

Rauf Parekh, “Literary Notes: The man most scholars turned to on Urdu orthography and word origins,” in Dawn, July 21, 2014. Accessed on March 1, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on July 21, 2014, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 1, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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